UB researchers made headlines around the world this year with studies on coffee, climate change, babies' eating habits and more
by Charlotte Hsu
University at Buffalo
We helped sequence the coffee genome. We found Ebola has ancient evolutionary roots. We discovered the expansion of opportunities to gamble doesn't necessarily mean more people will gamble.
This year, University at Buffalo researchers published studies that caught the attention of news outlets worldwide, from NPR to The New York Times.
Some of the findings reflect the wonders of basic science: They are improving our understanding of how the world around us works, giving us knowledge we never had before. Others could change or save lives in the near future.
DNA of coffee: With colleagues, UB biologist Victor Albert sequenced the genome of the coffee species Coffea canephora. The research could help farmers breed plants that are better able to survive drought and disease. The project also sheds light on the history of caffeine, finding this economically valuable substance evolved independently in coffee and tea.
Ebola's family history: In another biology finding, a UB team led by professor Derek J. Taylor traced Ebola's evolutionary roots back to ancient times. Experts once thought known filoviruses - the family to which Ebola belongs - came into being some 10,000 years ago. The new study pushes the family's age back to the time when great apes arose.
Mini cancer-fighters: Tiny capsules called nanoballoons can pack an awesome punch. In a new study, UB biomedical engineer Jonathan Lovell reported these diminutive devices could be used to deliver cancer drugs directly to cancer cells. Doctors would inject the nanoballoons into patients' bloodstream, then pop them open with a harmless laser light at the site of a tumor. This set-up would reduce the side effects of chemotherapy by limiting the drugs' contact with healthy tissue.
Looking inside the gut: In a separate development, Lovell and colleagues created "nanojuice" doctors could one day use to see inside the small intestine. The juice houses nanoscopic particles containing colorful dyes. After patients drink it, doctors would strike the particles with a laser light to provide a real-time view of the gut.
A computer that spots deception: It sounds like something out of a sci-fi flick, but it's real: With colleagues, UB communication professor Mark Frank found a computer system did better than humans at recognizing fake expressions of pain. Such systems could be used to better read people in a variety of settings, including health care and security.
Rats gone cold turkey: Binge-drinking rats lost their taste for alcohol when scientists prompted the animals' brains to release a chemical called dopamine in a specific pattern. "The rats just flat out stopped drinking," said researcher Caroline Bass in UB's department of pharmacology and toxicology. The findings suggest it may be possible to use gene therapy in the brain to treat substance abuse.
What babies eat: UB pediatrics researcher Xiaozhong Wen led a project to examine the eating patterns of U.S. infants at 6 months and 12 months old - critical ages for the development of lifelong food preferences. The research found babies' diets varied according to Mom's socioeconomic background, with notable differences between children from families with high and low incomes.
Keeping the pounds off tots: In a study, researchers had more success in treating obese and overweight preschoolers when an overweight parent also was treated. "Our results show that the traditional approach ... focusing only on the child is obsolete," said researcher Teresa Quattrin, a pediatrics expert at UB and Women and Children's Hospital.
Video games and moral sensitivity: Heinous behavior played out in a virtual environment can lead to players' increased moral sensitivity toward the moral codes they violated. That's a surprising finding from the research of Matthew Grizzard in the communication department, who published a study titled, "Being Bad in a Video Game Can Make Us More Morally Sensitive."
Sea level rise, illuminated: In December, UB geologist Beata Csatho and colleagues published a study providing the clearest picture yet of how the Greenland Ice Sheet is changing. The research suggests scientists may be underestimating how quickly Greenland could lose ice and contribute to sea level rise worldwide in the near future.
Problem gambling surprise: Despite the rise of online gaming and an increase in the number of casinos, rates of problem gambling remained steady in the U.S. over the past decade. This counterintuitive finding comes from a study led by UB's Research Institute on Addictions. The result may have something to do with the economic downturn, said scientist John Welte.
As featured in the Christian Science Monitor.
More weed, less domestic violence: A study of 634 couples found the more often they smoked marijuana, the less likely they were to engage in domestic violence. The research, done by investigators in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions and Research Institute on Addictions, looked at behavior over the first nine years of marriage.