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National Lab Day at UToledo to Fuel Region’s Engagement With Preeminent Scientists, World-Class Facilities

For the first time, The University of Toledo will host National Lab Day to connect students and researchers with scientists from U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories and explore opportunities for additional partnerships.

The event to enhance northwest Ohio’s collaborations to make discoveries, find innovative solutions, and create groundbreaking technology will take place Thursday and Friday, Oct. 10 and 11, on the University’s Main Campus.

“We are proud to welcome to our campus the country’s preeminent scientists from world-class facilities across the country,” UToledo President Sharon L. Gaber said. “This event presents an extraordinary opportunity for our students and scientists. We appreciate the Department of Energy recognizing UToledo’s momentum in advancing science and selecting us to host National Lab Day.”

A kickoff ceremony will be held at 8:45 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 10, in Nitschke Auditorium and feature Gaber, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and Chris Fall, director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

“From manufacturing the first Jeeps for the U.S. government at the onset of WWII, to the founding of America’s largest solar company — First Solar – Toledo has a long and storied history as a world leader in manufacturing, national security, and cutting-edge research and development,” Kaptur said. “That is why Toledo is the perfect place to host an event like National Lab Day. Partnership is at the core of the success of our national labs, and National Lab Day will help facilitate important and long-lasting partnerships that bring students and faculty together with the National Lab directors.”

The Department of Energy maintains 17 national labs that tackle the critical scientific and national security challenges of our time — from combating climate change to discovering the origins of our universe — and possess unique instruments and facilities, many of which are found nowhere else in the world.

Toledo native and director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Mike Witherell, who grew up just blocks from the University, is a key organizer of the event.

“The University of Toledo is experiencing tremendous growth in its research enterprise,” Witherell said. “As a resource for the nation, the Department of Energy national laboratories are a resource for the University as it innovates and drives economic growth for Toledo, the northwest Ohio region, the state and the nation. My colleagues from the labs and I are delighted to join with the University and Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur at National Lab Day to explore the many exciting possibilities for engagement.”

Participants in National Lab Day 2019 at UToledo will meet laboratory directors and researchers; explore funding and fellowship opportunities; discover facilities open to academic and industry scientists; and learn about student internships and postdoctoral fellowships.

UToledo scientists will lead panel discussions with national laboratory scientists on a variety of topics, including:

• The Land-Water Interface: The Great Lakes Region and the World;

• Sustainability and Life Cycle Assessment;

• Structural Biology, Imaging and Spectroscopy;

• Astrophysics;

• Exposure Science — ‘Omics’ Applications for Human Health;

• Materials and Manufacturing; and

• Photovoltaics.

Registration, which is open for the academic and commercial research community, is required. Visit the National Lab Day website to register.

As part of National Lab Day, about 100 high school seniors will be on campus Friday, Oct. 11, to learn about career paths in STEM, meet national laboratory scientists, and learn about each of the national laboratories.

UToledo Hypertension Expert Receives Prestigious American Heart Association Award

The American Heart Association has recognized University of Toledo hypertension researcher Dr. Bina Joe for her innovative work focusing on the links between high blood pressure, genetics and gut bacteria.

Joe, Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, has spent nearly two decades studying and isolating the role genetics play in individuals with high blood pressure.

Dr. Bina Joe spoke at the American Heart Association’s Hypertension 2019 Scientific Sessions in New Orleans. More than 600 people from 22 countries attended the event.

Her research has helped begin to unravel some of the potential causes of hypertension that go beyond one’s diet and exercise routine.

Most recently, Joe’s lab has been investigating how the colonies of tiny microorganisms that call our bodies home may help regulate our blood pressure. In 2018, Joe received a $2.64 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to advance her groundbreaking research.

In recognition of her impactful work, the American Heart Association recently presented Joe with the Harriet Dustan Award, which recognizes female investigators who have made outstanding contributions in the field of hypertension.

“This is a really prestigious award, chosen from many of the top hypertension researchers in the world,” said Joe, who is also founding director of the UToledo Center for Hypertension and Precision Medicine, which is recognized by the University as a research area of unique distinction. “I feel very passionate about our research, and I’m honored to have been recognized by this award from the American Heart Association.”

