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Bees and Peanuts More Deadly Than Sharks

It’s that time of year when people head to the beach, and when headlines sometimes scream of a shark attack somewhere along the U.S. coastline.  But the chances of being bitten by a shark are so remote they are hardly worth worrying about, says a Texas A&M University at Galveston marine expert.

David Wells, assistant professor of marine biology who has studied sharks for years, says you should deep-six those shark fears.  Bottom line: the odds are in your favor.

You will likely never see a sign like this on a Texas beach.

You will likely never see a sign like this on a Texas beach.

“There are very few shark attacks worldwide, and Texas’ beaches appear to be some of the safest anywhere,” Wells explains.

The International Shark Attack File, run by the Florida Museum of Natural History, is the world’s leading source on shark attacks.  Its records show that from 1959 to 2010, there were 1,970 people killed by lightning strikes in the U.S., compared to 26 shark fatalities.

In Texas during that time, 213 people were killed by lightning while only one shark attack death occurred (there have been two deaths in Texas since 1911 – one in Galveston county and one in Cameron county).

Florida appears to be ground zero for both sharks and lightning.  Since 1959, it is by far the leader in lightning deaths (459) and shark attack deaths (9).

No doubt, your chances of a shark attack are incredibly small. The Shark Attack File has done the math and the odds of getting killed by a shark are about 1 in 264 million.

Along the Gulf Coast, your chance of getting attacked by an alligator is three to four times higher than a shark attack, statistics show.

Sun seekers should be more concerned about their drive to the beach than shark attacks, Wells says.  For that matter, they should be more concerned about dying from a bee sting (50 to 100 people die worldwide, and bee stings kill more people each year than all venomous animals combined).

Even killer sharks are no match for killer peanuts: About 100 people worldwide die annually from an allergic reaction to eating peanuts, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation.

While there are numerous kinds of sharks, only four are frequently cited in shark attacks – the bull shark, the tiger shark, the great white shark and the oceanic white tip shark.

“Bull sharks tend to be very aggressive,” Wells says, “and they are commonly seen along the Texas coast.”

Bull sharks have been known to swim many hundreds of miles upstream, such as deep into the Mississippi River, while great white sharks and oceanic white tip sharks are almost never seen off Texas beaches.

“If you want to play it very safe, it’s a good idea not to swim alone,” Wells says.

“And always swim near a lifeguard station. Lifeguards get daily information about possible shark sightings, and they are trained to look for them.  And don’t swim too far out – if there are sharks, they are usually found in chest-deep water, and that’s also about where dangerous rip currents can occur.

“At any given moment, there are tens of millions of people in the world who are at the beach and in the water,” he adds.  “The odds of not getting bitten by a shark are very much in your favor.”

This article was originally published by the TAMU Times.

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

Contact:

Steve Blomstedt
Director of Development
(979) 847-8655

Gulf Dead Zone This Year Is Smaller

The “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico this year is much smaller than usual, measuring about 2,600 square miles, or a little larger than the size of the state of Delaware, says a Texas A&M University researcher just back from studying the region.

Texas A&M researcher Steve DiMarco (left) helps place an ocean glider into the gulf to measure this year’s dead zone.

Texas A&M researcher Steve DiMarco (left) helps place an ocean glider into the gulf to measure this year’s dead zone.

Steve DiMarco, professor of oceanography and one of the world’s leading experts on the dead zone, recently returned from surveying the area, from the central Texas coast to the Mississippi River delta of Louisiana. He and his research team found only several patches of hypoxia – oxygen-depleted water – in the Gulf.

“The largest concentrations appear to be near Grand Isle, La., and then a little farther east to where the Mississippi flows directly into the Gulf of Mexico,” DiMarco reports.

“We were not expecting a large dead zone area this year, and the results appear to bear out those predictions. This is our fifth June cruise to estimate the size of the dead zone. We have seen a lot of variability in size and this year is our second smallest.”

During the past five summers, the dead zone has averaged about 5,000 square miles based on the annual survey by a group at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON). The June survey by DiMarco is done to provide an estimate of the dead zone’s variability over the course of the summer.

