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Researchers at Texas A&M Investigate “The Pharmacy Inside Our Bodies” For Autoimmunity Treatments

Sometimes we need a good gut check. For Robert C. Alaniz, PhD, Arul Jayaraman PhD, and their interdisciplinary team at the Texas A&M Health Science Center and Texas A&M University, gut checks are taken seriously because they’re not doing them metaphorically. The researchers are actually studying gut bacteria and microbes, referred to as the commensal microbiota, to determine what within this vital system keeps the human body in a healthy balance; and how, if left unchecked, it can knock us out of balance.

The benefits of healthy gut bacteria and microbes have surged into the public consciousness over the past several years. It’s one reason why yogurt now outsells ice cream and why probiotics are a multi-billion dollar industry. The general public now understands that the bacteria in our digestive tract are important to our overall health, even if they don’t understand why.

Gut bacteria and microbes, referred to as the commensal microbiota, keep the human body in a healthy balance.

Gut bacteria and microbes, referred to as the commensal microbiota, keep the human body in a healthy balance.

“Microbes are partners with us. They have a huge impact on our overall health by improving our metabolism, strengthening our immune system, protecting us from infection and limiting allergies and autoimmune disorders,” said Alaniz, an assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “Our overall research objective is to focus on what these microbes are producing that we can’t get any other way, and then testing these different molecules in the lab to see how they might benefit human health.”

While some essential compounds, such as fiber, vitamins, and amino acids are provided by the foods we eat, Alaniz says there are potentially thousands of unique molecules produced exclusively by the microbes of our gut.

“We are looking at the biochemical properties of these microbiota compounds and the way they communicate with and regulate the behavior of our immune system,” he said.

Our immune system usually remains quiet, monitoring tissues for infection, damage and foreign bodies. At sites of our body that are exposed to the external environment, where the microbiota are most abundant, the microbiota help maintain this “quiet” state – referred to as homeostasis – when inflammation is under control and limited. When the immune system recognizes something dangerous, like an infectious microbe, it becomes activated, causing an immune response in the form of inflammation.

Normal inflammation appears as fever, a red bump after an insect bite, scar tissue or swelling, which helps our bodies fight the infection and heal. However, when the immune system is unregulated or hyperactivated, more serious problems arise, such as autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and even cancer.

Alaniz and his team have already discovered a number of the unique microbiota compounds that promote homeostasis – the normal non-inflammatory state we experience. Their basic science research is unraveling the immune and non-immune cells these compounds regulate and the receptor targets on or inside the cells that recognize the microbiota compounds. Their most recently published research in Molecular Pharmacology reveals the first identification of the host receptor for a handful of these compounds, and that, Alaniz says, will hopefully lead to new therapeutics that can help treat a number of ailments.

In translating their discoveries from the laboratory to the clinic, the researchers have found that in animals with an experimental inflammatory disease, some of the microbiota compounds can be injected, just as any current drug might be, to almost completely cure the disease, without any of the obvious side-effects most current synthetic drugs have.

“We are literally discovering inside our bodies a little pharmacy filled with potential new drugs produced by our microbiota,” Alaniz said. “Our job is to translate these microbiota compounds and formulate them into legitimate next-generation therapeutics with superior safety and efficacy that will transform how we treat the rising incidence of autoimmune and inflammatory disorders in the U.S. and the world.”

Also contributing to the research are Kyongbum Lee, PhD at Tufts University and Stephen Safe, DPhil at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

This article was originally published by the Health Science Center.

You can support faculty research at the Texas A&M University Health Science Center with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.

Contact
Andrew Robison ’04
Director of Development
Health Science Center
(979) 862-6423

Material Developed at Texas A&M Could Enable New Facial Reconstruction Treatment

A newly developed material that molds itself to fill gaps in bone while promoting bone growth could more effectively treat defects in the facial region, says a Texas A&M University researcher who is creating the shape-shifting material.

The research by Melissa Grunlan, associate professor in the university’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, is detailed in the scientific journal “Acta Biomaterialia.” Working with colleagues at Texas A&M and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Grunlan has created a polymer foam that is malleable after treating with warm saline, allowing it to precisely fill a bone defect before hardening into a porous, sponge-like scaffold that promotes new bone formation.

