University of Connecticut University of UC Title Fallback Connecticut

February, 2018

Sports Sampling May Reduce Injury Risk in Young Athletes

Read on UConn Today.

Children playing soccer. (Getty Images)
The study found that exposing children to a variety of sports promotes ‘physical literacy,’ helping them develop better movement skills and encouraging physical activity in the long term. (Getty Images)




Competition for coveted athletic scholarships is prompting some young athletes to focus all of their attention on one sport at the exclusion of others.

But a new study out of the University of Connecticut shows that encouraging children to participate in a variety of sports and physical activities has its own distinct advantages.

The study found that exposing children to a variety of sports may lower their risk of certain injuries.

Children who engage in a variety of activities have more opportunities to learn to control their body in response to different physical demands. — Lindsay DiStefano

The report – published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Sports Health – is believed to be the first of its kind presenting clear scientific evidence supporting the benefits of sports sampling.

“If we want our children to be active for life so they are healthy and well, and if we want them to become good athletes, then we need to encourage kids to try a lot of different activities,” says Lindsay DiStefano, associate professor of kinesiology and the study’s primary investigator.

Young athletes who engaged in more than one sport in a given year were more than twice as likely to exhibit good neuromuscular control when performing certain landing skills as athletes who focused on one sport, according to the study. In a series of tests, 27 percent of the multisport athletes showed good landing coordination, compared to 11 percent for single sport participants. Good neuromuscular control when landing can prevent anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, tendonitis, stress fractures, and other serious medical conditions that can hinder and/or delay an athlete’s performance.

Concerns about sport specialization are not new. Previous studies have shown that young athletes who limit their training to a single sport risk burnout, social isolation, and overuse injuries. Experts recommend that children don’t begin focusing on a single sport until they are well into adolescence.

Advocates for sports sampling say participating in a variety of sports during childhood promotes long-term physical activity, builds confidence, and allows for better development of fundamental movement skills such as running, skipping, and balancing.

“Children who engage in a variety of activities have more opportunities to learn to control their body in response to different physical demands,” says DiStefano. “By participating in a variety of activities, children might learn how to run up and down a court and quickly change direction, how to run while dribbling a soccer ball, or how to brace themselves for a potential collision. All of those things help children develop different components of neuromuscular control, which can prevent injury and also help them become better athletes long-term.”

With only 30 percent of U.S. adolescents currently achieving the daily recommended dose of physical activity, DiStefano says making sure children are confident in fundamental movement skills – known as achieving ‘physical literacy’ – should be considered just as important as their mastery of other essential life skills such as reading and writing.

“If you look at reading literacy, a child must be literate in order to continue their education and succeed in life,” says DiStefano, who conducts research on behalf of UConn’s Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP). “If they can’t read, their ability to succeed in other areas of academics is extremely limited. If we take that analogy and apply it to physical literacy, then it is our goal that every child and person be physically active across their lifetime. If they never develop physical literacy, then the likelihood of them being physically active is poor.”

In conducting their study, UConn researchers recruited 355 young athletes who were between the ages of 8 and 14 years old. Of the group, 122 were boys and 233 were girls. The participants were drawn from three youth soccer teams and one youth basketball organization. Every child’s sport participation history was recorded. There were 91 single sport athletes (33 boys, 58 girls) and 264 multi-sport athletes (89 boys, 175 girls).

Every athlete completed three trials of a jump-landing task. Each attempt was videotaped from several angles and scientifically analyzed for movement control errors.

All of the athletes were required to make a forward jump from a 30 cm box, landing a distance of at least half their body height. They then had to jump for maximum height upon landing. The soccer players were also required to complete two long jumps from a standing position. Children exposed to multiple sports jumped farther on average than those exposed to a single sport. The basketball players were required to complete two trials of an agility test in which they were timed. In that test, the athletes had to sprint forward 10 meters, shuffle to each side several times, and then backpedal to their starting position.

Athletes were determined to have good neuromuscular control if they made less than five movement control errors, a rate that has been shown to be predictive of lower risk of ACL injuries.

Moving forward, DiStefano and her research team are working to develop methods to quickly identify children who lack sufficient movement skills and who may be at risk of not meeting targeted daily activity goals. The team is also developing appropriate interventions to get those children to be more active and to help them develop physical literacy.

The research was supported by funding from the Charles Hood Foundation for Child Health Research.

