COLLEGE PARK, Md.—Questions about voter fraud related to the 2016 elections are renewing the decades-old debate over the effectiveness of voter identification laws around the country. New research from the University of Maryland to be published in the journal American Politics Research finds that several distinct factors influence the likelihood of state voter ID laws being enacted: which party controls the legislature, how recently that party came into power, and the size of the state’s minority population.
Since 2000, the number of states passing voter identification laws for the first time has more than doubled and the parties are deeply divided on the issue. Many Republicans have argued that these laws are a common sense approach to protecting against fraud while many Democrats contend that they suppress votes from underrepresented minority groups and the young, who are less likely to have the necessary ID. Given these stances, the conventional wisdom holds that states run by Republican governors and legislatures are most likely to adopt voter ID laws.
“Our analysis supports this theory but takes it a step further,” said Mike Hanmer, Associate Professor in the UMD Department of Government and Politics and Research Director for the Center for American Politics and Citizenship. “We find that the adoption of Voter ID laws is greatest not just when Republicans are in power but when control of the governor’s office and legislature has recently switched over to Republicans. Additionally, we observe that the effects of these shifts in political power are larger in states with large minority populations.”
Hanmer completed the research alongside Daniel Biggers, an Assistant Professor of Political Sciences at University of California, Riverside who received his PhD in Government and Politics from UMD in 2012. The two analyzed historical data related to voter ID laws spanning four decades.
Hanmer and Biggers contend that the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 helped alter the landscape of voter ID laws because it required states to enact general enabling legislation, which forced them to address procedures regarding voter identification for a subset of the population, thus facilitating a wider conversation about ID laws. While HAVA may have provided the impetus for many states’ voter ID laws, researchers say the fact that legislation was most likely to be enacted by Republicans in states with high numbers of black and Latino residents is cause for alarm.
“The link between shifts to Republican control and the racial and ethnic composition of the population raises normative concerns consistent with those made by opponents of voter ID laws,” Hanmer said. “Our evidence suggests that at best, this link indicates a lack of effective representation for minorities in this area and at worst an attempt to diminish the influence minority members have on elections.”
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland honors Veterans, particularly its large community of faculty, staff, student and alumni Veterans with UMD’s annual Veterans Day Celebration as well as with other activities during Veterans Week November 7 - 12.
The centerpiece of the events recognizing Veterans and their service to our nation is the Veterans Day Reflect and Remember Service in the university's Memorial Chapel on, Friday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
This moving service will feature remarks from UMD President Wallace Loh and Vice President for Student Affairs Linda Clement; Veterans’ reflections by UMD Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering David Lovell, who was a combat engineer with the U.S. Marine Corps, and Abigail Malchow, U.S. Navy and Navy Reserves, a 2017 MBA Candidate in the Robert H. Smith School of Business; stirring music; remembrance activities, including the lighting of a memorial candle and a reading of names of UMD Veterans who have died in the past year. A buffet lunch on the Garden Chapel Patio will follow the service.
UMD Army, Air Force, and Naval ROTC units will hold a Vigil from noon to 3 p.m. in front of the Chapel, which is one of the University's most visible and revered icons and was dedicated in 1952 as a memorial to fallen Veterans from the University of Maryland.
"It is important that we remember and reflect on the service and outstanding contributions of our Veterans to the nation and our community," said UMD Veterans Day Planning Committee Chair Denise McHugh, Memorial Chapel coordinator. "We are thrilled and deeply honored to continue the tradition of honoring that service through this event and other activities on campus."
In addition to the Chapel Memorial Day service, this year's Veterans Week events include a Professional Development Workshop, a LGBQ luncheon, a Bowling Tournament and on Saturday, a Veterans Reception and an honoring of Veterans during the Terps Home football game against Ohio State University.
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — While Hillary Clinton still holds a sizeable lead over Donald Trump in the race for President, the majority of Americans appear to agree with Trump’s assertions that our nation’s political system is “rigged” and view Trump as the candidate most likely to bring change to the country. These are among the key findings from the inaugural University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll released Tuesday, November 1st.
