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  • Sheldon Jacobson and Janet Jokela stand outdoors.

    Study of non-COVID-19 deaths shows 2020 increase in several demographics

    March through May saw a significant increase in deaths over previous years – and not just from COVID-19, says a new study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    When deaths attributed to COVID-19 were removed from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention totals, the death rate in several demographics outpaced the same period in 2019, the study found. The timeframe represents the first three months of response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.

  • Craig Miller stands in the woods facing the camera. He is wearing a red and black plaid shirt and he has his hands in his pockets.

    Does hunting with lead ammunition endanger human, environmental health?

    A recent study from Wesleyan University found that 48% of ground meat samples made from white-tailed deer killed with lead shotgun slugs in Illinois were contaminated with lead, while meat from deer killed by archers contained no lead. Illinois Natural History Survey human dimensions scientist Craig Miller spoke to News Bureau life sciences editor Diana Yates about the risks associated with lead ammunition in hunting.

  • Woodland sunflower and purple joe-pye weed grow under mature bur oak trees.

    Decadeslong effort revives ancient oak woodland

    Vestal Grove in the Somme Prairie Grove forest preserve in Cook County, Illinois, looks nothing like the scrubby, buckthorn-choked tangle that confronted restoration ecologists 37 years ago. Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated team that focused on rooting up invasive plants and periodically burning, seeding native plants and culling deer, the forest again resembles its ancient self, researchers report in the journal PLOS ONE.

  • Researchers have demonstrated a new fabrication technique that allows them replicate the nanostructures found on cicada wings that make them water- and microbe-repellent.

    Cicada-inspired waterproof surfaces closer to reality, researchers report

    A multidisciplinary group that studies the physical and chemical properties of insect wings has demonstrated the ability to reproduce the nanostructures that help cicada wings repel water and prevent bacteria from establishing on the surface. The new technique – which uses commercial nail polish – is economical and straightforward, and the researchers said it will help fabricate future high-tech waterproof materials.

  • Photo of Jacob S. Sherkow, a professor of law at Illinois who studies the ethical and policy implications of advanced biotechnologies

    Paper: Congress must clarify limits of gene-editing technologies

    How the next Congress decides to handle the issue editing human sperm and eggs will affect the science, ethics and financing of genomic editing for decades to come, said Jacob S. Sherkow, a professor of law at Illinois who studies the ethical and policy implications of advanced biotechnologies.

  • Portrait of psychology professor Aron Barbey

    Exercise and nutrition regimen benefits physical, cognitive health

    Researchers studied the effects of a 12-week exercise regimen on 148 active-duty Air Force airmen, half of whom also received a twice-daily nutrient beverage that included protein; the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA; lutein; phospholipids; vitamin D; B vitamins and other micronutrients; along with a muscle-promoting compound known as HMB. Both groups improved in physical and cognitive function, with added gains among those who regularly consumed the nutritional beverage, the team reports.

  • Byungsoo Kim, left, and professor Hyunjoon Kong stand outdoors, socially distanced.

    Octopus-inspired sucker transfers thin, delicate tissue grafts and biosensors

    Thin tissue grafts and flexible electronics have a host of applications for wound healing, regenerative medicine and biosensing. A new device inspired by an octopus’s sucker rapidly transfers delicate tissue or electronic sheets to the patient, overcoming a key barrier to clinical application, report researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and collaborators.

  • Image of the head and face of a timber rattlesnake. It looks concerned.

    Study finds fungal disease of snakes in 19 states, Puerto Rico

    In a collaborative effort between scientists and personnel on U.S. military bases in 31 states and Puerto Rico, researchers surveyed for an infection caused by an emerging fungal pathogen that afflicts snakes. The effort found infected snakes on military bases in 19 states and Puerto Rico, demonstrating that the fungus is more widely distributed than was previously known. The team reports the findings in the journal PLOS ONE.

  • Photo of banyan fig tree with large roots connecting upper branches to the ground. The aerial roots look like mini tree trunks.

    Genomic study reveals evolutionary secrets of banyan tree

    The banyan fig tree Ficus microcarpa is famous for its aerial roots, which sprout from branches and eventually reach the soil. The tree also has a unique relationship with a wasp that has coevolved with it and is the only insect that can pollinate it. In a new study, researchers identify regions in the banyan fig’s genome that promote the development of its unusual aerial roots and enhance its ability to signal its wasp pollinator.

  • Professor Sumiti Vinayak stands outdoors, wearing a black sweater and a blue scarf.

