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SBDC schools vet med students in emergency preparedness

Dr. Joanna Davis wishes she had the chance to talk to firefighters, police officers and first responders when she was a University of Georgia student two decades ago.

The veterinarian, thrust into disaster zones across the globe, learned on her own how important it is to plan for emergency situations. The UGA Small Business Development Center is helping the College of Veterinary Medicine's current generation come to that realization much sooner.

"This was not even on our radar back in the early '90s," said Davis, an adjunct assistant professor who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Now for each graduating class, we want to instill them with this knowledge and confidence going forward."

Davis invited Mark Lupo, area director for the Columbus State office of the UGA SBDC, to speak to her class, "Veterinary Emergency Preparedness and Response." Lupo led a three-hour session for the 45 students on planning and working with local emergency agencies in a disaster situation.

About half the students expect to become small business owners and start their own private practice after earning a degree. That's where the SBDC's expertise can be particularly handy. Approximately every dollar spent on preparation leads to $7 in cost savings in emergencies, Lupo said.

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Big data methods under development at UGA will help tackle diseases

The University of Georgia's Ping Ma will use a new grant to crunch big data numbers, not uncommon for a statistics professor. What is unusual is that his work may help save lives.

Ma has been awarded $1.3 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health to develop statistical tools to further clarify the causes of many diseases-including cancer, heart disease and aging-related illnesses. Over four years, Ma and his team of researchers will look at something known as small RNAs, hoping to unravel their regulatory role on abnormal variations in genetic transcription.

RNA, or ribonucleic acid, is present in all living cells and is incredibly important in the human body. Small RNA primarily acts as a messenger for DNA and regulates various biological processes.

Ma, a professor in UGA's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of statistics and lead investigator on the project, will work to analyze big data sets that contain biomedical information on various diseases and create smart algorithms. His goal is to allow researchers to accurately analyze large sets of data without the need for expensive supercomputers.

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Neurodevelopmental model of Zika may provide rapid answers

A newly published study from researchers working in collaboration with the Regenerative Bioscience Center at the University of Georgia demonstrates fetal death and brain damage in early chick embryos similar to microcephaly-a rare birth defect linked to the Zika virus, now alarming health experts worldwide.

The team, led by Forrest Goodfellow, a graduate student in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, developed a neurodevelopmental chick model that could mimic the effects of Zika on the first trimester. Historically, chick embryos have been extensively used as a model for human biology.

Early last spring, Goodfellow began inoculating chick embryos with a virus strain originally sourced from the Zika outbreak epicenter.

"We wanted a complete animal model, closely to that of a human, which would recapitulate the microcephaly phenotype," said Goodfellow, who recently presented the findings at the Southern Translational Education and Research (STaR) Conference.

The RBC team, which included Melinda Brindley, an assistant professor of virology in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and Qun Zhao, associate professor of physics in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, suggests that the chick embryo provides a useful model to study the effects of Zika, in part because of its significant similarity to human fetal neurodevelopment and rapid embryonic process.

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UGA names second class of Womens Leadership Fellows

Nine University of Georgia faculty members will sharpen their leadership skills as members of the second class of the university's Women's Leadership Fellows Program.

The 2016-2017 cohort, which includes representatives from eight schools and colleges as well as the Division of Student Affairs, will attend monthly meetings where they will learn from senior administrators on campus as well as visiting speakers from academia, business and other fields. The program, which was created in 2015 as part of the university's Women's Leadership Initiative, also features a concluding weekend retreat in June for more in-depth learning.

"The members of this extraordinary class of Women's Leadership Fellows come into this crucial program with an amazing set of talents and experiences," said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten. "They will leave it ready to tackle even greater leadership roles at the University of Georgia and throughout academia."

Click here for a list of the new Women's Leadership Fellows.

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UGA researchers identify new pathway in human pathogens

Several of the more aggressive pathogens that infect humans can thrive in an oxygen-free environment of the human gut. These pathogens also have the ability to acquire the essential nutrient iron from an abundant cofactor, specifically heme (the cofactor that makes blood and muscle appear red).

Newly published research from University of Georgia researchers reveals how a key enzyme in this new pathway functions to release the iron atom in the absence of oxygen. Further illumination of the atomic mechanism will provide an opportunity for a new class of antimicrobial compounds.

The study, "Radical new paradigm for heme degradation in Escherichia coli 0157:H7," was published in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Oct. 10.

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Research on common bacterium opens door to fighting gastric cancer

A common bacterium that more than half of people have in their gut can use hydrogen gas present in the gastrointestinal tract to inject a cancer-causing toxin into otherwise healthy cells, according to a recently published study led by University of Georgia researchers.

The bacterium's reliance on hydrogen presents a pathway to potential new treatment and preventive measures in fighting gastric cancers, which kill more than 700,000 people per year, said corresponding author Robert Maier, Georgia Research Alliance Ramsey Eminent Scholar of Microbial Physiology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Previous studies solidified the relationship between stomach ulcers and cancer and certain strains of Helicobacter pylori, a stomach-dwelling bacterium that causes 90 percent of all gastric cancers. Earlier research also found a link between a toxin known as CagA, or cytotoxin-associated gene A, and cancer formation, but the new study exposes how the bacterium uses hydrogen as an energy source to inject CagA into cells, resulting in gastric cancer, Maier said.

