blog navigation

Life Sciences

blog posts

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

     

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Spinal cord gives bio-bots walking rhythm

    Miniature biological robots are making greater strides than ever, thanks to the spinal cord directing their steps.

  • Virus-infected honey bees more likely to gain entrance to healthy hives

    Honey bees that guard hive entrances are twice as likely to allow in trespassers from other hives if the intruders are infected with the Israeli acute paralysis virus, a deadly pathogen of bees, researchers report.

    Their new study, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, strongly suggests that IAPV infection alters honey bees’ behavior and physiology in ways that boost the virus’s ability to spread, the researchers say.

  • Holistic approach best for tackling nonmedical drug use, study finds

    Health practitioners are constantly developing new ways to help those with drug and alcohol addictions wean themselves from their substance of choice. Most such programs have limited success, however. A new study finds that interventions that take a multidimensional approach – tackling the biological, social, environmental and mental health obstacles to overcome while also addressing a person’s substance use – work best for those hoping to stop using drugs.

  • Are bats to blame for the coronavirus crisis?

    Horseshoe bats in China are a natural wildlife reservoir of SARS-like coronaviruses. Some health experts think wildlife markets – specifically in Wuhan, China – led to the spillover of the new coronavirus into human populations. Though not confirmed, the hypothesis has given bats around the world a bad rap, and public fears of exposure to bats are on the rise. Illinois Natural History Survey wildlife biologist Tara Hohoff, the project coordinator of the Illinois Bat Conservation Program, spoke to News Bureau life sciences editor Diana Yates about bat biology and conservation, and the flying mammals’ role in human health.

  • Inexpensive, portable detector identifies pathogens in minutes

    Most viral test kits rely on labor- and time-intensive laboratory preparation and analysis techniques; for example, tests for the novel coronavirus can take days to detect the virus from nasal swabs. Now, researchers have demonstrated an inexpensive yet sensitive smartphone-based testing device for viral and bacterial pathogens that takes about 30 minutes to complete. The roughly $50 smartphone accessory could reduce the pressure on testing laboratories during a pandemic such as COVID-19.

  • What's new with the plague? More than you might think

    Pandemics of the past are getting new attention, among them the plague of the 14th century. Known as the Black Death, it was medieval, European, bubonic and spread by rats – at least that’s what most of us think. Much of that needs adjustment, however, in large part due to discoveries of the past decade, says Carol Symes, a professor of medieval history at Illinois.

  • Loss of senses of smell, taste could identify COVID-19 carriers

    M. Yanina Pepino of the U. of I. is on a global team of experts investigating the abrupt loss of the senses of smell and taste with COVID-19 infection.

     

     

  • Study reveals unique physical, chemical properties of cicada wings

    Biological structures sometimes have unique features that engineers would like to copy. For example, many types of insect wings shed water, kill microbes, reflect light in unusual ways and are self-cleaning. While researchers have dissected the physical characteristics that likely contribute to such traits, a new study reveals that the chemical compounds that coat cicada wings also contribute to their ability to repel water and kill microbes.

  • New study shows how oxygen transfer is altered in diseased lung tissue

    A multidisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has developed tiny sensors that measure oxygen transport in bovine lung tissue. The study – which establishes a new framework for observing the elusive connection between lung membranes, oxygen flow and related disease – is published in the journal Nature Communications.

  • Fungus application thwarts major soybean pest, study finds

    The soybean cyst nematode sucks the nutrients out of soybean roots, causing more than $1 billion in soybean yield losses in the U.S. each year. A new study finds that one type of fungi can cut the nematodes’ reproductive success by more than half.

  • What messages best influence public health behavior?

    Dolores Albarracín, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has spent much of her career studying how people respond to public health messages asking them to change their behavior. She speaks about the special challenges of the present moment.