Public Library of Science
Public Library of Science
News Article | April 20, 2017
Medical complications of brown recluse spider bites are uncommon but they can be severe, particularly in children, researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) reported today. The hallmark sign of a brown recluse spider bite is a painful, blistering skin lesion. In rare cases the bite also can cause a severe illness called systemic loxoscelism, characterized by a blood clotting disorder and hemolysis, destruction of red blood cells. Patients presenting with these symptoms often don't know they were bitten. But loxoscelism should be suspected, particularly if patients live in parts of the Southeast and Midwest where the spiders thrive and especially if they are children, the researchers concluded. "Children are much more likely to develop this systemic syndrome," said Vanderbilt hematologist Jeremy Warner, M.D., M.S., senior author of the report published in PLOS ONE, a journal of the Public Library of Science. In severe cases, treatment may require hospitalization, blood transfusions and other supportive measures. African-Americans also may be at higher risk, said Warner, assistant professor of Medicine and Biomedical Informatics in the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. "We were inspired to carry out this analysis after treating a patient with a particularly striking episode of hemolysis several days after a brown recluse spider bite," he said. "He lost literally half of his blood supply over the course of 24 hours but was ultimately OK." Warner, who is from New England, had never seen a case of systemic loxoscelism before. The vulnerability of children to the venom of the brown recluse spider was picked up during a review of more than 2.4 million patient records stored electronically at VUMC between 1995 and 2015 and de-linked from personal identifying information. Called the Synthetic Derivative, the vast database allows researchers to search for phenotypes - clinical descriptions, lab measures, demographic and environmental characteristics -- that are common to patients with the same diagnosis. Led by first author Jamie Robinson, M.D., a General Surgery resident and post-graduate fellow in Biomedical Informatics, the researchers used this approach to identify 57 patients -- the largest cohort of individuals with moderate to severe loxoscelism ever reported. Only a third of the patients knew they'd been bitten. It may be possible to use phenotypes to pick out patients who don't know they've been bitten and have not been formally diagnosed. In this way, Warner said, the study advances the goal of personalized medicine, to diagnose conditions earlier and provide the most effective treatment based on patients' genetic and phenotypic characteristics. Contributing to the study was Joshua Denny, M.D., M.S., professor of Biomedical Informatics and director of the Data and Research Support Center of the National Institutes of Health All of Us Research Program, formerly known as the Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program. Other co-authors were Vanessa Kennedy, M.D., Youssef Doss and Lisa Bastarache.
News Article | May 22, 2017
Impossible Foods has raised more than $200 million to make a burger engineered from plants that tastes at least as good as ground beef. Patrick O. Brown, the CEO of the five-year-old food startup, is a famed Stanford geneticist who previously started the nonprofit Public Library of Science. The company’s many backers (among them Bill Gates, Li Ka-Shing, UBS, Khosla Ventures and Viking Global) aren’t just betting on Brown — they are hoping to disrupt the massive “animal products” industry with food that is not only appealing and affordable, but produced in an environmentally sustainable way. Traditionally, making “protein” requires massive feedlots, slaughterhouses and medicines and chemicals to treat and process animals. Although Impossible Foods has stated ambitions, and raised funds, to replace an array of animal products with those engineered from plants, success with just the one category of ground beef could bring it outsized returns. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, consumers purchased 25.67 billion pounds of beef at restaurants and groceries last year, and around 5 billion of that was ground beef for hamburgers, spaghetti and other popular restaurant items. Impossible Foods is on target to open its Oakland, Calif. factory this summer. The factory should produce 1 million pounds of “plant meat” per month, the company has confirmed, to be sold only to restaurants and prepared by professional chefs for now. We interviewed Pat Brown at a StrictlyVC event this month and asked how Impossible Foods is putting its capital to work, and whether or not VCs really know what they’re doing in food. We also asked what Brown thinks of “clean meat” companies using synthetic biology to grow meat from a few animal