Students in Poverty Less Likely to be Identified as Gifted

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Sixth-graders work on writing projects with teacher Kim Albro at Dr. Joseph S. Renzulli Gifted and Talented Academy in Hartford on Dec. 14, 2011. (Peter Morenus/UConn File Photo)
The Renzulli Academy in Hartford for children in Grades 4-8 was the first stand-alone public school in the country for gifted and talented children in an urban area. More often, children living in poverty are not identified as gifted, nor served in special programs, according to a new UConn study. (Peter Morenus/UConn File Photo)

UConn gifted education specialists have published the first study to demonstrate a link between student poverty, institutional poverty, and the lower identification rate of gifted low-income students.

The study, “Disentangling the Roles of Institutional and Individual Poverty in the Identification of Gifted Students,” was published in the journal Gifted Child Quarterly. Researchers found that students eligible for free or reduced lunch programs are less likely to be identified for gifted education services even after controlling for prior math and reading achievement scores. In addition, the findings indicated that students in low-income schools have a further reduced possibility of being identified for gifted services.

“This is the first look at this issue in a significant way,” says Rashea Hamilton, a research associate in the National Center for Research on Gifted Education (NCRGE), part of UConn’s Neag School of Education. “We were able to make connections between higher proportions of free or reduced lunch students and availability of gifted programs and percentage of gifted students.”

The study reviewed data of 330,531 students in three unidentified states who entered third grade in 2011 and finished fifth grade in 2014, the grade levels where standardized testing typically begins and initial identification of gifted students often occurs. Students in the sample attended 4,546 schools covering 367 school districts in three states with mandates for gifted education.

The study found that poverty measured by the percentage of students in free or reduced lunch programs related to the school’s gifted identification rate. In two of the three states evaluated in the study, the percentage of students in the lunch program negatively predicted the proportion of gifted students in the school, even after controlling for school and district reading and math achievement.

In the third state, although a school’s percentage of free or reduced lunch student population did not predict the percentage of gifted students after controlling for school reading and math achievement, the proportion of students in the lunch program throughout a district did predict a lower proportion of gifted students in the school. “These findings suggest that both institutional poverty and individual poverty help to explain elements of underrepresentation of students in programs for the gifted,” the researchers wrote.

“The implications of this research are clear: Students who live in poverty are likely to be overlooked during the gifted identification process,” the researchers said. “Furthermore, within-district inequities appear to contribute to the under-identification of students of poverty as gifted. High-potential students in poverty are less likely to be recognized and served in programs for the gifted. Such practices have the potential to increase, rather than decrease, social inequities.”

“Even within the same district, we were noticing the percentages of gifted students were very different across schools within the district, and the percent of free lunch students were different across schools within a district,” says co-author D. Betsy McCoach, professor of measurement, evaluation, and assessment. “You’d think polices are being set at district level, but there’s a lot of variability within the same district in terms of how students who receive free lunch and students who are identified as gifted are distributed across the district.”

The researchers suggest that identification of gifted low-income students could improve with the following measures:

• A resource allocation formula that ensures all high-potential students regardless of their school context can access gifted programming.
• Utilization of school-based norms to guide identification decisions by school districts rather than district-based standards.
• Implementation of universal screening programs.
• Adoption of state policies that would help equitably distribute resources, especially to low-income schools to ensure that schools and districts can comply with gifted-related mandates.

McCoach says the findings suggest that school districts may identify specific schools that usually have gifted students, and focus gifted education resources only on the highest-achieving or wealthiest schools. Instead, districts should focus on developing the talents of the highest-achieving students within each of its schools.

“There should be a certain percentage of students at each school who are identified as gifted, because no matter how low-achieving your school is, there are going to be children in that school that need more academic challenge,” she says. “In gifted education, traditionally, the ‘gifted’ label is placed on the student, and it sort of never goes away. The talent development perspective is to identify students not being adequately served in their regular learning environment and provide what they need to more fully develop their potential. It should be about finding students who can do more than they are being asked to do, and helping them to develop their talents. When you start talking in that way, then it becomes clear that in every school and neighborhood, there will be children who can do more than they are being asked.”

NCRGE was launched in 2014 with funding authorized through the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act. Center staff who were authors of this study include UConn researchers Hamilton and McCoach; Del Siegle, professor in gifted and talented education and associate dean for research and faculty affairs in the Neag School; and E. Jean Gubbins, professor of educational psychology. The research team on the study also included M. Shane Tutwiler, assistant professor of educational foundations at the University of Rhode Island; Carolyn M. Callahan, professor of education, and Annalissa Brodersen, research associate, both from the University of Virginia; and Rachel U. Mun, assistant professor of educational psychology at University of North Texas.