Conducted October 5–14 of this year, the Critical Issues Poll included questions on a variety of subjects related to the upcoming elections including political process, race, gender, foreign affairs and terrorism. The UMD poll shows Clinton roughly 9 percentage points ahead of Trump in the presidential race, in line with other polls nationally. A vast majority (78 percent) of all respondents indicated they wanted to see significant change to the American political system “very much,” yet when asked which candidate was more likely to bring political change, respondents selected Trump over Clinton 52 percent to 31 percent.
“Donald Trump is definitely seen as the agent of change in the presidential race but whether or not that translates into votes for him is an open question as we head down the final stretch to Election Day,” said Shibley Telhami, Director of the UMD Critical Issues Poll. “Part of the reason is that many people don’t see the change Trump would bring as beneficial for the country. Only 24 percent of the people we polled said Trump would bring about change for the better while 44 percent indicated he would bring change for the worse. Still about a quarter say they don’t know if the change Trump would bring is positive or negative. Does this segment of the public want change badly enough to roll the dice?”
The Critical Issues Poll also finds that a majority of voters lack confidence in the American political system and in the election process itself. Sixty five percent of respondents on both sides of the political aisle said they agreed with the sentiment that “our system is rigged against people like me.”
“Throughout his campaign, Trump has advanced the idea that the political system is ‘rigged’ against the American public and he has not definitively stated that he will accept the election results on November 8th,” said Stella Rouse, Associate Director of the UMD Critical Issues Poll and Director of the UMD Center for American Politics and Citizenship. “Results from our poll show the majority of both Republicans and Democrats lack confidence in the American political process.”
The poll also finds that while most Americans agree that race relations are bad in the country, they are split along partisan lines as to which candidate can better heal the divide.
On foreign policy issues, the poll probed American attitudes toward the Syrian conflict, the fight against the “Islamic State” (ISIS), and the degree to which Americans wanted to see Russian-American cooperation. While Americans dislike Russian President Vladimir Putin (and Democrats name him as the most disliked leader), they express the view that the United States government should put aside its differences with Russia and work more with it to defeat ISIS. At the same time, a majority of Americans do not support a large scale deployment of ground troops in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS.
About the UMD Critical Issues Poll The University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll is an initiative of the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development and the Center for American Politics and Citizenship in cooperation with the Joint Program in Survey Methodology. The survey was conducted October 5-14, 2016 with a panel consisting of a probability-based representative sample. The panel was recruited by Nielsen Scarborough from its larger probability-based national panel, which was recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households provided by Survey Sampling International. A total of 1528 panelists completed the survey. Responses were weighted by age, gender, income, education, race, and geographic region using benchmarks from the US Census. The survey was also weighted by partisan identification. The margin of error is 2.5 percent.
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland was named to the Military Times’ “Best for Vets: Colleges 2017” list, released today. The eighth annual rankings factor in the results of Military Times’ comprehensive school-by-school survey of veteran and military student offerings and rates of academic achievement.
Best for Vets: Colleges 2017 evaluates the many factors that help make colleges and universities a good fit for service members, military veterans and their families. More than 500 colleges took part in this year’s detailed survey.
"UMD Veteran Student Life in conjunction with many departments across campus are providing innovative services and programs that are helping veterans, not only with their academics, but also with their transitions and work-life blend," said veteran Brian Bertges, coordinator, Veteran Student Life. "For example, by expanding our outdoor adventure offerings and including families into our veterans programming, the University of Maryland is moving forward in a dynamic way, and I am proud to be a part of it.
"As we continue forward with new fearless ideas for supporting our vets, we will push the envelope for what a veteran friendly school can be," said Bertges.
Military Times’ annual Best for Vets: Colleges survey asks colleges and universities to document an array of services, special rules, accommodations and financial incentives offered to students with military ties; and to describe many aspects of veteran culture on a campus. The institutions were evaluated in several categories, with university culture and academic outcomes bearing the most weight.
