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Friday, July 25, 2014

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University Launches Dynamic, Interactive Information Website UMD Right Now

December 4, 2012

Crystal Brown 301-405-4618

College Park, Md. – Today, the University of Maryland launched a brand-new multimedia news and information portal, UMD Right Now, which provides members of the media and the public with real-time information on the university and its extended community.

UMD Right Now replaces Newsdesk, which previously served as the university’s news hub and central resource for members of the media. The new site is aimed at reaching broader audiences and allows visitors to keep up with the latest Maryland news and events, view photos and videos and connect with the university across all of its social media platforms.

“We designed UMD Right Now to be a comprehensive, vibrant site where visitors can find new and exciting things happening at Maryland,” said Linda Martin, executive director, Web and New Media Strategies. “Through social media, video, photos and news information, we hope to engage visitors and compel the community to explore all that Maryland has to offer.”

The new website,, contains up-to-date news releases and announcements, facts and figures about the university, a searchable database of faculty and staff experts, information highlighting innovation and entrepreneurship at UMD, additional resources for news media and other campus and athletics news.

“UMD RightNow is the place to go to find out all the things happening on and around campus on any given day,” said Crystal Brown, chief communications officer. “This website brings real-time news, events and information right to your fingertips.”

For more information and contact information for the Office of University Communications, please visit

Creating Optical Cables Out of Thin Air

July 22, 2014

Abby Robinson 301-405-5845

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Imagine being able to instantaneously run an optical cable or fiber to any point on earth, or even into space.  That’s what Howard Milchberg, professor of physics and electrical and computer engineering at the University of Maryland, wants to do. 

In a paper published in the July 2014 issue of the journal Optica, Milchberg and his lab report using an “air waveguide” to enhance light signals collected from distant sources.  These air waveguides could have many applications, including long-range laser communications, detecting pollution in the atmosphere, making high-resolution topographic maps and laser weapons.Illustration of an air waveguide. The filaments leave 'holes' in the air (red rods) that reflect light. Light (arrows) passing between these holes stays focused and intense. Credit: Howard Milchberg

Because light loses intensity with distance, the range over which such tasks can be done is limited. Even lasers, which produce highly directed beams, lose focus due to their natural spreading, or worse, due to interactions with gases in the air.  Fiber-optic cables can trap light beams and guide them like a pipe, preventing loss of intensity or focus. 

Typical fibers consist of a transparent glass core surrounded by a cladding material with a lower index of refraction.  When light tries to leave the core, it gets reflected back inward.  But solid optical fibers can only handle so much power, and they need physical support that may not be available where the cables need to go, such as the upper atmosphere.  Now, Milchberg’s team has found a way to make air behave like an optical fiber, guiding light beams over long distances without loss of power.

Milchberg’s air waveguides consist of a “wall” of low-density air surrounding a core of higher density air.  The wall has a lower refractive index than the core—just like an optical fiber.  In the Optica paper, Milchberg, physics graduate students Eric Rosenthal and Nihal Jhajj, and associate research scientist Jared Wahlstrand, broke down the air with a laser to create a spark.  An air waveguide conducted light from the spark to a detector about a meter away.  The researchers collected a strong enough signal to analyze the chemical composition of the air that produced the spark. 

The signal was 1.5 times stronger than a signal obtained without the waveguide.  That may not seem like much, but over distances that are 100 times longer, where an unguided signal would be severely weakened, the signal enhancement could be much greater.

Milchberg creates his air waveguides using very short, very powerful laser pulses.  A sufficiently powerful laser pulse in the air collapses into a narrow beam, called a filament.  This happens because the laser light increases the refractive index of the air in the center of the beam, as if the pulse is carrying its own lens with it. 

Milchberg showed previously that these filaments heat up the air as they pass through, causing the air to expand and leaving behind a “hole” of low-density air in their wake.  This hole has a lower refractive index than the air around it.  While the filament itself is very short lived (less than one-trillionth of a second), it takes a billion times longer for the hole to appear.  It’s “like getting a slap to your face and then waiting, and then your face moves,” according to Milchberg, who also has an appointment in the Institute for Research in Electronics and Applied Physics at UMD.

On Feb. 26, 2014, Milchberg and his lab reported in the journal Physical Review X that if four filaments were fired in a square arrangement, the resulting holes formed the low-density wall needed for a waveguide.  When a more powerful beam was fired between these holes, the second beam lost hardly any energy when tested over a range of about a meter.  Importantly, the “pipe” produced by the filaments lasted for a few milliseconds, a million times longer than the laser pulse itself.  For many laser applications, Milchberg says, “milliseconds is infinity.”

