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Tropical Frogs Found to Coexist with Deadly Fungus

October 5, 2018
Contacts: 

Matthew Wright, 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- Amphibian biologists from around the world watched in horror in 2004, as the frogs of El Copé, Panama, began dying by the thousands. The culprit: Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a deadly fungus more commonly known as chytrid fungus. Within months, roughly half of the frog species native to the area went locally extinct. 

A new study led by University of Maryland researchers suggests that, within a decade, the species remaining in El Copé developed the ability to coexist with chytrid fungus. In a field study spanning the years 2010-2014, the researchers found that frogs infected with the fungus survived at a nearly identical rate compared with uninfected frogs. 

The results, published October 3, 2018 in the journal Ecological Applications, suggest that frog populations in El Copé underwent ecological and/or evolutionary changes that enabled the community as a whole to persist, despite severe species losses. According to the researchers, the results could mean good news for other hot spots of amphibian biodiversity hit hard by the chytrid fungus, such as South America and Australia. 

“Our results are really promising because they lead us to conclude that the El Copé frog community is stabilizing and not drifting to extinction,” said Graziella DiRenzo , Ph.D. ’16, biological sciences, now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the lead author of the research paper. “That’s a big concern with chytrid worldwide. Before this study, we didn’t know a lot about the communities that remain after an outbreak. In some areas, it’s still a black box.”

DiRenzo and her colleagues returned to the same small, 2-square-kilometer field site in El Copé every year from 2010 to 2014. They broke the field site down into smaller, 20-meter subsites, repeatedly sampling the subsites several days in a row within a season. Each time, the researchers tested individual frogs for the presence of the fungus while assessing the severity of any disease symptoms. 

The researchers then entered this data into a statistical model they developed to assess disease dynamics in communities beset by an outbreak. The frequent, repeated sampling of individual frogs in the field allowed the team to minimize biases by correcting the model for any animals that were present but unseen.  The results enabled the researchers to conclude that infected frogs were surviving at the same rate as uninfected frogs. This observation strongly suggested that the frog species remaining in El Copé developed the ability to tolerate the fungus and survive its deadly effects. 

“Our study found that, even though there are a lot of infected individuals, about 98 percent of them are infected at very low levels,” said Karen Lips, a professor of biology at UMD and the senior author of the study. “We know that, early on, several species played a key role in spreading infection, like Typhoid Mary. But some of these species are now gone, so the entire ecosystem is totally different. It’s almost not comparable to what was there before.”

DiRenzo, Lips and their colleagues suggest that the El Copé frog community stabilized through an effect known as “eco-evolutionary rescue.” In this scenario, some species may have evolved tolerance to the fungus while other highly infectious, “Typhoid Mary” species died off and stopped contributing to the spread of the pathogen. The fungus itself may have also become less virulent and the frog community as a whole may have undergone other types of restructuring.

The researchers note that, because the frog community in El Copé had been well-studied for years before the 2004 outbreak, the research site provides a rare window to assess changes to a frog community as a result of widespread chytrid infection. If the community has stabilized here, the researchers say, it is likely that other hard-hit frog communities elsewhere in the world may have undergone similar adaptations—even where disease has reduced the overall number of species and/or individuals. 

“The frogs of El Copé are not doing great, but they’re hanging on. The fact that some species survived is the most important thing,” Lips said. “If a species goes extinct right off the bat, it’s out of options. We know how all these species responded to the initial invasion. Now we know how the survivors are responding to continuing infection. We know there are several sites in the world that probably went through the same thing. If enough frog species in a given place can survive and persist, then hopefully someday a vibrant new frog community will replace what was lost.”

In addition to DiRenzo and Lips, Ana Longo, a postdoctoral associate in biology at UMD, also contributed to this research. DiRenzo completed part of the work while she was a postdoctoral researcher at Michigan State University. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (Award No. DEB 1120161). The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of this organization.