Hypoxia occurs when oxygen levels in seawater drop to dangerously low levels, and persistent hypoxia can potentially result in fish kills and harm marine life, thereby creating a “dead zone” in that particular area.

Such low levels of oxygen are believed to be caused by nutrient pollution from farm fertilizers and other land-based sources as they empty into rivers such as the Mississippi and eventually make their way into the Gulf. In summer, the size of the zone has been shown to be influenced by the nutrient runoff, volume of freshwater discharged and prevailing winds, which control the freshwater river plume’s movement.

The Mississippi is the largest river in the United States, draining 40 percent of the land area of the country. It also accounts for almost 90 percent of the freshwater runoff into the Gulf of Mexico.

DiMarco’s research on the dead zone is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research, as part of its long-term commitment to advancing the science to inform management practices aimed at mitigating the hypoxic zone.

“Why it is a bit smaller could be a combination of several things – including lower nutrient loading and lower freshwater volumes from the Mississippi River or prevailing southerly winds across the continental shelf in June,” he explains.

This year, DiMarco used new research tools called ocean gliders. The torpedo-shaped cylinders were placed in the Gulf and they transmit key information back to shore about ocean temperature and salinity, and most importantly, dissolved oxygen concentration of the seawater. Two of the gliders are now operating in the Gulf’s deadzone and furnishing key info by satellite about every six hours, DiMarco says.

The gliders are planned to be in the water until early September 2014. The glider data are made available to the public by the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) and the NOAA Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS). Both GCOOS and IOOS are providing funding for the glider aspects of this experiment.

Media contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644 or Steve DiMarco at (979) 862-4168 or (979) 324-5336

This article was originally published by the TAMU Times.

You can support faculty research in the College of Geosciences with a gift of an endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.

Contact

Jack Falks
Director of Development
College of Geosciences

(979) 862-4944

Low-cost TB Test Means Quicker, More Reliable Diagnosis for Patients

A new test for tuberculosis (TB) could dramatically improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis for one of the world’s deadliest diseases, enabling health care providers to report results to patients within minutes, according to a study published this week in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

TB REaD™ improves the speed and accuracy of a TB diagnosis, allowing health providers to deliver results in 10 minutes and begin treatment in the same patient session.

TB REaD™ improves the speed and accuracy of a TB diagnosis, allowing health providers to deliver results in 10 minutes and begin treatment in the same patient session.

Jeffrey Cirillo, Ph.D., professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, in collaboration with GBDbio, a Texas A&M spinoff company, and investigators at Stanford University, have identified a new chemical compound to spot the bacteria that cause TB with a level of sensitivity that currently takes months to produce; and results of the first human clinical trial data are promising. Findings show the test can determine that a patient has tuberculosis with 86 percent sensitivity and 73 percent specificity. Smear microscopy, the most widely used test in the world, has a significantly lower ability to detect TB, ranging between 50 to 60 percent sensitivity.

Although preventable, TB claims three lives every minute, making it the second leading cause of mortality from an infectious disease in the world. Spread through the air when an individual with active TB infection coughs or sneezes, reports show that if left untreated, a person with active TB infects an average of 10 to 15 people each year, leaving a great need for faster, more reliable testing.

Cirillo’s latest breakthrough perfects the technology behind the test. Using a fluorescent substrate, the device targets BlaC – an enzyme produced by the bacteria that cause TB – as an indicator of the bacteria’s presence. Until now, it has not been possible to target a specific TB enzyme for diagnosis.

Once sputum samples are combined with the reactive substance, a battery-powered, portable tabletop device, the TB REaD™, is then used to detect any fluorescence and deliver the diagnosis in as little as 10 minutes.

“It’s simple. Take a sputum sample, treat it with the solution and put it inside the reader,” Cirillo said. “A camera inside looks for a reaction between the sample and solution that produces light. No light, no infection.”

Currently, there is no diagnostic tool comparable to this and while others exist, they take several months to produce the same level of sensitivity; and come with a high price tag. The latest FDA-approved model cost upwards of $20,000. The target price tag on Cirillo’s test is less than $1000 for the reader and less than $5 per test. Additionally, the one-step test will require little technical expertise or resources, should take less than 30 minutes to carry out, and is easily transportable, making it an ideal candidate for field diagnosis in developing countries.

