John Ubelaker, Biology, native plants on the Rio Grande

TAOS news

Originally Posted: September 9, 2016

Below is an excerpt from Taos News.

Hike to Williams Lake

Nineteen people joined Dr. John Ubelaker, professor of biology at the Southern Methodist University, on a great hike to Williams Lake Aug. 20. Interesting ferns, trees and flowering plants were discussed all along the way. Ubelaker has a wealth of knowledge on plants, their uses both today and historically – and he shares freely. We learned a great deal about the “Canadian Zone,” which is one of six zones in the state and that extends all the way up to Canada. It is comprised predominantly of three types of trees — spruce, fir and aspen. Above this zone is the arctic-alpine zone, which was beyond our reach on this trip.

To someone newly transplanted from Florida, where Spanish moss abounds — the dripping gray-green hanging from the trees is not a simple air plant like Spanish moss, but a hanging lichen. Ubelaker explained that a lichen is a relationship between an algae and a fungus. The long, grayish green strings are fungus on the outside, with algae cells inside. Fungi are not photosynthetic, therefore they often feed on things like algae. But through photosynthesis, the algae cells make sugars — which they allow to leak out so that the fungus can feed — while the fungus provides a necessary aquatic environment in which the algae cells can live and grow.

It is a unique relationship which enables algae, one of the first forms of life on earth, to live up in a tree. Fungus is the ultimate decomposer in our environment, but now it doesn’t have to feed on the algae. Instead, they exist in a symbiotic relationship — not harming the tree or each other. The fungus will occasionally release spores, which have one algae cell inside, and it will find a new tree. Not only is this fascinating, but since some 50 bird species use lichen as nest material, and elk and other deer eat it, both hanging and rock lichen are an important part of the circle of life in New Mexico.

This fascinating bit of information was given us in the parking lot, before even getting onto the trail. You will not want to miss future field trips with Ubelaker. READ MORE

SMU biochemists and students probe biochemistry of membrane proteins that thwart cancer chemotherapies

SMU RESEARCH NEWS
Originally Posted: August, 31, 2016

“Recurring cancers have ‘learned’ how to evade chemotherapy by pumping it out of the cancer cells so that only sub-therapeutic concentrations remain in the cell, making the drug useless.” — SMU biochemist Pia Vogel

 

Each semester, SMU biology professors Pia Vogel and John Wise welcome a handful of dedicated and curious students to their lab in the SMU Dedman Life Sciences building.

The SMU undergraduate students and Dallas-area high school students get hands-on experience working on cancer research in the combined SMU Department of Biological Sciences laboratories of Wise and Vogel.

The researchers and students are working to find ways to treat cancer patients whose cancer has either returned after initial chemotherapy or was initially hard to treat using chemotherapeutics. The research is funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

Students recently in the lab included Victoria Bennet, Hockaday School, and Shaffin Siddiqui and Robert Luo, both from Highland Park High School. SMU undergraduates included Alexis Sunshine, Clinton Osifo, Stefanie Lohse, Brianna Ramirez, Henry Thornton, Shirely Liu, Justin Musser, Jake Oien and Michael Fowler. Also currently working in the lab are M.S. student Collette Marchesseau (2016 SMU graduate), and Ph.D. students Amila Nanayakkara, Mike Chen, Courtney Follit, Maisa Oliveira and James McCormick.

“Often, recurring cancers have ‘learned’ how to evade chemotherapy by pumping the therapeutic out of the cancer cells so that only sub-therapeutic concentrations remain in the cell, making the drug useless,” said Vogel, a professor and director of the SMU interdisciplinary research institute, the Center for Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery.

The pumps that do the work are proteins that span the cell membranes and use the biological fuel ATP to actively pump chemotherapeutics and other toxins out of the cells. “We like to compare these proteins to biological sump pumps,” said Wise, associate professor.

Wise and Vogel use a combination of computational, biochemical and human cell-based techniques to find new drug-like compounds that inhibit the action of the pumps. If successful, the novel drugs — or derivatives of them — will be given to patients with therapy-resistant cancer together with the chemotherapeutic.

“Since our novel compounds block the pumps, the chemotherapeutic will remain in the cell and kill the cancer that had not been treatable previously,” Vogel said.

The researchers have discovered drug-like compounds that can be modified and developed into medicines that target the protein, called P-glycoprotein.

