Latest news from the UO

  • UO scientists discover new anti-inflammatory bacterial protein

    First published in Around the O on November 13th, 2018. Inflammation is one the ways the body protects itself against outside invaders. And since the digestive system contains a dense array of bacteria, you might expect the body’s immune response to be in constant overdrive as it confronts a mass of gut microbes. But that’s not the case, says UO biologist Karen Guillemin. “One of the major questions about how we coexist with our microbial inhabitants is why we don’t have a massive inflammatory response to the trillions of bacteria inhabiting our guts,” Guillemin said. “How is it that things aren’t going crazy?” The answer is partially revealed in a new study by Guillemin and a team of researchers that appeared in the online journal eLife. It details the discovery of an anti-inflammatory bacterial protein and helps explain the functioning of one mechanism of the human body’s moderated response to gut bacteria. The research could someday help inform treatments for a range of human disease associated with excessive inflammation, including inflammatory bowel disease and other intestinal inflammation, and help prevent chronic inflammation throughout the body.  “We’ve been really interested in understanding how animals and their resident microbes negotiate this level of inflammatory response,” Guillemin said. “We set out to test whether gut bacteria actively secrete factors that prevent an excessive inflammatory response.” In the course of exploring that question, Guillemin and her team discovered the protein Aeromonas immune modulator, also called AimA, which they showed was capable of helping to alleviate intestinal inflammation and the inflammatory response known as septic shock. Through their investigations, researchers found that the protein mutually benefitted the bacteria itself and the animal hosting it by reducing inflammation in both. Annah Rolig, a former UO postdoctoral fellow and now a research scientist at the Cancer Immunobiology Laboratory at Providence Portland Medical Center, served as the lead author on the paper. Emily Goers Sweeney, a UO research associate, was a co-author. The research was conducted in zebrafish, which allowed investigators to zero in on the AimA protein and perform numerous tests designed to answer questions such as why bacteria produced such a protein. In examining the structure of the protein, they found similarities to a class of proteins called lipocalins, which include members that modulate inflammation in humans. To test their theory that the protein was not specifically counteracting inflammation caused by one kind of bacteria but rather acting more generally to temper the immune response, researchers induced inflammation in zebrafish and found that the AimA protein could reduce inflammation. The study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, suggests that other bacteria that live inside humans could be a potentially rich source of novel anti-inflammatory molecules. “These resident gut microbes are motivated to inhibit inflammation,” Guillemin said, “and they probably have lots of creative ways of dampening down our immune system. We can learn a lot from them about how to design novel anti-inflammatory therapies.” Co-authors on the paper with Rolig, Guillemin and Sweeney were undergraduate student Lila Kaye, doctoral student Michael DeSantis, postdoctoral researcher Arden Perkins and Allison Banse, a former postdoctoral researcher — all affiliated with the UO’s Institute of Molecular Biology — and M. Kristina Hamilton, a postdoctoral researcher affiliated with the Institute of Neuroscience. —By Lewis Taylor, University Communications

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  • 2019 State Legislative Agenda