Photo (l): The emerald glass frog (Espadarana prosoblepon) is one of the most abundant species at the study site in El Copé, Panama, following an outbreak of chytrid fungus in 2004. Image credit: Graziella DiRenzo.

Photo (r): Frogs of the genus Diasporus, such as this individual, are among the most common nocturnal frogs in El Copé, Panama, to survive following an outbreak of chytrid fungus in 2004. Image credit: Graziella DiRenzo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

UMD Part of Multi-Institutional Team Awarded $14.4M to Develop Innovative Language Technologies

October 3, 2018
Contacts: 

Tom Ventsias, 301-301-5933

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The University of Maryland (UMD) is part of multi-institutional team tasked with building a powerful set of language technologies that can unlock information that has previously been unsearchable, and ultimately unfindable.

The four-year project, funded by a $14.4M grant from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), is expected to produce a language processing system that allows a user to type in a query in English and have information returned in English—even if the content is only available in a lesser-known language like Croatian.

The project involves faculty, postdocs and students from UMD, Columbia University, Yale University, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Edinburgh. Columbia is the lead institution, with Kathleen McKeown, the founding director of Columbia’s Data Science Institute, serving as principal investigator.

The interdisciplinary research—already underway—includes experts in natural language processing, speech processing, and information retrieval.

“Today’s internet bring us closer together than ever before, but the diversity and richness of human language remains a challenge,” says Douglas Oard, a professor in the College of Information Studies (Maryland’s iSchool), who is heading up the UMD research team. “Computers can be trained to transform human language in many useful ways, but today that training process is still too expensive to affordably be applied to all the world’s languages, and too dependent on the artisanal skills of a small number of experts.”

Joining Oard at UMD are Philip Resnik, linguistics professor, Marine Carpuat, assistant professor of computer science, and Hal Daumé (professor of computer science and Language Science Center). These four faculty all have appointments in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), where they work together in the Computational Linguistics and Information Processing (CLIP) Laboratory, one of 16 centers and labs in UMIACS.

The system they are building, called SCRIPTS—which stands for System for Cross Language Information Processing, Translation and Summarization—will take advantage of the latest advances in computing technologies. This includes machine-learning algorithms that can sift through large amounts of human language, looking for commonalities in syntax and semantics.

When completed, SCRIPTS will be able to transcribe speech from multiple sources such as videos, news broadcasts and some types of social media. It will also process text documents like newspapers, reports and social media posts.

The system will use multiple strategies, such as matching an English query against translated documents and then summarizing the result. It will also be able to search and summarize directly in the foreign language, and then translate the selected summaries into English.

“The collection and analysis of information required to accomplish a specific intelligence task has increasingly become a multilingual venture,” says Carl Rubino, who is leading IARPA’s Machine Translation for English Retrieval of Information in Any Language (MATERIAL) program. 

For most languages, Rubino says, there are very few automated tools for cross-lingual data mining and analysis. “MATERIAL aims to investigate how current language processing technologies can most efficiently be developed and integrated to respond to specific information needs against multilingual speech and text data,” he says.

Currently, analysts must wade through multilingual document collections manually or use computers that are unable to translate languages that have a small digital footprint, known as “low-resource languages,” into English. In addition, many current systems don’t provide accurate translations of these low-resource languages.

For example, text written in Tagalog or Swahili—languages spoken by millions of people in the Philippines and East Africa, respectively—has far less digital content on which systems can be trained.

And if the language is originally retrieved from a news broadcast or other audio source, its pronunciation may not translate well to English, or there may be variable pronunciations for certain words, says Oard, who is an expert in cross-language retrieval.

“We’ve [already] built machines that learn from examples, but for these low-resource languages, we just don’t have enough examples,” he says.

This is where new technology will come into play. Using sophisticated “deep learning” systems, the SCRIPTS team will begin to compile documents in several low-resource languages that have been selected by IARPA as representative examples. They’ll develop new algorithms to analyze language patterns such as sentence structure and morphology, which is how words are formed and their relationship to other words in the same language.