The SMU researchers discovered the compounds after virtually screening more than 10 million small drug-like compounds made publically available in digital form from the pharmacology database Zinc at the University of California, San Francisco.

Using SMU’s Maneframe high performance computer, Wise ran the compounds through a computer-generated model of the protein. The virtual model, designed and built by Wise, is the first computational microscope of its kind to simulate the actual behavior of P-glycoprotein in the human body, including interactions with drug-like compounds while taking on different shapes.

The promising compounds were then tested in the lab.

“We have been quite successful and already have identified close to 20 novel compounds that block the pumps in our cell-based assays,” said Wise. “In these experiments we culture therapy-resistant prostate or ovarian or colon cancer cells in the lab and then show that we can kill these cancer cells using normal amounts of commonly available therapeutics in the presence of our novel compounds — even though in the absence of our novel compounds, the cancer cells would not be treatable.”

SMU undergraduates and high school students experience world-class research
SMU undergraduate and high school students have been involved in different aspects of the research. Typically the beginning students work together with graduate or advanced undergraduate students to learn techniques used in the lab.

Some perform small research projects. Others have simply learned state-of-the-art techniques and “how science works” in the context of critical human health problems.

“High school student Robert Luo was interested in the computational side of our work, so he’s worked with senior SMU Ph.D. candidate James McCormick on trying to evaluate how strongly one of the therapy-sensitizing compounds we found potentially interacts with the pump protein at different proposed binding sites,” said Wise. “It is actually a significant project and will help with our research.”

The opportunities available for students to learn how science works using high performance computing, biochemistry and cell biology can be valuable even for those who won’t necessarily become practicing scientists, said Wise, citing as an example a recent SMU graduate who previously worked in the lab.

Ketetha Olengue (SMU ’15) is a good example,” he said. “She is now in her second year at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, where she is pursuing her M.D. degree in a novel program with USC Engineering.” Watch Video

Dedman College biology major traveled the world with SMU Global Brigades club

Daily Campus

Originally Posted: August 30, 2016

Stepping out of the cozy, warm environment of your comfort zone to go serve in a foreign country full of poverty and danger can be an overwhelming experience. But for some SMU students, the thrill is what keeps them going back every summer.

Katherine Nelson, a senior biology major, is a member of the SMU Global Brigades club that works throughout the year to raise money for the stimulating summer trip. Every year volunteers travel to different settlements in the Panama area to help the less fortunate get the care they need.

Katherine Nelson volunteering in Panama

Katherine Nelson volunteering in Panama. Photo credit: Katherine Nelson

Nelson said that some days more than 200 people would come in to be treated. She and 13 other SMU students took on this adventure to serve where they were needed, learning in the process.

“I remember thinking ‘dang, if they didn’t have us, this wouldn’t happen,’” said Nelson. READ MORE

We Can’t Resurrect T. Rex and We Don’t Want To

Inverse
Originally Posted: August 22, 2016

Molecular biology Ph.D. candidate Lauren Ammerman has looked into and Jurassic megafauna would be a megaproblem.

The Jurassic Park franchise, like the dinosaurs it reanimates, won’t be ignored. Michael Crichton’s masterpiece makes a lot of cameos in academic papers. Still, it’s rarely the focus of true inquiry. It is, after all, kind of easy to dismiss. But Lauren Ammerman, a molecular biology Ph.D. candidate at Southern Methodist University, doesn’t want to be dismissive. This is why, as a senior at Baylor University, she authored an honors thesis about what happens when Jurassic gene editing meets the rewilding movement meets the ultimate alpha predator. She made herself — and this is truly awesome — an expert on what would happen if we brought back the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Inverse spoke to Ammerman, whose work reads like a potential sequel to Jurassic World, about how science and blockbusters can coexist.

Okay, I know we can’t actually resurrect the T. rex — for now. What’s holding us back?

We have one or two complete genes, but they’re not anything important, like dinosaur hemoglobin. And the information we do have is pretty badly damaged so, right now there’s not that much we can do about it. We don’t know enough about these decaying processes to reverse them and determine the original sequence. So the whole Jurassic Park idea of using frog genomes and reptile genomes to supplement it doesn’t really work because we don’t have anything to supplement. Dinosaurs are also actually physiologically different than the reptiles we have on Earth right now. We don’t have a good foundation to build on there.

