In an article published in a September issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, UT Knoxville ecology and evolutionary biology professor Ben Fitzpatrick revealed findings that show hybrid animals may have a better chance to survive—and thrive—than previously thought. Fitzpatrick found that two distinct species of salamanders (the endangered California Tiger salamander and the Barred Tiger salamander) in California have crossbred to create hybrid offspring and that those hybrids are able to reproduce effectively, which was previously believed to be highly improbable, if not impossible.
As more retirees from across the nation choose Tennessee as home for their later years, researchers in UT’s Institute for Public Service and Institute of Agriculture are studying the impact of this “in-migration” on Tennessee’s rural communities. Using Cumberland County as an example, they found that retirees brought a more diverse employment history, and they increased tax revenues and average county income. They also found, however, that traffic congestion had increased substantially and that the county’s employment focus had shifted from manufacturing to retail.
A study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society [of London] by UT graduate student Erin Gillam shed some of the first light on how bats can fly in large groups and still rely on their well-known sonar calls to “see.” Gillam, who earned a doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology in May, found that bats can adjust their calls “on the fly” to avoid interfering with the calls of the thousands of bats around them. The research was a first-of-its-kind look into how the bats avoided “jamming” each other and has implications in fields as diverse as biology and national security.
The new Tennessee Governor’s Academy, located on the campus of the Tennessee School for the Deaf in South Knoxville, is being managed by UT. The academy’s first executive director is Vena Long, associate dean for research in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences of UT Knoxville. Twenty-four students from across Tennessee were selected for the academy’s inaugural class. Students have research experiences with faculty members and researchers across the UT Knoxville campus and at Oak Ridge National Laboratory as part of their studies.
In an article published in a March issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, UT–ORNL Igor Jouline (Zhulin) used powerful computational tools to study the genetic history of a protein that allows cells to respond to changes in their environment. In the groundbreaking research, Jouline was able to find certain parts of the protein’s genome that had been conserved over eons, providing a major clue to what parts of the protein might be most significant in its function.
The UT Research Foundation has opened a new technology business incubator in Knoxville that will provide a home for technology-based businesses developed by university researchers. Built in partnership with the U.S. Economic Development Administration, UT Knoxville, Knox County, Knoxville Utilities Board, TVA, and the state of Tennessee, the incubator will provide both space and business services to the start-up companies.
Mark Sangster, an assistant professor of microbiology, has been selected to be part of a major national research center working to fight a potentially global flu pandemic. Sangster’s work focuses on how the immune system responds to the influenza virus and how best to optimize that response. Sangster looks most closely at a type of white blood cell known as a B cell. He is analyzing its different responses to standard influenza strains versus the avian influenza virus. Sangster will be part of the New York Influenza Center of Excellence, a partnership between the University of Rochester, Cornell University, and UT.
A new grant to UT Knoxville psychology professor Mark Hopko from the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation will allow him to study the effects of depression on women with breast cancer. The 3-year $296,000 grant will allow Hopko to conduct a study comparing a new depression treatment he created with traditional therapies used to treat depression. Previous research has shown a link between depression and many symptoms of breast cancer, and Hopko hopes to determine which treatment is more effective at mitigating those symptoms, including pain and compromised quality of life.
UT will lead six other Southern universities in the new Automotive Research Alliance (ARA). Announced in May, ARA will serve as a network designed to provide to automotive manufacturers and suppliers a wide range of research resources, including technology and manufacturing solutions, as well as academic and training programs. As part of ARA, UT will open a center of excellence dedicated to studying automotive supply-chain issues. UT is collaborating in the overall effort with ORNL and the National Transportation Research Center.
A discovery published in a June issue of the journal Science has led to a major grant for a group of UT–ORNL joint researchers. Physics professor and UT–ORNL joint faculty member Hanno Weitering found that he could stabilize the physical properties of very thin lead films used in superconductivity by adding small amounts of bismuth to the lead. This research led Weitering to apply for and win a $1.2-million grant to apply his research results to the process of moving hydrogen atoms in fuel cells. Weitering hopes that by adding trace amounts of sodium or aluminum, hydrogen atoms will more easily pass through magnesium in the cell, making it more efficient. Weitering will be joined on the project by UT–ORNL Distinguished Scientist Ward Plummer and UT–ORNL joint faculty member Zhenyu Zheng.
UT will play a key role in the new $125-million BioEnergy Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Announced in June, the center will be housed in the UT–ORNL Joint Institute for Biological Sciences on the ORNL campus. A number of UT researchers will be involved in the center’s work to develop better and more-efficient methods of converting cellulosic feedstock into ethanol. Teams from the UT Institute of Agriculture and the Center for Environmental Biotechnology will be involved.
UT researcher Barry Bruce was highlighted as one of 10 global “revolutionaries” in a July Forbes article on people in fields as varied as science, public policy, and social work who are poised to change the world with their work. Bruce, an associate professor in the UT Center for Environmental Biotechnology, is working to harness the natural process of photosynthesis—by which plants convert sunlight into energy—as a way to create substantially more-efficient solar-energy technology (See “Sunlight In, Electricity Out” on page 30).