UA was the first university in the state of Arizona, founded in 1885 (twenty-seven years before the Arizona Territory achieved statehood). The university includes the University of Arizona College of Medicine, which operates a medical center in Tucson, and a separate 4-year M.D. college in downtown Phoenix. As of the 2012-2013 calendar year, total enrollment was 40,223 students.
The University of Arizona is governed by the Arizona Board of Regents. The mission of the University of Arizona is, “To discover, educate, serve, and inspire.” Arizona is one of the elected members of the Association of American Universities (an organization of North America’s premier research institutions) and is the only representative from the state of Arizona to this group.
University of Arizona research articles from Innovation Toronto
- Breakthrough in retinal implants expected to restore sight to the blind
- Highest-ever Resolution Photos of the Night Sky
- How Long until We Have the Superhuman Exoskeletons from Elysium?
- Cheap, color, holographic video
- Predicting infectious influenza
- Better batteries from waste sulfur
- Multi-Toxin Biotech Crops Not Silver Bullets, UA Scientists Warn
- UA Engineering Professor Uses Aerospace Materials to Build Endless Green Pipeline
- Cost-effective solar power module could also serve as an eco-friendly furnace
- Megapixel Camera? Try Gigapixel
- Robotic lake lander could explore bodies of water on other planets
- Where Is My Holodeck?
- New Ways to Image and Therapeutically Target Melanoma Using Nanomedicine?
- New Glasses-Free 3-D Approach Could Work on Thin, Flexible Displays
- Smart Irrigation: A Supercomputer Waters the Lawn
- Long-term Cooling Trend In Arctic Abruptly Reverses, Signaling Potential For Sea Rise
- PixelOptics to launch ‘world’s first electronic focusing eyewear’
- Holograms Deliver 3-D, Without the Goofy Glasses
- 3D holograms move toward real-time “telepresence” capacity
- Lunar garden to give astronauts a green thumb on the green cheese
- Bite me: New malaria-proof mosquito developed
Software may appear to operate without bias because it strictly uses computer code to reach conclusions. That’s why many companies use algorithms to help weed out job applicants when hiring for a new position.
But a team of computer scientists from the University of Utah, University of Arizona and Haverford College in Pennsylvania have discovered a way to find out if an algorithm used for hiring decisions, loan approvals and comparably weighty tasks could be biased like a human being.
The researchers, led by Suresh Venkatasubramanian, an associate professor in the University of Utah’s School of Computing, have discovered a technique to determine if such software programs discriminate unintentionally and violate the legal standards for fair access to employment, housing and other opportunities. The team also has determined a method to fix these potentially troubled algorithms. Venkatasubramanian presented his findings Aug. 12 at the 21st Association for Computing Machinery’s SIGKDD Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining in Sydney, Australia.
“There’s a growing industry around doing résumé filtering and résumé scanning to look for job applicants, so there is definitely interest in this,” says Venkatasubramanian. “If there are structural aspects of the testing process that would discriminate against one community just because of the nature of that community, that is unfair.”
Many companies have been using algorithms in software programs to help filter out job applicants in the hiring process, typically because it can be overwhelming to sort through the applications manually if many apply for the same job. A program can do that instead by scanning résumés and searching for keywords or numbers (such as school grade point averages) and then assigning an overall score to the applicant.
These programs also can learn as they analyze more data. Known as machine-learning algorithms, they can change and adapt like humans so they can better predict outcomes. Amazon uses similar algorithms so they can learn the buying habits of customers or more accurately target ads, and Netflix uses them so they can learn the movie tastes of users when recommending new viewing choices.
But there has been a growing debate on whether machine-learning algorithms can introduce unintentional bias much like humans do.
“The irony is that the more we design artificial intelligence technology that successfully mimics humans, the more that A.I. is learning in a way that we do, with all of our biases and limitations,” Venkatasubramanian says.
Venkatasubramanian’s research determines if these software algorithms can be biased through the legal definition of disparate impact, a theory in U.S. anti-discrimination law that says a policy may be considered discriminatory if it has an adverse impact on any group based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or other protected status.