Military Times also factors in data from the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments, as well as three Education Department sources: the IPEDS Data Center, College Scorecard data and the Cohort Default Rate Database. For the full Best for Vets: Colleges 2017 rankings, go to: www.militarytimes.com/bestforvets-colleges2017.
UMD was also recently ranked No. 36 nationally as one of the Best Colleges for Veterans by U.S. News & World Report.
The University of Maryland recognizes the extraordinary contributions of members of our armed services; understands the unique challenges of transitioning into a university environment and is committed to providing an environment that helps veterans pursue their academic and personal goals, explore different learning experiences, and get involved in campus life. The univesity's hub for resources that can serve veterans who are students, staff, or faculty is UMD's Veteran Student Life program and Veterans Center.
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The moon, Earth’s closest neighbor, is among the strangest planetary bodies in the solar system. Its orbit lies unusually far away from Earth, with a surprisingly large orbital tilt. Planetary scientists long have struggled to piece together a scenario that accounts for these and other related characteristics of the Earth-moon system.
A new research paper, based on numerical models of the moon’s explosive formation and the evolution of the Earth-moon system, comes closer to tying up all the loose ends than any other previous explanation. The work, published in the October 31, 2016 Advance Online edition of the journal Nature, suggests that the impact that formed the moon also caused calamitous changes to Earth’s rotation and the tilt of its spin axis.
The research suggests that the impact sent the Earth spinning much faster, and at a much steeper tilt, than it does today. In the several billion years since that impact, complex interactions between the Earth, moon and sun have smoothed out many of these changes, resulting in the Earth-moon system that we see today. In this scenario, the remaining anomalies in the moon’s orbit are relics of the Earth-moon system’s explosive past.
“Evidence suggests a giant impact blasted off a huge amount of material that formed the moon,” said Douglas Hamilton, professor of astronomy at the University of Maryland and a co-author of the Nature paper. “This material would have formed a ring of debris first, then the ring would have aggregated to form the moon. But this scenario does not quite work if the Earth’s spin axis was tilted at the 23.5 degree angle we see today.”
Collisional physics calls for this ring of debris—and thus the moon’s orbit immediately after formation—to lie in Earth’s equatorial plane. As tidal interactions between the Earth and the moon drove the moon further away from Earth, the moon should have shifted from Earth’s equatorial plane to the “ecliptic” plane, which corresponds to the Earth’s orbit around the sun.
But today, instead of being in line with the ecliptic plane, the moon’s orbit is tilted five degrees away from it.
“This large tilt is very unusual. Until now, there hasn’t been a good explanation,” Hamilton said. “ But we can understand it if the Earth had a more dramatic early history than we previously suspected.”
Hamilton, with lead author Matija Ćuk of the SETI institute and their colleagues Simon Lock of Harvard University and Sarah Stewart of the University of California, Davis, tried many different scenarios. But the most successful ones involved a moon-forming impact that sent the Earth spinning extremely fast—as much as twice the rate predicted by other models. The impact also knocked the Earth’s tilt way off, to somewhere between 60 and 80 degrees.
“We already suspected that the Earth must have spun especially fast after the impact” Ćuk said. “An early high tilt for Earth enables our planet to lose that excess spin more readily.”
The model also suggests that the newly-formed moon started off very close to Earth, but then drifted away—to nearly 15 times its initial distance. As it did so, the sun began to exert a more powerful influence over the moon’s orbit.
According to the researchers, both factors—a highly tilted, fast spinning Earth and an outwardly-migrating moon—contributed to establishing the moon’s current weird orbit. The newborn moon’s orbit most likely tracked the Earth’s equator, tilted at a steep 60-80 degree angle that matched Earth’s tilt.
A key finding of the new research is that, if the Earth was indeed tilted by more than 60 degrees after the moon formed, the moon could not transition smoothly from Earth’s equatorial plane to the ecliptic plane. Instead, the transition was abrupt and left the moon with a large tilt relative to the ecliptic— much larger than is observed today.
“As the moon moved outward, the Earth’s steep tilt made for a more chaotic transition as the sun became a bigger influence,” Ćuk said. “Subsequently, and over billions of years, the moon’s tilt slowly decayed down to the five degrees we see today. So today’s five degree tilt is a relic and a signature of a much steeper tilt in the past.”