The device significantly undercuts current diagnostic methods, important, given the staggering statistic that if left untreated – a common scenario in countries lacking infrastructure or resources to efficiently screen and follow up with infected patients – a person with active TB has only a 50 percent chance of survival, Cirillo notes.
“Interrupting disease transmission will require early and accurate detection paired with appropriate treatment,” Cirillo said. “Our new, rapid point-of-care TB test dramatically reduces the current delays in diagnosis with incredible accuracy, accelerating appropriate treatment and reducing the death rate of the highly infectious disease. We’re looking at a low-cost, easy-to-use test that has the potential to eradicate TB.”

The test is currently in the later stages of clinical trials with plans to go to market in the next 18 months. Although the first applications will be in TB, Cirillo’s detection platform – Reporter Enzyme Fluorescence – could be applied to many other respiratory diseases and infectious agents.

The research project, previously published in Nature: Chemistry, has garnered support from the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, the Clinton Health Access Initiative and is supported by the Wellcome Trust.

This article was originally published by the Health Science Center

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

Contact

Andrew Robison ’04
Director of Development
Texas A&M Health Science Center

(979) 862-6423

Researchers Working To Stem Water-Borne Parasites

Especially in the summer, people (and pets) literally cannot live without water. We drink it, bathe in it, cook with it, and use it to cool off on hot afternoons. Water is such a major part of our daily lives that the thought of a water-borne parasite is enough to make anyone worry. These tiny organisms have found ways to invade us that are at least as varied as the ways we use water. However, researchers at Texas A&M University are working to understand parasite infection and discover possible preventions and treatments.

Rodriguez performing a parasitological fecal sedimentation test to detect the Heterobilharzia eggs

Rodriguez performing a parasitological fecal sedimentation test to detect the Heterobilharzia eggs

Dr. Karen Snowden, a professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology (VTPB) at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, and her graduate student, Dr. Jessica Rodriguez, are studying Heterobilharzia americana, a waterborne flatworm trematode parasite, commonly thought to affect wildlife, that can also infect both dogs and horses. Reported cases of canine infection are on the rise, but whether this is due to increasing incidence or just increasing diagnosis, researchers are unsure.

“We examined medical records from 238 dogs diagnosed with Heterobilharzia americana in Texas over the past 22 years,” Rodriguez said. “Dogs can show nonspecific symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, and decreased appetite. In many cases, dogs were diagnosed only after undergoing surgery and biopsy. We hope to increase veterinarians’ awareness of this parasite so that more dogs are diagnosed with non-invasive tests and before they become very ill.”

The eggs of this parasite hatch when they come into contact with fresh water and quickly penetrate a specific type of aquatic snail, where they then multiply before leaving to search for a warm-blooded host. The larvae, as they are called at this point, stay in the water until an appropriate host comes along, at which point they latch onto that animal and burrow through the skin, infecting the body systemically as they travel to the lungs, the liver (where they mature), and eventually the veins of the abdominal organs. There, the male and female flatworms mate and produce eggs. Most eggs are carried to the intestinal wall, where they erode their way into the intestines to be passed in the feces and begin the cycle again. Some eggs are carried to the liver where they cause inflammation and disease in dogs.

Although this particular parasite is not considered a human pathogen, it is closely related to several other parasites that do affect humans. In an innovative, One Health approach, Rodriguez is using what is known about treatment of the human disease to suggest a better diagnostic test, and potentially, a treatment for dogs with the similar parasite. Any treatments or preventions found work well for dogs, moreover, could then go the other direction and be applied to human medicine.

“We can easily apply a One Health concept spanning human and veterinary medicine while studying the parasite, H. americana,” Snowden said. “We are proving that a test designed to detect the closely related human parasite, Schistosoma, will also diagnose this local animal parasite. In turn, the Heterobilharzia parasite can be developed as a animal model to study the globally important human Schistosoma parasite, testing new drugs and understanding disease processes with less human risk in a research setting.”

