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Impact Magazine

College News - Summer 2023

Exploring Catharanthine’s Effects on Alcohol Addiction

By Grace Christensen

What if the cure to alcohol addiction could be found in a pill? Nathan Steed (NEURO ’23) and Aubrey Moedl (NEURO ’23) are on track to make that fantasy a reality. Both students study addiction neurobiology in Professor Scott Steffensen’s Addiction Lab.

Three people stand and smile in front of a red-brown curtain. From left to right: a medium-skinned woman with chest-length brown hair wears a green short-sleeve blouse and tucks her hand into her black pleated pants. A light-skinned man a head taller than both woman has short wavy brown hair and wears a blue button down coat and brown trousers. A light-skinned woman with shoulder length curled blonde hair wears a white blouse and long blue blazer, her hands clasped in front of her.
Moedl and Steed featured left and middle at the 2022 College Undergraduate Research Awards.
Photo by Nicholas Rex

Catharanthine is a drug that has the potential to treat addiction without the negative side effects of current anti-addiction drugs. It dampens the effects of alcohol so the withdrawal symptoms aren’t as severe. Catharanthine isn’t approved for use in the US yet, but if approved, it could work like a nicotine patch by alleviating symptoms of craving and withdrawal.

“If there were a medication people could use [to treat alcohol addiction], I think it would decrease some of the difficulty and pain that goes along with alcohol withdrawal,” Moedl says. “[Catharanthine] can give people the boost they need to recover from their addiction.”

Moedl has found that catharanthine inhibits the firing rate of small cells that fine-tune brain function. Steed is working to determine which receptors catharanthine affects in the area of the brain associated with behavior and addiction. Both students won 2022 College Undergraduate Research Awards from the College of Life Sciences.

The First Life Sciences Graduate Student Council

By Aubrey Johnson

Sierra Nichols (BIO ’24) was faced with a dilemma as the Life Sciences’ representative to BYU’s Graduate Student Society: how could she be the voice of 300 graduate students scattered across seven departments and an academic center? She started by doing what any Life Sciences student does—research. With the help of Associate Dean Ben Crookston, what started as simply trying to gather information about the Life Sciences graduate students snowballed into a mission to build a better, more connected graduate community through a student council.

Eights students stand in the sun in front of a rectangular building with large glass and brick walls. From left to right: a light skinned man wears a gray sweater, jeans, and a black backwards baseball cap smiling slightly and holding in his hands together in front of him. A light skinned woman with straight blonde hair past her shoulders and wearing a solid blue sweater tucks her hands into her black jean pockets and grins. A medium skinned woman with chest-length brown hair wearing a solid, loose light blue blouse holds her hands together in front of her, visible against her black jeans. A light skinned man with cropped brown hair in a gray, collared button down sweater smiles, his hands tucked into the pockets of his blue jeans. A light skinned man wearing a front-facing blue baseball cap, gray joggers, and a gray hoodie that reads BYU-Hawaii holds his hands together in front and smiles. A light skinned man with shoulder length brown hair and a handlebar mustache wears a brown and tan five panel hat, circular glasses with thick black rims, a black t-shirt, dark blue cuffed jeans, and a mustard brown zip up puffer jacket. His hands are tucked into his pockets. A medium skinned man with black hair long on the top wearing a black t-shirt, blue jeans, and rectangular glasses with black rims tucks his hands in his pockets and smiles. A light skinned man with hair growing in the back to his shoulders covered by gray beanie wears rectangular glasses with brown rims, a long sleeve gray shirt, and dark gray jeans. He smiles slightly, tattoos on his neck and collarbone visible.
Photo by Nicholas Rex

The new Life Sciences Graduate Student Council blends 14 students from various countries, backgrounds, and PhD and master’s programs. They will work together with the faculty and staff running the graduate programs to create a forum to discuss what challenges students face and how to improve the graduate experience. The council will also focus on improving personal and professional connections for students.

Meet the students on the Life Sciences Graduate Student Council here.

Exercise Made Just for You

By Grace Christensen

Researchers and coaches have been perplexed for years by why people benefit differently from the same kind of exercise. Two people could run at the same percentage of their maximum heart rate for the same distance through multiple months, but while one person’s endurance might only increase a mere 4%–12%, the other person’s might increase by 40%–60%.

Jessica Collins (EXSC ’21) approached this issue by focusing on the physiological threshold known as critical power. Critical power is the highest intensity of exercise a person can sustain for a long period of time. Collins hypothesized that the effectiveness of a workout is determined by the exercise intensity in relation to one’s critical power threshold.

Through research involving 22 participants exercising for 8 weeks, Collins found that participants’ growth was based on how close or far their exercise intensity was to their critical power. She recommends that health professionals prescribe exercise based on their patients’ individual critical power thresholds to make workouts more personal and help people achieve their goals more quickly.