Deep learning-based translation systems under development at UMD will take limited amounts of information from the low-resource languages, churn it with other language-related data from better-resourced languages, and come up with powerful new tools that will allow for the manipulation and transformation of content in those languages.

“In order for us to be able to do this kind of work, we need the ability to build new computing infrastructures that weren’t the same ones’ people were using as recently as five years ago,” says Carpuat, an expert in multilingual text analysis who is working on machine translation capabilities for SCRIPTS.

Perhaps of greatest significance, the researchers say, is that SCRIPTS is designed to incorporate four key areas of language processing—speech recognition, machine translation, cross-language retrieval, and information summarization—into one, robust platform.

“Translation, retrieval and summarization are all areas that CLIP has previously excelled in,” says Resnik, a computational linguist who is the current director of the CLIP lab. “But these tasks all needed to be done within separate systems. Now—with the use of deep learning neural networks—it allows us to combine functions and do a single ‘training’ of the system across multiple functions quickly and efficiently.”

Resnik says that in addition to the four UMD faculty, CLIP has added a postdoc and a research staff member to work on the IARPA project. There are also five UMD doctoral students involved with the research.

Looking ahead, the CLIP lab faculty envision even more powerful computing systems being used to assist with multilingual information management.

“Computational methods evolve rapidly,” says Oard, who notes that the Maryland team is already working across a full range of modern computing architectures—from high-performance computing, to the latest distributed processing systems, to deep learning clusters.

In the future, he adds, the researchers might even consider the next-generation quantum computing techniques being developed at UMD.

“We work together with sponsors like IARPA to leverage these technologies in the service of our society, to help transform the way we all can take best advantage of the increasingly information-abundant world in which we live,” Oard says.

 

About CLIP: The Computational Linguistics and Information Processing (CLIP) Laboratory at the University of Maryland is engaged in designing algorithms and building systems that allow computers to effectively and efficiently perform language-related tasks. CLIP is one of 16 labs and centers in UMIACS.

About IARPA: Launched in 2006, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity invests in high-risk, high-payoff research programs that address some of the most difficult scientific challenges faced by the U.S. intelligence community.

City of College Park to Celebrate 9th Annual College Park Day

October 1, 2018
Contacts: 

Golshan Jalali, UMD Office of Community Engagement, 301-405-0043
Ryna Quinones, City of College Park Communications, 240-487-3508

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- On Saturday, October 6, from noon to 6 p.m., the City of College Park will host its annual College Park Day at the College Park Aviation Museum. The fun-filled and community-based event provides locals with the opportunity to engage with each other, while learning more about the City’s amenities. 

Expected to attract thousands of people from the City and the surrounding areas, College Park Day features live music and performances, a kids zone, local restaurants and food vendors, free admission to the College Park Aviation Museum and much more. Flying in just for this year’s event is Curtiss Jenny, a historic wood and fabric airplane associated with the first USPS airmail flights. The Jenny and her crew will be on the airfield along with several helicopters for the crowd to see and explore.

Additional performers and guests include: 

  • City of College Park Mayor Patrick L. Wojahn and City Councilmembers
  • Wild Anacostias Brass Band, Superior Cling Trio, Joe Garner and the Produce Section, Cumbia One and The Unknowns
  • Local festival food options offered by Fishnet, UMD’s Maryland Dairy, Potomac Pizza, BBQ Bill’s, Heavenly Desserts & Dogs, Amity Kitchen, Wassub, and Kona Ice
  • Performances by UMD groups Gymkana and DaCadence, as well as the Magic Mallets
  • A public safety demonstration from Prince George’s County Public Safety Crews, including fire, police, EMS, and bomb squad
  • Dorian Walker – a filmmaker, aviation enthusiast and chairman of “Friends of Jenny,” the organization that operates the only cross-country flying Curtiss JN-4 Jenny wooden airplane
  • 70+ community non-profit, University, business, and government agency exhibitors and craft vendors

The College Park Aviation Museum is located at 1985 Corporal Frank Scott Drive, College Park, MD 20740. Media should RSVP to Ryna Quinones at 240-487-3508 or rquinones@collegeparkmd.gov

 

 

 

UMD to Lead Milestone NSF High School Engineering Pilot Course

October 1, 2018
Contacts: 

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — With a nearly $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the University of Maryland will lead a first-of-its-kind nationwide pre-college course on engineering principles and design. The pilot program, entitled Engineering For US All (E4USA), will test the effectiveness of a standardized educational curriculum across multiple states. The course is intended to lead to an eventual pathway for high school students to earn college credit.