    During the 2019 legislative session, the University, in partnership with students, faculty and staff, will pursue a legislative agenda that aims to ensure affordability, access, and success for students; deliver an excellent educational experience in an inclusive and diverse environment; and invest in faculty members to improve quality and promote academic research and innovation. Access, affordability, and completion for Oregon students Increase operating funding for Oregon public universities by at least $120 million for the 2019-21 biennium to keep tuition increases for resident, undergraduate students at UO at or below 5% for the next two years. Increase funding for state programs, which include UO’s Engineering & Technology Sustaining Funds, Labor Education Research Center, TallWood Design Institute, dispute resolution programs, Clinical Legal Education, and other signature research centers. Increase investment in the Oregon Opportunity Grant, the state’s only need-based aid program. Protect and expand funding for Sports Equity Scholarships through the Oregon Lottery, which helps UO meet Title IX requirements to equitably fund women’s athletics and provide graduate scholarships. Invest in facilities that produce high-demand degrees and discovery All seven public universities request the allocation of $65 million for capital improvement and renewal for maintenance of existing buildings and ensuring that students have safe and appropriate environments in which to learn and live. $54 million in state-backed bonds for the renovation of Huestis Hall, a 45-year old structure that is the teaching and research hub for biological sciences at the UO. It serves 3,000 students each year. It has urgent seismic vulnerabilities and accessibility and safety deficiencies. The project will eliminate nearly $19 million of deferred maintenance and protect many of the UO’s K-12 pipeline and summer STEM programs for girls and low-income students. Academic excellence and ingenuity Create a state matching fund for the Sustainable City Year Program (SCYP), which embeds UO students and faculty members within an Oregon city, county, special district, or tribe for an entire academic year. Students work on partner-identified projects to provide ideas for real solutions to community challenges. Many communities—especially those in more rural areas—want to participate but cannot afford it.  A matching fund would allow more Oregonians to be served. Through a one-time investment purchase a new ship for the UO’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, which will add teaching and research capacity on Oregon’s Coast. The UO will match the state’s investment through philanthropic gifts. Investment in the UO’s prison education programming, Inside Out, which operates in conjunction with the Oregon Department of Corrections to bring credit-bearing courses to approximately 300 inmates each year. Programs like these help reduce recidivism rates in Oregon and broaden the student experience. Support Governor Brown’s ‘Resilience 2025’ proposal that will fund the full build out of ShakeAlert by 2023. ShakeAlert is the earthquake early warning and wildfire monitoring seismic sensor network operated through the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, of which UO is an active member with other West Coast universities. Partnerships for Economic Transformation Support investments in research and discovery, including grant funding and other innovative policies or funding initiatives that leverage Oregon’s industry strengths and workforce needs with the UO’s academic portfolio.

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  • Supreme Court lifts stay on climate suit, but hurdles remain

    First published in Around the O on November 6th, 2018.  A landmark federal lawsuit filed by a group of young people seeking action on climate change cleared another hurdle Friday when the U.S. Supreme Court lifted an earlier stay. The move allows attorneys for the plaintiffs to seek a new trial date. The trial was originally scheduled to begin Oct. 29 but was put in limbo when the delay stretched two weeks. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 21 young people who assert that government threatens their constitutional rights by promoting the production of fossil fuels that are destabilizing the climate system necessary to their survival and well-being. A new trial date is expected to be set soon, though the Justice Department on Monday evening made another attempt to stop the trial. A petition filed with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is the latest in an array of motions spanning all three levels of the court system simultaneously. All have been rejected so far, but some are still pending. UO law professor Mary Wood will discuss the suit in a public talk Wednesday, Nov. 7, from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Wildish Community Theater in downtown Springfield. She will be joined by local youth plaintiffs and staff members from Our Children’s Trust, the nonprofit representing the plaintiffs. More information will be posted as it becomes available.

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  • UO researchers discover Oregon's first dinosaur fossil

    First published in Around the O on November 5th, 2018. Paleontologists at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History have reported the discovery of a land-dwelling dinosaur’s fossilized bone in Eastern Oregon — an exceedingly rare find in a state that was underwater throughout most of the dinosaur age. The toe bone belonged to a plant-eating, bipedal dinosaur known as an ornithopod and is estimated to date back 103 million years to the Cretaceous, a geological period that also gave rise to Tyrannosaurus rex.   Uncovered by UO earth sciences professor Greg Retallack during a 2015 field excursion near Mitchell, the find was published online in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and is the first Oregon dinosaur fossil ever reported in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. “Oregon landscapes are rich with Cretaceous rocks, but they rarely contain the kinds of dinosaur remains we see elsewhere in the U.S.,” said Retallack, the museum’s director of fossil collections and the report’s lead author. “The rocks here are the right age but are mostly from under the sea where dinosaurs did not live or from swamps where dinosaur bones are seldom preserved.”  During the 2015 trip to Mitchell, part of a University of Oregon course on fossil plants, Retallack and his students surveyed a shale slope on Bureau of Land Management property. There he spotted the toe bone amid an array of mollusk fossils preserved in the marine rocks. Views of the fossil from several angles. It was found on a field excursion near the Eastern Oregon town of Mitchell. Edward Davis, a co-author on the report and the museum’s fossil collections manager, said the land-dweller’s bone likely ended up there after a posthumous stint in the ocean.    “It’s a phenomenon we sometimes call ‘bloat and float,’” he said. “That is, the animal died on shore in its terrestrial habitat, then washed out to sea, where it floated while bloated with decomposition gasses. Eventually it burst, and only this toe bone was entombed and became a fossil.” Based on comparisons with other ornithopods, the co-authors estimate that the Mitchell dinosaur was more than 20 feet long and weighed nearly a ton.  “With such a small piece of the ornithopod, it’s hard to say much about its ecology,” said report co-author Samantha Hopkins, the museum’s curator of paleontology and an associate professor of earth sciences at the Clark Honors College. “However, just finding it in Oregon is exciting, because we rarely see evidence here of the dinosaurs we know must have been nearby.”  The report was also co-authored by the University of Calgary’s Jessica Theodor and UO doctoral student Paul Barrett. Retallack said he doesn’t expect to find more dinosaur bones in Oregon marine rocks anytime soon. “But we are now looking more carefully,” he said.  —By Kristin Strommer, Museum of Natural and Cultural History    Kristin Strommer, publicist for the University of Oregon's Museum of Natural and Cultural History, poses with the fossil. Courtesy/University of Oregon