Venkatasubramanian’s research revealed that you can use a test to determine if the algorithm in question is possibly biased. If the test — which ironically uses another machine-learning algorithm — can accurately predict a person’s race or gender based on the data being analyzed, even though race or gender is hidden from the data, then there is a potential problem for bias based on the definition of disparate impact.
“I’m not saying it’s doing it, but I’m saying there is at least a potential for there to be a problem,” Venkatasubramanian says.
Read more: PROGRAMMING AND PREJUDICE
Researchers are one step closer to understanding the genetic and biological basis of diseases like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and rheumatoid arthritis – and identifying new drug targets and therapies – thanks to work by three computational biology research teams from the University of Arizona Health Sciences, University of Pennsylvania and Vanderbilt University.
The researchers’ findings – a method demonstrating that independent DNA variants linked to a disease share similar biological properties – were published online in the April 27 edition of npj Genomic Medicine.
“The discovery of these shared properties offer the opportunity to broaden our understanding of the biological basis of disease and identify new therapeutic targets,” said Yves A. Lussier, MD, FACMI, lead and senior corresponding author of the study and UAHS associate vice president for health sciences and director of the UAHS Center for Biomedical Informatics and Biostatistics (CB2).
The researchers are striving to better understand the common genetic and biological backgrounds that make certain people susceptible to the same disease. They have developed a method to demonstrate how individual, disease-associated DNA variants share similar biological properties that provide a road map for disease origin.
Over the last ten years, genetics researchers have conducted large studies, called Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS), which analyze DNA variants across thousands of human genomes to identify those that are more frequent in people with a disease. However, the impact of many of these disease-associated variants on the function and regulation of genes remains elusive, making clinical interpretation difficult.
A method to explore the biological impact of these variants and how they are linked to disease was developed through the collaboration of bioinformatics and systems biology researchers Dr. Lussier;Haiquan Li, PhD, research associate professor and director for translational bioinformatics, Department of Medicine, UA College of Medicine – Tucson; Ikbel Achour, PhD, director for precision health, CB2; Jason H. Moore, PhD, director, Institute for Biomedical Informatics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania; and Joshua C. Denny, MD, MS, FACMI, associate professor of biomedical informatics and medicine, Vanderbilt University, along with their teams.
In their new paper, the researchers demonstrate that DNA risk variants can affect biological activities such as gene expression and cellular machinery, which together provide a more comprehensive picture of disease biology. When DNA risk variants for a given disease were analyzed in combination, similar biological activities were discovered, suggesting that distinct risk variants can affect the same or shared biological functions and thus cause the same disease. More detailed analyses of variants linked to bladder cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis showed that two variants can contribute to disease independently, but also interact genetically. Therefore, the precise combination of DNA variants of a patient may work to increase or decrease the relative risk of disease.
Farmers can use fewer resources to grow food
With the world’s population exploding to well over 7 billion, feeding the human race is getting even more challenging. Increasing the yield from crops such as wheat, maize, rice and barley, is paramount to growing enough food.
In addition, crop production is now affected by stressors such as drought, climate change and the salinization of fields — presenting obstacles to our future food supply.
Researchers with Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences, University of Arizona, University of North Texas and with the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine, have discovered a way to enhance a plant’s tolerance to stress, which in turn improves how it uses water and nutrients from the soil. These improvements increase plant biomass and yield.
The study’s findings are published in the scientific journal Trends in Biotechnology.
Associate professor Roberto Gaxiola with ASU School of Life Sciences said this discovery could be instrumental in agriculture and food security by improving crop sustainability and performance.
“‘We have learned how to modify the expression of a gene that codes for a plant proton pump,” said Gaxiola, lead author of the study. “This gene helps to move photosynthates — or molecules made by photosynthesis in the leaves — to the places plants need them in order to grow better roots, fruits, young leaves and seeds. This gene is called type 1 H+-PPase and is found naturally in all plants.”