I didn’t really have the chance to get into this in my thesis and I’ve never seen anyone mention it, but you also have this problem of ‘Okay, it’s in the cell, now what do we do?’ DNA is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s pretty strictly regulated by epigenetic mechanisms, processes that make DNA available or unavailable for gene expression. We have no way of knowing what key points turn it on or off. READ MORE

Tips from a Dedman College pre-health, biology major- 10 Things I Learned My First Year at SMU

SMU New Student Orientation

Originally Posted: August 23, 2016

Jaden Amilibia, one of our Orientation Leaders from Flower Mound, Texas, is a sophomore pre-med biology major in the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. Jaden is here to wish you a fantastic first week of school AND share with you a few things she learned during her first year in college! 

  1. You WILL feel homesick, at one point or another.

It’s a natural feeling. You convinced yourself that after you graduated high school, you would NEVER come back or miss home and that you couldn’t wait to leave the nest. But like all of us, one day you’ll be talking to your parents or even a best friend, and you’ll want that sense of comfort in your everyday life again. It is totally okay!

2. Get out of your comfort zone.

Go out. Get involved. Explore campus with people or by yourself. Just like you, everyone is learning new things about college and are all displaced in some way or another. Don’t sit on the fence and be reluctant to try something. Who knows? You might just meet your new best friend, or find that one club that you absolutely LOVE.  

3.  LEARN. TIME. MANAGEMENT.

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You know that triangle telling you that you can only choose 2 of 3 aspects of college life? The one between sleep, a social life, and your grades? Yeah, wrong. Learning to manage your time efficiently will help you discover more free time to hang out with friends a little longer, or even dare say, time for a nap. Go to the ALEC for a “Semester At A Glance” page, invest in a durable planner, or learn how to wing it because you do not want to be cramming 3 chapters, 10 or more lectures, and 3 weeks of notes two nights before the exam.  

4. 8ams aren’t the end of the world… and neither are Bs.

We all have that one class that challenges us, both mentally and physically. Even though you may feel constantly defeated by the class, don’t let one subpar grade stop you from fulfilling your goals. Your entire life is not going to be altered and your goals are still attainable. Don’t forget that you are trying, and it’s perfectly acceptable to experience failure every once in a while to keep yourself on track. 

 5. Your “roomie” doesn’t have to be your “froomie”.

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You’re living with someone you’ve probably never met before, so it’s natural to not always get along. With any gamble in life, you might luck out, or you might have to completely switch roommates by the end of the first semester.

 

6. Explore food options on and off campus

The dining halls are wonderful- but there are a ton of options in the Dallas area that are a $5 Uber away from campus! Velvet Taco, Villa-O, Torchy’s, and Café Brazil, just to name a few, are all student favorites if you’re interested! 

7.It’s OK to say no sometimes (or most of the time).

We get it. It’s college. You want to go out and enjoy your weekend, or even each night of the week. We’ve all been there. But it is SO IMPORTANT to say “no” at times. Believe it or not, skipping your 8am the next morning has consequences. Even if your professor doesn’t take attendance, going to class is more beneficial in the long run, and might even be the difference of a half-grade. 

8. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

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GO TO OFFICE HOURS. This cannot be stressed enough. Your professors are there to help you, and are more inclined to do so if they see your face in their office enough.

9. Being undecided is fine, and so is switching your major!

Not everyone knows what he or she wants to major in when they’re 18. Sometimes, neither do 19 or 20-year-olds. It’s normal, and it’s likely that you’ll meet someone that completely changed their minds once they started taking pre-requisite classes.  

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10. College is a bigger world than high school, and it’s wonderful.

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You’re going to meet some fantastic people, some people you might not click with at first and learn so much about yourself in a few just a few short months.  Be free, open, and learn. And we promise you, it’s going to be great!

PONY UP! 

Acker Honored With Presidential Award of Excellence

SMU Athletics

Originally Posted: April 29, 2016

DALLAS (SMU) – Avery Acker was honored with the SMU Presidential Award of Excellence, which is awarded to three graduating seniors each year. A three-year captain for the volleyball program, Acker graduated in December with a degree in accounting and minors in chemistry and biological sciences, and will begin medical school in the fall.