ForGOT Milk? BYU Students Address Drop in Dairy Milk Drinking with ‘Legen-dairy’ Packaging Designs

By Todd Hollingshead

An illustration of the sides, front, and back of a 1/2 gallon cardboard milk carton design that looks hand drawn. The left side has a small cow tucked under the flab saying thanks for reusing. In a box all-caps text reads REUSE & WIN: Create anything you like with our packages: a chopping board, a pen holder, a wallet, and so on. Our exclusive gifts will be delivered to the winners. Underneath is a wavy line and then an illustration labelled How to Make a Chopping Board. The first step is open & wash, with an illustration of an open carton tucked under a water faucet. An arrow points to the second step - cut. Scissors cut down one side of the carton. An arrow points to the third step - complete. The unfolded carton lays flat. 
The front side of the carton reads Lazy Cow in big, bold, capitalized bubble text. Underneath it reads Yummy Milk and there's an illustration of a cow posing on its side propped up on its elbow and a knee bent  up. It's on a hill with a bird flying above and three indications of grass. At the bottom are six small boxes identifying the box as recyclable, equal to 8 cups, and local to Utah. There's also a QR code and two boxes labelled competition. At the top the carton says it's best by Feb 11. The back has the same title and subtitle, and the same small boxes. Across the central space three birds fly left, and at the top of the fold five other birds in a line fly left. At the bottom small text reads "How many birds on this bottle? Answer on the bottom." 
The right side has the same logo, a nutrition label, and a wavy line bisecting the side. Underneath it has a logo for milkhaus and handwritten text that says "Milkhaus is a new local small business that focuses on providing people with fresh milk from the area. We hope to bridge the gap between the farm and people by collaborating with local farmers and producers."
Photo by Bryan Howell

Since 1970, there’s been a 52% decline in the sale of fluid milk in the United States, with consumption dropping off most steeply over the last decade.

Looking to buck that trend, Dairy West—a consortium of dairy farmers and dairy companies in Idaho and Utah—have turned to students at BYU for some fresh ideas. A group of 25 food science, industrial design, and graphic design students helped address the decline by creating more appealing labels and packaging for cow milk. The students designed new, unique packaging concepts for the milk, created their own brand, and reimagined how people consume milk.

According to the three BYU professors overseeing the project—Bryan Howell (industrial design), Laura Jefferies (food science), and Linda Reynolds (graphic design)—the work will lead to multiple international publications and presentations.

See the students’ designs and concepts here.

Salty Genes: Bacterial Solutions to Rising Salt Levels in Soils

By Andrew Jenkins

The amount of salt in agricultural soil is rising at an alarming rate worldwide. Utah is especially vulnerable to soil salination due to its dry climate and low precipitation. Soil salt hinders growth in many species, including alfalfa, a major cash crop in Utah that feeds livestock throughout the western United States.

Courtesy of Andrew Jenkins

To address this problem, the Nielsen Lab, headed by Brent Nielsen (BS ’80) of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Biology, extracted bacteria from the roots of Utah desert plants that grow well despite high soil salinity. These bacteria, termed halophiles or salt-lovers, stimulate alfalfa growth in high salt soils. When present, halophiles make alfalfa more salt resistant and increase overall production compared to untreated controls.

Members of the Hill Lab, led by Jonathon Hill of the Cell Biology and Physiology Department, screened the genome of the most successful of these bacteria, Kushneria. This screen revealed a number of novel genes that may help stimulate alfalfa growth.

The goal is to create a probiotic cocktail that farmers can use to increase yield in areas with high-salt soil. Such a soil probiotic could contain many salt-tolerant, growth-stimulating bacterial species to help plants grow despite high levels of soil salinity.

Climate Change and Dietary Decisions: Lori Spruance Named Fulbright Scholar

By Shannon Haddock

You’ve likely admitted to yourself that munching on baby carrots would be better for your health than snacking on a bag of Doritos. But have you ever considered how that switch could affect the health of the planet?

“Oftentimes, we think the climate change solution is not taking your car as often,” says Lori Spruance, associate professor of public health. “There are obviously many ways of attacking this problem [climate change], but we don’t often think of dietary changes as a potential way.”

Spruance began exploring this theory when she collaborated with one of her PhD mentors on a project. “I was really interested in . . . the connection between food intake and greenhouse gas emissions,” she explains. “How can we potentially mitigate or help with climate change based on dietary decisions?”

Armed with this innovative idea and a desire to investigate it internationally, Spruance applied and was chosen to be a 2023–2024 Fulbright Scholar. She will use this grant to travel to Australia and research how changes to school lunches may affect both the climate and personal health.