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College News - Spring 2022

News From Our Life Sciences Departments

BYU ALGORITHM ACCURATELY PREDICTS SUICIDAL RISK FACTORS
By Todd Hollingshead

Two people walking and hugging

Researchers from BYU, Johns Hopkins, and Harvard created an algorithm .that can predict suicidal thoughts and behavior among adolescents with 91 percent accuracy. The machine learning approach is outlined in an article published in PLOS ONE, where researchers detail risk factors that are leading predictors of suicidal thoughts and behavior (STB) among adolescents.

Researchers were not surprised to see some of the risk factors that rose to the top—such as online harassment and bullying—but were a bit taken to see the heavy influence of family factors. Exposure or involvement in serious arguments and yelling at home was a major risk factor. In addition, adolescents without a father in the home were 72.7 percent more likely to experience suicidal ideation.

The research implications are critical for prevention programming and policymaking. Specifically, researchers hope policymakers use the STB risk profile and its associate rankings to prepare services, resources, and assessments aimed at school, community, and family settings.

FOOD STORAGE PRACTICES MAY POSE SAFETY THREAT
By Angela Larson

Waterbottles

BYU researchers assessed household food and water emergency preparedness practices across the United States, including the extent to which government emergency preparedness guidelines were followed. The study aimed to provide a more diverse sample in contrast to previous studies, as well as provide greater insight into specific storage practices.

From the sample of 572 Qualtrics panelists, it was found that many US households in the study met FEMA guidelines of storing a three-day supply of water and food for emergency situations. However, not all households followed these guidelines for the types of containers used to store water. Many households were using dangerous sanitizing methods in water storage containers. The improper storage techniques pose a potential health hazard if the water is ingested in an actual emergency situation.

The researchers concluded that additional easy-to-follow, evidence-based information may better help citizens safely implement food and water storage guidelines.

IDENTIFYING CELLS THAT MAY CONTRIBUTE TO AUTISM
By Jenny Carpenter

Arminda Suli posing with microscope

Cell biology professor Arminda Suli and her graduate student, Annalie Martin, recently identified and characterized several new cell types that may contribute to autism spectrum disorder—and they’re all located in one specific part of the brain.

The superior colliculus is a small area of the brain that receives and integrates visual, auditory, and somatosensory inputs. It can influence how individuals perceive and respond to their social environment. To better understand how the superior colliculus works, Suli and Martin examined the homologous structure in the larval zebrafish brain. They discovered cells in the optic tectum can be grouped into 25 unique populations—several expressing autism-related genes.

While identifying the contributing cells is not directly meant to cure neurological disorders, Suli sees it as a way to understand genetic diversity

POOLE LABE WINS BEST PAPER AWARD FOR VACCINE RESEARCH
By Grace Christensen

Person Using Test Tube

Microbiology and molecular biology professors Brian Poole and Brad tBerges, biology professor Jamie Jensen, and seven students from the Poole Lab were awarded Vaccines 2022 Best Paper Award for their research on attitudes towards COVID-19 vaccination in the United States.

In the study, researchers showed that “longer testing, increased efficacy and development in the United States were significantly associated with increased vaccine acceptance.”

Of 316 survey respondents, 68 percent said they supported being vaccinated for COVID-19. But, the survey also revealed that concerns about side effects and efficacy were consistent throughout all those who were surveyed. Poole found that messages promoting vaccination should focus on the benefits of vaccines and alleviate the concerns of those hesitant about them.

At BYU, the Poole Lab is focused on virology, and how early intervention is positively effective for most viruses and autoimmune diseases. Since its publication, Poole’s paper has been cited 255 times.

HEAT THERAPY MIMICS SOME VASCULAR BENEFITS of EXERCISE
By Trevor Jones

Heat Therapy

Researchers from BYU found new details about mitigating negative effects -of inactivity by using passive heat therapy. Applying heat therapy to limbs during periods of inactivity preserves artery health for individuals with reduced physical activity as if they had continued exercising.

Exercise science professors Jayson Gifford, Robert Hyldahl, and Brad Nelson— along with four students—examined twenty-one healthy, college-aged subjects who experienced disuse of lower limbs over ten days. Half received daily two-hour heat therapy on knee extensor muscles while the other half underwent a placebo treatment.

“Just by not moving for about two weeks, some college-age subjects’ arteries responded as if they were fifty-five or sixty years old instead of twenty years old,” said Gifford, speaking of those who received the placebo treatment. “This contrasted with little to no change in the vascular health of those treated with heat.”

The researchers plan to expand their work to examine other, more accessible methods of heat-based treatment.

DEEP DIVE: A LOOK AT HUMAN TRAITS IN FISH
By Angela Larson

Fish Underwater

Would you consider yourself timid and submissive, or bold and domineering? For humans, determining our personality traits can provide great insights into how we understand our own behavior and how we work in groups. But, as it turns out, these personality traits and behaviors aren’t unique to just humans.

In his research titled, “Is social dominance repeatable and inherent? The behavior of social dominance in Convict Cichlids,” recent biology graduate Erik Johnsonn (’22) studies how a fish’s boldness correlates with their position as a dominant member in group settings. In the study, he classified the fishes’ personality on a “bold to shy” continuum, and quantified the results using four behavioral assays. He chose to study cichlids in particular because they’re known to be very social, with easily observable hierarchical population structures.

Johnson’s work expands upon his previous research which studied behavioral “handedness” in the genus Xenophalus umbratilis—a prey species that lives in the same environment as the Convict Cichlids. Both studies explore using a model system of fish to observe traits within the fish and in humans.

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