Hamilton acknowledges that the model doesn’t answer all the remaining questions about the moon’s orbit. But the model’s strength, he says, is that it offers a framework for answering new questions in the future.
“There are many potential paths from the moon’s formation to the Earth-moon system we see today. We’ve identified a few of them, but there are sure to be other possibilities,” Hamilton said. “What we have now is a model that is more probable and works more cleanly than previous attempts. We think this is a significant improvement that gets us closer to what actually happened.”
The research paper, “Tidal Evolution of the Moon from a High-Obliquity High- Angular-Momentum Earth,” Matija Ćuk, Douglas Hamilton, Simon Lock, and Sarah Stewart, appears in the October 31, 2016 Advance Online edition of the journal Nature.
This work was supported by NASA (Award No. NNX15AH65G). The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of this organization.
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that the University of Maryland ranked No. 12 on the Top 30 College & University list of the largest green power users. The university maintained its ranking from last year. UMD is using more than 87 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power annually, which is enough green power to meet 32 percent of the university’s electricity use.
University of Maryland is using a combination of green power products from WGL Energy, Roth Rock North Wind Farm, Pinnacle Wind, and Constellation. In addition, the university is generating green power from an on-site solar energy system. This demonstrates a proactive choice to switch away from traditional sources of electricity generation and support cleaner renewable energy alternatives.
"We are honored at this critical juncture when the world is looking to address the most existential challenge of our times – mitigation of, and resiliency to global warming, to continue to take a lead role in the use of green power, this especially after the university co-hosted the United Nations-sponsored Climate Action 2016 Summit in Washington, D.C. for some 600 invited leaders from around the world," said UMD Director of Engineering & Energy MaryAnn Ibeziako. “We will continue to put knowledge into practice as we help to develop the policies that will support a sustainable today and tomorrow.”
Green power is zero-emissions electricity that is generated from environmentally preferable renewable resources, such as wind, solar, geothermal, biogas, eligible biomass, and low-impact hydro. Using green power helps accelerate the development of new renewable energy capacity nationwide and helps users reduce their carbon footprints.
In addition to its spot on the Top 30 College & University list, the university also appears at No. 74 on the National Top 100 list, which includes not only universities but also national companies and organizations. This is the second year the university made the national list, moving up from No. 80 last year. UMD also appears on EPA’s Long-term Green Power Contracts list, recognizing the university’s 20-year contract to purchase green power.
"EPA applauds the University of Maryland for its commitment to using green power long-term and for taking a leadership position on the environment,” said James Critchfield, Manager of the Green Power Partnership. "UMD is helping to reduce carbon pollution and provides an excellent example for other higher educational institutions to invest in environmental progress.”
According to the U.S. EPA, University of Maryland's green power use of more than 87 million kWh is equivalent to the electricity use of more than 8,000 average American homes annually.
Facilities Management oversees university energy utilization and remains committed to finding alternative and renewable sources of energy to power the campus. In April 2014, President Wallace Loh announced the President’s Energy Initiatives, an ambitious set of goals aimed at propelling the university toward its next major Climate Action Plan benchmark: cutting carbon emissions in half by 2020. The initiatives highlighted the university’s plan to accomplish this through energy conservation, carbon-neutral new development, and the purchasing of electricity from renewable energy sources.
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland ranks No. 40 in the U.S. News & World Report Best Global Universities rankings, which evaluates 1,000 universities across 65 countries. UMD tied for the 40th spot with École Polytechnique Federale of Lausanne in Switzerland.
The Best Global Universities methodology weighs factors that measure a university's global and regional research reputation and academic research performance using bibliometric indicators such as publications, citations and international collaboration.
UMD was also ranked among the top 50 in eight subject rankings:
Geosciences – No. 10
Physics – No. 15
Economics and Business – No. 26
Space Science – No. 26
Arts and Humanities – No. 35
Environment/Ecology – No. 35
Computer Science – No. 38
Agricultural Sciences – No. 48
Four additional subjects at UMD made the top 100, including chemistry, plant and animal science, psychiatry/psychology, and social sciences and public health.