The team envisions the material as a treatment for cranio-maxillofacial bone defects – gaps in bone occurring in the head, face or jaw areas. These defects, which can dramatically alter a person’s appearance, can be caused by injuries, birth defects such as cleft palates or surgical procedures such as the removal of tumors, Grunlan says.

Melissa Grunlan, associate professor and researcher in the biomedical engineering department, collaborated with colleagues to  develop a new material that molds itself to fill gaps in bone while promoting bone growth.

Melissa Grunlan (right), associate professor and researcher in the biomedical engineering department, collaborated with colleagues to develop a new material that molds itself to fill gaps in bone while promoting bone growth.

In order to repair these defects, the polymer foam developed by Grunlan her team acts as a scaffold, a temporary structure that supports the damaged area while promoting healing by allowing bone cells to migrate into the area and repair the damage tissue. Ultimately, the scaffold dissolves, leaving behind new bone tissue, she explains.

“Try as hard as we do to create artificial materials to replace damaged or diseased tissues, it is nearly impossible to match the properties of native, healthy tissue – and so the whole idea behind tissue engineering is that if we can restore native-like, healthy tissue, that will be better than any artificial replacement,” Grunlan said.

“A problem,” she adds, “is directing that process in these areas where there is a critical bone defect. In these types of instances where large gaps exist the body doesn’t have the ability to heal the defect with new bone tissue growth; we have to help it along, and that is what our material is designed to do.”

Key to Grunlan’s material is its malleability after brief exposure to warm saline (140 degrees Fahrenheit), allowing surgeons to easily mold the material to fill irregularly shaped gaps in bone. Once a defect is filled, the material cools to body temperature and resumes its stiff texture, locking itself in place, she says.

This self-fitting aspect of the material gives it a significant edge over autografting, the most common treatment for these types of bone defects, Grunlan notes. Autografting involves harvesting bone from elsewhere in the body, such as the hip, and then arduously shaping it to fit the bone defect. In addition to its obvious limited availability, the bone harvested through autografting is very rigid, making it difficult to shape and resulting in a lack of contact between the graft and the surrounding tissue, Grunlan says. When this occurs, complications can arise. For example, a graft can inadvertently dissolve through a process known as graft resorption, leaving behind the defect, she says.

Another therapy involves filling the defect with bone putty, but that material can be brittle once it hardens, and it lacks the pores necessary for bone cells to move into the area and repair the tissue, Grunlan notes.

The polymer foam scaffold has interconnected pores that allow bone cells to migrate into the area and begin healing damaged tissue.

The polymer foam scaffold has interconnected pores that allow bone cells to migrate into the area and begin healing damaged tissue.

By tweaking the polymer scaffold through a chemical process that bonds individual molecular chains, Grunlan and her team overcame that issue and produced a sponge-like material with interconnected pores. They also coated the material with a bioactive substance that helps lock it into place by inducing formation of a mineral that is found in bone, she adds. The coating, Grunlan explains, help osteoblasts – the cells that produce bone – to adhere and spread throughout the polymer scaffold. Think of it as a sort of “boost” to the material’s healing properties.

Thus far, the results have been promising; after only three days the coated material had grown about five times more osteoblasts than uncoated versions of the same material, Grunlan says. In addition, the osteoblasts present within the scaffold produced more of the proteins critical for new bone formation. The team plans to continue studying the material’s ability to heal cranio-maxillofacial bone defects by moving testing into preclinical and clinical studies.

 

 

 

This article was originally published by the Dwight Look College of Engineering.

You can support faculty research at Texas A&M University’s Dwight Look College of Engineering with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.

Contact:
Andrew Acker
Assistant Vice President for Development
Dwight Look College of Engineering
(979) 845-5113

Know Thy Enemy: How One Texas A&M Prof’s Theory May Hold The Key To Predicting Outcomes Of War

In the ideological zeal and tenacity of ISIS, the U.S hasn’t seen such a determined enemy since Hitler’s Germany or Imperial Japan, says a national security policy expert at Texas A&M University. Professor Jasen Castillo examines this growing terrorist threat, as well as other potential dangers from the Middle East and countries such as Russia and North Korea, through the lens of his “cohesion theory,” a framework he developed in hopes of helping analysts and strategists gauge the staying power of military forces.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gena Fedoruk and U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Marcel Trott take off in a KC-135 Stratotanker from a base in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to support airstrikes on ISIL targets in Syria, Sept. 23, 2014. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gena Fedoruk and U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Marcel Trott take off in a KC-135 Stratotanker from a base in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to support airstrikes on ISIL targets in Syria, Sept. 23, 2014. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch