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  • Collaboration gets $1.2 million NSF grant to boost STEM learning

    First published in Around the O, on October 31st. College students from first-generation, low-income, and minority backgrounds are 16 times less likely than other students to do well in STEM courses — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The National Science Foundation wants that to change. And it’s giving researchers at the UO School of Journalism and Communication and the College of Education a $1.2 million, three-year grant to pursue a creative, interdisciplinary solution to the problem. The project is called My STEM Story, led by UO assistant professor of journalism Ed Madison, associate professor of education Jenefer Husman, education doctoral student Ross Anderson and UO alumnus Matthew Kim, who works as a research scientist at the University of Washington. The project will pair Oregon high school students with undergraduates from underrepresented communities for a mentoring program on the UO campus — with a digital storytelling twist. My STEM Story began 2½ years ago, when Madison had an aha! moment. Each summer, the Oregon Young Scholars Program brings high school students from minority backgrounds to the UO, where they stay in dorms and take college classes for a week. At the same time, college students from diverse backgrounds are on campus for the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research in Life Sciences, or SPUR, which offers fellowships to promising undergraduates to study under UO research professors. “It occurred to me: What if we took SPUR students and paired them with OYSP students for a mentorship?” Madison said. The goal is to give high school students from underrepresented groups an authentic view into the struggles and successes of people who look like them working in STEM. The team hopes the project, which is funded through the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers program, will help students envision a future in the field.    With help from Anderson, Madison put the idea to the test in a trial run of the My STEM Story program in 2016. They introduced Emma, an Oregon Young Scholar, to Janice, a SPUR science fellow. Emma shadowed Janice on campus for a day to learn what it’s really like to work in a lab on a research project — especially as a black woman. Now a high school senior, Emma plans to study a STEM field in college. Madison, who teaches multimedia journalism in the School of Journalism and Communication, wanted to extend the benefits of the experiment to a wider student population. So he asked Emma to record her experience on her smartphone. That footage became part of a digital story Madison edited. In the next phase of the project, the researchers plan to present My STEM Story videos like the one featuring Emma and Janice to high school classes with high minority populations. “Then we’re measuring to see to what degree those videos inspire students who are watching them to either seek more information about a science class or register for a class they might not otherwise,” Madison said. The UO research team is currently in the internal review approval process, where they define protocols for the program. The next phase of My STEM Story will kick off in summer 2019. The project wants to put a human spin on STEM education, which can sometimes appear unattainable or overwhelming to students. “You have these ideas on and you go, ‘This would be kind of cool. I wonder if this would work,’” Madison said. “And then you see how the students involved develop this rapport so naturally and how the young woman who’s the scientist was so perfect. You couldn’t script that.” Coming from a long career in documentary and TV filmmaking, Madison loves those moments. He said recorded interactions often end up seeming staged and unnatural. But he believes that, because they are genuine interactions, high school students watching the videos will feel more connected and interested. Husman hopes that natural interest will turn into intrinsic motivation to pursue STEM education. “We hope to help students imagine their future possible selves as scientists,” Husman said. “Through near-peer mentorship, we provide them a window into the path they would need to take.” —By Becky Hoag, School of Journalism and Communication

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  • UO professor talks mega-quakes with National Geographic