11254604The setter was named CoSIDA Academic All-American of the Year, as well as American Athletic Conference Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year, earning a $4,000 postgraduate scholarship. She finished her career with a 3.941 GPA, graduating summa cum laude. Acker was also a CoSIDA Academic All-American as a junior.

On the court, Acker was named an All-American Honorable Mention award winner three times, and conference Setter of the Year twice. During her senior season, Acker led the Mustangs to a program-best 27 wins and the school’s first conference championship in 2015. SMU finished with a 27-6 mark overall and 17-3 record in conference play to earn The American’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship. The Poth, Texas, native led the NCAA with 12.45 assists per set, while also setting an SMU and American single-season record with 1,482 assists. READ MORE

Congratulations to Ph.D. students, Tetiana Hutchison and Aditi Malu

Department of Biological Sciences Ph.D. students, Tetiana Hutchison and Aditi Malu, have been selected to give oral presentations at the upcoming national 2016 American Society for Virology (ASV) Conference at Virginia Tech University in Blackburn, VA in June. There are a limited number of talks given by graduate students and the selection process is highly competitive.

Congrats to them both!

The titles of their abstracts are:

“The HTLV-1 latency-maintenance factor p30II promotes aberrant lymphoproliferation and mitochondrial antioxidant-signaling during viral carcinogenesis” (Tetiana Hutchison, A. Malu, and R. Harrod); and

“The HTLV-1 latency-maintenance factor p30II cooperates with the viral transactivator and inhibits Tax-induced NF-kappa-B activation and cellular senescence” (Aditi Malu, T. Hutchison, K. Smith, and R. Harrod).

Doctors told Debbie Dupree that her son would be dead by the time he was 19. They were wrong. Ben is now 23 and a Dedman College alumnus.

KERA

Originally Posted: January 20, 2016

When most little boys were running up and down stairs, Ben Dupree was using his arms to pull himself up the wood banister in his home in University Park. His mom, Debbie, knew something was wrong.

“I can remember any step he would take, being worried that he was going to fall,” she said.

Ben was 9 when he was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Like an estimated one in 3,500 boys, his muscles were beginning to weaken, starting with the hips and thighs.
For a while, Ben continued to walk. But when he was 15, he slipped — and he decided it was time for a wheelchair.

“I kind of was almost in denial,” Ben said. “Ignoring it, pushing it off for awhile.”

Doctors told Debbie Dupree that Ben would be dead by the time he was 19. For many boys with Duchenne, that’s the reality.
But today, Ben is 23 years old. He’s a recent graduate of Southern Methodist University. Ben’s success in slowing down the disease is partly thanks to genetic luck, and support from people like his mom.
“We have spent a lot of time, and a lot of expense, going to additional therapies to keep him in the shape that he’s in,” she said. She helps her son with everything from stretching and managing medication to doctors’ appointments. She also works with the nonprofit Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy.

“The emotional impact of this on him and our family and other families with muscular dystrophy is huge,” Dupree said.
Over the years, there have been many attempts to find cures for the fatal disease, but so far, Dr. Eric Olson says nothing has worked.

“While some of the approaches that have been taken provided some short term benefit for these boys, ultimately, they inevitably succumb to the disease if they have a mutation in the dystrophin gene,” Olson says.

Olson is chairman of molecular biology at UT Southwestern and co-director of the school’s new Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Cooperative Research Center. His latest research is shaking up the Duchenne muscular dystrophy community. Why? Well, he’s figured out how to use a new gene editing tool to correct the mutation that causes the disease in mice.

“It’s really amazing,” Olson said. “Because what it allows you to go into the DNA sequence of the body and with absolute precision to change even a single letter in the DNA code that may have a mutation and eliminate that mutation permanently.”
The gene editing tool is called CRISPR/Cas9.

To understand how it works, imagine a big banner in the sky; it’s supposed to say, “Congratulations” but instead reads

“Congratulations.” You have to figure out a way to reach the banner, then cut out that extra letter “L.”
That’s essentially what this high-tech pair of gene editing scissors makes possible.

Granted, instead of editing a banner, we’re talking about editing a gene about the size of a mustard seed. And instead of doing it in humans, Olson’s team did it in mice. Still, researchers say it is an impressive advance.