The award is named in honor of Dr. Harriet Dustan, a trailblazer as both a female physician-scientist and as a hypertension researcher. Dustan was the first woman to sit on the Board of Governors of the American Board of Internal Medicine, and she was among the first researchers who linked hypertension to excess sodium consumption.

Dustan, who started her career at the Cleveland Clinic and later went on to the University of Alabama School of Medicine, died in 1999.

“Dr. Dustan was born and lived her life in the previous century when they did not have a genomic avenue to look at microbial genomes and their contributions to hypertension,” Joe said. “She was asking the same questions we are now. She once wrote in one of her papers that not everything is known. I hope to fill that knowledge gap with the new idea we have that salt regulates blood pressure via microbiota and liver metabolites. I’m proud to bring the award bearing her name back to Ohio, where she started her research career.”

The award was presented in New Orleans Sept. 7 during the American Heart Association’s Hypertension 2019 Scientific Sessions.

Joe also was the recipient of the association’s 2014 Lewis Dahl Memorial Lectureship. That award honors the groundbreaking work of Dahl, who developed a genetically based experimental model of hypertension. The lecture is given each year by a prominent hypertension researcher.

Regional Biological Sciences Conference Blends Art, Discovery

Cytoskeletons serve as the internal frame for individual cells, providing the structural support that allows a wide variety of essential cellular functions to happen.

Under the right light and magnification, cytoskeletons also can be incredibly beautiful.

UToledo student Savanna Hudson created this work; the faces of the people are made of images of cells from humans and other organisms, emphasizing the correlation of everything alive in nature being made of the same basic unit.

On Friday, Sept. 27, The University of Toledo will host the third annual CellulART, a regional scientific meeting that blends cutting-edge cytoskeleton research and art.

“In the cytoskeletal field, you’re constantly trying to think about what’s the best or most aesthetically pleasing way you can present your research,” said Maura Graves, a doctoral student in the UToledo Department of Biological Sciences. “In a way, you have to think like an artist. What’s the most beautiful way you can take this image from microscopy and engage with your audience?”

Graves is the lead organizer for this year’s event, working alongside fellow biological sciences doctoral students Sushil Khanal and Debatrayee Sinha.

The event will be held from 8:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. in the Center for the Visual Arts on the University’s Toledo Museum of Art Campus.

Like most scientific meetings, CellulART features a series of lectures and poster presentations. Unique to this event is the addition of artwork created by both cytoskeletal researchers and UToledo art students who have reinterpreted scientific data and images.

Fifteen regional universities are participating, including Notre Dame, Ohio State, Loyola and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This year’s keynote speaker at 1 p.m. is Dr. Bruce Goode, professor of biology at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., who is widely recognized as one of the country’s preeminent cytoskeletal researchers.

“Dr. Goode is at the forefront of his field. He’s pushing the limits in a lot of different ways, not only in the nature of his discoveries, but also in the technology he’s using. He’s one of the world leaders of the new generation of cytoskeleton researchers,” said Dr. Rafael Garcia-Mata, UToledo associate professor of biological sciences and one of the event creators.

The event also will feature a presentation and artwork by Dr. Ahna Skop, a professor in the Department of Genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Event sponsors include the American Society for Cell Biology, the Journal of Cell Science, Thermo Fisher Scientific, New England Biolabs, Ibidi and Cytokeleton Inc.

For more information, visit the CellulART website.

UToledo Researchers Take Over National Academic Research Program This Week

Five scholars from The University of Toledo will have a national audience this week through The Academic Minute, a public radio program that gives researchers the chance to share their expertise in their own words.

Beginning Monday, Sept. 23, and running through Friday, Sept. 27, one UToledo faculty member will be featured each morning on the program, which is heard on approximately 200 public radio stations throughout the country.

The program, which is produced by Northeast Public Radio in Albany, N.Y., can be livestreamed on the WAMC website at 7:30 a.m. and again at 3:56 p.m.

Here’s the schedule:

Monday, Sept. 23: Dr. Rupali Chandar, professor of astronomy in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, will explain her work peering deep into space to identify and understand young and expanding galaxies.