“Before the U.S. goes to war, we should know what motivates an adversary and how hard it will fight,” explains Castillo, a professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service who uses the theories and methods of social science to address problems in national security. “What we don’t want to do is assume every opponent we face will disintegrate like the Iraqi Army in 2003.” And, he adds, the U.S. should also avoid extreme optimism about the ability of technology to trump the tenacity of potential opponents, especially the use of airpower.

In examining the staying power of military forces, Castillo asks, “Why do some country’s militaries fight hard when facing defeat, while others collapse?” The cohesion theory proposes to answer this question using two factors: the degree of control a regime holds over its citizens and the amount of autonomy the armed forces possess to focus on training for war.

“To create resilient militaries, governments face several choices: they can exert a high degree of control over the country (the former Soviet Union), they can allow military organizations the autonomy to train (the United States), they can do both (Imperial Japan), or they can fail to do either (South Vietnam),” Castillo explains.

“With a high degree of regime control, governments instill and enforce norms of unconditional loyalty throughout the population. A hard-core group of regime supporters inside the military will fight no matter the strategic circumstances and coerce others to do the same. High regime control explains why Hitler’s Germany fought to the bitter end but the Kaiser’s Germany did not.”

In looking at troublesome areas globally, Castillo applies the theory, finding some military forces may prove harder to defeat than others. “Cohesion theory would suggest ethnic and sectarian division would undermine the staying power of the Iraqi Army,” he notes. “These are problems that also undermine the professionalism of the Afghan National Army the U.S. is trying to build.”

The guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea launches a Tomahawk cruise missile as seen from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf, Sept. 23, 2014. The George H.W. Bush and the Philippine Sea are part of Carrier Strike Group 2, supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Garst.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea launches a Tomahawk cruise missile as seen from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf, Sept. 23, 2014. The George H.W. Bush and the Philippine Sea are part of Carrier Strike Group 2, supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Garst.

He finds a fight against the rising Islamic State may be a hard-fought victory, and “fighting for their lives, the Assad Regime in Syria will also fight very hard. While in Eastern Europe, the Ukrainian Army does well when it fights rebels but not when it comes up against regular Russian forces. When this happens, its units of poorly trained conscripts break and run.”

Castillo, a former Department of Defense policy planner, explores cohesion theory in his book Endurance and War: The National Sources of Military Cohesion.

He examines the performance of various militaries from the First and Second World Wars as well as the Vietnam War and contends that traditional arguments on military staying power fail to address key issues. “One view argues the key to creating militaries with strong cohesion is through small-unit training,” he explains. “Armies made up of ‘bands of brothers’ fight the hardest. This view, however, ignores instances where militaries fought hard even though state terror, poor training practices, or terribly high casualties undermined small-unit bonds. The brave performance of the Soviet Red Army during World War II comes to mind.

“A second view argues a country’s ideology motivates a nation’s armed forces, especially nationalism. Although ideologies sometime rally a country’s armed forces, at other times they fall on deaf ears, as with French military in 1940 and in Mussolini’s Italy in World War II.

“And a third view claims democracies produce the militaries with the greatest staying power. The historical record, however, suggests non-democracies − like North Vietnam, Communist China, and the Soviet Union − fight with equal if not more determination on the battlefield.”

Castillo contends the U.S. should be wary of militaries with a high degree of organizational autonomy. These types of armed forces “can cultivate norms of unconditional loyalty and trust among their personnel. These norms will motivate most units — even reserve units — to fight with determination and flexibility on the battlefield.”

By Lesley Henton, Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications

You can follow Jasen Castillo on Twitter at @castillojasen.

This article was originally published by The Bush School of Government and Public Service.

You can support faculty research at the Bush School with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.

Contact
Jessica McCann ’07
Senior Director of Development
George Bush School of Government & Public Service
(979) 458-8035

Architecture Students Design Portable Ebola Treatment Clinics

From left, graduate students Celso Rojas, Soheil Hamideh and Tian Wang examine a model of their concept for a rapidly deployable Ebola virus treatment clinic.

