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.
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.
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
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.
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.