Another example of this diversity of parasites is Cryptosporidium, a type of protozoan that can cause gastrointestinal problems, such as severe watery diarrhea, in humans and other vertebrate animals. Crypto, as the parasite is often called, is spread in the fecal-oral fashion, most commonly through drinking contaminated water.

Humans often become infected when they accidently swallow a little bit of contaminated water as they are swimming. As crypto is resistant to many powerful disinfectants, including chlorine, even treated swimming pools and water parks can be dangerous. Furthermore, when crypto gets into the sources drinking water sources (such as rivers, lakes, or wells), it can be difficult to destroy all of the parasites. The biggest officially recorded crypto outbreak was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1993 when it infected 403,000 people after one of the city’s two water purification plants was contaminated, probably with runoff from cattle pastures.

Cryptosporidiosis, the disease caused by this parasite, is found worldwide and is one of the top four diarrheal pathogens in infants and toddlers in developing countries. It can be a life-threatening condition for immune compromised individuals, and there is no approved treatment for them, and crypto is thought to have killed about 100,000 people in 2010. However, Dr. Guan Zhu, another professor in VTPB, studies parasite metabolism in order to find possible drug targets. He and his team recently discovered a treatment that reduced the parasite load by up to 90%, offering hope that a drug might soon be developed to treat human and animal cases.

“Cryptosporidium is a classic example of One Health pathogen as it infects both humans and animals and affects environments by contaminating drinking and recreational waters,” Zhu said. “Our research focuses on understanding what happens inside this tiny parasite at molecular and biochemical levels. Our ultimate goal is to develop effective therapeutics by targeting the essential molecules in the parasite.”

This article was originally published by the TAMU Times.

You can support faculty research at Texas A&M University’s  College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science with a gift of an endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.

Contact:

O.J. Bubba Woytek
Assistant Vice President of Development
College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science
(979) 845-9043

Being Perceived As “Cool” Means Breaking The Rules, But Only So Much

It’s elusive, ever-changing and means different things to different people, yet if it can be achieved, a product or trend can take off. It is “coolness” and according to researchers, including a Texas A&M University marketing professor, what makes something or someone cool is the breaking of certain kinds of rules.

Caleb Warren

Caleb Warren

In their study “What Makes Things Cool? How Autonomy Influences Perceived Coolness,” published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Caleb Warren of Mays Business School at Texas A&M and co-author Margaret C. Campbell, Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado-Boulder, find a link between autonomy, in this case freedom from social norms, and what people consider to be cool. But if social norms are violated too much, then it becomes weird or otherwise undesirable.

The researchers define “autonomous” as the extent to which the person or brand follows its own character or motivations irrespective of the norms, beliefs, and expectations of others, i.e. “doing one’s own thing.”

“The way people and things are cool is if they seem autonomous − they do what they want to do to regardless of what other people think,” Warren explains. “But in a way that is appropriate, seen as valued or efficient; it’s different, without being harmful or worse.”

The researchers examined several brands they determined to have capitalized on coolness including Pabst Blue Ribbon and Apple.

“With technology companies like Apple, cool comes in part from functionality,” Warren explains. “So there’s a connection between coolness and quality of brand. Even so, Apple came through with advertising campaigns that were about being different than the mainstream, contrasting itself from Microsoft, the mainstream competitor. The ‘Mac guy’ wore sneakers and casual clothes, he likes his job and has fun, as opposed to the ‘PC guy’ who wears a suit and cares more about what other people think.”

Apple’s slogan “think different” portrayed this autonomous image, Warren adds.

He also points to the beer brand Pabst Blue Ribbon as having hit the coolness jackpot after decades of sagging sales. “This is a beer that taste-wise is not that different from others, but for the longest time was losing sales as it was mostly consumed by a small minority of older, rural customers,” explains Warren.

Then he says in the early 2000s, clever marketing campaigns and sponsorships that delineated from typical beer marketing attracted a whole new customer base of 20-something “hipsters.”

“Distinguishing itself from mainstream beer marketing allowed the brand to connect to these young consumers who perceived themselves as departing from the mainstream,” Warren notes, adding the brand has seen declines recently as what is cool changes so often. “It’s hard to stay cool and it’s interesting to see how it changes over time.”