Tuesday, Sept. 24: Dr. Bina Joe, Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology in the College of Medicine and Life Science, will outline her research into the role played by microbiota in regulating blood pressure.

Wednesday, Sept. 25: Dr. Celia Williamson, Distinguished University Professor and director of the UToledo Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute in the College of Health and Human Services, will discuss her research into how traffickers use social media.

Thursday, Sept. 26: Dr. Neil Reid, professor of geography and planning in the College of Arts and Letters, will talk about his recent study that found craft breweries increase residential property values.

Friday, Sept. 27: Dr. Amit Tiwari, associate professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, will review his innovative work of identifying new compounds that provide hope for treating multidrug resistant cancer.

Each segment will be available on The Academic Minute website and shared on the Inside Higher Ed website. The Academic Minute also is available as a podcast from NPR.

For People With Pre-Existing Liver Disease, Toxic Algae May Be More Dangerous

Toxins produced during harmful algal blooms may be more harmful to people than previously known.

Researchers at The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences sought to examine how microcystin might affect individuals with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a widespread condition that is frequently asymptomatic. They found the toxin can significantly amplify the disease at levels below what would harm a healthy liver.

Dr. David Kennedy, left, and Dr. Steven Haller

The study, published last month in the journal Toxins, follows earlier research from UToledo that found clear evidence that microcystin exposure worsens the severity of pre-existing colitis. Microcystin is a byproduct of the cyanobacteria found in what is commonly known as blue-green algae.

“The take-home message from our research is there are certain groups of people who need to pay extra attention and may be more susceptible to microcystin toxins. We may need to explore special preventative guidelines for those people in terms of how much microcystin they are exposed to through drinking water or other means,” said Dr. David Kennedy, UToledo assistant professor of medicine and one of the study’s lead authors.

Aided by nutrient runoff and warming waters, seasonal blooms of blue-green algae are flourishing across much of the United States. Not all algal blooms produce toxins, but many do.

Potentially dangerous concentrations of microcystin have been found this year in ponds in New York City’s Central Park, along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, reservoirs in California, and a portion of Lake Erie’s coastline near Toledo.

While no human deaths have been linked to microcystin in the United States, deaths have been reported elsewhere — most notably among a group of kidney dialysis patients in Brazil. There also have been reports this year of pet dogs dying after exposure to blue-green algae in Texas, North Carolina and Georgia.

With annual blooms becoming more frequent and intense, researchers in the UToledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences wanted to better understand how the toxins might affect people already suffering from conditions that affect organ systems microcystin is known to attack, such as the liver.

“It’s a gray area in terms of what microcystin is really doing to you if you have a pre-existing disease state. Are you more susceptible? Are we going to have to go back and re-evaluate what we consider safe in a person with a pre-existing disease state? It’s important we start providing answers to these questions,” said Dr. Steven Haller, UToledo assistant professor of medicine.

In the liver study, researchers examined how chronic, low-level exposure of microcystin affected mice with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease compared to mice with healthy livers.

At microcystin ingestion levels below the No Observed Adverse Effect Level for healthy mice, analysis showed significant exacerbation of liver damage in mice with fatty liver disease. Researchers observed no liver damage in mice who started the experiment with healthy livers.

“Current exposure limits from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for humans are based off studies done in healthy animals,” Haller said. “The results of this study suggest there may be a need to review those guidelines for people with pre-existing conditions.”

They also noted major differences in how microcystin was processed by the kidneys in the two test groups.

In mice with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, elevated levels of microcystin were found in the blood plasma, but were not detectable in the plasma of healthy mice. Mice with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease also excreted far less microcystin in their urine.

The differences seen in how microcystin was processed between the two test groups suggest that kidney function may play an important role in the increased susceptibility of the mice with pre-existing liver disease.

“This may be highly relevant to help us understand the deaths that occurred in kidney dialysis patients and point to the need to pay particular attention to at-risk patient populations as we design preventative, diagnostic and therapeutic strategies,” Kennedy said.

The results from the liver study build on prior work from Kennedy and Haller looking at how microcystin exposure might affect individuals with inflammatory bowel disease, another common condition that impacts an estimated 1 million Americans.

