Release Date: December 31, 2014
BUFFALO, N.Y. — We helped sequence the coffee genome. We found that Ebola has ancient evolutionary roots. We discovered that the expansion of opportunities to gamble doesn’t necessarily mean that more people will gamble.
This year, UB researchers published studies that caught the attention of news outlets worldwide, from NPR to The New York Times.
Some of the findings reflect the wonders of basic science: They are improving our understanding of how the world around us works, giving us knowledge we never had before. Others could change or save lives in the near future. Enjoy.
With colleagues, UB biologist Victor Albert sequenced the genome of the coffee species Coffea canephora. The research could help farmers breed plants that are better able to survive drought and disease. The project also sheds light on the history of caffeine, finding that this economically valuable substance evolved independently in coffee and tea.
In another biology finding, a UB team led by Professor Derek J. Taylor traced Ebola’s evolutionary roots back to ancient times. Experts once thought that known filoviruses — the family to which Ebola belongs — came into being some 10,000 years ago. The new study pushes the family’s age back to the time when great apes arose.
Tiny capsules called nanoballoons can pack an awesome punch. In a new study, UB biomedical engineer Jonathan Lovell reported that these diminutive devices could be used to deliver cancer drugs directly to cancer cells. Doctors would inject the nanoballoons into patients’ bloodstream, then pop them open with a harmless laser light at the site of a tumor. This set-up would reduce the side effects of chemotherapy by limiting the drugs’ contact with healthy tissue.
In a separate development, Lovell and colleagues created “nanojuice” that doctors could one day use to see inside the small intestine. The juice houses nanoscopic particles containing colorful dyes. After patients drink it, doctors would strike the particles with a laser light to provide a real-time view of the gut.
It sounds like something out of a sci-fi flick, but it’s real: With colleagues, UB communication professor Mark Frank found that a computer system did better than humans at recognizing fake expressions of pain. Such systems could be used to better read people in a variety of settings, including health care and security.
Binge-drinking rats lost their taste for alcohol when scientists prompted the animals’ brains to release a chemical called dopamine in a specific pattern. “The rats just flat out stopped drinking,” said researcher Caroline Bass in UB’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. The findings suggest it may be possible to use gene therapy in the brain to treat substance abuse.
UB pediatrics researcher Xiaozhong Wen led a project to examine the eating patterns of U.S. infants at 6 months and 12 months old — critical ages for the development of lifelong food preferences. The research found that babies’ diets varied according to Mom’s socioeconomic background, with notable differences between children from families with high and low incomes.
In a study, researchers had more success in treating obese and overweight preschoolers in primary care when an overweight parent was also treated. “Our results show that the traditional approach … focusing only on the child is obsolete,” said researcher Teresa Quattrin, a pediatrics expert at UB and Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo.
Heinous behavior played out in a virtual environment can lead to players’ increased moral sensitivity toward the moral codes they violated. That’s a surprising finding from the research of Matthew Grizzard in the communication department, who published a study titled, “Being Bad in a Video Game Can Make Us More Morally Sensitive.”
In December, UB geologist Beata Csatho and colleagues published a study providing the clearest picture yet of how the Greenland Ice Sheet is changing. The research suggests that scientists may be underestimating how quickly Greenland could lose ice and contribute to sea level rise worldwide in the near future.
Despite the rise of online gaming and an increase in the number of casinos, rates of problem gambling remained steady in the U.S. over the past decade. This counterintuitive finding comes from a study led by UB’s Research Institute on Addictions. The result may have something to do with the economic downturn, says scientist John Welte.
As featured in the Christian Science Monitor.
A study of 634 couples found that the more often they smoked marijuana, the less likely they were to engage in domestic violence. The research, done by investigators in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions and Research Institute on Addicitions, looked at behavior over the first nine years of marriage.