High School Students at UMD“Every student should have access to a high-quality pre-college curriculum that teaches engineering principles and practices while incorporating design-based experiences,” said Darryll J. Pines, Principal Investigator (PI) and dean of the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering. “The skills learned in engineering classrooms enable students from demographically and geographically diverse schools to not only become better prepared for the academic challenges within science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses, but to become better prepared for life.”

The project is in partnership with Arizona State University, Morgan State University, and Virginia Tech. During the pilot, researchers will refine a curriculum developed by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and the College Board. The curriculum will integrate engineering principles and a student design project, and it will align to the Next Generation Science Standards for K–12 education, developed by 26 states and other partners. 

Vanderbilt University, another university partner, will evaluate the curriculum, student learning, and teacher training. Additional collaborators include NASA Goddard, Project Lead the Way, and the College Board. Over 1,000 students at approximately 40 high schools are expected to complete the pilot over the three year period.

"NSF helps build the nation’s future engineering workforce, and a key part of that is enabling more students to have access to and preparation for undergraduate engineering education," said Dawn Tilbury, assistant director of NSF’s Directorate for Engineering. "A standardized high school engineering course will help remove the mystery and democratize the learning and practice of engineering."

In February 2018, more than 100 U.S. deans of engineering indicated their willingness to award credit for entering undergraduate students who have successfully completed a high-quality introductory course in engineering while in high school.

“The College Board shares with the Engineering Deans Council a desire both to expand and diversify the pipeline of students interested in and well prepared to earn engineering degrees," said Trevor Packer, Senior Vice President, Advanced Placement and Instruction at the College Board. "We are eager to see whether a new engineering course in American high schools could increase appetite and readiness among a larger and more diverse set of students to major in engineering, and effectively qualify students for college credit and placement in engineering departments across the country."

By completion of the pilot, hundreds of engineering educators will be involved in shaping the curriculum. The continued support and feedback from high school teachers is critical to the pilot’s success.

“The most important element in student learning is the teacher,” said Margaret J. McLaughlin, part of the E4USA team and associate dean for research and innovation and partnerships at the UMD College of Education. “How we teach students design-based thinking cuts across science standards and other disciplines, which is why it is essential to effectively train teachers to introduce this way of thinking to their students.”

Teachers will be grouped as a network to create a broad learning community. An online platform will enable teachers to collaborate, learn from one another, and receive support by sharing teaching materials and challenges.

“E4USA provides guidelines for learning management systems and the online analytical tools for centralized data collection and protocols,” said Leigh Abts, co-PI and associate researcher with a joint appointment in UMD’s A. James Clark School of Engineering and College of Education. “E4USA will offer teachers online, mentored, video-based professional development supported by online modules and mentoring.”  

For over five years, engineering deans in the ASEE PreK-12 Engineering Education Committee have been laying the groundwork for an advanced high school course in engineering. “I am thrilled that we are that much closer to offering this opportunity to all U.S. students,” said Pines. 

Engineering for US All (E4USA) is supported by the National Science Foundation under NSF Award Number 1849430.

UMD Researchers Awarded $1 Million Grant from NSF to Develop New Methods to Generate Single Photons for Quantum Research

September 27, 2018
Contacts: 

Matthew Wright, 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- A team from the University of Maryland has been awarded $1 million by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop methods for generating single photons at room temperature in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. The project, which could result in new interfaces between electronic circuits and photonic devices, is part of a $31 million NSF effort to fund transformational quantum research that will enable the United States to lead a new quantum technology revolution. 