In that study, published in June, the researchers demonstrated that exposure to microcystin-LR prolongs and worsens the severity of pre-existing colitis, contributing to significant weight loss, bleeding, and higher numbers of signaling molecules that cause inflammation.

“Based on this data, we’re coming up with insights into how we can potentially treat exposures if they do occur,” Kennedy said. “This is giving us a number of insights into how we might help patients, especially patients who are vulnerable or susceptible if there was an exposure.”

The lead author of the paper published in August was doctoral student Apurva Lad. Doctoral student Robin Su was the author on the paper about inflammatory bowel disease published in June.

Study May Unlock New Diagnostic Tools for Fainting Disorder

New research from The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences strongly suggests postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, is an autoimmune disorder and may help pave the way for a simple blood test that could help physicians diagnose the condition.

POTS is characterized by large increases in heart rate and sometimes decreases in blood pressure when standing up. That can cause lightheadedness, heart palpitations and even loss of consciousness. In addition to fainting, POTS patients also regularly suffer from a litany of additional symptoms, including fatigue, pain, gastrointestinal issues, bleeding disorders, anxiety and brain fog.

About 3 million Americans are believed to be affected, but because of its wide-ranging and seemingly unrelated symptoms, POTS is notoriously difficult to identify.

Grubb

“The trouble with diagnosing POTS is that it’s currently principally a clinical diagnosis. It’s based on history, the absence of other illness, as well as the finding of increase in heart rate when standing. There is no blood test right now to aid in the diagnosis. It can be an incredibly frustrating process for patients,” said Dr. Blair Grubb, Distinguished University Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics in the UToledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences and director of electrophysiology services at The University of Toledo Medical Center.

In the largest study of POTS patients to date, published Sept. 9 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, Grubb and UToledo research collaborators found 89 percent of patients they examined had elevated levels of autoantibodies against the adrenergic alpha 1 receptor.

“People have suspected an autoimmune connection for years, and other small-scale studies have suggested it,” said Grubb, one of the world’s foremost experts in syncope and disorders of the autonomic nervous system. “We did a much larger cross-section of patients than has ever been done before and found that almost all of them tested positive for autoimmune antibodies. That’s a significant finding.”

None of the 55 patients who participated in the study had another recognized autoimmune disorder. Fifty-two were female, with an average age of 30.

Researchers screened the patients’ blood for autoantibodies against nine receptors. A handful of patients showed elevated levels against all nine. But it was the prevalence of adrenergic A1 subtype receptor autoantibodies that make their findings so intriguing.

Gunning

“I think that we have identified a biomarker. We now might have the ability to diagnosis this, or at least have an inkling. Like other autoimmune disease, we can take a blood sample and detect if there are increased levels of autoantibodies present. According to our results, autoantibodies against this particular receptor should be present in about 90 percent of patients with POTS,” said Dr. William Gunning, a professor of pathology in the UToledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences, and the paper’s lead author.

Gunning and Grubb say much more research is needed. However, this study adds significantly to the evidence that POTS is an autoimmune disorder — and it shows it may be possible to give physicians unfamiliar with the condition an easy way to test for it.

“What this does is prove the concept,” Grubb said. “Other studies had used very expensive research tests. What we used are the same kind of testing methods that would be used by regular hospitals. We wanted to do something that would potentially be a test applicable to the general population, not just a research test.”

While Gunning and Grubb caution they’re still investigating the precise methods by which POTS is established, their study does raise the possibility that existing immune modulating medications could be a viable therapeutic method for some patients.

The study was supported by funding from the Dysautonomia Advocacy Foundation, the Life as a Zebra Foundation, and the Virginia Lounsbury Foundation.

UToledo Supports ‘Ohio IP Promise’ to Fuel Innovation, Strengthen Economy

The University of Toledo is one of 14 public universities in the state to unite in Columbus Sept. 6 in support of the “Ohio Intellectual Property (IP) Promise,” an initiative led by Lt. Gov. Jon Husted.

The event hosted by the Inter-University Council of Ohio showcased how universities are working to strengthen Ohio’s innovation economy, attract researchers, and serve as a magnet for investors and entrepreneurs.