Current agricultural methods often overuse fertilizer, causing environmental problems by polluting water with phosphates and creating dead zones in oceans downstream. Over-fertilization can also cause plants to have small roots — something that was not anticipated when fertilizers were developed in the early 1900s.
By changing how effectively a plant uses water and nutrients, famers would be able to use fewer resources to grow their crops.
“Larger roots allow plants to more efficiently acquire both nutrients and water. We can optimize inputs while minimizing environmental impacts. This is advantageous for our environment and for all consumers,” said Gaxiola.
Altering the expression of this gene in rice, corn, barley, wheat, tomato, lettuce, cotton and finger millet caused better growth in roots and shoots, and also improve how the plants absorbed nutrients. These crops also saw improved water use and tolerance to salt. In finger millet, researchers also discovered an increase in antioxidants, but further studies would be needed to know whether this is the case with other crops as well.
Arizona long has been a leader in the copper mining industry, but traditional processes for extracting the metal from the ore release toxins into the environment through seepage, air pollution and, in the worst cases, tailings pond failures.
Now University of Arizona College of Engineering professors Dominic Gervasio and principal research specialist Hassan Elsentriecy from the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering have invented a toxin-free method using high-temperature molten salts to extract the metal from raw copper ore.
At the same time, in collaboration with Peiwen “Perry” Li from the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, this team was inventing new ways to utilize these same high-temperature molten salts to recover and store the vast amounts of heat energy created in metal refining and smelting production.
Together, the complementary inventions — seven in all — represent an opportunity to make big impacts in both mining and energy storage.
Funded in part by serial entrepreneur and co-inventor Abraham Jalbout, the team worked with Tech Launch Arizona, the office of the UA that commercializes the inventions stemming from University research, to bring the technologies to the market via a startup company, MetOxs Electrochemical.
Current methods for extracting copper from ore involve chemical processes that produce huge mountains of waste mine tailings and lake-size waste water collections, accumulating high levels of toxins such as arsenic, cadmium and sulfuric acid.
The method of metal refining developed by Gervasio, Elsentriecy and Li — being commercialized via MetOxs — works by heating the ore using molten salts to temperatures exceeding 1,500 degrees Farenheit such that the copper is separated from the ore for easy collection.
The technique is transferrable to any mineral extraction process, which, according to Jalbout, “makes it a game-changer in terms of its robust nature and wide opportunity for implementation and impact.”
“What makes this truly unique is use of a very specific salt formula that has the ability to strip the copper from the ore without the use of water and dangerous chemicals,” says Bob Sleeper, Tech Launch Arizona licensing manager for the College of Engineering.
As a parallel benefit, the technology also allows for the collection of surplus heat and using it to power steam turbines and generators.
The process is similar — but much hotter — than that used for refining aluminum ore. Prior to this team’s research, such processing was not possible.
MetOxs CEO Jalbout sees great opportunity in the venture and is currently in discussions with multiple companies to scale up the process.
“Our technology represents a change of monumental importance for the viability and sustainability of the mining sector,” Jalbout says. “As we have seen in the industrial revolution, this is the new era the industry must strive for.”
BrightFocus-Funded Research Shows Parkinson’s Drug Could be Repurposed to Save Sight of Millions
In a major scientific breakthrough, a drug used to treat Parkinson’s and related diseases may be able to delay or prevent macular degeneration, the most common form of blindness among older Americans.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Medicine, are a groundbreaking effort in the fight against age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which affects as many as 11 million Americans. AMD hinders central vision, and even when it does not lead to blindness it can severely reduce the ability to read, drive, and recognize faces.
In the study, supported in part by BrightFocus Foundation, researchers discovered a biological connection between darker pigmented eyes, that are known to be resistant to AMD, and increased levels of a chemical called L-DOPA in those eyes. Since L-DOPA is frequently prescribed for Parkinson’s patients, the researchers wanted to know whether patients who received the drug L-DOPA as treatment for Parkinson’s or other diseases were protected from AMD. By combing through massive databases of medical chart data, they reported that patients receiving L-DOPA were significantly less likely to get AMD, and when they did, its onset was significantly delayed.
