University of Texas at Austin

Friday, June 22, 2012

Research Roundup: Spring 2012

We’ve rounded up some of the research highlights of the spring 2012 semester at The University of Texas at Austin.

utresearch_fb5One piece of news, growing support for a medical school at the university, isn’t exactly current research, but it could lead to vast research opportunities in health and medicine for years to come.

Noteworthy research included authoritative reports on the process of hydro-fracturing in mining natural gas, water resources in the important food-producing regions of California’s Central Valley and the Great Plains, the impact of exposure to chemicals on future generations and the effect that drinking has on teenagers.

Discoveries pointing toward the future include a new molecule with potential to treat genetic diseases and HIV, a newly discovered ability to regrow blood vessels and a disease-diagnosing device that’s based on the art of origami.

And there’s news about dinosaurs, birds and feathers.

Med school gets a boost

In May, the University of Texas System Board of Regents voted to invest $35 million a year in a new medical school at The University of Texas at Austin. That built on the decision of Seton Healthcare Family to commit $250 million toward a new teaching hospital. Those commitments clear the way for discussion about a possible site for the school and other important issues that must be resolved.

Groundwater Depletion in Semiarid Regions of Texas and California Threatens U.S. Food Security”

groundwater_depletion1The nation’s food supply may be vulnerable to rapid groundwater depletion from irrigated agriculture, according to a new study by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and elsewhere. The study shows in detail how groundwater depletion varies across space and time in California’s Central Valley and the High Plains of the central United States. Researchers hope this information will enable more sustainable use of water in these areas, although they think irrigated agriculture may be unsustainable in some parts.

New Study Shows No Evidence of Groundwater Contamination from Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing of shale formations to extract natural gas has no direct connection to reports of groundwater contamination, based on evidence reviewed in a study released Thursday by the Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin. The study found that many problems ascribed to hydraulic fracturing are related to processes common to all oil and gas drilling operations, such as casing failures or poor cement jobs.

Origami-Inspired Paper Sensor Could Test for Malaria and HIV for Less than 10 Cents, Report Chemists

liu_hongsensor1Inspired by the paper-folding art of origami, chemists at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a 3-D paper sensor that may be able to test for diseases such as malaria and HIV for less than 10 cents a pop.

Alcohol Abuse Might Be the Cause – Rather than the Effect – of Social Isolation and Poor Grades Among Teenagers, Study Shows

Rather than gaining “liquid courage” to let loose with friends, teenage drinkers are more likely to feel like social outcasts, according to a new sociology study from The University of Texas at Austin. The study shows alcohol consumption leads to increased social stress and poor grades, especially among students in schools with tightly connected friendship cliques and low levels of alcohol abuse.

Iridescent, Feathered Dinosaur Offers Fresh Evidence That Feathers Evolved to Attract Mates

A team of American and Chinese researchers has revealed the detailed feather pattern and color of Microraptor, a pigeon-sized, four-winged dinosaur that lived about 120 million years ago. A new specimen shows the dinosaur had a glossy iridescent sheen and that its tail was narrow and adorned with a pair of streamer feathers, suggesting the importance of display in the early evolution of feathers.

Exposure to Environmental Contaminants Today Can Influence Behavior Generations Later

Exposure to chemicals has the ability to influence behavior of offspring several generations after the initial exposure, according to a new study published by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and Washington State University. The findings put a new twist on the notions of nature and nurture, with broad implications for how certain behavioral tendencies, including responses to stress, might be inherited.


New Molecule Has Potential to Help Treat Genetic Diseases and HIV

tangled_dna2Chemists at The University of Texas at Austin have created a molecule that’s so good at tangling itself inside the double helix of a DNA sequence that it can stay there much longer than any other molecule reported. It’s an important step along the path to someday creating drugs that can go after rogue DNA directly. Such drugs would be revolutionary in the treatment of genetic diseases, cancer or retroviruses such as HIV, which incorporate viral DNA directly into the body’s DNA.

New Ability to Regrow Blood Vessels Holds Promise for Treatment of Heart Disease

University of Texas at Austin researchers have demonstrated a new and more effective method for regrowing blood vessels in the heart and limbs — a research advancement that could have major implications for how we treat heart disease, the leading cause of death in the Western world.

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