cells in a lab. TC: What you make at Impossible Foods has been called a “fake burger,” a “vegan burger that bleeds” and “plant meat.” How do you think of your product? PB: We think of it as meat made a better way… Meat today basically is made using pre-historic technology, using animals to turn plants into this very special category of food that is defined by a particular kind of delicious flavor, sensory experience and nutritional profile with general affordability and accessibility. But to your typical consumer, like your hardcore American burger lover, the value proposition of meat has nothing to do with its coming from an animal any more than the value prop of transportation 200 years ago had anything to do with its being a horse… Unlike the cow — first of all, it’s not even trying to be delicious! And it stopped improving at that a million years ago. We are able to optimize our meats for deliciousness, sustainability, nutrition and affordability. And we are able to keep getting better and better. TC: Why not try “clean meat,” or lab-grown meat from animal cells? PB: The simple answer is because that is one of the stupidest ideas ever expressed. First of all, it’s not true you can do a better job that way. Because then you buy into, at best, the same limitations that a cow has. And it’s economically completely un-scalable. If we could grow tissues that were a meaningful replica of animal tissues at an affordable price from stem cells, it would revolutionize medicine. Look around you. It’s not happening. TC: Venture investors have backed some of those companies. So I’m wondering what you think about VCs in food. Do they know what they’re doing? PB: It’s not about VCs in food actually. I love VCs, and particularly the ones that invested in us. But it is truly astonishing how little diligence they do in terms of the actual science that underlies some tech companies. Sometimes, some of the VC firms we work with will ask me to take a look at a company. But it doesn’t really matter what I say because sometimes I’ll say, ‘If I were you I’d just flush my money down the toilet because it is faster and easier.’ But it doesn’t matter! They’ll do the deal. TC: Would it help for venture firms to have scientists in-house? PB: Yes! It certainly would. Not only that but to listen to them and to really look critically — sometimes it’s just like, do the math! Anyway, and I’m not being ironic here, I also think one of the great things about the venture world is that people will make wild bets on things that they see as highly risky, like a science-based product they haven’t done diligence on, but it has the potential for a huge payoff. We would have never gotten any money if that wasn’t true. We have raised more than $200 million and have amazingly great investors. We don’t let anyone invest. We are very psyched about who they are. They have to understand this. And if they are looking for a quick exit, look elsewhere. We’ve told them we are not going to be acquired. Forget about that. The market we are going after is a $1.5 trillion global market based entirely on a prehistoric technology that hasn’t improved materially in a million years. So that’s like a no-brainer in a certain sense from a financial standpoint. But we look for people who see the financial gain and really believe in our mission. We will never put anything on the market that we don’t believe, based on all the science, is healthier than what it replaces. That’s table stakes, if you’ll pardon the phrase. But we also don’t accomplish anything from a health or environment perspective if nobody buys our product. So we have to make products that sell primarily on deliciousness.
News Article | February 15, 2017
SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Vaxart, Inc., a clinical-stage biotechnology company developing oral recombinant vaccines that are administered by tablet rather than by injection, announced today that its norovirus tablet vaccine met the primary and secondary endpoints for safety and immunogenicity in a Phase 1 clinical trial. “The norovirus Phase 1 results are an important milestone for our oral vaccine platform as well as for the entire vaccine space,” said Dave Liebowitz, MD, PhD, chief medical officer of Vaxart. “Building on results from previous studies, the tablet vaccine platform has been well tolerated across multiple indications, and we consistently see robust and broad responses for our candidate vaccines. The norovirus results are particularly striking as they were obtained with a single dose of our tablet vaccine.” The norovirus tablet vaccine was well tolerated in all subjects. Solicited symptoms and unsolicited adverse events were mostly mild in severity with no serious adverse events (SAEs) reported in the study to date. The vaccine also met its immunogenicity endpoint in both dose groups, as measured by a significant increase in the norovirus blocking antibody titers (BT ) in serum. Significant