From left, graduate students Celso Rojas, Soheil Hamideh and Tian Wang examine a model of their concept for a rapidly deployable Ebola virus treatment clinic.

Design concepts for portable, rapidly deployable Ebola virus treatment clinics created by Texas A&M Master of Architecture students will be unveiled at a 2 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 24 presentation on the fourth floor of the Langford Architecture Center’s Building A on the Texas A&M campus.

“The current pandemic in western Africa underscores the need for these inexpensive, easily erected modular facilities where patients inflicted with the Ebola virus or other infectious diseases can be treated while isolated from the general population,” said George J. Mann, holder of the Skaggs Professorship in Health Facilities Design and director of the graduate architecture studio that undertook the project.

Such modules, he said, could be dismantled and strategically stored at transportation hubs for rapid deployment and assembly in crisis areas. To that end, students’ designed the modules, to fit comfortably in shipping containers and airplane cargo holds, and light enough to be transported by helicopter to more remote locations.

The designs also minimize the tools required for constructing the modules onsite. One student, Mann said, used an accordion concept, in which modules could be expanded for use and compressed for storage or transport. Another design was held together with Velcro fasteners strengthened by straps.

The region’s hot, rainy weather is addressed in another student’s design that employs a double shell exterior to minimize interior heat and a pitched roof for channeling heavy rainfall.

Health care professionals who advised the students included P.K. Carlton, Jr., former surgeon general of the U.S. Air Force; Dr. Eric Wilke, health authority for the Brazos County Health Department; Mike Paulas, emergency preparedness and response coordinator for the BCHD and retired Air Force Major General Annette Sobel, a specialist in global disease surveillance.

This article was originally published in the College of Architecture’s newsletter ArchOne.

You can support the College of Architecture’s Ebola treatment clinic design project with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation. 

Contact
Larry Zuber

Assistant Vice President for Development
College of Architecture
(979) 845-0939

 

Texas A&M Researcher Uses Genes to Map Evolution of Species

COLLEGE STATION – Genes, whether from apes or the trees they live in, are the storytellers of the origins of a species, according to a Texas A&M University ecosystem science and management assistant professor in College Station.

Dr. Claudio Casola, in his first year at Texas A&M as a forest genomicist, analyzes large molecular data sets — mainly DNA sequences of genomes — to determine patterns of gene evolution.

Casola said genes are DNA strings containing the basic information to build and maintain cells, tissues and essentially the whole organism. And, his interest is in understanding the specific role of each gene and how the genes in different species originated and function – regardless of species.

Recently, his research on DNA was included in articles being published in two different journals, Nature and Nature Genetics.

Dr. Claudio Casola, a Texas A&M University ecosystem science and management assistant professor

Dr. Claudio Casola is a Texas A&M University ecosystem science and management assistant professor.

The two articles describe the sequencing and analysis of several primate genomes. The Nature paper concerns gibbons, while the Nature Genetics paper is about the common marmoset, a small South American monkey important to biomedical research.

While he has published and presented research focused on a variety of genomic analyses of animals, plants and fungi genomes, Casola’s current position is specifically aimed at understanding the genetics and genomics of pine trees and other economically and ecologically relevant tree species, especially in the U.S. and Texas.

While not directly related to his current work, the research Casola conducted for these papers is very similar to what he is doing now in relation to forest trees.

“In fact, my work for these two studies was aimed at finding gene duplications and gene losses across these and other primates, including humans,” he said.

Casola said ‘gene duplication’ is the process that makes genes more abundant and is a major driver of evolution and species diversity.

“I take advantage of public databases of DNA information in genome sequences or the complete DNA information of a species, which is currently available for a number of organisms. I also generate my own genomic data sets whenever possible or needed.

“A key aspect of my work is the comparative analysis of gene data,” he said. “By looking at what genes have become more abundant or have been lost in a species compared to another species, I can infer the molecular basis of some biological differences between these species.”

Cover page of Nature magazine featuring the "Gibbon genome and the fast karyotype evolution of small apes" article

Dr. Casola’s research on DNA was featured in Nature magazine, describing the sequencing and analysis of several primate genomes.