“Rather than looking at what might cause AMD, we instead wondered why certain people are protected from AMD. This approach had never been done before,” says senior author Brian McKay of the University of Arizona.
The research findings are based off an analysis of the medical records of 37,000 patients at the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin. Because the average age of those given L-DOPA is 67, while the average age of AMD diagnosis is 71, scientists were able to effectively track patterns. These major findings were then confirmed by reviewing a data set of 87 million patients. In this large scale data set, L-DOPA also delayed or prevented AMD from progressing to its “wet” form, the most devastating form of the disease.
“This exciting breakthrough shows the power of scientific discovery to give hope to millions of people across the nation and the world. Their methodology is a reminder that ‘big data’ is not a buzzword—it is a bold and innovative new approach to science,” said BrightFocus president and CEO Stacy Pagos Haller.
A new diagnostic device created by a collaborative team of UA engineers and scientists may significantly reduce the amount of time necessary to diagnose tissue infections
When a patient arrives at a hospital with a serious infection, doctors have precious few minutes to make an accurate diagnosis and prescribe treatment accordingly. Doctors’ ability to act quickly and correctly not only makes a difference to the patient’s outcome, it determines whether the infection spreads to other patients in the clinic, and can even contribute to the development of drug-resistant bacteria.
Luckily for patients and doctors alike, a new diagnostic device created by collaborative team of UA engineers and scientists may significantly reduce the amount of time necessary to diagnose tissue infections. The device’s novel approach to molecular diagnostics, called DOTS qPCR, is faster, more efficient and less expensive than alternatives currently being used in clinics. The work is described online in the journal Science Advances.
“We have developed a completely different type of system than what exists out on the market,” said Dustin Harshman, a former graduate student in the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Interdisciplinary Program, currently a scientist at Ventana Medical Systems. “We want to see physicians get diagnostic information more rapidly and prescribe better initial therapies.”
Pathogens and infectious diseases are typically detected using a technique called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR. The method involves rapidly heating and cooling DNA molecules from a biological sample in a process called thermal cycling. This results in the amplification of the target DNA into millions, and even billions of copies. Scientists and physicians can then use the copies to identify the type of pathogen causing the infection. The problem is that most PCR tests can take up to an hour or more, and a physician’s decision-making window is typically less than ten minutes.
“With DOTS qPCR we are able to detect amplification and identify the infection after as few as 4 thermal cycles, while other methods are working with between 18 and 30,” said Jeong-Yeol Yoon, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and a joint appointment in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “We can get from sample to answer in as little as 3 minutes and 30 seconds.”
DOTS qPCR, invented by Yoon and his research group, stands for droplet-on-thermocouple silhouette real-time PCR. The technology relies on the measurement of subtle surface tension changes at the interface of a water droplet suspended in an oil medium. The water droplet, which contains the target DNA to be amplified, is moved along a heat gradient in the oil to begin the chain reaction. As more copies of the target DNA are produced, they move towards the oil-water interface, resulting in measurable changes in surface tension. Remarkably, the size of the droplet can be measured using a smartphone camera, providing a method to observe the course of the reaction in real time.
“What’s interesting about the way we approached this is that we’ve developed a deep understanding of what’s happening at a molecular level in our system,” said Harshman, who initially struggled to determine how to monitor the course of the reaction. “That kind of understanding gave us the ability to figure out why it was failing, and then leverage that failure as an advantage to create a completely new method.”
In addition to much faster diagnosis times, the system does not require samples to be completely free of other contaminants. This can save valuable time otherwise spent preparing samples for testing.
“The system still works with relatively dirty samples,” said Yoon. “We can use very minimal processing and still make the detection in a short time.”
Yoon emphasized that DOTS qPCR is inexpensive compared to its counterparts, which employ costly and time-intensive testing methods involving fluorescence detection, lasers and dark chambers.