The full listing of the Best Global Universities is available here.
New Center will be signature program of Cole Field House project
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Today, the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore unveiled ambitious plans for the Center for Sports Medicine, Health and Human Performance. The new Center, a signature component of the Cole Field House project, will serve as a treatment facility for a wide spectrum of sports related injuries and will also serve as a research center for investigation into the treatment of sports related conditions, including neuroscience and, specifically, the effects and consequences of traumatic brain injury. Traumatic brain injuries can cause depression, sleep disorders and cognitive decline and adversely impact a victim’s ability to function.
Through state support of the MPowering the State initiative, an initial $3 million will be invested in collaborative research that joins the strengths of both universities, by integrating the work of cutting edge research scientists and engineers in College Park with the front-line pre-clinical investigators and clinicians in Baltimore. A new orthopaedic outpatient center will be at the core of the facility, and will serve the community by providing access to high-level care for sports-related and general orthopaedic injuries throughout the region. The program will feature an outpatient faculty practice devoted to concussion evaluation and care.
The Center will be a signature component of the Cole Field House project in College Park. The Terrapin Performance Center, with a full-size indoor football field, two outdoor fields, and advanced strength, conditioning and hydrotherapy centers, will be an athletic training facility unmatched in Division I sports. Cole Field House will also house the Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In a uniquely-designed space, the Academy will provide students and faculty with opportunities to work across disciplines in innovation and collaborative spaces.
"The Center for Sports Medicine, Health and Human Performance at Cole Field House will deliver to the state's citizens the power of partnership," said University of Maryland, College Park President Wallace D. Loh. "Bringing together clinicians and scientists from the state's two biggest public research universities under one roof creates connections that will contribute to breakthroughs in human health."
“We envision an ambitious research enterprise at the Center for Sports Medicine, Health and Human Performance,” said Dr. Jay Perman, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore. “We believe our initial $3 million investment will lead to million-dollar, multidisciplinary grants in critical areas of neuroscience and traumatic brain injury.”
The scientific co-directors of the Center will be Elizabeth Quinlan, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, and Alan Faden, M.D., the David S. Brown Professor in Trauma at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. It will have more than 40,000 square feet of research and clinical space for experts in neuroimaging, genomics and biomechanics, and the orthopaedic outpatient facility will provide the Prince George County and DC metropolitan communities with access to the same world class sports medicine clinical care as the University of Maryland intercollegiate athletic teams.
“The breadth and scope of this center is well beyond what currently exists in other sports performance centers. It is intended to harness unique and complementary capabilities across the two campuses.” Alan Faden, M.D. David S. Brown Professor in Trauma at the University of Maryland School of Medicine Professor, Department of Anesthesiology, University of Maryland, Baltimore Scientific Co-Director, Center for Sports Medicine, Health and Human Performance
“The collection of scientists and clinicians from diverse fields that are brought together in the new Cole Filed House will allow us to approach the study of nervous system injury and neuroscience in an exciting and highly interdisciplinary way.” Elizabeth Quinlan, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park Scientific Co-Director, Center for Sports Medicine, Health and Human Performance
“I am incredibly excited by this project. It is a truly unique opportunity for researchers and clinicians from both campuses to work together. Through this partnership, we can work explore new areas of sports medicine and brain science, and help more patients, in more effective ways.” Andrew N. Pollak, M.D. The James Lawrence Kernan Professor and Chair at the University of Maryland School of Medicine Professor, Department of Orthopedics, University of Maryland Baltimore
About the University of Maryland, College Park The University of Maryland, College Park is the state's flagship university and one of the nation's preeminent public research universities. A global leader in research, entrepreneurship and innovation, the university is home to more than 37,000 students, 9,000 faculty and staff, and 250 academic programs. Its faculty includes three Nobel laureates, three Pulitzer Prize winners, 56 members of the national academies and scores of Fulbright scholars. The institution has a $1.9 billion operating budget, and secures $550 million annually in external research funding. The University of Maryland, College Park is ranked No. 20 among public universities and No. 25 for most innovative schools by U.S. News & World Report, as well as No. 14 among public universities by Forbes. According to The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur Magazine, UMD is ranked No. 10 overall for undergraduate entrepreneurship programs. The university is recognized for its diversity, with underrepresented students comprising one-fourth of the student population. For more information about the University of Maryland, College Park, visit www.umd.edu.