Proton rendering

The NSF funded the project, “Integrated Circuits of Single-Photon Sources from Organic Color-Centers,” as part of an initiative known as Research Advanced by Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering—Transformational Advances in Quantum Systems (RAISE-TAQS). The RAISE-TAQS effort is designed to encourage scientists to pursue exploratory, cutting-edge concepts in quantum research.

"Single-photon sources are a fundamental element for quantum information science and technology. However, it has been extremely difficult to prepare single photons with high efficiency,” said YuHuang Wang, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UMD and the principal investigator of the grant. “If successful, this work may further lead to a high-quality single-photon source that can be integrated directly into solid-state devices for photonic quantum information processing."

The award, which provides four years of funding, will leverage UMD’s expertise in quantum materials chemistry, theoretical physics, engineering and quantum information science. In addition to Wang, the grant also has two co-principal investigators: Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) Fellow and Physics Adjunct Professor Charles Clark and JQI Fellow and Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Edo Waks. Waks also has an appointment in the Institute for Research in Electronics & Applied Physics (IREAP). 

The project will also make use of ongoing collaborations with Los Alamos National Laboratory and IBM. Through these collaborations and within the participating units at UMD, the award will also enable opportunities for graduate training in quantum information science and technology. 

For the project, Wang, Clark and Waks proposed a new way to generate single photons using crystallographic defects known as “color centers.” These imperfections occur naturally in some crystals. However, systems based on natural color centers can be unreliable and inefficient when used to generate single photons. To address these issues, the team proposed a method to engineer carbon nanotubes with a new family of color centers, discovered in the Wang lab, which can be chemically controlled with molecular-level precision. 

In addition to providing a precise and reliable way to generate single photons, carbon nanotubes designed with color centers may also prove to be ideal desktop atomic physics laboratories, according to the researchers. Such applications could prove invaluable for studying the behavior of exotic “quasi-particles” such as excitons and trions. 

The UMD award is one of 25 RAISE-TAQS projects, which will help lead to systems and proof-of-concept validations in quantum sensing, communication, computing and simulations. In addition to the RAISE-TAQS program, which accounts for $25 million of the total $31 million awarded for quantum research, the NSF also made an additional $6 million in grants via the related Research Advanced by Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering-Engineering Quantum Integrated Platforms for Quantum Communication (RAISE-EQuIP).

"The quantum revolution is about expanding the definition of what’s possible for the technology of tomorrow," said NSF Director France Córdova. “NSF-supported researchers are working to deepen our understanding of quantum mechanics and apply that knowledge to create world-changing applications. These new investments will position the U.S. to be a global leader in quantum research and development and help train the next generation of quantum researchers.”


Photo: Artist's rendition depicts a single photon bursting from an organic color center, which was chemically created in a carbon semiconductor host. Credit:  YuHuang Wang & Mijin Kim, University of Maryland

Helping Students Play to Their Strengths

September 27, 2018
Contacts: 

Laura Ours, 301-405-5722

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- Many teachers and parents might agree that maximizing a student’s strengths and mitigating known challenges can lead to success, both at school and home. Yet, when tasked to report about any one student’s strengths and difficulties, teachers and parents oftentimes maintain different perspectives. 

Understanding these differences can be helpful to professionals who are developing educational programs that target specific strengths and challenges that require attention at school and home. For the first time, researchers in the University of Maryland’s Department of Psychology are developing tools that leverage these different perspectives to better asses the needs of students. 

Professor Andres De Los Reyes is leading a team of researchers that recently received a $1.4 million award from the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to create new survey instruments designed to sensitively assess mental health in the school system and in the home environment. 

In addition to De Los Reyes—who serves as the study’s principal investigator— the research team includes co-PIs at Louisiana State University and the University of Minnesota, as well as UMD graduate students. 

“Members of our team have been studying these issues for decades, and we are poised to make rapid advancements with this new award,” De Los Reyes said. 