mucosal immune responses were observed as well, and the vaccine generated potent gut homing, memory, and plasmablast B cell activation. “The norovirus tablet vaccine combines ease of oral delivery with a novel mode of immunization that induces both a local intestinal immune response as well as a systemic antibody response. As a result, the norovirus tablet vaccine generates rapid, robust intestinal immune responses against norovirus,” said Sean Tucker, PhD, chief scientific officer of Vaxart. “We believe that the generation of a potent immune response at the same site as the actual norovirus infection will serve as an effective first line of defense, and may provide better cross protection against divergent strains than serum antibody responses alone.” The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled Phase 1 dose-ranging study assessed the safety and immunogenicity of Vaxart’s norovirus (GI.1, Norwalk) tablet vaccine in 66 healthy adult volunteers, with 46 of the subjects immunized with a single dose of the oral tablet vaccine at two different dose levels and 20 subjects given placebo tablets. Norovirus is recognized as a leading cause of acute gastroenteritis. It is a common intestinal infection that typically lasts three to five days and is marked by watery diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, nausea and sometimes fever. Symptoms can be more severe in older adults and young children and may lead to serious complications including death. Norovirus causes frequent and widespread outbreaks in the military, food industry, travel industry, child care facilities, elderly homes and healthcare facilities. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that norovirus causes 19 to 21 million illnesses in the United States each year, resulting in 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations and 570 to 800 deaths. In a recent John Hopkins University study, researchers estimated healthcare costs of norovirus at $4.2 billion and lost productivity costs at $56.2 billion globally. Currently there are no norovirus vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. For further information on norovirus, its burden on human health and vaccine development, please visit the websites of the CDC http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/ and the Public Library of Science http://collections.plos.org/norovirus. Vaxart is a clinical-stage company developing tablet vaccines based on its proprietary oral vaccine platform. Its lead development programs are oral tablet vaccines designed to protect against Norovirus, seasonal influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Vaxart vaccines are administered using convenient room temperature-stable tablets that can be stored and shipped without refrigeration, and eliminate the risk of needle-stick injury and medical waste associated with injectable vaccines. For more information, please visit www.vaxart.com.
Agency: European Commission | Branch: H2020 | Program: RIA | Phase: EINFRA-7-2014 | Award Amount: 3.46M | Year: 2015
Five years ago, a global infrastructure to uniquely attribute to researchers their scientific artefacts (articles, data, software) appeared technically and socially infeasible. Since then, DataCite has minted over 3.5m unique identifiers for data. ORCID has deployed an open solution for identification of contributors with over 850,000 registrants in less than 2 years. THOR will leverage these emerging global infrastructures to support the H2020 goal to make every researcher digital and increase creativity and efficiency of research, while bridging the R&D divide between developed and less-developed regions. We will establish interoperability between existing resources, linking digital identifiers across platforms and propagating attribution information. We will integrate PID services across the research lifecycle and data publishing workflows in four advanced research communities, and then roll-out core services and service building blocks for the wider community. These open resources will foster an open and sustainable e-infrastructure across stakeholders to avoid duplications, give economies of scale, richness of services and the ability to respond rapidly to opportunities for innovation. THOR is not just relevant to the EINFRA-7-1024 Call, but will become a pervasive element of the EINFRA family of e-Infrastructure resources over the next 3 years. It will allow data-management and curation services to exploit knowledge of data location and attribution; provide robust and persistent mechanism for linking literature and data; enable search and resolving services and generate incentives for Open Science; deliver provenance and attribution mechanisms to underpin data exchange; and provide minting and resolving services for data citation workflows. Its impact will enable third-party services, no-profit and commercial, to leverage the scholarly record.