To read the study in full, click here

This article was originally published by the TAMU TIMES

You can support the Mays Business School with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.

Contact:
Brian Bishop ’91
Senior Director of Development

(979) 862-3615

Regenerating bone to anchor dental implants

For patients who need dental implants, the process can seem especially daunting if they also need additional bone to support them. Previously this meant a separate surgery to acquire this bone through a graft from the patient’s jaw or hip and reposition it at the implant site.

Dr. Marianela Gonzalez is using bone regeneration techniques to anchor dental implants.

Dr. Marianela Gonzalez is using bone regeneration techniques to anchor dental implants.

Thanks to a clinical inspiration by Dr. Marianela Gonzalez, assistant professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry, patients now have an alternative.

The award-winning treatment idea was sparked through caring for a patient who had lower teeth so loose that extraction was required. Localized bone loss was to blame, and Gonzalez knew that to prepare the patient to receive dental implants, she would need to recreate ample bone to provide a firm anchor.

“For an outcome that works with implants, you need plenty of three-dimensional volume with the new bone,” Gonzalez says. “The problem with the previous bone graft method is that it tends to add only width but not height to the bone and fails more than half the time.”

Gonzalez conceived a new use for a product called Sonic Weld membrane as a potential solution. This resorbable material originally was used by surgeons to repair cranial fractures in children who, because of future bone growth, needed something less permanent than titanium plates for fracture repair. Sonic Weld also had manufacturer-suggested uses inside the mouth, but none leading to the results Gonzalez desired. She had another idea.

Gonzalez attaches the membrane over the top of the gums to create a pocket of space over the area where bone is needed. She then fills the space with Infuse Bone Graft, a protein that binds with existing bone cells and attracts the cells to create bone. Because it can be reabsorbed into the tissue, Sonic Weld is an enticing alternative to methods that use titanium mesh, which require bone grafts and secondary surgeries to remove.

“By using SonicWeld membrane with the Infuse Bone Graft to create bone growth, we got excellent results, and we ultimately placed implants and crowns,” Gonzalez says.

Gonzalez has repeated the technique on several patients, now at varying stages of the implant process. In all cases, she found that within four to six months, the adaptable membrane filled with the protein formed bone with the desired height and width to create an environment suitable for implants.

“Not only does this technique give the patient new teeth, we have a better cosmetic result because it produces extra soft tissue,” says Gonzalez. “This enhances the appearance of the crown attached to the implant because it is surrounded by natural gum tissue.”

Gonzalez and several department faculty members submitted their findings to the Academy of Osseointegration Case Study Poster Competition in March, which occurs during the annual meeting of this international association for dental implant professionals. They won first place among 225 submitted posters.

The team followed up with a presentation in April to the American College of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, and a manuscript will be submitted for publication. Gonzalez reports the new procedure has been met with much interest from professional colleagues.

“It’s exciting because patients can finally have an alternative,” Gonzalez says. “Instead of going to the operating room and taking bone from the jaw or hip, we can recreate bone and be able to place implants, and patients can look natural and have complete function.

“We have a four-year follow up on the first patient treated with this procedure, and he is doing great in terms of bone, implants and crown stability.”

This article was originally published by the Health Science Center

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

Contact:

Andrew Robison ’04
Director of Development
Texas A&M Health Science Center

(979) 862-6423

Camp LIFE Celebrates 10th Anniversary and New Milestones

The College of Education and Human Development offers numerous opportunities and volunteer activities for pre-service teachers to explore related to their major. Camp LIFE, an inclusive camping opportunity for children with disabilities, is one opportunity where students can gain field experience in a unique setting, serving as a camp counselor or volunteer.

Camp LIFE is providing a fun and inclusive camp experience for children with disabilities.

Camp LIFE is providing a fun and inclusive camp experience for children with disabilities.

When volunteers arrive at camp, they probably aren’t aware that Camp LIFE started as an independent study assignment and dream of former student Sterling Leija ‘03. Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, the camp has served more than 600 children with disabilities throughout Texas.