“It’s easy to use, smartphone-integrated and saves money and labor using expensive equipment,” explained Yoon. “This technology has a lot of commercial potential, and we’d be happy to work with industry to bring it to market.”
A multidisciplinary research team discovers how cells know to rush to a wound and heal it — opening the door to new treatments for diabetes, heart disease and cancer
Researchers at the University of Arizona have discovered what causes and regulates collective cell migration, one of the most universal but least understood biological processes in all living organisms.
The findings, published in the March 13, 2015, edition of Nature Communications, shed light on the mechanisms of cell migration, particularly in the wound-healing process. The results represent a major advancement for regenerative medicine, in which biomedical engineers and other researchers manipulate cells’ form and function to create new tissues, and even organs, to repair, restore or replace those damaged by injury or disease.
“The results significantly increase our understanding of how tissue regeneration is regulated and advance our ability to guide these processes,” said Pak Kin Wong, UA associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and lead investigator of the research.
“In recent years, researchers have gained a better understanding of the molecular machinery of cell migration, but not what directs it to happen in the first place,” he said. “What, exactly, is orchestrating this system common to all living organisms?”
Leaders of the Pack
The answer, it turns out, involves delicate interactions between biomechanical stress, or force, which living cells exert on one another, and biochemical signaling.
The UA researchers discovered that when mechanical force disappears — for example at a wound site where cells have been destroyed, leaving empty, cell-free space — a protein molecule, known as DII4, coordinates nearby cells to migrate to a wound site and collectively cover it with new tissue. What’s more, they found, this process causes identical cells to specialize into leader and follower cells. Researchers had previously assumed leader cells formed randomly.
Wong’s team observed that when cells collectively migrate toward a wound, leader cells expressing a form of messenger RNA, or mRNA, genetic code specific to the DII4 protein emerge at the front of the pack, or migrating tip. The leader cells, in turn, send signals to follower cells, which do not express the genetic messenger. This elaborate autoregulatory system remains activated until new tissue has covered a wound.
The same migration processes for wound healing and tissue development also apply to cancer spreading, the researchers noted. The combination of mechanical force and genetic signaling stimulates cancer cells to collectively migrate and invade healthy tissue.
Biologists have known of the existence of leader cells and the DII4 protein for some years and have suspected they might be important in collective cell migration. But precisely how leader cells formed, what controlled their behavior, and their genetic makeup were all mysteries — until now.
Broad Medical Applications
“Knowing the genetic makeup of leader cells and understanding their formation and behavior gives us the ability to alter cell migration,” Wong said.
With this new knowledge, researchers can re-create, at the cellular and molecular levels, the chain of events that brings about the formation of human tissue. Bioengineers now have the information they need to direct normal cells to heal damaged tissue, or prevent cancer cells from invading healthy tissue.
Using tracer viruses, researchers found that contamination of just a single doorknob or table top results in the spread of viruses throughout office buildings, hotels, and health care facilities.
Within 2 to 4 hours, the virus could be detected on 40 to 60 percent of workers and visitors in the facilities and commonly touched objects, according to research presented at the 54th Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC), an infectious disease meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.
There is a simple solution, though, says Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona, Tucson, who presented the study.
“Using disinfecting wipes containing quaternary ammonium compounds (QUATS) registered by EPA as effective against viruses like norovirus and flu, along with hand hygiene, reduced virus spread by 80 to 99 percent,” he says.
Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Each year, it causes an estimated 19-21 million illnesses and contributes to 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths. Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus then putting your fingers in your mouth is a common source of infection.
In the study, Gerba and his colleagues used bacteriophage MS-2 as a surrogate for the human norovirus, as it is similar in shape, size and resistance to disinfectants. The phage was placed on 1 to 2 commonly touched surfaces (door knob or table top) at the beginning of the day in office buildings, conference room and a health care facility. After various periods of time (2 to 8 hours) they sampled 60 to 100 fomites, surfaces capable of carrying infectious organisms (light switches, bed rails, table tops, countertops, push buttons, coffee pots handles, sink tap handles, door knobs, phones and computer equipment), for the phages.