The studies on the gibbons and marmoset genomes are the result of large collaborations involving several labs in the U.S. and other countries, Casola said. The main goals of both works include improving the general knowledge of these primate genetics and genomics to better understand human evolution, human biology and the molecular causes of human diseases.

“Improving our knowledge of the biology of these animals and providing better molecular tools for conservation purposes of endangered species are other fundamental aims of these projects,” he said.

Gibbons, also known as lesser apes, evolved a combination of anatomical features that allow them to swing at high speed from branch to branch for distances up to 50 feet. They also have experienced a uniquely high level of chromosomal breaks and fusions among primates that possibly accelerated the speciation process in this group.

Casola said 19 known gibbon species represent three-quarters of all ape species.

In the Nature article, the team presents the genome assembly for a female northern white-cheeked gibbon, he said. They uncovered a group of gibbon-specific retrotransposons—short DNA sequences able to make many copies of themselves that eventually ‘attach’ somewhere in the genome—that could be implicated in chromosomal reshuffling experienced by gibbons.

The genome of primates, including humans, host millions of retrotransposon copies. However, the gibbon-specific retrotransposons known as LAVA elements might have disrupted the activity of some genes involved in chromosomal organization, he explained.

“Interestingly, my comparative analysis of primate genomes shows that in contrast to the high chromosomal rearrangement levels, gene duplications and gene losses have not been particularly elevated in gibbons,” Casola added. “This finding suggests that whatever process is responsible for the chromosomal rearrangements, it did not speed up gene turnover.”

He performed a similar analysis in the common marmoset, a species in which females often give birth to dizygotic twins.

“In my work on the common marmoset genome, I identified hundreds of gene duplication and loss events that have occurred in the past 40 million years. At the same time, studying this genome allowed me to find several genes that have been lost during the evolution of humans, but are still present in this monkey and other mammals,” Casola said.

Dissecting the genome organization and gene evolution of pine trees will be more challenging than in primates, he said.

“Pine tree genomes contain between 20-35 billion bases, or ‘letters,’ which is seven to 11 times the size of our own genome. In other words, they are much more difficult to decode,” Casola said. “However, several pine tree and spruce genomes have already been sequenced, including the loblolly pine tree, which is the primary commercial forest species in the Southeastern United States. This will have a great impact on the genetics research in these species.”

Casola said his research is already taking advantage of these resources, and is also focusing on improving the sequence of the loblolly pine genome.

“Even after sequencing a genome you always end up having lots of short sequences that are very hard to put together,” he said. “One of my goals is to find better ways to join these pieces by working with other researchers at Texas A&M University, the Texas A&M Forest Service and the USDAForest Service Southern Research Station,” he said.

This effort will be important to develop genetic tools that can help improve the wood quality of commercial pine trees, and potentially obtain trees more resistant to drought and pests through breeding, Casola said.

“I’ve always enjoyed digging into genomic data to find out how genes and species evolved,” he said. “Now I can apply this information to understand how pine trees adapted to their environment, and hopefully this will translate into tools that can help contain the effects of climate change on some of our forests.”

Links to both of the journal articles can be found on Casola’s website under the Publications tab.

This article was originally published in AgriLife Today.

You can support faculty research in Texas A&M University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.

Contact
Steve Blomstedt ’83
Senior Director of Development

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
(979) 845-9582

Texas A&M-Galveston Researchers Tackle Seaweed Problem

GALVESTON – Researchers at Texas A&M University at Galveston have a use for the hundreds of tons of stinky seaweed that have washed up on the Louisiana – Texas beaches. They have devised a way to bale the stuff like common hay and have even found a way to make it edible.

Dr. Thomas Linton is a marine ecology and wetlands management professor at Texas A&M University at Galveston

Dr. Thomas Linton is a marine ecology and wetlands management professor at Texas A&M University at Galveston

Tom Linton and Robert Webster, researchers who have been studying the seaweed problem for years, have adapted a farm

compactor to bale the seaweed, technically called sargassum, that floats atop the Gulf of Mexico waters in huge clumps that can be miles long and packed into blocks similar to hay.

Once baled, the sargassum can be used to mix with sand and then the beach grass take root to form an ideal method to stop beach erosion that has plagued the area for decades, the researchers say.