Because the waveguides are so long-lived, Milchberg believes that a single waveguide could be used to send out a laser and collect a signal.  “It’s like you could just take a physical optical fiber and unreel it at the speed of light, put it next to this thing that you want to measure remotely, and then have the signal come all the way back to where you are,” says Milchberg. 

First, though, he needs to show that these waveguides can be used over much longer distances—50 meters at least.  If that works, it opens up a world of possibilities.  Air waveguides could be used to conduct chemical analyses of places like the upper atmosphere or nuclear reactors, where it’s difficult to get instruments close to what’s being studied.  The waveguides could also be used for LIDAR, a variation on radar that uses laser light instead of radio waves to make high-resolution topographic maps.

UMD Center Receives $3+ Million from NIH to Bolster National Drug Surveillance System

July 17, 2014

Laura Ours, 301.405.5722

UMD LogoCOLLEGE PARK, Md - The University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) will receive five years of funding—approximately more than $3 million—from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, to develop an innovative National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS). This new system will monitor newly emerging trends that will enable public experts to respond quickly to potential outbreaks of illicit drugs such as heroin and identify increased use of designer synthetic compounds. The system will not only use traditional national- and regional-level data resources, but will also scan social media and Web platforms to identify new trends in potentially harmful drug use.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to work with NIDA on this important project. NDEWS promises to provide the country with critically needed real-time information about changing drug use patterns in communities across the country,” said lead investigator Dr. Eric Wish of CESAR. “It will utilize social media and other innovative technologies to identify emerging drugs and trends and to quickly disseminate important findings to experts and interested citizens. This opportunity builds on CESAR’s 20-plus years of experience monitoring and reporting on emerging drugs.”

Information about designer synthetic drugs – including different ways to possess and use them – is rapidly spread to millions of people through the Internet and social media. In addition, other drug trends may quickly change – an example is the recent increases in heroin use among many regions across the country. However, traditional methods to monitor drug trends may not ask about emerging drugs, do not always provide information about the types of drugs used at the community level, and may take a year or more to collect and report information.

Currently, NIDA conducts regional-level surveillance on drug use through the Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG) network, which analyzes research data from various other sources and summarizes this information in semiannual reports from major metropolitan areas around the United States. To expand upon these efforts and produce an enhanced national system, NDEWS will rely on a virtual community - a network of addiction experts across the country who will regularly communicate with each other to:

•Detect emerging drug trends using national data sources (existing surveys, various drug-related listservs and networks, and social media and web scans).

•Monitor drug trends at multiple regional sites around the country using many of the national and local data sources that were utilized by CEWG but also including innovative sources, such as poison center calls.

•Dispatch a rapid response team at “Hot Spots” - local areas with reported rapid increases in emerging drugs. This team will assess the outbreak and collect anonymous samples – provided by criminal justice drug testing programs – for enhanced analysis that includes testing for synthetic drug metabolites.

•Quickly disseminate information to the public using traditional and social media, websites, publications and newsletters.

“NDEWS will generate critically needed information about new drug trends in specific locations around the country so that rapid, informed, and effective public health responses can be developed precisely where needed,” said NIDA director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. “By monitoring trends at the local level, we hope to prevent emerging drug problems from escalating or spreading to surrounding regions.”

The five-year project begins in August. For more information on the current system, CEWG, please go to:

Development of NDEWS will be funded under DA038360.


Bird Watching in the 21st Century

July 17, 2014

Abby Robinson 301-405-5845

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Was that a catbird or a mockingbird you just saw?  The answer is now just a smartphone tap away. Birdsnap—a new app developed with the help of a University of Maryland computer scientist—can identify birds from photos, using methods borrowed from facial recognition software. Simply snap a photo of a bird, and the app can tell you what species it is and all about it.

birdsnapBirdsnap is the latest in a series of electronic field guides that David Jacobs, professor of computer science at UMD, has helped to develop with his colleague Peter Belhumeur, professor of computer science at Columbia University. Their developments are based on the idea that the same techniques used by computers to recognize faces could also be used to identify plants and animals.