“The University of Toledo is proud to participate in the ‘Ohio IP Promise’ in support of our researchers and intellectual property as a powerful tool for economic development,” said UToledo President Sharon L. Gaber, who serves as chair of the Inter-University Council of Ohio. “As we make discoveries and invent new technologies on campus, we work to provide a clear path for our researchers to navigate the journey from the lab to the commercial marketplace.”

The guiding principles of the “Ohio IP Promise” are:

• Flexible: Provide industry choices for accessing intellectual property developed through sponsored research;

• Transparent: Publish template-sponsored research and license agreements;

• Simple: Deliver fair and streamlined guidelines for faculty creator startups;

• Clear: Communicate licensing processes on university websites in a clear, prominent way;

• Easy: Provide well-defined university entry points for industry, investors and entrepreneurs; and

• Fast: Reduce impediments that hinder the pace of transactions.

“Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted challenged our public universities to bring to life their vision for a stronger economy and IP leadership in Ohio,” IUC President Bruce Johnson said. “Our universities have stepped up in a big way with enthusiasm, creativity and imagination. The residents of Ohio will be the short-term and long-term beneficiaries of this program.”

The Office of Technology Transfer at UToledo helps protect intellectual property and provides professional patenting and licensing services to UToledo’s faculty, staff and students.

Grad Student Keeps Children ‘Bookin’ Through the Summer’ Using Mystery Readers, Social Media

On a 90-degree day during one of the last precious weeks of summer break, nearly 30 children gathered at the Bedford Public Library to read together, sing, dance and scavenger hunt.

“The worst thing about going to the library is when I have to leave the library,” said 7-year-old Gunnar Talley, who is entering second grade at Monroe Road Elementary School in Bedford, Mich.

Amy Kochendoerfer, UToledo Ph.D. student, read “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” by Iza Trapani to children participating in “Bookin’ Through the Summer” at the Bedford Public Library in Michigan.

That’s music to Amy Kochendoerfer’s ears.

The Ph.D. student in The University of Toledo Judith Herb College of Education and assistant principal of Monroe Road Elementary School is focused on getting and keeping children hooked on books through her innovative, 12-week summer reading program, which debuted 11 weeks ago.

“This is an incredible turnout today — almost half of the children participating in our program — because we’re competing with football and cheerleading practices and end-of-summer vacations,” Kochendoerfer said. “Every week we’ve averaged about 40 children at the library.”

She and Dawn Henderson, a speech pathologist for Monroe County, spent the summer piloting their program to help the youngest children at Monroe Road Elementary School avoid the “summer slide,” the term used to describe how reading and academic skills regress over summer break.

The two raised $4,300 from organizations in Bedford to fund “Bookin’ Through The Summer,” an intervention project blending free books, mystery readers, parents, social media and library adventures.

“We want them to go back to school ready to start at the point they left off,” Henderson said. “This has been a true community-wide effort.”

It stems from Michigan’s Read by Grade Three Law, which goes into effect this school year.

“I created this new spin on how to keep kids reading over the summer because the state of Michigan passed a law that if a child can’t read by third grade, he or she will be retained and have to repeat third grade,” Kochendoerfer said. “They need to catch that bug for books to keep growing, so we created a way to turn reading from a boring task into something fun and interactive.”

Talley is one of the 68 children in kindergarten, first, second and third grades participating in the program who received a book every week in the mail with a flyer for parents outlining suggestions to make reading the book together more engaging.

Aside from the optional meetings once a week at the library, the key ingredients that make this recipe sing are Facebook and mystery readers.

The organizers created a private Facebook page where parents interacted and shared photos and videos of their children’s thoughts or crafts stemming from the books, including puppet shows.

Mystery readers from throughout the community also popped up regularly on the page reading and discussing the book of the week.

“Everyone we approached was excited to shoot a video of themselves reading the book and talking about the book in order to help keep the children motivated. The mystery readers sent us their videos, we posted them, and the parents sat down and watched them with their kids,” Kochendoerfer said. “We had varsity football players, cheerleaders, our state representative, a sheriff’s deputy and teachers reading to our children on social media. The buy-in from the community was incredible.”