Dr. Amy Sharp serves as the Associate Director of the Center on Disability and Development and organizes Camp LIFE as a part of her role. She said that for the past ten years she has seen students gain an incredible amount of comfort with disability by volunteering for Camp LIFE. Sharp added, “This community experience provides young professionals a new perspective and comfort level to take with them as they move through life.”

Camp LIFE provides an inclusive recreational environment for children with disabilities and their siblings in a barrier free camp setting. LIFE is an acronym for Leadership, Independence and Friends through Experiences, and identifies the foundation of the campers’ experiences.

New Milestones
In conjunction with the celebration of their 10th anniversary, the camp is celebrating two more milestones: hosting their first annual Family Day Camp and bringing Jessicah Holloway on board as the new camp director.

Family Day Camp offers a different type of camping experience. Parents, who are not quite ready to let their children attend camp alone, may participate in the camp experience together as a family. The day camp offers workshops and provides networking opportunities for campers and parents.

The first Family Day Camp also renewed a partnership with another on-campus student organization. The MBA Students Helping Our Community (SHOC) in the Mays Business School has been a primary camp sponsor for more than six years. This year, the organization took a more hands-on approach, logging in 150 volunteer hours during the camp, which attracted 51 campers. The 15 SHOC volunteers paired up with families and campers to offer support and encouragement to campers participating in activities such as horseback riding, fishing, canoeing and arts and crafts. Chad Riley, president of MBA SHOC added, “This was one way for us to sacrifice a day off to serve our community and be there for families with special needs children. Each of us learned what it means to hold to these values.”

Sharp said the day camp allowed families who may have had some hesitations about camping to experience first-hand the bonding, support and the fun. Many of the families are planning to enroll their kids in the Camp LIFE weekend camp this fall, without their parents. “That’s a big step for many families,” she said.

“Family Day Camp was a great extension to our program, because it welcomed new participants and continued to focus on what the campers can do and encouraged each camper along the way,” Sharp added. “Campers are allowed to experience any activity they choose to participate in and are provided full support to help them achieve their goals.”

After ten years of serving as director, Sterling Leija and other camp associates are happy to welcome Jessicah Holloway. Holloway worked with Leija at CAMP LIFE for more than four years and works full time at Camp For All in Burton, TX. Sterling and Holloway are close friends and both have enjoyed watching the camp thrive.

“As the new director, I would really like to continue establishing personal relationships with campers and their families, like Sterling did,” said Holloway. “For most children, attending camp can be a routine childhood experience, but with Camp LIFE it is a vital experience for children with disabilities to have accessible fun.”

The next day camp experience is scheduled for September 25-27, 2014. To register or learn more, visit Camp LIFE online at www.camplife.tamu.edu.

You can support Camp LIFE with a gift of an endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.

Contact

Jody Ford ’99
Director of Development
(979) 847-8655

Upgraded training ship carries Aggies to sea

The Texas A&M Maritime Academy’s TS General Rudder flagship training vessel recently departed for the first of two training cruises in the Gulf of Mexico. Part of summers-at-sea requirements, sailing on a training vessel prepares the academy’s cadets as merchant marine officers for a host of sea- and land-based careers.

The TS General Rudder

The TS General Rudder

This summer, the vessel will take up to 48 cadets and 14 crewmembers per cruise throughout the Gulf of Mexico, as part of cadets’ licensing requirements for mariner credentialing.

Captain Scott Putty, master of the General Rudder and Captain Augusta Roth, are slated to sail the vessel to the Key West Fla.; Mobile, Ala.; New Orleans and Lake Charles, La., as well as Port Isabel, and Beaumont, Texas.

Putty said recent upgrades to the General Rudder should ensure a high level of safe operations necessary for a training ship.

“On January 31, the vessel departed for Tampa, Fla., where she underwent normal dry dock surveys, repairs and upgrades,” he said. “She goes into dry dock every three years under the direct supervision of the U.S. Maritime Administration.”

For more than three months, five crewmembers and a complement of shipyard, U.S. Maritime Agency, U.S. Coast Guard and American Bureau of Shipping personnel were assigned to the ship as she was being worked on.

“Among upgrades, the vessel obtained additional mooring arrangements on deck, a new stern section and a larger wastewater treatment system,” Putty said. “She also received a new paint scheme of black, white and maroon that gives her an Aggie presence no matter where she sails.”