News Article | February 21, 2017
Scientists have been studying DNA — the molecules that carry the genetic instructions used in growth, development, function and reproduction of all living organisms and many viruses — for decades. California State University, Northridge associate professor of physics Henk Postma and team of researchers at CSUN have been studying the way scientists examine DNA molecules — by passing a strand of DNA through microscopic gaps in a material called graphene — and these new CSUN findings could have implications on future research. Postma and his team found that serrated edges in the graphene gaps could change the way DNA passes through those holes. “As we try to get closer in identifying how to treat ailments and identify their origins, this is important,” Postma says. “Knowing what we now know can open doors to better understanding what we are looking at when we are studying DNA sequences.” Postma headed a team of researchers that included Mark Raul, a mechanical engineering professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and CSUN graduate students Hiral N. Patel, Ian Carroll, Rodolfo Lopez Jr., and Sandeep Sanakararaman, undergraduate Charles Etienne and Subba Ramaiah Kodigala, a former laboratory technician for Postma who is now a researcher at the University of Nevada. They published their results earlier this month in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) ONE journal, a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal. Postma explains that when scientists study a DNA sequence — or a strand of DNA — they are trying to understand the order of the chemical building blocks that make up a DNA molecule. During the process, an assumption is made that DNA molecules taken from the same specimen are all alike. “But that can be tricky,” Postma says, “because not all DNA molecules may be alike in the same sample. Further, you may not have enough material to do a reliable statistical study.” Postma and his team tried to come up with a way to help scientists notice the differences between molecule by focusing on single-molecule sequencing, and in the process improve the way DNA molecules are examined. When scientists worked on the DNA of the human genome in the 1990s, Postma says, the DNA molecules were chopped up in little pieces with a size called the “read length,” and they were distributed to researchers around the world to analyze. “At the time, an assumption was made that there would be some overlap in their sequencing work,” Postma says. “So, they [the researchers] just lined [the results] up using computer software, figuring it out like with a jigsaw puzzle.” The problem with that, he says, is that it only works “if your sequence is varying on a scale of the read length. You can’t have stuff that is repeating.” Referring back to his jigsaw analogy, Postma explains that “imagine you’re putting together a jigsaw puzzle and the image is a mountain against a clear blue sky.” “Now, you will have a really hard time putting together the sky because you cannot figure out how the pieces fit together because they are all featureless blue,” he says. “If the pieces were bigger, you would see the mountain’s edge on it, and you could put it together easily. Moreover, most of the time, you will find more pieces than you need to put the puzzle together, so you also do not know how large the entire puzzle is.” The answers, for example, to some health questions cannot be found if you never look at the parts of the genome that have may repeats in them, Postma says. “It’s like blue sky part of the puzzle,” he explains. “It may not appear so, but it is biologically relevant.” The way to get to the problematic parts is to give scientists access to longer read lengths of DNA, he says. Scientists would like to use graphene — a material made from honeycomb sheets of carbon just one atom thick — to examine DNA. As a DNA molecule passes through a tiny hole in the graphene, it interrupts currents of electrically charged particles — ions. The data collected from these “blips,” as Postma calls them, is registered as electronic waves on a computer, providing scientists with valuable information about the DNA molecule. Postma and his team saw these signals looked different than what was expected. They wondered if this could be because the graphene holes, which are microscopic in size, were not cleanly cut — but serrated. “The length of these events [passing through the holes of the graphene], then varies depending on where the molecule has to squeeze through the gap,” Postma says. In some instances — when the holes were particularly small — the molecule would pull the edges with it as it passed through. Once the molecule was clear, the graphene edge would retract to its original position, but at an unusually slow rate. “It took us a long time to figure this out because the recovery [of the graphene from the molecule passing through the hole] is very slow, and not what you would expect,” Postma says. “We realized that these molecules interact quite a lot with the edge of the graphene.” What they discovered could have implications as equipment is developed to take DNA research becomes more precise. “If you are going to build a super device to do DNA sequencing, you have to take this into account — the fact that the edges of the graphene may slow the molecule down or speed them up or may be deformed by the passing DNA molecule,” Postma says. “That is something that scientists are going to have to keep in mind when they do experiments.”