Especially from the parents.

“These moms and dads understand the importance of literacy, but we know how difficult it can be in the summer when you’re out of the school routine,” Henderson said. “They took this opportunity to help their children discover the love of reading by sitting down with them and modeling these weekly habits.”

Kochendoerfer, who is already coming up with creative ways to enhance the project next summer, believes this program also allowed parents to model responsible social media interaction.

“You see so much how social media is a negative influence on children, but our summer reading program was all about encouragement,” Kochendoerfer said. “Kids are able to contribute and share their ideas through their parents in a forum that is not threatening. Our secret group is a safe environment to receive immediate, supportive feedback. That’s critical.”

“Amy’s work to encourage children to have fun and enjoy reading books together is yielding great results,” said Dr. Susanna Hapgood, associate professor in the UToledo Department of Curriculum and Instruction. “We know even just 10 to 15 minutes a day of reading to children can give them a boost in terms of vocabulary knowledge and motivation for reading that has long-lasting repercussions.”

Though the data comparing student testing results from the end of the last school year to the beginning of this school year aren’t available yet, Gunnar Talley’s dad already calls the program a success.

“This experience is helping my son because it’s not such a drudgery to get him to read anymore,” Edward Talley said. “It still can sometimes be a battle, but not what it used to be.”

U.S. Department of Energy awards UToledo $750,000 to Improve Production of Hydrogen as Clean Fuel

From powering a car to a rocket, hydrogen holds promise as the clean-energy fuel of the future.

The University of Toledo is among 29 universities and organizations across the country to receive a total of $40 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for new projects focused on using hydrogen as fuel.

Yan

The goal of the H2@Scale concept is to enable affordable and reliable large-scale hydrogen generation, transport, storage and utilization in the United States and beyond.

NASA’s mission to Mars hinges on the ability to split water — in the form of ice — to produce hydrogen on the moon as fuel to reach the Red Planet.

Hydrogen also could be used on Earth to keep the electrical grid operating to power homes and businesses in the face of extreme weather or cyberattacks.

UToledo was awarded $750,000 to improve water-splitting, the process of breaking apart the water molecule, separating hydrogen from oxygen. The hydrogen, which produces only water when consumed in a fuel cell, can then be used as a clean fuel.

The photovoltaics team, led by Dr. Yanfa Yan, UToledo professor of physics, and Dr. Zhaoning Song, research assistant professor in the UToledo Department of Physics and Astronomy, will develop low-cost photoelectrodes for more efficient photoelectrochemical water splitting using innovative material from their highly successful perovskite solar cells. Perovskites are compound materials with a special crystal structure formed through chemistry.

The perovskite cells can have high efficiency, collecting more of the sun’s energy and transforming it into the electricity needed to split the water molecule and produce hydrogen.

“Perovskite absorbers have drawn extensive attention due to their demonstrated capability of fabricating solar cells with outstanding conversion efficiencies,” Yan said. “We are excited about this opportunity and eager to apply perovskite absorbers to advance the photoelectrochemical water-splitting technology.”

Funded through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy with contribution from DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, the selected projects will advance hydrogen storage and infrastructure technologies and identify innovative concepts for hydrogen production and utilization, including electrical grid resiliency.

“The H2@Scale concept is a critical piece of the country’s comprehensive energy strategy and an enabler of multiple industries in our economy,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “As an energy carrier, hydrogen has the potential to unite our nation’s domestic energy resources. These selections support the Department of Energy’s mission and advances our commitment to enable economic growth and energy security through the development of more affordable hydrogen technologies.”

“Toledo is at the forefront of the development of innovative technologies that move our country and our world further,” said Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur. “I am pleased to see that The University of Toledo has been awarded this valuable $750,000 grant from the Department of Energy to facilitate the University’s important research into hydrogen as clean fuel and to cement our region as a clean energy, research and manufacturing hub.”

The U.S. produces more than 10 million tons of hydrogen, nearly one-seventh of the global supply, primarily for oil refining and fertilizer production.

Hydrogen infrastructure includes more than 1,600 miles of hydrogen pipeline, a growing network of stations, and thousands of tons of storage in underground caverns.

Yan and Song are members of the UToledo Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization.