In 2011, Jacobs and Belhumeur launched Leafsnap, a free iPhone app that identifies trees from pictures of their leaves, in partnership with W. John Kress, research scientist and curator in the Department of Botany at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Encouraged by their success with plants, Jacobs and Belhumeur decided to try identifying animals. They originally chose to look at dogs and released the corresponding app, Dogsnap, in 2012. However, there's not a huge need to identify dogs from photos, according to Jacobs, so he and Belhumeur sought a more in-demand use for their techniques. Birdsnap, which debuted in Apple's App Store in May, extends the methods of the earlier apps to identifying birds.

To identify a bird from a photo, the app first identifies the different parts of the bird, such as the beak, based on thousands of examples of what each body part looks like. It also considers the beak's position relative to the other parts of the bird, such as the tail and wings. Next, each feature is compared against a database of the 500 most common bird species in North America. The algorithm calculates the likelihood of each species matching all of the features and returns the most likely candidates.

One way in which Birdsnap improves on Leafsnap and Dogsnap is by incorporating available data on bird sightings from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Users specify the date and place where a photo was taken, and Birdsnap looks up which birds are most common in that location at that time of the year. This helps the algorithm to narrow the list of possible matches.

However, Birdsnap goes beyond simple visual recognition. The app, along with its associated website (, contains a wealth of information about the birds in its database. Birds can be sorted according to how common they are in a particular place and time or according to their evolutionary relationships. The app also shows which birds are arriving, departing or migrating through, based on the location and time of year. Clicking on a bird will show you photos, a description (sourced from Wikipedia and independently verified), and maps showing the bird's range and likelihood of sighting in different places throughout the year, as well as play audio files of the bird's song. It also shows side-by-side comparisons of similar species that highlight the most distinguishing features.

Although Birdsnap is geared toward recreational bird watchers, Jacobs notes that the app, and others like it, could be useful for serious research. "There's a lot of interest in studying how the distribution of species is varying over time," Jacob says. "Are we seeing birds in parts of the country where we didn't typically see them?"  Such information could be useful in studying the effects of climate change, for instance.

Jacobs' next steps include looking at other animals and other parts of the world (a version of Leafsnap for the United Kingdom was released May 16, 2014). Jacobs hopes to create a system that automatically generates new field guides, so that "if someone wanted to create a field guide for beetles, that person could take images of different species of beetles and we could automatically generate a field guide that included those species."

Americans Favor Making a Deal with Iran on Nuclear Program

July 15, 2014

Jonas Siegel 301-405-4020
Rich Robinson 202-232-5075

Would Accept Limited Uranium Enrichment with Intrusive Inspections

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – As the clock runs out on negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, a new study of the American public, conducted by the Program for Public Consultation and the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (a center within the University of Maryland School of Public Policy), finds that 61 percent favor making a deal with Iran that would limit Iran's enrichment capacity and impose additional intrusive inspections in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions. This includes 62 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents.

The alternative option, being promoted by some members of Congress, calls for not continuing the current negotiations but increasing sanctions in an effort to get Iran to stop all uranium enrichment. This approach is endorsed by 35 percent.

The deal that was backed by a majority specified that Iran could enrich uranium to the level necessary for nuclear energy, provided that it accepts intrusive inspections to ensure that Iran is not building nuclear weapons. Some sanctions would then be gradually removed, provided that Iran upholds the agreement.

The study is unique in that respondents were first given a briefing on the issue and evaluated arguments for and against the options of making a deal with Iran or pursuing further sanctions. The briefing and arguments were vetted with Congressional staffers from both parties and other experts. Majorities found the arguments for both options convincing.

"Americans find convincing the arguments for making a deal as well as for ending the negotiations and ramping up sanctions," said Steven Kull, director of the Program for Public Consultation. "But when asked to finally decide, a clear majority breaks in favor of a deal."

The study was fielded with a representative sample of 748 Americans drawn from the GfK Knowledge Panel. It also finds that 61 percent favor working together with Iran to deal with the situation in Iraq. More than seven in ten also favor various confidence-building measures, such as more cultural exchanges and sporting events, as well as more extensive government-to-government talks on issues of mutual concern.

"While there are no easy or definitive answers to the dispute about Iran's nuclear program, most Americans clearly favor diplomatic engagement and cooperation over the alternatives," said Nancy Gallagher, research director at CISSM. "Majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents all think that compromise makes more sense than yet another round of sanctions."

