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UGA researcher named Pew scholar in biomedical sciences

University of Georgia researcher Bob Schmitz was recently named a Pew scholar in the biomedical sciences by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Schmitz, an assistant professor of genetics in UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, joins the ranks of more than 600 outstanding scientists who have been selected as Pew scholars in the 30 years since the program’s inception and whose careers have been dedicated to bold scientific discoveries.

“This new class of remarkable scientists is emblematic of all that is unique, exciting and compelling about this initiative,” said Rebecca W. Rimel, Pew’s president and CEO. “We are proud to provide a launching pad for the adventurous mind represented here, who will surely advance the field of biomedical science and create a healthier world for all of us.”

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UGA to hold groundbreaking ceremony for new turfgrass research facilities

State, industry and University of Georgia officials will take shovel to soil on June 24 at 2 p.m. as they officially break ground on three new turfgrass research and education facilities. The largest of the facilities will be located in Griffin on Higgins Road just west of the main parking lot, where the ceremony will take place. UGA campuses in Athens and Tifton will house additional structures.

The UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences supports Georgia’s $7.8 billion turfgrass industry with 10 faculty members who focus primarily on turf along with an additional eight researchers who have involvement in turf-related projects. UGA turf scientists conduct research, educate industry professionals and train students in support of all of the state’s turf-related industries.

“With the backing of the turf industry and generous support from the governor and legislature, we will finally have facilities that are equal to the quality of our faculty involved in turfgrass research, education and extension,” said J. Scott Angle, the college’s dean and director. “Our programs will also assure that the turf industry is an economic engine for Georgia during this time.”

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UGA students to use Gilman Scholarship awards to study abroad this summer

University of Georgia undergraduate students have received the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to study or intern abroad this summer.

The Gilman Scholarship, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is a nationally competitive needs-based scholarship that aims to diversify the students who study abroad and the countries and regions where they go. Gilman Scholars receive up to $5,000 for study abroad program costs. Students are encouraged to choose nontraditional study abroad destinations.

Scholarship recipients can gain a better understanding of other cultures, countries, languages and economies that can prepare them to assume leadership roles within government and the private sector upon their graduation.

UGA’s Summer 2015 Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship winners and their hometowns and destination countries are:

  • Sheila Akbary of Suwanee, Argentina.
  • Olaoluwa Ayeni of Loganville, South Korea.
  • Jessica Parks of Jackson, Vietnam.
  • Caitlin Pingel of Snellville, Spain.
  • Preethi Raja of Acworth, Ecuador.
  • Edwydge Seac of Acworth, Costa Rica.
  • Alyssa Varsalona of Marietta, Peru.
  • Brianna Watts of Leslie, South Africa.

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UGA researchers edit plant DNA using mechanism evolved in bacteria

Researchers at the University of Georgia have used a gene editing tool known as CRISPR/Cas to modify the genome of a tree species for the first time. Their research, published recently in the early online edition of the journal New Phytologist, opens the door to more rapid and reliable gene editing of plants.

By mutating specific genes in Populus—a genus of deciduous trees that includes poplar, aspen and cottonwood—the researchers reduced the concentrations of two naturally occurring plant polymers. One is called lignin, which traps sugars and starches used for biofuel production inside the tree’s sturdy cell walls. The other is known as condensed tannin, and its presence in leaves and barks of the tree deters feeding by ruminants, such as deer, cattle, goats and sheep. 

“CRISPR is a relatively new technology, but it could improve our ability to produce novel varieties of food crops, animal feeds and biofuel feedstocks,” said the study’s lead researcher C.J. Tsai, a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and department of genetics. “Compared to some other gene editing techniques, this is incredibly simple, cost-effective and highly efficient, and it could serve as the foundation for a new era of discovery in plant genetics.”

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UGA ecologist publishes new book on monarch butterflies

Monarch butterflies are among the most recognizable—and beloved—butterflies in the world. Migratory monarchs in North America have also experienced alarming declines in recent years.