Once good data is collected through these new mental health surveys, the researchers will be able to develop tools that will personalize educational programs to meet students’ specific needs.

“When getting a picture of a student’s overall mental health, you have to look closely at both the home context and the school context,” De Los Reyes said. “Right now, service providers and researchers commonly rely on multiple informants—like parents and teachers, and the students themselves—to characterize intervention targets, monitor intervention progress, and inform the selection of evidence-based services. 

"We are now reviewing an emerging body of interdisciplinary theory and research that demonstrates how patterns of informant discrepancies inform our understanding of students’ psychosocial strengths and difficulties.”

In turn, the research team is advancing an agenda for improving use and interpretation of informant discrepancies in school-based services and research.   

Statement on Mold Remediation - September 22, 2018

September 22, 2018

Statement from the University of Maryland’s Department of Resident Life and Department of Residential Facilities:

The safety, health, and well-being of each and every resident is a matter of utmost concern for the Departments of Resident Life and Residential Facilities at the University of Maryland. Mold has been reported throughout Elkton Hall, as well as isolated reports in other residence halls, and the issue has been exacerbated in recent days due to significant rain and high humidity in our area. We recognize and sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and concern this has caused our residents and their families. We want to assure students we are working as quickly as possible to eradicate the problem.

University staff has been working around the clock to thoroughly remediate the mold. We have taken a number of steps to address the issue, including hiring contractors who specialize in mold remediation; installing commercial-grade dehumidifiers in floor hallways; conducting inspections of rooms that have reported service requests; cleaning all surfaces, and cleaning or replacing furniture. Out of an abundance of caution, we also plan to relocate Elkton Hall students, floor by floor over a number of days, to local hotels to thoroughly clean and remediate when necessary every room in the building.

We appreciate our community’s patience as we continue to respond to residents’ facilities and maintenance requests 24-hours a day. We encourage all of our residents to report facilities questions or services requests to our 24-hour service center at (301) 314-9675.

We will continue to provide updates directly to affected residents on our work related to our remediation efforts.  

 


 

All communications, answers to FAQs and information available to-date can be found at reslife.umd.edu/moldconcerns/

Read the notification sent to UMD faculty and staff regarding mold remediation on campus here.

UMD Researcher Gets $1.1 Million NSF Grant to Perfect Gene Editing & Regulation Tools in Plants

September 21, 2018
Contacts: 
 

Samantha Watters 301-405-2434

CRSPR_artistic rendering by Ernesto Del Aguila III NIH

COLLEGE PARK, MD – UMD Assistant Professor Yiping Qi in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture has received a $1.1 million Plant Genome Research Program Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue his work developing tools for researchers to perfect the  CRISPR gene editing technologies and apply these to gene regulation in a variety of worldwide crop systems.

Qi’s work, specifically using the rice genome as a test platform, is providing practical tools to enhance gene editing technologies like CRISPR and improve the specificity of genetic “cuts” that are made, ensuring the integrity of the entire genome. Tools from Qi’s lab are currently used by researchers in more than 36 countries around the world and counting, with the ultimate goal of advancing plant and crop yields and helping to feed a rapidly growing global population. These tools provide researchers with the ability to turn genes “up and down” as opposed to just “on and off.”  Turning genes up and down is very practical for creating genetic changes in crops to increase productivity and sustainability. Continued development of these tools will not only aid basic research, but allow scientists to seek novel solutions to global challenges such as devastating plant diseases, economical bioenergy production, sustainable agriculture, and climate change.

“CRISPR technologies are revolutionizing biology, agriculture, and medicine, says Qi. “CRISPR can be thought of as molecular scissors that cut DNA so that the piece related to a certain trait can be be removed, replaced, or edited. We don’t just test different kinds of these scissors in our lab, but we have to think about how the DNA goes back together, what else is altered, and whether we are turning a gene on, off, up, or down. All of those specifics aren’t inherent in the scissors themselves and need specific tools and testing to accomplish. That is what we do.”