The cruise schedule is slated for the following dates and destinations:

Cruise Ports Dates
Galveston, Texas May 24-27
Key West, Fla. May 30 – June 2
Mobile, Ala. June 9 –11
New Orleans, La. June 16-19
Galveston, Texas June 23- 25
Lake Charles, La. July 3 – 6
Port Isabel, Texas July 14 – 15
Beaumont, Texas July 18 – 20
Galveston, Texas July 21 – 24

 

The cruise schedule is subject to change due to weather conditions or other unforeseen circumstances. To schedule a group tour of the ship, contact Tammy Lobaugh, TMA assistant superintendent for operations at lobaught@tamug.edu

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

You can support Texas A&M University at Galveston’s Maritime Academy with a gift to the Texas A&M Foundation.

Contact:

Steve Blomstedt
Director of Development
(979) 847-8655

Protecting the Red Sea’s Coral Reefs

The Red Sea is home to some of the world’s few remaining pristine coral reefs. These reefs are not only beautiful, but also extremely diverse with close to 300 species of hard coral recorded throughout the Red Sea. Of the 1,200 or so species of fish that call these reefs home, about 10% are found nowhere else.

Nevertheless, with population growth along the coasts, the health of these coral reefs, especially those along the Saudi Arabia border, may be in jeopardy. Fortunately, Dr. Daniel Roelke, a Professor of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences with support through the Institute of Applied Mathematics and Computational Biology at Texas A&M University, is partnering with faculty at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) to ensure the safety of these reefs as well as the marine biota living on and within the reefs.

Impacts of Development Along the Red Sea

Saudi Arabia is traditionally known for an economy based in petroleum oils. In 2005, however, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the king of Saudi Arabia, announced a megaproject to diversify the country’s economy. As a result of this megaproject, the coast along the Red Sea has since become more industrialized, rapidly increasing the population living in this area.Saudi-Arabia-map-300x294

As the population along the coast rises, the need for more freshwater and food production follows suit. To meet this need, desalinization plants and fisheries have popped up all long the Red Sea coastline.

An increase in desalinization, the process by which salt water is turned into freshwater suitable for human consumption, and aquaculture activities are directly impacting water circulation and the balance of nutrients within the water, potentially harming the coral reefs.

Brine, the by-product of the desalinization process, contains many concentrated chemicals. “Although the brine is usually disposed of in wells or discharged in the ocean with regulations, in many cases the regulation lacks monitoring and enforcement,” said Dr. Roelke. “Areas of coastal oceans that have restricted circulation, such as shallow regions between fringing reefs and the shoreline, are most susceptible to the toxic effects of brine discharge.”

The increased aquaculture activities along the coast have also led to an overflowing of water containing feed wastage, chemicals from animal excretion, and fecal material. This polluted water significantly contributes to the nutrient loading of the Red Sea, affecting the growth of phytoplankton, photosynthesizing microscopic organisms.

Phytoplankton Interactions

Phytoplankton inhabit the upper sunlit layer of almost all oceans and bodies of water, controlling the amount of light that reaches organisms below the water’s surface, such as coral reefs.

These plankton communities are sensitive to both nutrient loadings and changes in the depth of vertical water mixing, which can affect phytoplankton biomass. Nitrogen and phosphorus, both prevalent during nutrient loading, increase phytoplankton growth, shifting the composition of the phytoplankton assemblages. Since phytoplankton biomass and composition influence light level at varied wavelengths, the shift in composition can lead to significant shifts in the spectral quality of the underwater light field.

“Though it is uncertain how this shift in spectral quality will affect the coral reefs long-term, it is known that reefs are influenced by the magnitude and quality of light available to them,” said Dr. Roelke. “For example, coral populations acclimated at one depth do not perform as well when moved to another depth.”

Through a combination of numerical modeling, in-field experimentation, and monitoring, Dr. Roelke and his colleagues at KAUST are working to better understand the relationships among nutrient loading, mixing depth, phytoplankton biomass and composition, and spectral quality of light incident upon the coral reefs of the Red Sea. 

