March 2013

Researchers Investigate Pathway to Cell Death

Fruit fly specimens in Michael Lehmann's laboratory.

Michael Lehmann, an associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Arkansas, is using fruit fly genetics to study a glutamate receptor that triggers programmed cell death in the nervous system. This receptor controls cell death in both humans and fruit flies.

When larvae of Drosophila melanogaster, a common

fruit fly, grow from the larval stage into adults, they shed most of their former organs and grow new ones. The study of the mechanism of cell death may be crucial to fighting neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, Lehmann said.

“Those patients lose brain cells and that is usually brought about by overstimulation of the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor, known as the NMDA receptor,” Lehmann said. “Almost all cell death that takes place in the brain depends on this receptor. So it’s very important to understand how it functions and how it may be possible to influence it.”

Working with Brandy Ree, a doctoral student in the interdisciplinary graduate program in cell and molecular biology, Lehmann is using a combination of biochemistry and fruit fly genetics in an attempt to define the pathway that leads from activation of the receptor to the cell’s eventual death.

“We developed a new system to study the receptor outside the nervous system in a normal developmental context,” he said. “Many of the different components involved in cell death are known in this system. We just have to connect the dots and fit the receptor into the pathway to find out how exactly it contributes to the cell’s death.”

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Lehmann a three-year, $260,530 grant to support the study.


Stahle Presents Tree-Ring Data at AAAS

David Stahle,
University of Arkansas

A research team, including University of Arkansas Distinguished Professor and dendrochronologist David Stahle, used more than 1,400 climate-sensitive tree-ring chronologies from multiple tree species across North America to reconstruct the Palmer drought severity index (PDSI), a widely used soil moisture index.

Stahle presented his research Feb. 15, in a symposium on “U.S. Climate and Weather Extremes: Past, Present,

and Future,” during the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston. He also participated in a panel discussion with other climate experts.

The Palmer drought severity index is based on instrumental temperature and precipitation data dating back to 1895. Stahle and his colleagues inserted the index between fixed points on a grid covering most of North America. Their tree-ring reconstructions cover the same geographic area but extend back to 800 A.D.

Stahle wanted to examine the reconstructed indices to test the accuracy of the records and to see if there were any patterns related to drought and other climate changes. The findings were dramatic.

“Comparisons of reconstructed PDSI with instrumentally measured PDSI during the 20th century document the remarkable accuracy with which the tree-ring data reproduce the spatial pattern and intensity of observed drought at annual and decadal time scales, including the Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s,” Stahle said.

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Silicon Solar Files for Patent

Douglas Hutchings,
Silicon Solar Solutions

Silicon Solar Solutions Inc., a Genesis Technology Incubator client at the University of Arkansas, has developed a new technology that could improve the efficiency of solar cells by 15 percent, thereby potentially saving manufacturers millions of dollars in production costs.

The start-up company at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park has submitted an application for a full patent on a self-aligned hydrogenated selective emitter for N-type

solar cells, moving the patent from “provisional” to “pending,” said Douglas Hutchings, chief executive officer of Silicon Solar Solutions.

Seth Shumate, a graduate student at the U of A and senior scientist at Silicon Solar Solutions, invented the emitter. In December, the National Science Foundation awarded the company a $150,000 small-business grant to continue its development.

The technology is at the heart of a joint venture being developed by Silicon Solar Solutions and Picasolar, a graduate business competition team at the university that includes Shumate as a member.

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Study Shows Rise in Teachers’ Health Insurance Costs

A new study by a University of Arkansas professor and doctoral student found that school district costs for teachers’ health insurance in 2012 were, on average, 26 percent higher than those for private-sector professional employees.

The information was published online in Education Next. Robert Costrell, holder of the Twenty-First Century Chair in Accountability, and Jeffery Dean, a Distinguished Doctoral Fellow in education policy, are co-authors.

The study, which used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, found the average annual health insurance cost for teachers was $8,559 compared to $6,803 in the private sector. When adjusted for higher participation rates in health-care plans among teachers versus private-sector professionals, the costs are 16 percent higher for teachers ($9,838 versus $8,490 in the private sector). School district costs for teachers’ insurance rose at an average annual rate of 4 percent above inflation from 2004 to 2012.

Education Next is a scholarly journal that is a joint project of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

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Researchers Investigate Pathway to Cell Death

Stahle Presents Tree-Ring Data

Silicon Solar Announces Filing for Patent

Study Shows Rise in Teachers’ Health Insurance Costs


Graduate Student Competition Winners Announced

VIC Announces New Network, Expansion

Center Releases Improved Version of Online Tool


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Award Winners

The following is a sampling of faculty awards in March, with the principal investigator, the award amount and the sponsor. An asterisk (*) indicates the continuation of a previous award.

— Brent L. Smith, $271,070, University of Maryland
— Marcia Shobe, $250,000, Ford Foundation
— Matthew Ganio, $144,535, The Coca-Cola Co.
— Pat Parkerson, $125,452, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
— Douglas Osborne, $50,206, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission


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