About the University of Maryland, Baltimore Founded in 1807 along a ridge in what was then called Baltimore Town, the University of Maryland, Baltimore is now a 71-acre research and technology complex encompasses 67 buildings in West Baltimore near the Inner Harbor. UMB is Maryland's only public health, law, and human services university. Six professional schools and a Graduate School confer the majority of health care, human services, and law professional degrees in Maryland each year. Under the leadership of President Jay A. Perman, MD, the University is a leading partner in the redevelopment of Baltimore’s Westside. The University of Maryland BioPark, which opened in October 2005, promotes collaborative research opportunities and bioscience innovation. Sponsored research totaled $499.6 million in Fiscal Year 2015. With 6,329 students and 7,119 faculty members and staff, the University is an economic engine that returns more than $15 in economic activity for every $1 of state general funds appropriation. The University community gives more than 2 million hours a year in service to the public.
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — "Could you repeat that?" The reason you may have to say something twice when talking to older family members at Thanksgiving dinner may not be because of their hearing. Researchers at the University of Maryland have determined that something is going on in the brains of typical older adults that causes them to struggle to follow speech amidst background noise, even when their hearing would be considered normal on a clinical assessment.
In an interdisciplinary study published by the Journal of Neurophysiology, researchers Samira Anderson, Jonathan Z. Simon, and Alessandro Presacco found that adults aged 61–73 with normal hearing scored significantly worse on speech understanding in noisy environments than adults aged 18–30 with normal hearing. The researchers are all associated with the UMD’s Brain and Behavior Initiative.
"Evidence of degraded representation of speech in noise, in the aging midbrain and cortex" is part of ongoing research into the so-called cocktail party problem, or the brain’s ability to focus on and process a particular stream of speech in the middle of a noisy environment. This research brings together the fields of hearing and speech science, neuroscience and cognitive science, electrical engineering, biology, and systems science. The study subjects underwent two different kinds of scans to measure their brains’ electrical activity while they listened to people talk. The researchers were able to see what the subjects’ brains were up to when asked what someone was saying, both in a quiet environment and amidst a level of noise. The researchers studied two areas of the brain. They looked at the more ‘ancestral’ midbrain area, which most vertebrate animals—all the way down to fish—have, and which does basic processing of all sounds. They also looked at the cortex, which is particularly large in humans and part of which specializes in speech processing.
In the younger subject group, the midbrain generated a signal that matched its task in each case—looking like speech in the quiet environment, and speech clearly discernable against a noisy background in the noise environment. But in the older subject group, the quality of the response to the speech signal was degraded even when in the quiet environment, and the response was even worse in the noisy environment.
"For older listeners, even when there isn’t any noise, the brain is already having trouble processing the speech," said Simon. Neural signals recorded from cortex showed that younger adults could process speech well in a relatively short amount of time. But the auditory cortex of older test subjects took longer to represent the same amount of information. Why is this the case? "Part of the comprehension problems experienced by older adults in both quiet and noise conditions could be linked to age-related imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory neural processes in the brain," Presacco said. "This imbalance could impair the brain’s ability to correctly process auditory stimuli and could be the main cause of the abnormally high cortical response observed in our study." "Older people need more time to figure out what a speaker is saying," Simon noted. "They are dedicating more of their resources and exerting more effort than younger adults when they are listening to speech."
"Often we will hear an older person say, ‘I can hear you, I just can’t understand you,’" said Anderson. "This research gives us new insight into why that is the case."
This eroding of brain function appears to be typical for older adults and a natural part of the aging process. The researchers are now looking into whether brain training techniques may be able to help older adults improve their speech comprehension. Simple courtesies can help, too. Since being able to see as well as hear someone speaking helps with speech processing, it’s a good idea to look directly at older adults and make sure you have their attention before talking with them.