News Article | February 28, 2017
More inherited genetic variants linked to autism have been naturally selected than would be expected by chance, a study has shown: Liu Jin/AFP/Getty Images Autism genes may have been conserved during human evolution because they make us smarter, say scientists. More inherited genetic variants linked to autism have been naturally selected than would be expected by chance, a study has shown. The same variants were associated with traits linked to brain performance, such as molecular functions involved in the creation of new neurons. Lead researcher Dr Renato Polimanti, from Yale School of Medicine in the US, said: “We found a strong positive signal that, along with autism spectrum disorder, these variants are also associated with intellectual achievement.” Under the laws of natural selection outlined by Charles Darwin, evolutionary variants that have a negative impact on reproductive success are quickly eliminated from a population. But those providing a better chance of survival tend to remain for generation after generation, if their advantages outweigh their adverse effects. Study co-author Professor Joel Gelernter, from Yale University, said: “It might be difficult to imagine why the large number of gene variants that together give rise to traits like ASD (autism spectrum disorder) are retained in human populations. “Why aren't they just eliminated by evolution?. “The idea is that during evolution these variants that have positive effects on cognitive function were selected, but at a cost - in this case an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders." The scientists, whose findings are published in the journal Public Library of Science Genetics, studied more than 5,000 cases of ASD and conducted an analysis of evolutionary gene selection.
News Article | February 15, 2017
An unusual and perhaps precedent-setting deal will enable researchers funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to comply with a foundation requirement that they publish their papers only in free, open-access (OA) journals, but still publish in the family of subscription journals, which typically keep content behind a paywall for a year. Under the deal, announced yesterday, the foundation will award $100,000 to AAAS (publisher of Insider) to enable the publisher to make any paper by a Gates Foundation–funded researcher published in 2017 immediately available for free online. The deal covers and four sister subscription journals: , , , and . (AAAS also publishes , an OA journal.) The arrangement is provisional and will be revisited in 2018. The deal is likely to affect only a handful of papers. The five journals published just 12 papers by Gates Foundation–funded researchers in 2015, and seven in 2016, according to an AAAS spokesperson. But it could spur a greater number of submissions and publications from researchers funded by Gates, the spokesperson added. Last month, the Gates Foundation announced that it would not allow researchers it funded to publish in subscription journals; the move to put into action a policy the foundation initially announced in 2014. Specifically, the Gates Foundation wants its researchers to follow a publishing standard known as Gold OA. It requires researchers to make studies and underlying data freely available immediately after publication, allowing anyone to reuse them for commercial and noncommercial purposes—also known as publishing under a CC-BY license. The Gates Foundation requirement initially put a number of highly cited journals—including , , and —off limits to Gates Foundation–funded researchers. But foundation officials said they were talking with subscription publishers about ways to bring their titles into alignment with the Gates Foundation policy. The deal is one product of those talks, and Dick Wilder, associate general counsel at the Gates Foundation, told that the foundation might be making more announcements soon. The Gates Foundation “is taking these steps because we want to advance the conversation around open access publishing and ultimately find new ways of accelerating impact and saving lives,” wrote Leigh Morgan, the Gates Foundation’s chief operating officer, on Medium yesterday. The move doesn’t come as a surprise to Matthew Cockerill in London, co-founder of OA publisher BioMed Central and the cloud-computing firm Riffyn. “It was a natural next step in a series of moves by research funders in recent years, seeking to ensure that the results of the research they fund are communicated with maximum visibility and minimum delay,” Cockerill tells Insider. “I think the prominent science journals that still do not offer a Gold open-access option are going to find it increasingly difficult to maintain their opposition,” he says. Michael Eisen, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who co-founded the OA publisher Public Library of Science, says the AAAS–Gates Foundation deal is “far less important” than the Gates Foundation’s wider OA policy. “The future is with immediate publication and postpublication peer review, and the sooner we get there the better,” Eisen says. Neurobiologist Björn Brembs—a prominent OA advocate—also thinks the deal is not important. Brembs, based at the University of Regensburg in Germany, says institutions should scrap the subscription publishing model entirely and put the savings into other publishing and data-sharing activities.
