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UGA researchers develop new method to improve crops

A team of University of Georgia researchers has developed a new way to breed plants with better traits. By introducing a human protein into the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana, researchers found that they could selectively activate silenced genes already present within the plant.

Using this method to increase diversity among plant populations could serve to create varieties that are able to withstand drought or disease in crops or other plant populations, and the researchers have already begun testing the technique on maize, soy and rice. They published their findings in Nature Communications.

The research project was led by Lexiang Ji, a doctoral student in bioinformatics, and William Jordan, a doctoral student in genetics. The new method they explored, known as epimutagenesis, will make it possible to breed diverse plants in a way that isn’t possible with traditional techniques. 

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Researchers receive $10 million grant to create computational and informatics tools for glycoscience

Today, questions asked by genetic researchers are often answered using big data, through revealing larger patterns, trends and other connections. Thanks to a multimillion dollar research project, researchers at the University of Georgia and George Washington University are partners in a project that will soon be able to provide a way for questions asked by those studying glycoscience to be answered by big data, as well.

The National Institutes of Health has jointly awarded a $10 million grant to UGA and GW to build a glycoscience informatics portal, called GlyGen, necessary for glycoscience to advance. GlyGen will also integrate glycan data with gene and protein data, to allow for more effective analysis.

Currently, understanding the roles that glycans play in diseases such as cancer involves extensive literature-based research and manual collection of data from disparate databases and websites. GlyGen will simplify this process by providing scientists with a road map that shows key relationships among diverse kinds of information, allowing them to quickly find and retrieve the most current knowledge available and make rapid progress in their glycobiology research. 

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College of Public Health professor receives 2018 Translational Impact Award

Jia-Sheng Wang, Georgia Athletic Association Professor in Public Health, received the 2018 Translational Impact Award from the Society of Toxicology. Founded in 1961, the Society of Toxicology is the pre-eminent professional organization for scientists who practice toxicology around the globe.

The Translational Impact Award is “presented to a scientist whose recent outstanding clinical, environmental health or translational research has improved human and/or public health in an area of toxicological concern.” Also known as bench-to-bedside science, translational research aims to “translate” the discoveries of scientific study into the treatment or prevention of disease.

Wang is head of the environmental health science department in UGA’s College of Public Health. He has 35 years of research and teaching experience in toxicology, chemical carcinogenesis, molecular epidemiology and cancer chemoprevention. His research investigates the impact of environmental toxin exposure on the formation of liver and esophageal cancers. He also explores the role that natural products and dietary supplements may play in preventing cancer.

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NMI hosts planning workshop for UGA to become third site for Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites

Demonstrating UGA’s broad expertise in polymer science, biochemical engineering, textiles and plant science, faculty members representing the New Materials Institute recently presented a range of project ideas as part of the NMI’s pitch to become a site for the Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites, known as CB2.

If approved this fall, the NMI will become the center’s third site, joining Iowa State University and Washington State University, which formed CB2 three years ago as an Industry-University Cooperative Research Center, a program run by the National Science Foundation. The 10 project pitches were presented at a site planning meeting attended by industry representatives from 20 companies, the NSF and CB2.

The NMI team will use the feedback from this planning ­meeting to shape its full NSF proposal, which will also require letters of commitment from industry partners. The IUCRC program benefits industry and academia in several key ways. Industry members gain access to cutting-edge research, shared intellectual property, ongoing training and continuing education, and the ability to leverage investment opportunities. Universities benefit from knowing exactly what industry expects from a project through direct mentorship, which leads to long-term relationships with industry partners, future intellectual property and the direct exposure of students to potential employers.

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Students raise more than $1M for Children's Healthcare

More than 3,000 students representing more than 50 student organizations gathered in the Tate Student Center Grand Hall Sunday morning to celebrate raising $1,261,077.18 for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. This is the third year in a row that UGA Miracle, the University of Georgia’s largest student-run philanthropy, has achieved a seven-figure fundraising total.

Beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 17, and lasting until the same time Sunday, the entire student center was filled with students, faculty and staff for UGA Miracle’s annual Dance Marathon. Throughout the night, participants danced, listened to live music and took pictures with Hairy Dawg. Nearly 50 “Miracle children,” the Children’s Healthcare patients who interact with UGA Miracle’s student members during the year, and their families attended the event, and 24 of them took the stage one at a time throughout the night to share their inspirational stories. Activities for the children and their families included arts and crafts, sharing of personal stories, participating in a scavenger hunt and a lot of dancing. The event also featured a “Standing Challenge,” where participants do not sit for the entirety of the event to honor the many children who cannot stand and may never be able to stand again.

Every dollar raised up to $1 million supports the Comprehensive Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit at Children’s Healthcare to fund state of the art equipment and facilities, including the UGA Miracle Gym. Beginning last year, every dollar raised above $1 million supports the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center to fund groundbreaking pediatric research.

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City leaders gain critical knowledge through UGA partnership

More than 250 first-time mayors and city council members from Georgia cities gathered in Athens last week for the two-day Newly Elected Officials Institute, held every February to teach new leaders the basics of effective governance. Instructed by faculty from the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government and instructors from the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), new officeholders gain a practical understanding of municipal government administration and policy-making—critical knowledge to help them become more effective public servants.