    Repurposed anti-malarial compounds kill diarrheal parasite, study finds

    A class of compounds used for malaria treatment also kill the intestinal parasite Cryptosporidium, a leading global cause of diarrheal disease and death in children that has no cure, a multi-institution collaboration of researchers found in a new study.

  • Professor Ning Wang sits in his lab.

    Gene expression altered by direction of forces acting on cell

    Tissues and cells in the human body are subjected to a constant push and pull – strained by other cells, blood pressure and fluid flow, to name a few. The type and direction of the force on a cell alters gene expression by stretching different regions of DNA, researchers at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and collaborators in China found in a new study.

  • Photo of University of Illinois law professor Jacob S. Sherkow

    Do-it-yourself COVID-19 vaccines fraught with public health problems

    “Citizen scientists” developing homemade COVID-19 vaccines may believe they’re inoculating themselves against the ongoing pandemic, but the practice of self-experimentation with do-it-yourself medical innovations is fraught with legal, ethical and public health issues, says a new paper co-written by University of Illinois law professor Jacob S. Sherkow.

  • Kinesiology graduate student Brett Burrows standing outdoors wearing a dark shirt

    Culturally adapted exercise program helps Hispanic older adults be more active

    A study of 565 Hispanic older adults found that a culturally adapted exercise program improved physical functioning among a population who believe that being sedentary and in poor health is inevitable in later life.

  • Professor Erik Nelson and graduate student Liqian Ma.

    Cholesterol metabolite causes immune system to attack T cells instead of breast cancer, study finds

    In breast cancer tumors, a molecule produced when the body breaks down cholesterol hijacks the myeloid immune cells that normally arm T cells to fight cancer, a new study in mice found. Instead, the hijacked myeloid cells disarm the T cells and even tell them to self-destruct.

  • Portrait of Jessica Brinkworth, standing facing the camera and smiling. She is outdoors on the U. of I. campus.

    Cell-autonomous immunity shaped human evolution

    Every human cell harbors its own defenses against microbial invaders, relying on strategies that date back to some of the earliest events in the history of life. Understanding this “cell-autonomous immunity” is essential to understanding human evolution and human medicine, researchers report.

  • Top and bottom views of a microfluidic cartridge

    Study: Portable, point-of-care COVID-19 test could bypass the lab

    In a new study, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign researchers have demonstrated a prototype of a rapid COVID-19 molecular test and a simple-to-use, portable instrument for reading the results with a smartphone in 30 minutes, which could enable point-of-care diagnosis without needing to send samples to a lab.

  • Stunning closeup of a leopard in a tree. The leopard is lit with an intense yellow morning or evening light. It is peering into the camera and looks relaxed.

    Serengeti leopard population densities healthy but vary seasonally, study finds

    A study of camera-trap data in the Serengeti finds that leopard population densities vary between wet and dry seasons, likely in response to the availability of prey and the presence of other top predators. 

  • Aerial view of the U. of I. campus.

    U of I to lead two of seven new national artificial intelligence institutes

    The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture are announcing an investment of more than $140 million to establish seven artificial intelligence institutes in the U.S. Two of the seven will be led by teams at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

    The USDA-NIFA will fund the AI Institute for Future Agricultural Resilience, Management and Sustainability at the U. of I. Illinois computer science professor Vikram Adve will lead the AIFARMS Institute.

    The NSF will fund the AI Institute for Molecular Discovery, Synthetic Strategy and Manufacturing, also known as the Molecule Maker Lab Institute. Huimin Zhao, a U. of I. professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and of chemistry, will lead this institute.

  • Portrait of Thomas O'Rourke. He is wearing a dark red shirt and smiling.

    Will a coronavirus vaccine be a cure-all?

    Global health authorities are frantically pursuing a vaccine against the novel coronavirus in the hope that it will allow everyone to get back to a pre-COVID-19 reality ASAP. Thomas O’Rourke, a professor emeritus of community health, says those expectations are probably overblown.

  • Ph.D. student Nicholas Antonson stands outdoors with his arms crossed. He is smiling.

    In times of ecological uncertainty, brood parasites hedge their bets

    Some birds lay their eggs in the nests of other bird species and let the host parents raise their young. A new study finds that in times of environmental flux, these brood parasites “diversify their portfolios,” minimizing the risks of their unorthodox lifestyle by increasing the number and variety of hosts they select as adoptive parents.

  • Kate Clancy stands in her laboratory. She is wearing a maroon shirt, has her arms crossed, and she is smiling.