Gang Bao, a bioengineering professor at Rice University, says the possibility of using gene editing to treat diseases like Duchenne muscular dystrophy or Huntington’s is exciting. Imagine a single injection correcting muscles in the body, including the heart. A major challenge, Bao says, is keeping the Nano scissors from cutting what they’re not supposed to cut.

“They may cut at the location you want them to cut, but they may also cut at other locations. Those could cause a disease, so the potential is there,” Bao said.

As researchers work to refine the technique, and prepare for human trials, young men like Ben Dupree are cheering from the sidelines.

“I would like to see a stop in my decline,” Ben said. “Which I think is probable with [gene editing], but it may not be in the near future.”
Ben’s near future is promising. He’s just applied for a master’s degree and wants to be a genetic counselor.

“My original excitement about genetics was all due to wanting to understand my condition,” he said. “I found that I really enjoyed more of the human element, talking with people, explaining what muscular dystrophy is, how the genetics is involved and wanting to be in a position where I can help other people with Duchenne manage and understand the condition.” READ MORE

Dedman College 2015 research efforts broadly noted in a variety of ways for world-changing impact

SMU Research

Originally Posted: January 8, 2016

It was a good year for faculty and student research efforts. Here is a small sampling of public and published acknowledgements during 2015:

Research makes the cover of Biochemistry

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Drugs important in the battle against cancer were tested in a virtual lab by SMU biology professors to see how they would behave in the human cell.

A computer-generated composite image of the simulation made the Dec. 15 cover of the journal Biochemistry.

Scientific articles about discoveries from the simulation were also published in the peer review journals Biochemistry and in Pharmacology Research & Perspectives.

The researchers tested the drugs by simulating their interaction in a computer-generated model of one of the cell’s key molecular pumps — the protein P-glycoprotein, or P-gp. Outcomes of interest were then tested in the Wise-Vogel wet lab.

The ongoing research is the work of biochemists John Wise, associate professor, and Pia Vogel, professor and director of the SMU Center for Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery in Dedman College. Assisting them were a team of SMU graduate and undergraduate students.

The researchers developed the model to overcome the problem of relying on traditional static images for the structure of P-gp. The simulation makes it possible for researchers to dock nearly any drug in the protein and see how it behaves, then test those of interest in an actual lab.

To date, the researchers have run millions of compounds through the pump and have discovered some that are promising for development into pharmaceutical drugs to battle cancer.

Click here to read more about the research.

Strong interest in research on sexual victimization
SMUbystander_LEDE-300x198Teen girls were less likely to report being sexually victimized after learning to assertively resist unwanted sexual overtures and after practicing resistance in a realistic virtual environment, according to three professors from the SMU Department of Psychology.

The finding was reported in Behavior Therapy. The article was one of the psychology journal’s most heavily shared and mentioned articles across social media, blogs and news outlets during 2015, the publisher announced.

The study was the work of Dedman College faculty Lorelei Simpson Rowe, associate professor and Psychology Department graduate program co-director; Ernest Jouriles, professor; and Renee McDonald, SMU associate dean for research and academic affairs.

The journal’s publisher, Elsevier, temporarily has lifted its subscription requirement on the article, “Reducing Sexual Victimization Among Adolescent Girls: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial of My Voice, My Choice,” and has opened it to free access for three months.

Click here to read more about the research.

Consumers assume bigger price equals better quality
Firms signal quality through the prices they charge, typically working on the assumption that shoppers think a high price indicates high quality.

That was a finding of the research of Dedman College’s Santanu Roy, professor, Department of Economics. Roy’s article about the research was published in February in one of the blue-ribbon journals, and the oldest, in the field, The Economic Journal.

Published by the U.K.’s Royal Economic Society, The Economic Journal is one of the founding journals of modern economics. The journal issued a media briefing about the paper, “Competition, Disclosure and Signaling,” typically reserved for academic papers of broad public interest.

Chemistry research group edits special issue
austin-symposium-jpca-226x300Chemistry professors Dieter Cremer and Elfi Kraka, who lead SMU’s Computational and Theoretical Chemistry Group, were guest editors of a special issue of the prestigious Journal of Physical Chemistry. The issue published in March.

The Computational and Theoretical research group, called CATCO for short, is a union of computational and theoretical chemistry scientists at SMU. Their focus is research in computational chemistry, educating and training graduate and undergraduate students, disseminating and explaining results of their research to the broader public, and programming computers for the calculation of molecules and molecular aggregates.