"There are many known microbes in the human gut that produce hydrogen and others that use hydrogen. The implications of the study are that if we can alter a person's microflora, the bacterial makeup of their gut, we can put bacteria in there that don't produce hydrogen or put in an extra dose of harmless bacteria that use hydrogen," Maier said. "If we can do that, there will be less hydrogen for H. pylori to use, which will essentially starve this bacteria out and result in less cancer."

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Lawmaker and soybean pioneer to be inducted into Georgias Agricultural Hall of Fame

On Nov. 11, the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences will induct former Georgia Rep. Richard Royal and pioneering Georgia soybean specialist John Woodruff into the Georgia Agricultural Hall of Fame.

The celebration will be part of the college's alumni awards ceremony and banquet at the Classic Center in downtown Athens. The public is invited to attend but tickets are required.

The Georgia Agricultural Hall of Fame was established in 1972 to recognize individuals who made extraordinary contributions to agriculture and agribusiness in Georgia.

"I would like to congratulate the new inductees into the Ag Hall of Fame," said Elliott Marsh, president of the CAES Alumni Association. "The 2016 inductees are outstanding additions and join a group of notable women and men who have helped enhance agriculture in Georgia and throughout the world."

Inductees are nominated by members of the public and selected by the awards committee of the college's alumni association. Those nominated must possess the following characteristics: impeccable character, outstanding leadership, noteworthy contributions to Georgia's agricultural landscape and recognition for achievements in agriculture as well as other areas.

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New UGA institute seeks solutions to major infrastructure challenges

The University of Georgia has created a research institute that will work to help communities rethink, transform and adapt their infrastructure in a time of rapid environmental and social change.

The Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems will be administered by the College of Engineering and will include faculty members from more than nine academic units across campus. Faculty in the new institute will explore ways to strengthen traditional "gray" infrastructure systems-such as water and sewage treatment, urban drainage, energy and transportation- and to integrate them with "green" and "blue" infrastructure-green spaces, bodies of water, and ecosystems that perform vital functions such as buffering storms and cleansing water and air.

"The institute will be nationally unique in that it unites engineering with ecology, environmental design and planning, atmospheric science, law and policy, public health, and other disciplines to effectively combine green and gray infrastructure solutions for resilience to weather and climate-related extremes," said Brian Bledsoe, the UGA Athletic Association Professor in Resilient Infrastructure and the institute's inaugural director. "By bringing together UGA's diverse strengths we hope to produce integrative research that can be used by communities, businesses and governments to mitigate risks through improved decision-making and infrastructure design at a variety of scales."

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UGA School of Social Work receives $2.6 million to support graduate students in need

Graduate students in the University of Georgia School of Social Work who face financial challenges while earning a degree are receiving help, thanks to the re-establishment of a federally funded scholarship program.

The school was recently awarded $2.6 million by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Service Administration, as part of its Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students program. The funds will be distributed to students in need over the next four years, contingent upon the program's annual review by the federal agency. The award is the largest to be received by the school for the program. The school had previously received four years of funding for the scholarships that ended in June 2016.

The school, which began distributing the grant money in August, will continue to award the scholarships to students who are enrolled full time in the clinical practice concentration of the social work graduate degree program. Scholarship applicants must also demonstrate they come from a disadvantaged background and intend to serve in primary care settings with underserved populations. Award amounts vary and are determined based on the level of demonstrated need for each applicant. Awards may be for up to $30,000 per year and cover at least half the cost of tuition.

"This scholarship should help at least 50 students each year through 2020," said David Okech, director of the social work master's degree program and the scholarship program. "This is a good thing, because there is a great need for clinical social workers in the state of Georgia and in the country as a whole." This year 52 of 63 applicants were awarded the scholarship.

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UGA research sheds light on mechanism that leads to drug-resistant superbugs

Drug-resistant organisms, or so-called "superbugs," are a growing public health threat because "last-resort" therapeutics-employed only when other drugs fail to kill an infection-are failing. A University of Georgia-led research team is the first to examine multiple strains of one of the most dangerous superbugs known to science and a last-resort antibiotic used to treat it. The team's discovery deepens the understanding of how pathogens adapt to protect themselves from antibiotics and will enable researchers to develop therapeutics aimed at evading this mechanism.

M. Stephen Trent, in the College of Veterinary Medicine's Department of Infectious Diseases, and his team found that several strains of the Gram-negative bacterium Acinetobacter baumannii are mutating into drug-resistant bacteria by shedding a layer of their outermost membrane in response to exposure to colistin, also known as polymyxin E, a decades-old antibiotic. The bacterium inactivates production of an essential molecule that colistin is designed to bind to, which then prevents the drug from entering the cell to neutralize the infection-suggesting that the bacterium adapted a novel mechanism to protect itself.

Previous research isolated this behavior to a single strain of A. baumannii, but this study is the first to track multiple strains and determine that colistin-resistance is a response to treatment. Trent and his team chose colistin for the study not only because it represents the end of the line for bacterial infection treatment options, but also to understand how Gram-negative bacteria like A. baumannii survive without that essential cell wall molecule-called lipopolysaccharides, or LPS.

"Bacteria are phenomenally adaptive, and if the antibiotic can't bind to or enter the bacterium, it is not effective," said Trent, the UGA Foundation Distinguished Professor of Infectious Diseases. The theory is, if scientists better understand how bacteria become superbugs, scientists can develop effective antibiotics to combat the bugs' resistant mechanisms.