Healthy Schools, Healthy Kids

July 15, 2014

The Herschel S. Horowitz Center for Health Literacy at the University of Maryland School of Public Health is partnering with the Atlantic General Hospital to integrate a set of health literacy standards into public school curriculum in Worcester County, on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

U.S. Route 1 Pedestrian Safety Enhancements Announced

July 15, 2014

Emphasizing partnership and commitment to combat a recent increase in pedestrians fatalities, Maryland State Highway Administrator Melinda B. Peters and University of Maryland President Wallace Loh, County Councilman Eric Olson, College Park Mayor Andrew M. Fellows, joined by University Police Chief David B. Mitchell, today announced a series of safety improvements and a public education campaign to enhance pedestrian safety along U.S. 1 (Baltimore Ave.) in College Park.

SHA, UMD, City Of College Park and County Officials Announce U.S. 1 Pedestrian Safety Enhancements

July 14, 2014

Brian Ullmann, University of Maryland, 301-314-6650
Valerie Burnette Edgar, SHA, 410-545-0303
Andrew Fellows, Mayor, 240-601-9465
Eric Olson, County Councilman, 301-952-3060

New Pedestrian Signal, Median Fence, Lower Speed Limit, and Expanded Speed Camera Enforcement Part of Engineering, Education and Enforcement Safety Initiatives

University of MarylandState Highway AdministrationCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – Emphasizing partnership and commitment to combat a recent increase in pedestrians fatalities, Maryland State Highway Administrator Melinda B. Peters and University of Maryland President Wallace Loh, County Councilman Eric Olson, College Park Mayor Andrew M. Fellows, joined by University Police Chief David B. Mitchell, today announced a series of safety improvements and a public education campaign to enhance pedestrian safety along U.S. 1 (Baltimore Ave.) in College Park. 

  • By August 1, the State Highway Administration (SHA) will lower the speed limit along U.S. 1 between Guilford Road/Guilford Drive and Berwyn Road from 30 to 25 mph. 
  • By the end of August, SHA will install a temporary median fence along U.S. 1 between Knox and Hartwick roads to deter mid-block pedestrian crossings. 
  • By late October, SHA will install an overhead pedestrian signal at the U.S. 1 and Hartwick Road intersection. Similar to the signals along U.S. 1 at Fraternity Row and Paint Branch Parkway, it will flash yellow to U.S. 1 vehicular traffic and flash red to Hartwick Road traffic except when a pedestrian pushes the walk button; the signal will turn to solid red in all directions to stop traffic and allow pedestrians to safely cross the intersection. 
  • Tuesday, July 15 the College Park City Council will vote on Mayor Fellows' proposal to enforce the new lower speed limit by expanding the times speed cameras operate to coincide with heavy pedestrian periods on U.S. 1 in downtown College Park.

Press Conference"These are important actions that will increase pedestrian safety along this stretch of U.S. 1," said University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. "The State Highway Administration, University, City and County have worked together to re-engineer traffic. Now I urge drivers and pedestrians to do their part."

"Pedestrian fatalities on Route 1 and anywhere in Prince George's County are unacceptable," said Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III. "The Prince George's County government is committed to work with the state along with our local partners and stakeholders to enhance and accelerate infrastructure improvements while focusing on public safety enforcement, education, and engagement."

"The Route 1 Corridor improvement effort underway helps to improve the safety and quality of life for those living in College Park – students and long-term residents, and for those who visit our community," said College Park Mayor Andrew M. Fellows. "Coupled with enforcement and education, the students, residents and visitors will be better equipped to safely cross Baltimore Avenue, and drivers will be more aware of the heavy foot traffic on Route One, our Main Street."

"Pedestrian safety is critical in downtown College Park.  I want to thank the State Highway Administration for implementing these improvements," said Prince George's County Councilman Eric Olson. "This collaborative effort between University of Maryland officials, the City of College Park, State officials, law enforcement, and Prince George's County, working with SHA, will enhance the safety of all traveling U.S. 1.  We will continue to work together to improve the walkabilty of U.S. 1."

The University of Maryland, University of Maryland Police Department, the City College Park and SHA also announced an upcoming pedestrian safety education campaign: Walk Smart College Park that includes partnering with local restaurants and taverns.  The primary goal is to educate University of Maryland students about the rules of the road and safe walking and crossing practices along off-campus public roads such as U.S. 1.

"SHA is making engineering changes along U.S. 1 to enhance pedestrian safety and the university and county police are aggressively enforcing jaywalking, drunk driving and traffic laws. As students walk along Baltimore Avenue, it is critical to look up, stay alert, use marked crosswalks and follow the pedestrian signal indications," said Administrator Peters.  "At the same time, we remind drivers to be alert along U.S. 1 - to follow the posted speed limit and stop for pedestrians.  By following the rules of the road and looking out for each other, we can prevent crashes and save lives."