The special issue of Physical Chemistry included 40 contributions from participants of a four-day conference in Dallas in March 2014 that was hosted by CATCO. The 25th Austin Symposium drew 108 participants from 22 different countries who, combined, presented eight plenary talks, 60 lectures and about 40 posters.

CATCO presented its research with contributions from Cremer and Kraka, as well as Marek Freindorf, research assistant professor; Wenli Zou, visiting professor; Robert Kalescky, post-doctoral fellow; and graduate students Alan Humason, Thomas Sexton, Dani Setlawan and Vytor Oliveira.

There have been more than 75 graduate students and research associates working in the CATCO group, which originally was formed at the University of Cologne, Germany, before moving to SMU in 2009.

Vertebrate paleontology recognized with proclamation
519ca82d-6517-4df9-b5ac-26e5458882ef-233x300Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings proclaimed Oct. 11-17, 2015 Vertebrate Paleontology week in Dallas on behalf of the Dallas City Council.

The proclamation honored the 75th Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, which was jointly hosted by SMU’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in Dedman College and the Perot Museum of Science and Nature. The conference drew to Dallas some 1,200 scientists from around the world.

Making research presentations or presenting research posters were: faculty members Bonnie Jacobs, Louis Jacobs, Michael Polcyn, Neil Tabor and Dale Winkler; adjunct research assistant professor Alisa Winkler; research staff member Kurt Ferguson; post-doctoral researchers T. Scott Myers and Lauren Michael; and graduate students Matthew Clemens, John Graf, Gary Johnson and Kate Andrzejewski.

The host committee co-chairs were Anthony Fiorillo, adjunct research professor; and Louis Jacobs, professor. Committee members included Polcyn; Christopher Strganac, graduate student; Diana Vineyard, research associate; and research professor Dale Winkler.

KERA radio reporter Kat Chow filed a report from the conference, explaining to listeners the science of vertebrate paleontology, which exposes the past, present and future of life on earth by studying fossils of animals that had backbones.

SMU earthquake scientists rock scientific journal

Modelled-pressure-174x300Modelled pressure changes caused by injection and production. (Nature Communications/SMU)

Findings by the SMU earthquake team reverberated across the nation with publication of their scientific article in the prestigious British interdisciplinary journal Nature, ranked as one of the world’s most cited scientific journals.

The article reported that the SMU-led seismology team found that high volumes of wastewater injection combined with saltwater extraction from natural gas wells is the most likely cause of unusually frequent earthquakes occurring in the Dallas-Fort Worth area near the small community of Azle.

The research was the work of Dedman College faculty Matthew Hornbach, associate professor of geophysics; Heather DeShon, associate professor of geophysics; Brian Stump, SMU Albritton Chair in Earth Sciences; Chris Hayward, research staff and director geophysics research program; and Beatrice Magnani, associate professor of geophysics.

The article, “Causal factors for seismicity near Azle, Texas,” published online in late April. Already the article has been downloaded nearly 6,000 times, and heavily shared on both social and conventional media. The article has achieved a ranking of 270, which puts it in the 99th percentile of 144,972 tracked articles of a similar age in all journals, and 98th percentile of 626 tracked articles of a similar age in Nature.

“It has a very high impact factor for an article of its age,” said Robert Gregory, professor and chair, SMU Earth Sciences Department.

The scientific article also was entered into the record for public hearings both at the Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas House Subcommittee on Seismic Activity.

Researchers settle long-debated heritage question of “The Ancient One”

Scultpted-bust-300x225-300x225The skull of Kennewick Man and a sculpted bust by StudioEIS based on forensic facial reconstruction by sculptor Amanda Danning. (Credit: Brittany Tatchell)

The research of Dedman College anthropologist and Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory David Meltzer played a role in settling the long-debated and highly controversial heritage of “Kennewick Man.”

Also known as “The Ancient One,” the 8,400-year-old male skeleton discovered in Washington state has been the subject of debate for nearly two decades. Argument over his ancestry has gained him notoriety in high-profile newspaper and magazine articles, as well as making him the subject of intense scholarly study.

Officially the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kennewick Man was discovered in 1996 and radiocarbon dated to 8500 years ago.