The concept of gene editing plants is not a new one. It has been accomplished by selectively cross-breeding different plant strains since humans first cultivated plants for agricultural purposes. However, increasing population has made food security a growing concern, and new emerging challenges are arising in crop and food production. There is a need to feed a projected population of 9.6 billion people by 2050 with little to no new agricultural land, meaning that yields for major crops need to be improved in other ways. CRISPR, as a new precision breeding technology enables scientists and breeders alike to achieve genetic changes in crops designed to address issues like disease resistance, pests, heat, drought, and other major concerns of a changing climate and growing population. And this can be done far more quickly than would be possible with traditional cross-breeding programs.

“Rice is a very important global crop, and we have the entire genome sequenced, so it is a great crop to study and develop tools that can be applied to other major crops,” explains Qi. “Currently, efficient tools that target up-regulating or down-regulating a certain gene or simultaneously regulating many genes aren’t available to the plant biology community. But simultaneous up-regulation of genes in human somatic cells, for example, resulted a genome reprogramming technology that was recognized with a Nobel Prize in 2012. Developing tools to reprogram plant genomes should help open the door to a lot of discoveries and translational research in agriculture. That’s why NSF is so excited about this work.”

Even though Qi is working directly with rice to improve crop traits and yields, his work is focused primarily on developing and disseminating the tools and technologies necessary for researchers around the world to directly apply to all kinds of crops. Tools are made available to researchers through a public repository called Addgene. UMD Assistant Professor Yiping Qi

“I always think that tools and research should be made readily available to everyone in the scientific community who can benefit,” says Qi. “If we want our science to help people and solve these issues, we need to make tools accessible to everyone and collaborate as much as possible.” 

Qi has been an advocate in the scientific community of gene regulation tools, publishing multiple scientific papers over the last few years in this field (e.g., Plant Physiology, Nature Plants, Molecular Plant), and frequently attending talks and meetings to further promote his research. He recently returned from the NSF awardee meeting for this new grant where he gave a talk on the existing tools he and colleagues have developed for the research community; and he was in Budapest the same week giving multiple talks to public and academic audiences on plant genome editing. 

“Nowadays, I travel for invited talks on a monthly basis to promote plant genome editing and transcriptional regulation technologies,” says Qi. “It is important that people know what technologies like CRISPR can and can’t do, and that audiences of all types are educated on the importance of this work. I think people [at NSF] are excited to see that my lab, thanks to the new funding, will further develop gene regulation tools by repurposing CRISPR systems from genome editing to gene regulation. This is an exciting new development for the field that has a lot of applications for serious global issues.”   

 

University of Maryland Expands Hate-Bias Response Program

September 19, 2018
Contacts: 

Natifia Mullings, 301-405-4076

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- The University of Maryland’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) has launched an online hate-bias report log to help keep the campus community abreast of incidents that occur on campus. The log, a key recommendation of the Joint President/Senate Inclusion and Respect Task Force, is accessible to all UMD students, faculty and staff. 

“Our overall goals with the newly formed hate-bias report log are to increase transparency around hate-bias incidents that occur on campus and to raise awareness about the actions we’ve taken to support those who’ve been impacted,” said Neijma Celestine-Donnor, hate-bias program manager. 

The hate-bias report log is part of the broader mission of ODI’s Hate-Bias Response Program. Created in late-Spring 2018, the program is aimed at coordinating support services offered to individuals impacted by hate-bias incidents, developing hate-bias training and programming, and collecting and distributing hate-bias related data to the UMD community. 