Walk Smart College ParkSince spring, SHA already has made significant modifications to signage (for drivers and pedestrians), crosswalks and signal timing to enhance pedestrian safety. Recent improvements to enhance pedestrian safety include:

  • Reduced pedestrian wait times at "Walk/Don't Walk" signals and increasing crossing time
  • Made pedestrian walk signs automatic, not requiring a person to press a button
  • Installed "Don't Cross" markings along curb line on sidewalk along U.S. 1 to remind pedestrians to not cross mid-block and use cross-walks with the walk signal
  • Installed "No Pedestrian" signs in the medians facing sidewalks
  • Refreshed all crosswalk pavement markings at intersections
  • Installed "State Law - Stop for Pedestrians in Crosswalks" signs between Paint Branch Parkway and Calvert Road

The City of College Park and University Police will deploy officers to strictly enforce the new speed limit, as well as conduct sobriety checkpoints and patrols to combat drunk driving. Unfortunately the latest incidents along U.S. 1 have reportedly involved alcohol use by either the pedestrian or the driver.  University of Maryland Police Department and Prince George's County Police Department and other neighboring jurisdictions have deployed sobriety checkpoints, saturation patrols and other enforcement efforts to deter, catch and remove drunk drivers along U.S. 1 and surrounding roadways.   These efforts are partially funded by the Maryland Highway Safety Office, as well as through regular departmental time. They will continue to work together in such efforts in the future.

Watch the announcement:

Highly Regarded Medical Director, Clinician and Administrator Joins UMD as Director of the University Health Center

July 14, 2014

Graham Binder301-405-4076

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland today announced the appointment of Dr. David Robert McBride as Director of the University Health Center. He will arrive in September to assume this critical leadership position. Dr. McBride’s role centers around oversight of all health center operations, service delivery, budget, and administration that includes myriad medical and laboratory services. He will also serve as the University’s Chief Medical Officer. Dr. McBride’s substantial experience and far-reaching reputation as Director of Student Health Services at Boston University for the past eight years position him perfectly to manage UMD health care services and David McBridewellness education for undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and visitors.

Dr. McBride’s extensive work history dates back to 1997 as a Clinician and Medical Director at the Lynn Community Health Center. From there he moved on to positions as Clinician with the Northeastern University Student Health Center and acclaimed Tufts University Family Medicine Residency before achieving a career milestone as Director for Boston University Student Health Services. 1997-2006 also brought a series of high-profile academic appointments, most notably Clinical Instructor and Lecturer at Northeastern, Clinical Assistant Professor at Tufts and Assistant Professor for Family Medicine at Boston Medical Center.

“Dr. McBride’s prior role as Director of Boston University Student Health Services, combined with his extensive background as a clinician, physician and administrator make him the ideal candidate to lead UMD’s University Health Center,” says Linda Clement, UMD’s Vice President for Student Affairs. “We are confident that his proven ability to provide overall leadership and vision for multi-faceted, large-scale health centers will be of significant value to the UMD community.”

“I feel so lucky to be joining the dynamic team in Student Affairs at the University of Maryland and to have great new colleagues at the University Health Center,” says Dr. McBride. “The Health Center at UMD has such an impressive array of services and a focus on prevention, which I really value. I know that I can help the University Health Center to build on the excellent foundation established by the staff and Dr. Bodison.”

Dr. McBride holds a B.A. in chemistry from Miami University, where he graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. He received his M.D., cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. 2009 saw the acquisition of his pocket MBA for Physicians in the Boston University Executive MBA Program.



Human cells’ protein factory has an alternate operating manual

July 10, 2014

Abby Robinson, 301-405-5845
Lee Tune, 301-405-4679

College Park, MD -- Working with a gene that interacts with HIV, University of Maryland researchers have discovered that some human genes have an alternate set of operating instructions written into their protein-making machinery. The alternate instructions can quickly alter the proteins’ contents, functions and ability to survive.

This phenomenon, known as programmed ribosomal frameshifting, was discovered in viruses in 1985. But the UMD study, published online July 9, 2014 in the journal Nature, is the first to show that a human gene uses programmed ribosomal frameshifting to change how it assembles proteins, said senior author Jonathan Dinman, UMD professor of cell biology and molecular genetics.