The research was funded by the Javits Act, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences.

Invasion of the Body-Snatching Fungus

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(Yesenia Carrero/UConn Illustration)
(Yesenia Carrero/UConn Illustration)

UConn researchers recently documented in Nature Scientific Reports a gory and fascinating relationship between periodical cicadas and a fungus that infects them, hijacks their behavior, and causes a scene straight out of a zombie movie.

“It’s a fun story for us, not for the cicadas,” says UConn ecology and evolutionary biology researcher and adjunct faculty member John Cooley.

Though researchers have known about the fungus for around 100 years, Cooley and his colleagues David Marshall, a postdoc, and lab technician Kathy Hill have published new findings about the infection.

The story starts with the cicadas’ emergence, when around 2 to 5 percent are infected with spores of a fungus called Massospora cicadina. Though the fungus infects both male and female cicadas, the researchers discovered that early in the emergence, the infection – at this point called a Stage I infection – causes curious behavioral changes in males where, in addition to their normal mating behaviors, they will exhibit wing flicking that is typically seen only in female cicadas.

The infected male cicadas put on a ruse, much like the Sirens of Greek myths; they flick their wings like a female, and lure in healthy unsuspecting males, who get close enough to be exposed to the spores, leading to their doom. The diseased males will also attempt to copulate with the uninfected females, exposing them to even more spores.

The infection results in the insect’s abdomen becoming distended as it fills with powdery, white fungal spores eventually to the point of bursting open or falling off altogether. When the abdomen falls off, the genitalia are lost with it – but that doesn’t stop the cicadas from their eager quest to copulate.

Cicadas infected by the spores passed around by the initially infected cicadas exhibit what is called a Stage II infection, following the same infection cycle as that seen in Stage I infections, in some cases acting normally despite the lack of genitalia and large portions of their abdomens, and spewing spores wherever they go.

The fungus’s job is complete, the spores are spread and ready to infect future generations.

Growing body of research

Cooley says the research into similar infections by parasites or fungi has been observed in other species, for instance in beetlesfruit flies, and even mammals, and has led to a growing body of literature over the past 10 years or so.

Of the cicada infections, Cooley says, “This phenomenon is the ultimate evolutionary arms race, where the host loses because they are rendered sterile or evolutionarily irrelevant by the fungus in order to spread the spores.”

He anticipates that this area of research will continue to heat up in coming years, as more details of these arms races are uncovered.

This type of research has to be performed in the field, and it’s hard to predict where the fungus will be present. The best sites for studying these unfortunate cicadas have been almost stumbled upon. As Cooley explains, “I’d be driving along and say ‘Holy smoke, there are a lot of dead cicadas in this spot. What’s going on?’”

He says the findings on this hijacking fungus are an excellent example of the importance of basic scientific research and observation, and may ultimately lead to a scientific breakthrough.

“Basic research is sometimes not very exciting, it can be a lot of sitting around watching bugs,” he observes. “You never really know in advance what the payoffs and applications will be. But basic research may lead to someone having an ‘Aha’ moment. Maybe this could lead to new biocontrol, maybe the fungus could secrete something to alter metabolism or nervous behavior. We’ll have to see where it goes.”

The research was supported by funds from the following grants to UConn professor of ecology and evolutionary biology Chris Simon: NSF DEB 98-07113 and DEB 99-74369.

Policy Changes for Federally-Funded Human Subject Research

As many of you are aware, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and several other federal agencies and departments recently issued an interim final rule governing federally funded/supported human subject research.  The implementation of the revised version of the regulation has been delayed until July 19, 2018.  Despite this delay, the Institutional Review Boards at UConn Health and UConn-Storrs will begin implementing some policy changes that are aimed at reducing administrative burden on investigators while still affording sufficient protections to research participants. 



Training Requirements:

Compliance with human subject training requirements will be verified at the time of initial approval and at the time an individual is being added to a study through a request for modification.  Training must be current for the individual being added.  To be considered current, training must have been completed and passed within the past three years.  


Continuing Review for Non-Federally Funded/Supported Research and Non-FDA Regulated Research:

Non-federally funded/supported research and non-FDA regulated minimal risk research that qualifies for expedited review will be approved for either the anticipated time frame of the project or one year from the date of approval, whichever is greater.  Unless specifically required by the IRB, annual continuing review will no longer be required for this type of research.