In addition, they have yet another twist to the seaweed problem: a way has been found to take out iodine that is found in much of the sargassum and thereby making it edible and opening up some additional opportunities for its use.

Linton, who has been working on seaweed projects for more than 10 years, says that sargassum “comes in waves and hits the beaches, every few years. It’s a natural process that happens, but this year has been different.

“We’ve had at least nine strong cold fronts this spring and early summer that kept the sargassum out into the Gulf, but in recent months the currents have washed all of it up on the beaches. We now think we have developed ways to bale it up like hay, remove the iodine and use it safely. In addition, it makes an ideal way cover some beach areas with vegetation and makes a very nice ground cover.”

State officials are so excited about the idea that the Texas General Land Office and the Galveston Park Board of Trustees have awarded the researchers a $150,000 grant to fund the project.

This article was originally published by Texas A&M University at Galveston.

You can support faculty research at Texas A&M University at Galveston with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation. 

Contact:
Richard Kline
Director of Development
Texas A&M University at Galveston

(409) 741-4030

Texas A&M College of Medicine Awards Scholarship in Recognition of Medal of Honor Recipient

January 10, 1968, in South Vietnam: Specialist fifth class Clarence Sasser and his battalion are conducting an air assault while on reconnaissance in Dinh Tuong Province. Without warning, they begin to take heavy enemy fire and one of their helicopters goes down. In minutes, 30 men are killed and several more are wounded. Without hesitation, Sasser, a medical aidman, runs across an open rice field through a hail of enemy fire to aid his fallen countrymen. After moving one man to safety, an exploding mortar shoots shrapnel into Sasser’s left shoulder and two additional shots from enemy soldiers immobilize both his legs. Despite these agonizing wounds, he drags himself through the mud, calling orders for others to move to safety as he aids more wounded soldiers.

It took several months of rehabilitation in Japan before Sasser regained use of his legs. Upon his return to the United States in 1969, Sasser received the Medal of Honor from President Richard Nixon for his life-saving acts of valor, which were deemed above and beyond the call of duty. He was later recruited to attend Texas A&M University on a scholarship personally offered by the late Gen. Earl Rudder, who was then president of the university. While life circumstances prevented Sasser from graduating, he remained an Aggie at heart, and in 2014, he was presented with an honorary degree from Texas A&M.

From left: John Espinoza, first year medical student and first ever Clarence Sasser Scholarship recipient; Clarence Sasser, Medal of Honor recipient; Brett Giroir, M.D., CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center

From left: John Espinoza, first year medical student and first ever Clarence Sasser Scholarship recipient; Clarence Sasser, Medal of Honor recipient; Brett Giroir, M.D., CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center

In recognition of his selfless service – a quality that those in the health care professions demonstrate on a daily basis – the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine created the Clarence Sasser Scholarship this year, a $25,000 scholarship initially made possible by the generous contribution of an anonymous donor and slated to be awarded annually to entering medical students who demonstrate the same dedication that Mr. Sasser personified on the battlefield.

“Excellence, integrity, leadership, loyalty, respect and selfless service – these are the values that define Texas A&M, and we seek to instill each of these in the physicians we educate,” said Paul Ogden, M.D., interim dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “Clarence Sasser embodies all of these traits, as witnessed in his courageous acts in Vietnam and throughout his life. I cannot think of a better example of the type of physician we’re striving to produce.”

“As an army medic with aspirations of becoming a doctor, this is truly an honor to be recognized in this manner,” Sasser said. “I hope the scholarship will be a ticket for future medical student hopefuls to achieve their goals of becoming Aggie physicians.”

One of those hopefuls, Johnny Espinoza, is now well on his way to becoming an Aggie physician thanks to the generous scholarship.

Espinoza, the first-ever Sasser Scholar, began classes at the Texas A&M College of Medicine in July. Prior to joining the ranks of future Aggie doctors, he served for more than eight years as an Army veterinary food inspection specialist, while he earned dual bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and biology from the University of Mary Hardin Baylor in Belton, Texas. During those eight years he served a tour in Iraq, a decision he made so one of his soldiers wouldn’t have to go alone.

“Another unit was deployed, but they had one soldier who was unable to go, so they pulled a soldier from my unit. I was a higher rank, so they didn’t need me, but I didn’t want her to go alone, so I volunteered,” he said.