Border Impacts

This research will undoubtedly have a major influence on the health of the coral reefs, however, there are broader impacts of this partnership research project.

The research team, which includes Dr. Jay Walton, a Professor of Mathematics and Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M University, and several faculty members from KAUST, is dedicated to the advancement of women in the STEM fields. “By recruiting and advancing women graduate students with computational training,” Dr. Roelke said, “our research will broaden participation of an underrepresented group in the discipline of quantitative ecology.”

Dr. Daniel Roelke with graduate student Frances Withrow on the KAUST campus. Photo courtesy of Dr. Roelke.

Dr. Daniel Roelke with graduate student Frances Withrow on the KAUST campus. Photo courtesy of Dr. Roelke.

Dr. Roelke’s graduate student Frances Withrow, a masters student enrolled in a joint degree program with Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences and the Peace Corps, has already played a significant role in developing the model that will be used in further Red Sea research. She has presented these findings at professional conferences in New Orleans, Honolulu and Saudi Arabia.

Because of the partnership with KAUST, this research project will also help to lower cultural barriers between non-Muslims and Muslims. “One way to counter cultural stigmatization is to increase the personal interactions between people of varied cultural backgrounds,” added Dr. Roelke. “This research project offers an excellent opportunity for this level of interaction, since much of the research will be coordinated at KAUST, an academic environment that is quite diverse.”

KAUST’s faculty and student population come from more than 60 nationalities from around the world. It is planned that graduate students involved in this research project will live at KAUST for a period, where they will receive international mentoring, enroll in classes, and participate in workshops and seminars. They will be immersed in an environment filled with opportunities for personal multicultural interactions.

“This research stretches beyond protecting our environment,” said Dr. Roelke. “It’s exciting to be a part of a project that is empowering students at Texas A&M University and KAUST to reach across cultural boundaries to save the Red Sea coral reefs, one of world’s most beautiful treasures.”

This article was originally published by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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

Contact

Steve Blomstedt ’83
Senior Director of Development
(979) 845-9582

Rock and Roll Research: Grad Student Study Looks for Link Between Performances and Heart Rate

Music entertains people all around the world. Live music performances can affect an audience’s mood and energy levels and the performers, too. One study strives to learn more about the stressors professional musicians undergo before and during a live performance.

Musicians' heart rates during performances are dramatically higher than during rehearsals.

Musicians’ heart rates during performances are dramatically higher than during rehearsals.

Exercise physiology graduate student Heather Vellers sought to find out how a musician’s body reacts during a live performance. The study chronicled heart rates during rehearsals and compared that to live performances in front of an audience.

“Most performers participating in the study didn’t have prior knowledge of what heart rate was or means,” Vellers says. “So to be able to explain it also provided knowledge they did not have before participating in the study.”

Each artist wore a heart rate monitor before practice sessions and live performances. To determine any differences in responses among certain instruments, all band members wore the monitors. Factors taken into account included number of years playing in public, height and weight measurements and music tempo.

 “While in a ‘gig’ performance, we saw 60-85 percent of maximum heart rate among all musicians,” Vellers says. “What’s interesting is that number is in line with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommended heart rate during normal exercise.”

The data showed the same impact no matter what type of music or instrument played—all genres had similar effects on performers. And regardless of what type of instrument played—lead singer, saxophonist or drummer, all had the same max heart rate.

One factor that appeared to make a difference was preparation time before the event. Band members without a recent practice session experienced elevated heart rates. “Band leaders CCM heart rates fell between 70 and 94 percent of heart rate, prior to performing when there was no practice before,” Vellers says. The performer’s heart rate also climbed when a performer was playing a solo or when a certain piece of music elicited an audience response.

For Vellers, this research was a unique experience. With her interest in science regarding the heart, the mixing of exercise physiology with the performing arts may open up new ideas for future research. It also provided an opportunity to share the value of research with the participating artists.

For more information on the exercise physiology program, click here.

This article was originally published by the College of Education and Human Development.

You can support faculty research at Texas A&M University’s College of Education and Human Development with a gift of an endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.

Contact

Jody Ford ’99
Director of Development
(979) 847-8655