“This practical training, specifically designed for newly elected officials, helps municipal leaders understand and effectively address the kinds of issues they face every day,” said Laura Meadows, director of the Institute of Government. “By partnering with GMA, which brings in-depth knowledge of all Georgia’s municipalities, we can tailor the information to each community the officials represent.”

Mandated by state law in 1990, the Georgia General Assembly directed the Institute of Government and GMA to introduce new officeholders to the legal, financial and ethical responsibilities of city officials. Besides exploring their roles and responsibilities, first-term officials study government finance and budgeting, planning and zoning, ethics, and staff relations to fulfill the six-hour training minimum set by law.

“Training local leaders is one of the many efforts the University of Georgia is undertaking to strengthen communities across the state,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “I am pleased that our public service faculty are sharing their expertise with the citizens of Georgia in this important way.”

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Hunter-Gault brings past to the present at namesake lecture

Charlayne Hunter-Gault passed the proverbial baton to the next generation during the annual Holmes-Hunter Lecture held Feb. 15 at the Chapel.

“It’s truly time for every citizen, no matter your age, to get woke,” she said. “And that means helping keep our democracy safe, and it means doing the hard work of digging for good information with a variety of sources.”

Hunter-Gault spoke to the standing-room-only crowd, which included students from Cedar Shoals High School, Clarke Central High School, Classic City High School, Barrow Elementary, and KIPP Atlanta Collegiate High School and Peachtree Ridge High School in Gwinnett County, about lessons she learned from her past.

“I want to share a little of my life with you today in the hope that you will be inspired, or further inspired, to make sure that your armor is fitted and polished so that you can help bind wounds and defeat the kind of divisions that are tearing at the fabric of our nation,” she said.

The lecture is named for Hunter-Gault and her classmate, Hamilton Holmes, who were the first African-American students to attend UGA. They arrived on campus in 1961 after civil rights leaders in Atlanta successfully challenged the segregation policy at the state’s universities. In 2001, the academic building where Hunter-Gault and Holmes registered was renamed the Holmes-Hunter Academic Building in their honor, marking the 40th anniversary of the desegregation of the university.

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UGA names building for Sanford and Barbara Orkin

The next building to become part of the University of Georgia Terry College of Business will be named for Sanford and Barbara Orkin of Atlanta. The University System of Georgia Board of Regents has approved naming one of the two buildings currently under construction in the third and final phase of the Business Learning Community for the Orkins in recognition of their longstanding support of UGA, including a $5 million gift to the Terry College of Business.

“Sanford and Barbara Orkin’s tremendous generosity will leave an enduring legacy at the University of Georgia,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “Their latest gift, which will further enhance the learning environment on our campus, demonstrates their unyielding commitment to supporting the endeavors of our students, faculty and staff.”

The building to be named Sanford and Barbara Orkin Hall—located at the corner of Baxter and Hull streets—will include a large auditorium, undergraduate classrooms, a behavioral lab, a computer lab for marketing research, interview suites and faculty and administrative offices.

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Stem-cell based stroke treatment repairs brain tissue

A team of researchers at the University of Georgia’s Regenerative Bioscience Center and ArunA Biomedical, a UGA startup company, have developed a new treatment for stroke that reduces brain damage and accelerates the brain’s natural healing tendencies in animal models. They published their findings in the journal Translational Stroke Research.

The research team led by UGA professor Steven Stice and Nasrul Hoda of Augusta University created a treatment called AB126 using extracellular vesicles (EV), fluid-filled structures known as exosomes, which are generated from human neural stem cells.

Fully able to cloak itself within the bloodstream, this type of regenerative EV therapy appears to be the most promising in overcoming the limitations of many cell therapies­—with the ability for exosomes to carry and deliver multiple doses—as well as the ability to store and administer treatment. Small in size, the tiny tubular shape of an exosome allows EV therapy to cross barriers that cells cannot.

“This is truly exciting evidence, because exosomes provide a stealth-like characteristic, invisible even to the body’s own defenses,” said Stice, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and D.W. Brooks Distinguished Professor in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “When packaged with therapeutics, these treatments can actually change cell progression and improve functional recovery.”

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Indoor Athletic Facility named for Billy and Porter Payne

The University System of Georgia Board of Regents Tuesday approved the naming of the University of Georgia’s Indoor Athletic Facility in honor of former UGA all-star football player Billy Payne and his father, the late Porter Payne. The official name of the facility will be the William Porter Payne and Porter Otis Payne Indoor Athletic Facility.  The naming opportunity is the result of gifts totaling $10 million secured from friends of Billy and Porter Payne.

“Billy Payne and his late father Porter hold a very special place in the storied history and tradition of the University of Georgia,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “It is a great honor to have their names forever tied to one of the most prominent athletic programs in the country.”

Former CEO of the Atlanta Olympic Games and chairman of Augusta National, Payne graduated from UGA in 1969 with a degree in political science, and he earned his law degree from Georgia Law in 1973. Both he and his father lettered in football at UGA, Billy from 1966-68 and Porter from 1946-49.