News Article | February 16, 2017
The Eastern Massasauga rattler was once common in such states as Indiana and Illinois. Until recent years, it could still be found in Chicago's Cook County. But the reptile's range and numbers have been steadily declining. In 2016, the snake was listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. In the new study, Northern Illinois University biological sciences professor Richard King and his former student Eric Hileman examine the life history of the Eastern Massasauga, revealing important local climate impacts on the snake that should be carefully weighed when developing conservation strategies. "Our results provide evidence that climatic variation in the Great Lakes region strongly influences body size, individual growth rates and key aspects of reproduction," says Hileman, first author of the study published in PLOS ONE, a journal of the Public Library of Science. Hileman earned his Ph.D. in biological sciences from NIU in December and is now a postdoctoral fellow in biology at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. Hileman, King and more than 40 co-authors gathered and synthesized more than a century of data on the snakes from study sites across the range of the Eastern Massasauga. Most of the data was culled from studies conducted from the mid-1990s forward at sites in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, as well as Ontario, Canada. The scientists found strong evidence for geographic variation in six of nine life-history variables. Among the findings: "It's been rare to look within a species and show that these patterns exist," King says. "The study results demonstrate that a one-size-fits all conservation strategy is not appropriate. Rather, assessments of extinction risk and the design of management strategies need to account for geography." The Eastern Massasauga snakes are generally found in wet prairies or sedge meadows, where the reptiles employ a sit-and-wait strategy to catch and feed on small mammals. Adult size ranges from about 2 feet to 2 ½ feet in length. While venomous, the snakes are not particularly aggressive or dangerous to work with. "You're not likely to encounter them unless you're looking for them," King says. "It's easy to walk right by one. They're very cryptically colored to look like dead leaves and cattails, so they blend in exceedingly well." The reptiles suffered habitat loss from extensive drainage of land for agriculture and development. As recently as the 1970s, some states had bounties on the snake. With concerns over whether they would persist in the wild, the remaining snakes in Chicago's Cook County were taken into a captive breeding program in 2010, King says. "In Illinois, they've nearly blinked out entirely," he adds. "We're probably down to one location in the southern part of the state that has a stable population. They seem to have stronger holds in Michigan and southern Ontario." The study authors believe findings will aid Eastern Massasauga recovery efforts. "The life-history parameter estimates will be essential for improving models related to extinction risk and climate change," Hileman says. "The results from these predictive models can subsequently be used to develop site-specific management strategies." Explore further: Australian man bitten by venomous snake twice in 3 days More information: Eric T. Hileman et al, Climatic and geographic predictors of life history variation in Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus): A range-wide synthesis, PLOS ONE (2017). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172011
News Article | February 23, 2017
BROOKLYN, New York - Researchers at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering have devised a method by which patients requiring repetitive rehabilitative exercises, such as those prescribed by physical therapists, can voluntarily contribute to scientific projects in which massive data collection and analysis is needed. Citizen science empowers people with little to no scientific training to participate in research led by professional scientists in different ways. The benefit of such an activity is often bidirectional, whereby professional scientists leverage the effort of a large number of volunteers in data collection or analysis, while the volunteers increase their knowledge on the topic of the scientific endeavor. Tandon researchers added the benefit of performing what can sometimes be boring or painful exercise regimes in a more appealing yet still therapeutic manner. The citizen science activity they employed entailed the environmental mapping of a polluted body of water (in this case Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal) with a miniature instrumented boat, which was remotely controlled by the participants through their physical gestures, as tracked by a low-cost motion capture system that does not require the subject to don special equipment. The researchers demonstrated that the natural user interface offers an engaging and effective means for performing environmental monitoring tasks. At the same time, the citizen science activity increased the commitment of the participants, leading to a better motion performance, quantified through an array of objective indices. Visiting Researcher Eduardo Palermo (of Sapienza University of Rome), Post-doctoral Researcher Jeffrey Laut, Professor of Technology Management and Innovation Oded Nov, late Research Professor Paolo Cappa, and Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Maurizio Porfiri provided subjects with a Microsoft Kinect sensor, a markerless human motion tracker capable of estimating three-dimensional coordinates of human joints