After the military, Espinoza worked for a pharmaceutical company and then began applying for medical school. When he interviewed at Texas A&M, he says it just felt right.

“The students at Texas A&M seemed like they had really close relationships with their professors and could always ask them for help when they needed them. The atmosphere felt very genuine,” he said.

After completing medical school and residency, Espinoza plans to work in medically underserved areas in rural regions of the U.S., but says he would ideally like to serve as a Navy surgeon so he can travel and help those in third-world nations where access to medical care is scarce at best.

Espinoza had the privilege of meeting Clarence Sasser at a scholarship award ceremony held on the Texas A&M Health Science Center Bryan campus this summer.

“It was a real honor to meet a living recipient of the Medal of Honor,” he said. “I hope if I am ever in Mr. Sasser’s situation that I will have the courage and fortitude to press forward and assist my patients as he assisted those with whom he served.”

This article was originally published by the Health Science Center.

You can support scholarships in Texas A&M University’s Health Science Center with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation. 

Contact:
Andrew Robison ’04
Director of Development

Health Science Center
(979) 862-6423

Texas A&M Engineering Complex Moving Forward with Support from Dow

Shared-use laboratories, flexible classrooms and a state-of-the-art educational environment will soon be the new academic learning ground for engineering students at Texas A&M University thanks to a $2 million contribution from The Dow Chemical Company (NYSE: DOW).Future EEC

The nearly 550,000 sq. ft. Engineering Education Complex (ECC), part of Texas A&M’s Dwight Look College of Engineering, will become the hub of the university’s undergraduate engineering program. It will be built adjacent to the existing Zachry Engineering Center, which will be renovated during the construction project.

“This generous donation from Dow is more than just a contribution to a building, it is support for our vision to provide a unique learning environment for our students,” said Dr. M. Katherine Banks, vice chancellor and dean of engineering. “This new facility will change the way we deliver our engineering education and thus help us to produce the next engineering leaders.”

With more than 350 tenured/tenure-track faculty members and more than 12,000 students, the Look College is one of the largest engineering schools in the country, ranking third in undergraduate enrollment and ninth in graduate enrollment. The college is ranked by U.S. News & World Report seventh in graduate studies, eighth in undergraduate programs, and second in research expenditures among public institutions, with seven of the college’s 13 departments ranked in the Top 10.

Dow has a history of supporting higher education and invests in universities all over the world. In addition to this $2 million contribution, Dow hopes to see a paradigm shift in the value generated from relationships with academic partners through its multi-faceted support of faculty and students, research, academic programs and infrastructure.

“Texas A&M is one of Dow’s top universities for recruitment of engineers and scientists, and Aggie engineers have played a huge part in Dow’s success globally for many decades,” said Jeff Garry, manufacturing and technology director for the Microbial Control and Performance Monomers businesses at Dow. “We are thrilled to continue our long-time relationship with Texas A&M and look forward to seeing the students thrive in their new surroundings.”

This article was originally published by the Dwight Look College of Engineering.

You can support educational facilities at Texas A&M University’s Dwight Look College of Engineering with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.

Contact:
Andrew Acker
Assistant Vice President for Development
Dwight Look College of Engineering
(979) 845-5113

Texas A&M Prof Helps To Develop New Device That Detects Radiation Better Than Ever

In a move that could have huge implications for national security, researchers have created a very sensitive and tiny detector that is capable of detecting radiation from various sources at room temperature. The detector is eight to nine orders of magnitude –100 million to as high as 1 billion — times faster than the existing technology, and a Texas A&M University at Galveston professor is a key player in the discovery.

Texas A&M professor Luke Nyakiti has helped invent new process to detect radiation that could be a huge benefit to Homeland Security

Texas A&M professor Luke Nyakiti has helped invent new process to detect radiation that could be a huge benefit to Homeland Security

Luke Nyakiti, assistant professor in marine engineering technology and Materials Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University at Galveston, is part of the research team that has had its work published in the current issue of Nature Nanotechnology.

Nyakiti and colleagues from the University of Maryland, the University of Massachusetts, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and Monash University in Australia fabricated the tiny photothermoelectric detector following successful growth of graphene at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. The project was funded by the office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation.