A new book, “Monarchs in a Changing World: Biology and Conservation of an Iconic Insect,” synthesizes the latest scientific research about monarchs and the threats and challenges they face. Co-edited by University of Georgia ecologist Sonia Altizer, and with chapters by Altizer and Andy Davis of the UGA Odum School of Ecology, it was published by Cornell University Press and includes contributions from 72 monarch experts and conservation scientists from around the world.
“Monarchs are best known for undertaking an epic fall migration each year in North America and for their warning coloration that advertises their toxicity to predators,” Altizer said. “These and other traits have long fascinated scientists and the public alike.

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UGA Athletic Association giving $1 million for experiential learning

The University of Georgia Athletic Association will establish a $1 million endowment to support the university’s new experiential learning initiative. The association’s board of directors approved the contribution during its spring meeting.

“The athletic association has a strong track record of supporting the university’s most important academic initiatives,” said President Jere W. Morehead, who also serves as chair of the board, “and none is more relevant to the institution right now than this initiative designed to further enhance student learning at UGA.”

The $1 million gift to establish the endowment for experiential learning will bring the athletic association’s total contribution to the university’s academic enterprise to $5 million for this fiscal year.

“We are exceptionally pleased to provide these funds that will support the experiential learning initiative,” said Greg McGarity, J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics. “It is one of the university’s most important programs being developed and will be a cornerstone in the undergraduate curriculum for years to come. It’s also another way we can integrate academics and athletics on our campus, continuing the strong partnership around programs that benefit the university.”

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Tpl2 enzyme may be target for treating autoimmune diseases

New research at the University of Georgia has found that the presence of Tpl2—an enzyme that regulates inflammation—controls the activation of T cells during colitis, an autoimmune disease that occurs when the inner lining of the colon is inflamed.

Autoimmune diseases, like colitis, are estimated to affect 5 to 8 percent of the population. Side effects of colitis can include abdominal pain, rectal bleeding and diarrhea. Since there is no cure for colitis, most patients use medications to treat their symptoms. Figuring out the cause of colitis and how to cure it has challenged researchers for years.

Multiple cell types contribute to colitis development, including T cells. In this study, Nicole Acuff, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine, led the research designed to see whether Tpl2, a proinflammatory enzyme known as tumor locus progression 2, contributed to colitis caused by self-reactive T cells.

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Researchers identify mechanisms linking early adversity, disease later in life

Early socioeconomic adversity, such as poverty, low education and disadvantaged community, has both direct and indirect long-term effects on young adults’ cardio-metabolic disease risk, according to researchers within the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

K.A.S. Wickrama, the Athletic Association Endowed Professor in human development and family science, and his research team explored a “resource focused model” examining the positive psychosocial resources—self-esteem, personality and educational attainment—linking adolescents’ early life experiences to young adults’ health outcomes as measured by nine bio-markers including blood pressure, blood glucose level and body mass index.

The research showed that in addition to early adversity’s direct impact on cardio-metabolic health, it also negatively influenced the development of these psychosocial resources, which, in turn, proved detrimental to disease risk, including diseases such as diabetes, heart disease or stroke.

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NHAF names UGAs Willson Center a national model for building humanities communities

The Jane and Harry Willson Center for Humanities and Arts at the University of Georgia has been profiled as a national model for fostering successful humanities communities as part of a new initiative by the National Humanities Alliance Foundation.

The Willson Center was selected to be the first organization profiled for the initiative after representatives of the NHAF visited UGA for the dedication of the Willson Center Digital Humanities Lab in April. The Willson Center—together with Georgia Humanities, the statewide affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities—will lead the working group for the state of Georgia, the first launched under the initiative.

“The humanities are flourishing at the University of Georgia, with the Willson Center paving the way toward the future,” UGA President Jere W. Morehead said. “I am pleased that this pioneering academic center is being recognized as a national model for collaboration by the National Humanities Alliance Foundation.”

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UGA law graduate Sally Yates confirmed as U.S. deputy attorney general

Yesterday, Sally Quillian Yates, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia and a 1986 magna cum laude graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law, was confirmed as U.S. deputy attorney general.

Nominated by President Barack Obama late last year, Yates has been serving in an acting capacity in the No. 2 post at the U.S. Department of Justice. She replaced Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole.

“The university takes great pride in the significant accomplishments of our graduates,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “We congratulate Sally Quillian Yates on her outstanding career and wish her well in this important role for our country.”