In the news / Insect and Microbe Systems

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Scientists are only just starting to scratch the surface of how diverse species of bacteria interact with our unique body chemistries to influence our health. One of those scientists is Dr. Melissa Herbst-Kralovetz, a UArizona COM-Passociate professor and BIO5 member, who leads a team of researchers who are working to better understand how to predict, prevent and treat gynecologic cancers.
 
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The Arizona Board of Regents today confirmed the appointments of five UArizona faculty members, including BIO5 members Drs. Roberta Diaz Brinton and Judith Brown, as Regents Professors. The title of 'Regents Professor' is reserved for full professors whose exceptional achievements merit national and international distinction.
 
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Dr. Dawn Gouge, a UArizona entomologist and BIO5 member, answers questions about Asian giant hornets or "murder hornets". Many Arizonans have feared that these eerily nicknamed insects will arrive in the state after they were spotted in the Pacific Northwest and brought into the public's attention through a recent New York Times article. Dr. Gouge discusses the toxicity of the Asian giant hornet venom, compares the hornets with the western honey bee, and shares the low likelihood of these insects arriving in Arizona and acclimating to the varying climates within the state.
 
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In Sub-Saharan Africa, red-billed oxpeckers feed on the parasites of rhinos and more than 20 other species of mammal. New research suggests the birds may also serve as sentinels that help rhinos avoid humans—and potentially poachers. The purpose of the oxpeckers’ calls is still being determined, but they help reduce poaching by alerting rhinos to humans’ presence at a greater distance where the accuracy of firearms would be reduced, says Dr. Judith Bronstein University of Arizona EEB professor & BIO5 faculty member.
 
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New research led by researchers from the BIO5 Institute’s Center for Insect Science shows that crustaceans such as shrimps, lobsters, and crabs, have more in common with their insect relatives than previously thought when it comes to the structure of their brains. Both insects and crustaceans possess mushroom-shaped brain structures known in insects to be required for learning, memory and possibly negotiating complex, three-dimensional environments.
 
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UArizona College of Medicine - Tucson professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and BIO5 member Dr. Donata Vercelli, sat down with the Daily Wildcat to discuss her research, the impact of the microbiome, and how different microbes can affect arthritis and treatment progression. Dr. Vercelli believes that educating the public about microbiomes is important, because microbes have an invasive effect on many things including our immune responses, blood pressure, and moods.
 
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A collaborative study led by researchers are the University of Arizona and Henan Normal University in China, traces acoustic communication across the tree of life of land-living vertebrates. Result of the study revealed that the ability to vocalize goes back hundreds of millions of years, associated with a nocturnal lifestyle and has remained stable. Surprisingly, acoustic communication does not seem to drive the formation of new species across vertebrates.
 
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With adversaries including termites and carpenter ants, scientists are studying how to look out for invasions and go on the offensive. A mere 5 percent of animals ever become pests, said Dr. Dawn Gouge, UArizona public health entomologist and BIO5 member.

 
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The UArizona found itself at the center of many of the world's most captivating news stories in 2019. From its leadership role in capturing mankind's first image of a black hole to discovering a protein that prevents mosquitoes from hatching, opening the possibility of developing new drugs that could act as birth control for mosquito populations, UArizona led research generated international headlines this year.
 
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Dr. Laura Meredith, rain forest science director for Biosphere 2 and BIO5 member, is one of the leaders of a four-month-long drought study. the aim of the research is to learn about how a hotter, drier future will alter tropical rain forest ecosystems. This European Research Council grant funded study will use Biosphere 2’s unique ability to control model ecosystems to collect data about multiple rain forest climates.
 
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BIO5 member Dr. Michael D. L. Johnson, Assistant Professor of Immunobiology at the UA College of Medicine - Tucson, discusses his ongoing research regarding copper’s toxicity towards bacteria and how the metal may help in the development of a new antibiotic to fight a potentially devastating, antibiotic resistant strain of pneumonia.
 
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Most studies have shown correlations between the microbiome and the effectiveness of drugs, but a recent study is one of the first to dig into how these associations work. Better understanding the causal links in drug responses may mean scientists are able to do more with our gut microbes.  BIO5 faculty and UA College of Medicine-Phoenix associate professor Dr. Melissa Herbst-Kralovetz, thinks this may pave the way for doctors to choose the most effective drug for individual patients.
 
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If you’re seeing – or feeling, in the case of mosquitoes – more bugs this spring, you can thank the rainy winter. A few wet weeks in February resulted in an abundance of wildflowers and weeds and that has led to a healthy population of bugs, says UA Entomologist and BIO5 member Dr. Dawn Gouge.
 
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UA College of Medicine-Tucson professor and BIO5 Member Dr. Donata Vercelli, notes the discovery of the microbial world has just begun, but is already revolutionizing biology and medicine. Dr. Vercelli will present a lecture on the subject as part of the 2019 UA College of Science Lecture Series.
 
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The cost to society of childhood asthma is more than AIDS and tuberculosis combined, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The numbers are “staggering,” says BIO5's Dr. Donata Vercelli, UA Professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and the Associate Director of the Asthma and Airway Disease Research Center. Vercelli and collaborators have conducted groundbreaking research with children from Amish and Hutterite communities to find out what in the environment protects the Amish children from contracting asthma.
 
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BIO5 member Dr. Roger Miesfeld, a UA Distinguished Professor and Head of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and researchers in his lab, have discovered a protein that prevents mosquitoes from hatching, opening the possibility of developing new drugs that could act as birth control for mosquito populations.
 
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After two years of chronic ear infections and countless antibiotics, BIO5 biosystems researcher Dr. Bonnie Hurwitz decided to take her daughter's health into her own hands. She took a DNA sample, sent it to a lab for sequencing, identified the problem, and took it to her daughter's doctor. Together they cured the infections.
 
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UA students study honey bees to find out how bacteria in their guts and the foods they eat are connected to life expectancy. They hope the insects can serve as model systems to discover clues about how genetics, gut bacteria and diet influence aging in humans. The study resulted from an interdisciplinary collaboration between the UA, the BIO5 Institute and the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center.