    First Published in Around the O on October 29th. University of Oregon earth sciences professor Diego Melgar has been featured in an article from National Geographic discussing a recent 8.2 magnitude earthquake in Southern Mexico that broke a 37-mile stretch of tectonic plate. Slabs of the earth’s crust known as tectonic plates collide with one another on the surface, forming mountains and other topographic features. This tectonic movement is one of many things responsible for earthquakes, mountains, valleys and other topographic features, the article says. “If you think of it as a huge slab of glass, this rupture made a big, gaping crack,” Melgar says in the article. “All indications are that it has broken through the entire width of the thing.” This 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck southern Mexico on Sept. 7, 2017, and scientist are still unsure about how, when and why such large fractures in the earth occur. “If you bend an eraser, you can see the top half being extended and stretched, whereas the bottom bit is squashed and compressed,” Melgar says. “The same applies to these slabs. This bending can activate faults within the slab and trigger what are known as intraslab earthquakes,” the article adds. Melgar goes on to address possible answers to the question of why high-magnitude intraslab earthquakes happen. Noting that the presence of sea water, age and formation of the plate could have made perfect conditions for such an event. “Whether they feature this type of dramatic severance or not, these powerful quakes are inherently mysterious,” the article says. To read the full article, see “Quake split a tectonic plate in two, and geologists are shaken.”

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  • Campus will be bustling with homecoming, Fall Family Weekend

    First published in Around the O on October 26th. Homecoming has a long history of alumni reconnecting with classmates on the campus they once shared, and at the University of Oregon it also coincides with Fall Family Weekend, when parents and families reunite with their students. “Homecoming is a chance for our campus to celebrate the community that forms our past, present and future,” said Amy Quiring, director of major student events. “This year’s theme ‘Shout Oregon!’ helps us remember and highlight our campus traditions and pride through events and activities like painting the Skinner Butte O and Friday’s parade and pep rally.” Homecoming week will run Oct. 29-Nov. 4, with the bulk of activities happening alongside Fall Family Weekend. The homecoming parade will begin at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 2. Decorated floats and marchers will represent residence halls and UO student organizations. All of the UO community — including faculty members, staff, and visiting families and alumni — are invited to line the parade route. The procession will begin at Kincaid Street and East 13th Avenue, head east to University Street, and turn right at the Erb Memorial Union. From there, the parade will loop around the south end of the building to the pep rally on the EMU Green. The pep rally is slated for 6-7 p.m. and will feature a variety of student performers, including musicians and dancers. Light refreshments will be available, courtesy of University Catering and Falling Sky. Between acts the emcees will highlight the university’s expanding food security initiatives — known as Feed the Flock — which have evolved out of the nationwide conversation about food security and hunger during students’ college years. “Bringing together students, families, alumni and our community in this celebration allows us to elevate the visibility of this year’s innovative Feed the Flock food security programs,” Quiring said. “It is a great opportunity for our community to be a part of something bigger: Ducks supporting Ducks to contribute to student success.” Quiring added that the UO Student Alumni Association will provide bins at the pep rally for accepting nonperishable food items for the student food pantry. In addition to the Ducks flocking in for homecoming, about 3,800 parents and family members have registered for Fall Family Weekend. Taking place Nov. 2-4, the weekend provides opportunities for families to visit campus, participate in activities and reconnect with their students. “We especially encourage the parents and families of our first-year students to attend,” said Tiffany Fritz, acting director of parent and family programs. “The weekend occurs at the end of the sixth week of classes, which is an important point in their student’s transition to the UO. It’s a way for families to celebrate their student’s success and to get a glimpse of Duck life.” Other homecoming happenings include football, volleyball and women's soccer games throughout the week, haunted campus tours Oct. 30 and 31 and Run with the Duck on Sunday, Nov. 4. A full list of events can be found on the homecoming website. —By Colleen Schlonga, Student Services and Enrollment Management

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  • UO research may soon make Oregon safer in quakes and fires