that was initially designed for gaming but has since been widely repurposed as an input device for natural user interfaces. They asked participants to pilot the boat, controlling thruster speed and steering angle, by lifting one arm away from the trunk and using wrist motions, in effect, mimicking one widely adopted type of rehabilitative exercises based on repetitively performing simple movements with the affected arm. Their results suggest that an inexpensive, off-the-shelf device can offer an engaging means to contribute to important scientific tasks while delivering relevant and efficient physical exercises. "The study constitutes a first and necessary step toward rehabilitative treatments of the upper limb through citizen science and low-cost markerless optical systems," Porfiri explains. "Our methodology expands behavioral rehabilitation by providing an engaging and fun natural user interface, a tangible scientific contribution, and an attractive low-cost markerless technology for human motion capture." The paper, "A Natural User Interface to Integrate Citizen Science and Physical Exercise," has been published by the Public Library of Science (PLoS) and is available at http://journals. . Research was supported by the National Science Foundation. About the New York University Tandon School of Engineering The NYU Tandon School of Engineering dates to 1854, the founding date for both the New York University School of Civil Engineering and Architecture and the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute (widely known as Brooklyn Poly). A January 2014 merger created a comprehensive school of education and research in engineering and applied sciences, rooted in a tradition of invention and entrepreneurship and dedicated to furthering technology in service to society. In addition to its main location in Brooklyn, NYU Tandon collaborates with other schools within NYU, the country's largest private research university, and is closely connected to engineering programs at NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai. It operates Future Labs focused on start-up businesses in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn and an award-winning online graduate program. For more information, visit http://engineering. .
News Article | February 16, 2017
A new study is bringing attention to a little known and imperiled rattlesnake that slithers among the wetlands in regions surrounding the Great Lakes. The Eastern Massasauga rattler was once common in such states as Indiana and Illinois. Until recent years, it could still be found in Chicago's Cook County. But the reptile's range and numbers have been steadily declining. In 2016, the snake was listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. In the new study, Northern Illinois University biological sciences professor Richard King and his former student Eric Hileman examine the life history of the Eastern Massasauga, revealing important local climate impacts on the snake that should be carefully weighed when developing conservation strategies. "Our results provide evidence that climatic variation in the Great Lakes region strongly influences body size, individual growth rates and key aspects of reproduction," says Hileman, first author of the study published in PLOS ONE, a journal of the Public Library of Science. Hileman earned his Ph.D. in biological sciences from NIU in December and is now a postdoctoral fellow in biology at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. Hileman, King and more than 40 co-authors gathered and synthesized more than a century of data on the snakes from study sites across the range of the Eastern Massasauga. Most of the data was culled from studies conducted from the mid-1990s forward at sites in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, as well as Ontario, Canada. The scientists found strong evidence for geographic variation in six of nine life-history variables. Among the findings: "It's been rare to look within a species and show that these patterns exist," King says. "The study results demonstrate that a one-size-fits all conservation strategy is not appropriate. Rather, assessments of extinction risk and the design of management strategies need to account for geography." The Eastern Massasauga snakes are generally found in wet prairies or sedge meadows, where the reptiles employ a sit-and-wait strategy to catch and feed on small mammals. Adult size ranges from about 2 feet to 2 ½ feet in length. While venomous, the snakes are not particularly aggressive or dangerous to work with. "You're not likely to encounter them unless you're looking for them," King says. "It's easy to walk right by one. They're very cryptically colored to look like dead leaves and cattails, so they blend in exceedingly well." The reptiles suffered habitat loss from extensive drainage of land for agriculture and development. As recently as the 1970s, some states had bounties on the snake. With concerns over whether they would persist in the wild, the remaining snakes in Chicago's Cook County were taken into a captive breeding program in 2010, King says. "In Illinois, they've nearly blinked out entirely," he adds. "We're probably down to one location in the southern part of the state that has a stable population. They seem to have stronger holds in Michigan and southern Ontario." The study authors believe findings will aid Eastern Massasauga recovery efforts. "The life-history parameter estimates will be essential for improving models related to extinction risk and climate change," Hileman says. "The results from these predictive models can subsequently be used to develop site-specific management strategies."