    Quick fixes won’t stop sexual harassment in academia, experts say

    While many academic institutions are searching for ways to prevent sexual assault and sexual coercion among their faculty members, staff and students, they are failing to address the most common forms of gender-based harassment, say experts who study harassment and discrimination at work and in academic and health care settings. 

    In an opinion published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the experts focus on behaviors that communicate derision, disgust or disrespect for members of one sex or gender group.

  • A team of researchers led by professor Brian Fields hypothesizes that a supernova about 65 light-years away may have contributed to the ozone depletion and subsequent mass extinction of the late Devonian Period, 359 million years ago. Pictured is a simulation of a nearby supernova colliding with and compressing the solar wind. Earth’s orbit, the blue dashed circle, and the Sun, red dot, are shown for scale.

    Exploding stars may have caused mass extinction on Earth, study shows

    Imagine reading by the light of an exploded star, brighter than a full moon – it might be fun to think about, but this scene is the prelude to a disaster when the radiation devastates life as we know it. Killer cosmic rays from nearby supernovae could be the culprit behind at least one mass extinction event, researchers said, and finding certain radioactive isotopes in Earth’s rock record could confirm this scenario.

  • The latest COVID-19 Briefing Series featured professors Nigel Goldenfeld, Sergei Maslov and Champaign-Urbana Public Health District epidemiologist Awais Vaid and discussed how U. of I. modeling and testing methods are shaping the campus response to the pandemic.

    COVID-19 briefing: Homegrown models inform university's safety measures

    When classes resume Aug. 24, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign will enlist a program that includes COVID-19 target, test and tell protocols and employs a saliva-based testing method. The program’s design relied heavily on a team of researchers’ predictions of how different variables might help mitigate the spread of the virus. Two of those researchers discussed their work in a recent online briefing.

  • Dean of the Grainger College of Engineering Rashid Bashir.

    Training neural circuits early in development improves response, study finds

    When it comes to training neural circuits for tissue engineering or biomedical applications, a new study suggests a key parameter: Train them young.

     

  • An N95 mask in a multicooker with a towel.

    Electric cooker an easy, efficient way to sanitize N95 masks, study finds

    Owners of electric multicookers may be able to add another use to its list of functions, a new study suggests: sanitization of N95 respirator masks.

    The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign study found that 50 minutes of dry heat in an electric cooker, such as a rice cooker or Instant Pot, decontaminated N95 respirators inside and out while maintaining their filtration and fit. This could enable wearers to safely reuse limited supplies of the respirators, originally intended to be one-time-use items. 

  • Erik Procko is a professor of biochemistry at Illinois.

    Decoy receptor neutralizes coronavirus in cell cultures

    As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, scientists and health care providers are seeking ways to keep the coronavirus from infecting tissues once they’re exposed. A new study suggests luring the virus with a decoy – an engineered, free-floating receptor protein – that binds the virus and blocks infection.

  • Holly Tuten and graduate student Erica Hernandez stand in a prairie with drag cloths attached to poles over their shoulders. They are smiling and looking at the camera.

    Lone Star ticks in Illinois can carry, transmit Heartland virus

    Researchers have confirmed that Heartland virus, an emerging pathogen with potentially dire consequences for those infected, is present in Lone Star ticks in two Illinois counties hundreds of miles apart. Lone Star ticks were first detected in Illinois in 1999 but had not been found to be infected with Heartland virus in the state.

  • Photo of Dolores Albarracin, a professor of psychology and marketing at Illinois and the director of the Social Action Lab.

    Paper: Mundane behavioral decisions, actions can be ‘misremembered’ as done

    Mundane behaviors such as taking a daily medication can eventually create false memories of completing the task, said Dolores Albarracin, a professor of psychology and marketing at Illinois and the director of the Social Action Lab.

  • Photo of Kashif Ahmad standing outside the Carle Illinois College of Medicine

    What tips can help educators convert in-person courses to online instruction?

    Teaching professor and medical education facilitator Dr. Kashif A. Ahmad, who mentors educators in creating quality online courses, discusses his tips for creating engaging online content.

  • Patricia Cintora stands in front of a series of white columns at the front of a campus building. She is smiling.

    Intimate partner violence, history of childhood abuse worsen trauma symptoms for new moms

    A study assessed the interaction of new and old relationship traumas among women three to 18 months after the birth of their child – one of the most challenging periods of their lives. The study found that new experiences of sexual, emotional and physical abuse at the hands of a romantic partner during this period are associated with increasing symptoms of trauma such as anxiety, depression, self-harm and sleep disorders. It also found that having experienced abuse in childhood appears to worsen the impact of current abuse on those symptoms.