"The older brain just drops part of the speech signal, even if the ears captured it all just fine," said Simon. "When someone can see you speaking, instead of only hearing you, their visual system can sometimes make up for that loss." Holding conversations in a quiet environment helps as well.
"The main message is that the older adults in our study have normal hearing as measured on an audiogram, yet they have difficulty understanding speech in noise because the timing aspects of the speech signal are not being accurately encoded," said Anderson. "Because they have normal hearing, talking louder does not help. So if someone is having trouble understanding you in a noisy restaurant or in a crowded room, it is most important to speak clearly at a normal or slightly slower than normal rate. Your older loved ones will appreciate this courtesy during the upcoming holidays!"
COLLLEGE PARK, Md. – The basics of genetic inheritance are well known: parents each pass half of their DNA to their offspring during reproduction. This genetic recipe is thought to contain all of the information that a new organism needs to build and operate its body.
But recent research has shown that, in some species, parents’ life experiences can alter their offspring. Being underfed, exposed to toxins or stricken by disease can cause changes in a parent’s gene expression patterns, and in some cases, these changes can be passed down to the next generation. However, the mechanisms that cause this effect—known as non-genetic inheritance—are a mystery.
New research from the University of Maryland provides a surprising possible explanation. For the first time, developmental biologists have observed molecules of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA)—a close cousin of DNA that can silence genes within cells—being passed directly from parent to offspring in the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. Importantly, the gene silencing effect created by dsRNA molecules in parents also persisted in their offspring.
The work, published October 17, 2016 in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the mechanisms for non-genetic inheritance might be simpler than anyone had suspected.
“This is the first time we’ve seen a dsRNA molecule passing from one generation to the next,” said Antony Jose, an assistant professor in the UMD Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics and senior author on the study. “The assumption has been that dsRNA changes the parent’s genetic material and this altered genetic material is transmitted to the next generation. But our observations suggest that RNA is cutting out the middle man.”
Jose and his team, including graduate student and lead author Julia Marré and former research technician Edward Traver, introduced dsRNA marked with a fluorescent label into the circulatory system of C. elegans worms. They then watched as these fluorescent RNA molecules physically moved from the parent’s circulatory system into an egg cell waiting to be fertilized.
In a surprising turn of events, some of the dsRNA molecules could not silence genes in the parent because the dsRNA sequence did not match any of the parent’s genes. But the dsRNA molecules did silence genes in the offspring, when the new worm gained a copy of the matching gene from its other parent. This suggests that, in some cases, gene silencing by dsRNA might be able to skip an entire generation.
“It’s shocking that we can see dsRNA cross generational boundaries. Our results “But it’s doubly surprising to see that a parent can transmit the information to silence a gene it doesn’t have.”
Jose and his colleagues did not expect dsRNA to play such a direct role in the transmission of information across generations. Because dsRNA factors into the life cycle of many viruses, Jose explained, it is reasonable to assume that a living cell’s natural defenses would prevent dsRNA from invading the next generation.
“It’s very surprising. One would think the next generation would be protected, but we are seeing all of these dsRNA molecules being dumped into the next generation,” Jose added. “Egg cells use the same mechanism to absorb nutrients as they prepare for fertilization. The next generation is not only getting nutrition, it’s also getting information.”
Jose and his colleagues hope to learn more about the precise mechanisms by which dsRNA silences genes across multiple generations.
“There are hints that similar things could be happening in humans. We know that RNA exists in the human bloodstream. But, we don’t know where the RNA molecules are coming from, where they’re going or exactly what they’re doing,” Jose said. “Our work reveals an exciting possibility—they could be messages from parents to their offspring.” In addition to Jose, UMD co-authors on the paper included graduate student Julia Marré and former research technician Edward Traver.
The research paper, “Extracellular RNA is transported from one generation to the next in Caenorhabditis elegans,” Julia Marré, Edward Traver and Antony Jose, appears in the October 17, 2016 online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (Award No. R01GM111457).