    First published in Around the O on October 16th, 2018. Research by UO seismologist and earth sciences professor Douglas Toomey is shaping a new set of policy agendas designed to help Oregon prepare for a Cascadia earthquake and other natural disasters. Toomey’s work on the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system and its companion multihazard monitoring efforts informed Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s just-released document, “Resiliency 2025: Improving Our Readiness for the Cascadia Earthquake and Tsunami.” “Imagine technology that enables you and your family to be notified before earthquake shaking arrives or that helps to reduce the growing impacts of wildfires,” Toomey said. “That technology exists, and we’re getting closer to being able to roll it out to the public in Oregon.” University of Oregon Department of Earth Sciences researchers, together with colleagues at the University of Washington, have been building out the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network for more than 25 years. The network is now supporting ShakeAlert, a collaboration of the U.S. Geological Survey; UO; University of Washington; University of California, Berkeley; and Caltech. ShakeAlert will provide seconds to minutes of warning, allowing individuals to determine the best course of action for safety. Through automation, industry, utilities­ and transportation sectors will be able to power down or protect critical operations. Implementing a statewide multihazards early warning system by the year 2023 is one of six strategies outlined in Brown’s Resiliency 2025 plan for improving Oregon’s preparedness for the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. The plan calls for a multihazard warning approach that includes the ability to monitor and respond to wildland fires, landslides and other natural hazards. “We want to build out a single, cost-effective, multihazards warning system,” Toomey said. Toomey, the project’s principal investigator, and his team at the Oregon Hazards Lab are already working with faculty members at University of Nevada, Reno and the University of California, San Diego to leverage the expansion of seismic monitoring to real-time wildfire monitoring cameras. The project, known as AlertWildfire, uses communications technology similar to that of ShakeAlert. It provides access to state-of-the-art, pan-tilt-zoom fire cameras and associated tools to help firefighters and first responders detect, contain and mitigate wildfires. It will benefit Oregonians by offering program cost-sharing and leveraging technology for new purposes to protect natural resources and enhance public safety. “The real barrier is that it takes time to generate funding,” Toomey said. “There is clear support from federal legislators and state legislators who think it’s an important thing to do. Translating that support into funding takes time, and that’s what we’ve been doing over the past few years.” The governor’s plan includes a one-time request to the Oregon Legislature of $12 million in the 2019-21 biennium to fully build out Oregon’s multihazard sensor network by 2023. Pilot projects using ShakeAlert and AlertWildfire have been implemented throughout Oregon. For example, the Oregon Department of Transportation is developing an automated warning light system on critical, heavy trafficked Oregon bridges not designed for seismic loads, signaling pedestrians and motor vehicles to take alternate routes. Should these bridges fail under strong shaking, the warning light system can prevent potential life-threatening safety hazards. And the Rogue Valley Council of Governments is facilitating awareness of ShakeAlert in southwestern Oregon by crowd-sourcing solutions to systems or community issues. For example, a group of local engineers is developing a community database of building structure types within the county, noting each building's potential response to strong shaking. With support from the Bureau of Land Management, University of Nevada, Reno and UO teams recently installed AlertWildfire cameras on Steens Mountain and in the Blue Mountains in southeastern Oregon and several mountaintops throughout northern Nevada. More AlertWildfire camera installations in Eastern Oregon are in the works. “Continued investment in ShakeAlert and AlertWildfire is absolutely critical in order to have enough sensor density in this state to have the technology available to the public,” Toomey said. “We are grateful for Gov. Brown’s support and hope to win the support of the legislature next year.” The ShakeAlert project receives support primarily from federals sources such as the USGS, which currently provides $12.2 million per year. However, state contributions in California and Washington mean that public alerts will come to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle well before they come to Oregon.  Currently, Oregon’s ShakeAlert network is only 38 percent complete and public alerting is not possible until it is at least 75 percent complete. The resiliency plan and funding for the hazards network may be included in the governor’s recommended budget, which will be released in early December. Final decisions on funding will not be made until the conclusion of the 2019 session. If the funding is provided, it will mean that public alerting will be available sooner to Oregonians.

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  • President Schill reflects, looks ahead in UO Today interview

    First published in Around the O on October 18th, 2018. President Michael Schill reflected on his first three years at the University of Oregon during a recent interview on UO Today, discussing topics such as the institutional hiring plan, groundbreaking on the Black Cultural Center, UO Portland and scholarships.   Schill said that over the last year one of the university’s key achievements was work on the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. The progress included groundbreaking, the start of construction on the first two buildings and the arrival of new executive director Robert Guldberg. The full interview is available on the UO Today channel. UO Today is a weekly half-hour interview program hosted by Paul Peppis, a UO English professor and director of the Oregon Humanities Center. Each episode features a conversation with UO faculty members and administrators, visiting scholars, authors or artists. It is produced by the Oregon Humanities Center in collaboration with UO Libraries’ Center for Media and Educational Technology. An archive of past interviews is available on the Oregon Humanities Center’s website or on their YouTube channel.

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