  • Image shows a few Africanized honey bees in a hive.

    Group genomics drive aggression in honey bees

    Hive genomics – not individual genetic traits – drive aggression in a unique population of gentle Africanized honey bees, a new study reveals. “This is a signal that there may be more to the genetics of behavior as a whole than we’ve been thinking about,” said U. of I. bioinformatics professor Matthew Hudson, a co-author of the study. 

  • Sharma stands in the laboratory, surrounded by laboratory equipment.

    Engineered immune cells recognize, attack human and mouse solid-tumor cancer cells

    A method known as CAR-T therapy has been used successfully in patients with blood cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia. It modifies a patient’s own T-cells by adding a piece of an antibody that recognizes unique features on the surface of cancer cells. In a new study, researchers report that they have dramatically broadened the potential targets of this approach – their engineered T-cells attack a variety of solid-tumor cancer cells from humans and mice.

  • Cartoon of a giant red magnet drawing up genetic sequences from a pool of genetic sequences. Background is black.

    New approach drives bacteria to produce potential antibiotic, antiparasitic compounds

    Researchers found a way to spur the production of new antibiotic or antiparasitic compounds hiding in the genomes of actinobacteria, which are the source of drugs such as actinomycin and streptomycin and are known to harbor other untapped chemical riches. The scientists report their findings in the journal eLife.

  • A female, left, and male cowbird perch on a wire fence. They appear to be looking at one another. Both birds are adults.

    Cowbirds change their eggs’ sex ratio based on breeding time

    Brown-headed cowbirds show a bias in the sex ratio of their offspring depending on the time of the breeding season, researchers report in a new study. More female than male offspring hatch early in the breeding season in May, and more male hatchlings emerge in July.

  • Professor Jim Best led a review of the health and resiliency of the world’s largest river systems and calls for multinational governance and scientific collaboration to confront the mounting effects of human activity and climate change faced by rivers.

    Human activity on rivers outpaces, compounds effects of climate change

    The livelihoods of millions of people living along the world’s biggest river systems are under threat by a range of stressors caused by the daily economic, societal and political activity of humans – in addition to the long-term effects of climate change, researchers report.

  • Two bobwhites huddle together in a field of purple flowers.

    Bobwhites listen to each other when picking habitat

    Northern bobwhites are attracted to a habitat based on whether other bobwhites are present there, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign report. This phenomenon, called conspecific attraction, could aid conservation efforts.

  • Photos of professors Julie Bobitt and Hyojung Kang

    Beliefs about cannabis influence older adults' choice of treatments for chronic pain

    Pain levels and quality-of-life issues have little influence on older adults’ decisions to treat chronic pain and other long-term diseases or conditions with cannabis or opioids, a new U. of I. study found.

  • Rhanor Gillette sits in front of equipment he uses to stimulate and monitor the brains of real sea slugs.

    Simulated sea slug gets addicted to drug

    Scientists built a computer model of a simple brain network based on that of a sea slug, taught it how to get food, gave it an appetite and the ability to experience reward, added a dash of something called homeostatic plasticity and then exposed it to a very intoxicating drug. To no one’s surprise, the creature became addicted.

    The research is part of a long-term project to create a working model of the brain, starting with the simplest of circuits and gradually adding complexity, said Rhanor Gillette, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor emeritus of molecular and integrative physiology who led the research.

  • Opposition to sexual- and gender-minority rights linked to support for Christian dominance

    Many Christian and political conservatives in the U.S. support legislation to deny sexual and gender minorities the rights most Americans enjoy: unfettered access to jobs, housing, services and public facilities; the opportunity to marry as they choose; and the right to adopt a child. A new study published in the American Journal of Community Psychology offers insight into the factors that correlate with support for such laws.

  • Image shows a field of blooming bluebells under a canopy of trees in the forest

    Study tracks decades of life cycle changes in nonwoody plants

    For 25 years, Carol Augspurger visited a patch of ancient woods near Urbana to look at the same 25 one-square-meter plots of earth she first demarcated for study in 1993. She surveyed the plots once a week in spring and summer, tracking the major life events of each of the herbaceous plants that grew there. In fall, she visited every other week. In winter, once a month.