Scientists Discover Single Gene That Explains Songbird Migration

Ornithologists at The University of Toledo played a critical role in new collaborative research identifying a single gene that defines whether rare, tiny songbirds that reproduce in the Great Lakes region and Appalachian Mountains spend their winters in South America or Central America.

Dr. Henry Streby, assistant professor in the UToledo Department of Environmental Sciences, and Gunnar Kramer, Ph.D. candidate in environmental sciences and UToledo graduate dean’s fellow, laid the groundwork for the genetics discovery published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A golden-winged warbler carried a geolocator in Minnesota. UToledo researchers created the tiny tracker to find out where the songbirds migrated for the winter.

With collaborators at Cornell University, Penn State and the University of Colorado, the team’s findings may have important conservation implications for the declining populations of golden-winged warblers.

Starting six years ago, the UToledo team led a massive collaborative field study: Across eastern North America, they caught golden-winged warblers on their breeding grounds, gathered blood samples, placed tiny geolocator technology on the birds, and completed long-distance, cutting-edge migration tracking analysis. Streby and Kramer then gave the samples and data to genetics researchers at Penn State and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who performed whole genome resequencing.

“Only one gene tells the story of the final wintering destination, and it makes sense because it is affiliated with muscles and movement in humans,” Streby said. “Migration is a very complex set of behavioral and physiological traits, and we know this one gene can’t be responsible for all of it. But it’s a critical first step that gives everyone in the field something to build on. This exciting ecology and evolutionary discovery proves the powerful potential of research collaboration.”

Streby

Streby and Kramer already had answered the question of where these birds go: Golden-winged warblers from declining populations spend winters in northern South America. Stable populations of the species spend winters in Central America.

Researchers at the collaborating universities then used the data and blood samples from the migrating birds to investigate genetic differences between birds that winter in Central America and those that winter in South America. The majority of these differences occurred in a small region on the bird’s Z chromosome, a sex-determining chromosome like the X and Y chromosomes in humans. Only one gene, called VPS13A, was present in this region.

Although the gene does not yet have any known function in birds, in humans it is associated with the neurodegenerative disorder chorea-acanthocytosis, which affects movement.

Gunnar Kramer held a golden-winged warbler, which carried a geolocator. Researchers attached the tiny backpack to the bird in 2015 and recovered it in 2016. The data on the geolocator helped Kramer understand the warbler’s migratory route and winter location.

“In this study, we found only one gene associated with the final wintering destination of golden-winged and blue-winged warblers,” said Dr. David Toews, assistant professor of biology at Penn State and leader of the research team. “As we come to better understand the role of this gene in humans, we may also gain important insights to its role in migration in birds.”

According to the researchers, the gene appears to be a target of natural selection in birds that winter in South America.

“Golden-winged warblers are rapidly declining in the Appalachian Mountains. Conservation efforts have focused on protecting the breeding grounds, which is important, but declines also appear strongly related to habitat alteration and destruction in the wintering grounds,” Streby said.

“The global attention on the fires in the Amazon highlight the importance of these South American habitats, and these migratory birds illustrate an inextricable link between hemispheres,” Toews said.

For Streby and Kramer at UToledo, collecting blood samples from the golden-winged warblers to be used for a later genetics’ investigation was a side project to their study identifying the migratory connectivity of the species. They also recorded the birds singing across their whole range and collected feather samples.

It’s what Streby calls “while-you’re-there science.”

“It’s important to conduct all of the useful science while you have the opportunity because you can’t fund six different projects by six research teams to address six questions in the same study system,” Streby said. “For the DNA samples, we knew we needed to find the right researcher who was looking for migration genes.”

Kramer met Toews and Dr. Scott Taylor, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, at the 2016 North American Ornithological Conference in Washington, D.C.

“I quickly realized we had valuable genetic samples that they needed to do exciting complementary research, and we were happy to share our science,” Kramer said. “By working together, we now know what we suspected — there is a genetic component to migration. However, we’re fascinated it appears to be just one gene that explains the major migration divide in the system.”

The study was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the National Science Foundation, The University of Toledo, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the United States Geological Survey, the United Sates Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Tennessee.