The team’s goal was to utilize the exceptional electronic carrier properties of graphene to create a photo detector device that could detect radiation at room temperature with the fastest response, which previously has been extremely difficult to do. The researchers used a two-dimensional material called graphene that is made of carbon atoms that are arranged in a honeycomb-like geometrical structure (the diameter of a human hair is 300,000 times thicker than a two-dimensional sheet of graphene).

Graphene was chosen because it conducts electricity with ease, it is nearly transparent, and it is remarkably strong (100 times stronger than steel). Also, it is very sensitive to energy absorbance.

Luke Nyakiti

Luke Nyakiti

“The problem before is that there has always been a ‘slow response’ when it came to detecting radiation in the terahertz frequency range, especially at room temperature, and the technology that currently exists operated at very cold temperatures, subsequently requiring supportive electronic systems that adds to the cost,” Nyakiti explains.

He says the benefit of using this detector is that its signals do not pose a health hazard to the people using it. Also, besides the extremely high sensing speeds reported by the device, the team anticipates further improvements in sensing ability.

“We are very excited that our detector system provides a unique answer to fast, subtle detection capabilities that are a million to a billion times faster in its detection capability, without posing short-term or long term health hazards to those who are operating it,” Nyakiti reports .

“It was indeed an exciting time for all of us when this happened. Because it is much more effective in detecting radiation, the device could be very promising for homeland security purposes. It also might have applications in mobile devices, medical imaging and other uses.

“This has the potential to open up other device possibilities in medical applications. This is a huge first step.”

This article was originally published by the TAMU Times.

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New Research Reveals How Wild Rabbits Genetically Transformed Into Tame Rabbits

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – The genetic changes that transformed wild animals into domesticated forms have long been a mystery. However, an international team of scientists has made a breakthrough by showing that many genes controlling the development of the brain and the nervous system were particularly important for rabbit domestication, according to a study published today in the journal Science.

Wild European Rabbits

Wild European Rabbits

The domestication of animals and plants, a prerequisite for the development of agriculture, is one of the most important technological revolutions during human history. Domestication of animals started as early as 9,000 to 15,000 years ago and initially involved dogs, cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. The rabbit was domesticated much later, about 1,400 years ago, at monasteries in southern France. When domestication occurred, the wild ancestor, the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), was confined to the Iberian Peninsula and southern France.

“There are several reasons why the rabbit is an outstanding model for genetic studies of domestication,” said Miguel Carneiro, from CIBIO/Inbio-University of Porto, one of the leading authors on the paper. “Its domestication was relatively recent, we know where it happened, and this region is still densely populated with wild rabbits.”

The scientists first sequenced the entire genome of one domestic rabbit to develop a reference genome assembly. Then they re-sequenced entire genomes of domestic rabbits representing six different breeds and wild rabbits sampled at 14 different places across the Iberian Peninsula and southern France.

“No previous study on animal domestication has involved such a careful examination of genetic variation in the wild ancestral species,” said Leif Andersson of Uppsala University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and Texas A&M University. “This allowed us to pinpoint the genetic changes that have occurred during rabbit domestication.”

This domestication has primarily occurred by altering the frequencies of gene variants that were already present in the wild ancestor. “Our data shows that domestication primarily involved small changes in many genes, and not drastic changes in a few genes,” continued Andersson.

The team observed very few examples where a gene variant common in domestic rabbits had completely replaced the gene variant present in wild rabbits; it was rather shifts in frequencies of those variants that were favored in domestic rabbits.

“The results we have are very clear,” Carneiro said. “The difference between a wild and a tame rabbit is not which genes they carry but how their genes are regulated—when and how much of each gene is used in different cells.”

The study also revealed which genes have been altered during domestication, most noticeably strong enrichment in domestic rabbits of genes involved in the development of the brain and the nervous system.

The study shows that the wild rabbit is a highly polymorphic species that carries gene variants that were favorable during domestication, and that the accumulation of many small changes led to the inhibition of the strong flight response—one of the most prominent phenotypic changes in the evolution of the domestic rabbit.

“We predict that a similar process has occurred in other domestic animals and that we will not find a few specific ‘domestication genes’ that were critical for domestication,” Andersson said. “It is very likely that a similar diversity of gene variants affecting the brain and the nervous system occurs in the human population and that contributes to differences in personality and behavior.

This article was originally published by the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

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