    Over the course of her study, Augspurger made nearly 600,000 observations of 43 plant species in Trelease Woods, a 60.5-acre remnant of old-growth forest in central Illinois. She noted 10 distinct developmental stages in the plants’ lives, including when they emerged in spring, how long it took them to mature, when the flowers opened and died, when the leaves began to lose their greenness and when the plants went dormant.

  • An Asian tiger mosquito prepares to feed on a human hand.

    Asian tiger mosquito gains ground in Illinois

    Researchers report that the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, has become more abundant across Illinois in the past three decades. Its spread is problematic, as the mosquito can transmit diseases – like chikungunya or dengue fever – to humans.

  • A new study of Humboldt penguins reveals metabolic differences between those that nest in sheltered and exposed areas.

    Blood markers predict Humboldt penguin nest type, reproductive success

    In a new study, researchers looked at metabolic markers in the blood of 30 Humboldt penguins nesting in the Punta San Juan Marine Protected Area in Peru. The scientists discovered metabolic differences between penguins nesting in sheltered burrows and those in more exposed areas. Nesting success is critical to the Humboldt penguins’ long-term survival as a species.

  • Esther Ngumbi, a U. of I. professor of entomology and of African American studies, speaks and writes about global food security.

    How do we combat global food insecurity during pandemics?

    The World Food Programme recently warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could double the number of people facing extreme food shortages, bringing the number of those in crisis to about 265 million worldwide. Esther Ngumbi, a professor of entomology and of African American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who writes and speaks about global food security, spoke with News Bureau life sciences editor Diana Yates about the practices that can help reduce the problem of global food insecurity.

  • U. of I. professor of comparative biosciences Jodi Flaws and her colleagues reviewed dozens of studies exploring the relationship between exposure to environmental contaminants, the gut microbiome and human and animal health.

    Environmental contaminants alter gut microbiome, health

    Scientists review the research linking dozens of environmental chemicals to changes in the gut microbiome and associated health challenges.

  • Photo of University of Illinois graduate student Dandan Tao, lead author of a study on text-mining in food research.

    Scientists text-mining social media for data on food-related topics

    With millions of users daily, social media offer researchers a wealth of textual data to investigate food-, health-related issues, U. of I. food scientists report.

  • Researchers Bin Peng, left, and Kaiyu Guan led a large, multi-institutional study that calls for a better representation of plant genetics data in the models used to understand crop adaptation and food security during climate change.

    Study: Multiscale crop modeling effort required to assess climate change adaptation

    Crop modeling is essential for understanding how to secure the food supply as the planet adapts to climate change. Many current crop models focus on simulating crop growth and yield at the field scale, but lack genetic and physiological data, which may hamper accurate production and environmental impact assessment at larger scales.

  • Two Indian corn plants standing in the sun.

    Cahokia's rise parallels onset of corn agriculture

    Corn cultivation spread from Mesoamerica to what is now the American Southwest by about 4000 B.C., but how and when the crop made it to other parts of North America is still a subject of debate. In a new study, scientists report that corn was not grown in the ancient metropolis of Cahokia until sometime between A.D. 900 and 1000, a relatively late date that corresponds to the start of the city’s rapid expansion.

  • With his colleagues, U. of I. chemistry professor Liviu Mirica developed a compound that effectively targets several molecular culprits associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

    Molecule reduces multiple pathologies associated with Alzheimer’s disease

    When tested in brain cells and in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, a new compound significantly reduced the number of amyloid plaques in the brain, lessened brain inflammation and diminished other molecular markers of the disease.

  • An artist's rendering of a nanostimulator attached to a fat-derived stem cell in damaged muscle tissue.

    Nanostimulators boost stem cells for muscle repair

    In regenerative medicine, an ideal treatment for patients whose muscles are damaged from lack of oxygen would be to invigorate them with an injection of their own stem cells.

    In a new study published in the journal ACS Nano, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign demonstrated that “nanostimulators” – nanoparticles seeded with a molecule the body naturally produces to prompt stem cells to heal wounds – can amp up stem cells’ regenerative powers in a targeted limb in mice.

  • Photo courtesy ISTC

    Could Legionnaires' bacteria lurk in idled buildings?

    Many businesses are closed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and some building managers have shut off water and air conditioning to conserve resources. Unfortunately, warmth and lack of clean water flow can contribute to the growth of potentially dangerous microbes, including the bacteria that contribute to Legionnaires’ disease. Illinois Sustainable Technology Center chemist and industrial water treatment specialist Jeremy Overmann spoke with News Bureau life sciences editor Diana Yates about the problem and potential solutions.