In the immune system-related gene that Dinman and his colleagues studied, programmed ribosomal frameshifting triggers a process the body can use to eliminate some immune system molecules, thereby reining in potentially harmful side effects such as fever, inflammation and organ failure. The discovery could lead to better treatments for AIDS, allergies and rejection of transplanted organs, Dinman said.

“This has useful implications in situations where you want to shut down the immune response in one part of the body but not in another, or shut down one facet of the immune response,” Dinman said. “It could lead to very specific therapies without side effects.”

The ribosome, the protein factory in every living cell, gathers amino acids and assembles them into protein chains to make almost anything the cell needs. A strand of ribonucleic acid, or messenger RNA, is the template. Each amino acid is represented by a group of three molecules called nucleotides; each triad is called a codon. Specialized molecules called transfer RNAs “read” each codon and deliver the matching amino acids to the ribosome for assembly. Some codons act as stop signs, instructing the ribosome to release the finished protein chain.

Imagine the messenger RNA is a text made up of three-letter words (codons), spaces, and punctuation (stop codons), like this:

Can any fat cat fly?

To assemble proteins in the right order, the ribosome has to read all three parts of each codon, the spaces, and the stop codons. But sometimes the messenger RNA contains signals that reprogram the ribosome to jump forward or back by one or two places – that is, to shift the frame that it is reading. This alters the text. The transfer RNA now reads either new commands to fetch completely different proteins, or meaningless, nonsense RNA, like this:

Ana nyf atc atf ly?

Frameshift signals are common in some viruses, which use them to cram multiple sets of commands onto a single RNA strand. Dinman has long suspected that human cells also have frameshift signals, and that they are useful.

“These are really complex RNA structures. It takes a lot of computer memory to search for them in human cells,” said Dinman, who has been studying ribosomal frameshifting since the 1990s. “It wasn’t until the past decade that computers were fast and powerful enough to find these signals.”

Dinman and lead author Ashton Trey Belew, a UMD research associate, looked at CCR5, a gene on the surface of humans’ white blood cells. CCR5 is important to the immune system, but some forms of HIV use it to enter healthy cells.

The researchers found a molecular pattern that acts as a frameshift signal in CCR5. In tests on live human cells and rabbit cell extracts, they found the signal prompted the ribosome to frameshift 10 to 15 percent of the time. Using mass spectroscopy, they confirmed frameshifting was happening within CCR5 at the sequence predicted to be the frameshift signal. Then they searched another laboratory’s published database of human ribosomes and found confirming evidence of frameshifts in that spot, at about the same rate.

They also found that a small specialized piece of RNA, called microRNA-1224, attaches itself to CCR5’s messenger RNA at the frameshift site. The microRNA braces the messenger RNA, making it less flexible and causing the ribosome to stop there and slip by one or two spaces more often.

“The biggest question in this field has been, what regulates frameshifting? And that’s essentially what microRNA-1224 is doing,” Dinman said. “Then the question becomes, what are the consequences?”

In the case of CCR5, the frameshift changes the codons behind it into nonsense RNA. Since the ribosome can’t read them, other components of the cell step in and destroy the messenger RNA and its associated proteins.

This might seem like a bad thing. But symptoms like fever are caused by our bodies’ immune response, not the underlying illness. And the immune response occasionally gets out of control, causing serious, sometimes fatal side effects.

Dinman believes that by killing the messenger RNA and its array of immune system proteins, frameshifting acts like a dimmer switch, lowering the immune response to a safe level.

This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (GM058859, GM068123, AI051967, GM080201 and HHSN261200800001E) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) (MCB-0084559). The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of the NIH or NSF.

Jonathan Dinman lab


“Ribosomal frameshifting in the CCR5 mRNA is regulated by miRNAs and the NMD pathway,” Ashton Trey Belew, Arturas Meskauskas, Sharmishtha Musalgaonkar, Vivek M. Advani, Sergey O. Sulima, Wojciech K. Kasprzak, Bruce A. Shapiro and Jonathan D. Dinman, was published online July 9, 2014 in Nature and can be downloaded at



July 24
Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have gone looking for water vapor in the atmospheres of three planets... Read
July 22
Physics Professor Howard Milchberg created "air waveguides" to enhance light signals collected from distant sources. Read
July 17
Data from new system will inform rapid and effective public health responses. Read
July 17
Birdsnap—a new app developed with the help of a UMD computer scientist—can identify birds from photos, using methods... Read