Because of his cranial shape and size he was declared not Native American but instead ‘Caucasoid,’ implying a very different population had once been in the Americas, one that was unrelated to contemporary Native Americans.

But Native Americans long have claimed Kennewick Man as theirs and had asked for repatriation of his remains for burial according to their customs.

Meltzer, collaborating with his geneticist colleague Eske Willerslev and his team at the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, in June reported the results of their analysis of the DNA of Kennewick in the prestigious British journal Nature in the scientific paper “The ancestry and affiliations of Kennewick Man.”

The results were announced at a news conference, settling the question based on first-ever DNA evidence: Kennewick Man is Native American.

The announcement garnered national and international media attention, and propelled a new push to return the skeleton to a coalition of Columbia Basin tribes. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the Bring the Ancient One Home Act of 2015 and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has offered state assistance for returning the remains to Native Tribes.

Science named the Kennewick work one of its nine runners-up in the highly esteemed magazine’s annual “Breakthrough of the Year” competition.

The research article has been viewed more than 60,000 times. It has achieved a ranking of 665, which puts it in the 99th percentile of 169,466 tracked articles of a similar age in all journals, and in the 94th percentile of 958 tracked articles of a similar age in Nature.

In “Kennewick Man: coming to closure,” an article in the December issue of Antiquity, a journal of Cambridge University Press, Meltzer noted that the DNA merely confirmed what the tribes had known all along: “We are him, he is us,” said one tribal spokesman. Meltzer concludes: “We presented the DNA evidence. The tribal members gave it meaning.”

Click here to read more about the research.

Prehistoric vacuum cleaner captures singular award

Louis-Tony-300x214Paleontologists Louis L. Jacobs, SMU, and Anthony Fiorillo, Perot Museum, have identified a new species of marine mammal from bones recovered from Unalaska, an Aleutian island in the North Pacific. (Hillsman Jackson, SMU)

Science writer Laura Geggel with Live Science named a new species of extinct marine mammal identified by two SMU paleontologists among “The 10 Strangest Animal Discoveries of 2015.”
The new species, dubbed a prehistoric hoover by London’s Daily Mail online news site, was identified by SMU paleontologist Louis L. Jacobs, a professor in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, and paleontologist and SMU adjunct research professor Anthony Fiorillo, vice president of research and collections and chief curator at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.

Jacobs and Fiorillo co-authored a study about the identification of new fossils from the oddball creature Desmostylia, discovered in the same waters where the popular “Deadliest Catch” TV show is filmed. The hippo-like creature ate like a vacuum cleaner and is a new genus and species of the only order of marine mammals ever to go extinct — surviving a mere 23 million years.

Desmostylians, every single species combined, lived in an interval between 33 million and 10 million years ago. Their strange columnar teeth and odd style of eating don’t occur in any other animal, Jacobs said.

SMU campus hosted the world’s premier physicists
photo5-300x224The SMU Department of Physics hosted the “23rd International Workshop on Deep Inelastic Scattering and Related Subjects” from April 27-May 1, 2015. Deep Inelastic Scattering is the process of probing the quantum particles that make up our universe.

As noted by the CERN Courier — the news magazine of the CERN Laboratory in Geneva, which hosts the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest science experiment — more than 250 scientists from 30 countries presented more than 200 talks on a multitude of subjects relevant to experimental and theoretical research. SMU physicists presented at the conference.

The SMU organizing committee was led by Fred Olness, professor and chair of the SMU Department of Physics in Dedman College, who also gave opening and closing remarks at the conference. The committee consisted of other SMU faculty, including Jodi Cooley, associate professor; Simon Dalley, senior lecturer; Robert Kehoe, professor; Pavel Nadolsky, associate professor, who also presented progress on experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider; Randy Scalise, senior lecturer; and Stephen Sekula, associate professor.

Sekula also organized a series of short talks for the public about physics and the big questions that face us as we try to understand our universe.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE

Avery Acker named the Academic All-American of the Year

SMUMUSTANGS.com

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Congratulations to senior setter Avery Acker. She was named the Academic All-American of the Year, College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) announced Thursday. Acker earned the academic equivalent of a National Player of the Year award with a 3.95 GPA in accounting with minors in chemistry and biology, and has been accepted into medical school. READ MORE