“Within 2 to 4 hours between 40 to 60% of the fomites sampled were contaminated with virus,” says Gerba.
An international team of researchers led by the University of Arizona has sequenced the complete genome of African rice.
The genetic information will enhance scientists’ and agriculturalists’ understanding of the growing patterns of African rice, as well as enable the development of new rice varieties that are better able to cope with increasing environmental stressors to help solve global hunger challenges.
“Rice feeds half the world, making it the most important food crop,” Wing said. “Rice will play a key role in helping to solve what we call the 9 billion-people question.”
The 9 billion-people question refers to predictions that the world’s population will increase to more than 9 billion people – many of whom will live in areas where access to food is extremely scarce – by the year 2050. The question lies in how to grow enough food to feed the world’s population and prevent the host of health, economic and social problems associated with hunger and malnutrition.
Now, with the completely sequenced African rice genome, scientists and agriculturalists can search for ways to cross Asian and African species to develop new varieties of rice with the high-yield traits of Asian rice and the hardiness of African rice.
“Ultimately, you could artificially control the rain and lightning over a large expanse with such ideas.”
The adage “Everyone complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it,” may one day be obsolete if researchers at the University of Central Florida’s College of Optics & Photonics and the University of Arizona further develop a new technique to aim a high-energy laser beam into clouds to make it rain or trigger lightning.
The solution? Surround the beam with a second beam to act as an energy reservoir, sustaining the central beam to greater distances than previously possible. The secondary “dress” beam refuels and helps prevent the dissipation of the high-intensity primary beam, which on its own would break down quickly. A report on the project, “Externally refueled optical filaments,” was recently published in Nature Photonics.
Water condensation and lightning activity in clouds are linked to large amounts of static charged particles. Stimulating those particles with the right kind of laser holds the key to possibly one day summoning a shower when and where it is needed.
Lasers can already travel great distances but “when a laser beam becomes intense enough, it behaves differently than usual – it collapses inward on itself,” said Matthew Mills, a graduate student in the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers (CREOL). “The collapse becomes so intense that electrons in the air’s oxygen and nitrogen are ripped off creating plasma – basically a soup of electrons.”
At that point, the plasma immediately tries to spread the beam back out, causing a struggle between the spreading and collapsing of an ultra-short laser pulse. This struggle is called filamentation, and creates a filament or “light string” that only propagates for a while until the properties of air make the beam disperse.
“Because a filament creates excited electrons in its wake as it moves, it artificially seeds the conditions necessary for rain and lightning to occur,” Mills said. Other researchers have caused “electrical events” in clouds, but not lightning strikes.
But how do you get close enough to direct the beam into the cloud without being blasted to smithereens by lightning?
“What would be nice is to have a sneaky way which allows us to produce an arbitrary long ‘filament extension cable.’ It turns out that if you wrap a large, low intensity, doughnut-like ‘dress’ beam around the filament and slowly move it inward, you can provide this arbitrary extension,” Mills said. “Since we have control over the length of a filament with our method, one could seed the conditions needed for a rainstorm from afar. Ultimately, you could artificially control the rain and lightning over a large expanse with such ideas.”
So far, Mills and fellow graduate student Ali Miri have been able to extend the pulse from 10 inches to about 7 feet. And they’re working to extend the filament even farther.
“This work could ultimately lead to ultra-long optically induced filaments or plasma channels that are otherwise impossible to establish under normal conditions,” said professor Demetrios Christodoulides, who is working with the graduate students on the project.
“In principle such dressed filaments could propagate for more than 50 meters or so, thus enabling a number of applications. This family of optical filaments may one day be used to selectively guide microwave signals along very long plasma channels, perhaps for hundreds of meters.”
Other possible uses of this technique could be used in long-distance sensors and spectrometers to identify chemical makeup. Development of the technology was supported by a $7.5 million grant from the Department of Defense.