Since its implementation, several initiatives have been established and additional programs have been expanded. This includes: 

  • the creation of a Hate-bias Response Team to respond to hate-bias incidents and work collaboratively to provide educational outreach to the campus. The team includes members from key offices and units across campus-- the Counseling Center, Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Office of Residence Life, Office of Strategic Communications, University of Maryland Police Department and the University Health Center;
  • updating the hate-bias response protocol. Beginning Fall 2018, hate-bias incidents should be reported to ODI and/or UMPD;
  • a new streamlined online reporting form;
  • newly developed hate-bias training sessions, as recommended by the Joint President/Senate Inclusion and Respect Task Force. Training topics include: Overview of Hate-Bias Reporting & Response, In Response to Trauma: Understanding the Impact of Hate and Bias & Providing Support, and The Attraction of Hate: Understanding Offenders and Offender Motivations; and
  • a new, easy to navigate website that features up-to-date information about the Hate-Bias Response Program and a list of resources available to faculty, students, and staff. 

For more information about the Hate-Bias Response Program, please visit https://diversity.umd.edu/hbrp/.

 

 

UMD Astronomer Co-authors National Report Calling for Space Telescope to ID and Study Earth-like Planets

September 18, 2018
Contacts: 

Matthew Wright, 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md. –  A new Congressionally-mandated study co-authored by University of Maryland Astronomy Assistant Professor Eliza Kempton, says that NASA should lead a large “direct imaging” missionan advanced space telescopecapable of studying distant Earth-like planets and whether they might harbor life.

The report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, says developing a direct imaging capability will require large financial investments and a long time scale to see results, but the effort will foster the scientific community and technological capacity needed to find and understand myriad distant worlds.

 

“My expertise is primarily in the theory of exoplanet atmospheres, with a focus on small planets,” said Kempton. “A big goal of the report was to make a roadmap for the next decade plus, and we decided we didn’t want to step away from being very ambitious. A primary goal is to characterize planets that can and do bear life—a push toward finding the next Earth.”

 Planets with similarities to Earth.  Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

Within the past decade, astronomers have opened a new frontier in space exploration with the discovery of thousands of  exoplanets planets orbiting stars outside our solar system. However, Kempton and the other committee members say in the report that our current knowledge of exoplanets (planets outside our solar system) is  substantially incomplete.

To search for evidence of past and present life elsewhere in the universe, the research community will need a comprehensive approach to studying habitability in exoplanets using both theory and observations, according to the report.

To be able to detect a solar system analogous to our own Earth-sun system,  they recommend using instruments that can directly image exoplanets by using techniques to block the light emitted by parent stars.  At present, most exoplanet observations rely on indirect methods, such as measuring changes in the light from a planet’s host star during the planet’s orbital cycle.

“Planning is already underway for the large next-generation telescopes that will follow the Webb Telescope,” Kempton explained, referring to possible successors to NASA’s highly anticipated James Webb Space Telescope mission, scheduled for launch in 2021. “Of these proposed missions, three have exoplanet science and habitable exoplanets among their key goals. Two of those are large direct imaging missions that would be able to take pictures of Earth-like planets orbiting near their host stars”

In her research, Kempton uses theory to predict what astronomers should expect to observe from exoplanets with specific atmospheric compositions—especially those that are slightly larger than Earth, often referred to as super-Earths.  In 2010, she co-authored a paper in the journal Nature that described the first observation of a super-Earth atmosphere.

In the National Academies report, she and her colleagues note that ground-based astronomy—enabled by two U.S.-led telescopes—will also play a pivotal role. The Giant Magellan Telescope being built in Chile and the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope would enable profound advances in the imaging and spectroscopy of entire planetary systems. These may also be able to detect molecular oxygen in the atmosphere of Earth-like planets orbiting nearby small stars, the report said.

The committee said that NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), the large space-based mission that received the highest priority in the Academies' 2010 decadal survey, will play two extremely valuable roles: first, it will permit a survey of planets farther from their stars than those surveyed by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft and other missions. Second, it will enable a large direct imaging mission. In addition to such forward-looking plans, Kempton noted that the Webb Telescope will play a significant role in the effort as soon as it is launched.

“The scientific returns from these missions will be significant. We’ll be getting data from the Webb Telescope’s Early Release Science program basically right away,” Kempton explained. “I’ve been waiting my whole career to measure the composition of small planets’ atmospheres. We’ll have those data very soon, so it’s a very exciting time.”

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