As the anticipated completion date of the research draws near, investigators may extend the expected completion date if necessary through a request for modification.  Research cannot be conducted beyond the approval period.  If any federal support is obtained after the initial approval the investigator is obligated to inform the IRB, via a request for modification, and annual continuing review will become required.


For studies previously approved through the expedited review process, investigators may request transition to this new policy at the time the next continuing review is due or sooner by submitting a request for modification.  Any document currently stamped with an expiration date that is still used in the research would need to be attached to the submission to allow for removal of the expiration date.


Please note that federally funded or supported research and FDA regulated research must continue to receive IRB review and approval on an annual basis, at a minimum.


Consent – Additional Elements

The proposed regulation contained new elements of consent.  Those elements have been incorporated into the consent form template and the consent checklist used by UConn Health.  Investigators are encouraged to include these new elements in consent documents, but the elements will not be mandated until such time as the revised regulation takes effect. 


Consent – Waiver or Alteration

The proposed regulation put forth an additional criteria for granting a waiver of consent that requires an explanation as to why the research could not be practicably carried out without using identifiable private information and/or identifiable biospecimens.  This additional criteria has been incorporated into the request for waiver/alteration forms and will be applied to all research going forward.


Consent – Waiver of Documentation

The proposed regulation would have allowed for waiver of documentation of consent when the subjects (or legally authorized representatives of the subjects) are members of a distinct cultural group or community in which signing forms is not the norm, when the research presents no more than minimal risk of harm to subjects, and when there is an appropriate alternative mechanism for documenting that informed consent was obtained.  This option may be utilized for non-federally funded/supported research and non-FDA regulated research.


Activity Related to Screening, Recruiting and Determining Eligibility:

For non-federally funded/supported research, a partial waiver of consent will no longer be required for the purpose of screening, recruiting or determining eligibility if either of the following is true:

  • The investigator will obtain information through oral or written communication with the prospective subject or legally authorized representative of the subject (e.g. telephone screening), or
  • The investigator will obtain identifiable private information or identifiable biospecimens by accessing records or stored biospecimens.
    • In order to access records or specimens for such purposes, there must be an established relationship between the investigator and the individuals whose records/specimens will be reviewed.
      • The investigator may delegate the review to appropriately designated research personnel

Investigators are obligated to protect the confidentiality of information collected prior to consent and HIPAA (primarily a concern for UConn Health investigators). This must still be appropriately addressed when protected health information is utilized. 


Stamping of Documents:

The expiration date will no longer be noted on documents.  Documents will continue to be stamped with the approval date and investigators will be responsible for ensuring that the most recently approved version of documents are being utilized.   


We expect that proactively implementing these changes will help to ease administrative burdens associated with minimal risk research and also to prepare investigators for compliance with the proposed revised regulation, should it be implemented.  


If you have questions regarding how these changes impact your current approval or planned submission to the IRB, please contact the IRB Office:


The InfoEd IRB-1 and IRB9 study protocol forms as well as the consent form, information sheet, parental permission form and parental notification form templates, were revised to incorporate these changes.  DOWNLOAD THE NEW FORMS PRIOR TO SUBMISSIION OF A NEW STUDY.


UConn Health

Mayra Cagganello – 860-679-8802 or by email


UConn Storrs

Doug Bradway – 860-486-0986 or by email at

Jerry McMurray – 860-486-5756 or by email at

Hunting is Changing Forests, But Not as Expected

Hunting is Changing Forests, But Not as Expected

Read on UConn Today.

Floodplain forest. (Photo courtesy of Robert Bagchi)
Floodplain forest. (Photo courtesy of Robert Bagchi)

When it comes to spreading their seeds, many trees in the rainforest rely on animals, clinging to their fur or hitching a ride within their digestive tract. As the seeds are spread around, the plants’ prospects for survival and germination are increased.

But in many tropical forests, over-hunting is diminishing the populations of those animals, and, as a result, changing the make-up of the forests themselves.

new study of the Amazon rainforest by researchers at UConn and the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation and Research, published in the Journal of Ecology, examines what happens to plants if their seed dispersers are no longer present. They found that theoretical models predicting a dire impact on plant communities and huge decreases in the amount of carbon stored in tropical forests are not supported by the facts. Instead, the effects on the ecosystem are less straightforward and less immediately devastating.

“Yes, there is a negative effect, but there isn’t 100 percent mortality,” says Robert Bagchi, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UConn. “The story is more complex and much more subtle.”

Whereas the models used in the previous studies did not use actual data on items such as mortality, survival, growth, and spatial distribution, Bagchi and his fellow researchers explored the question in greater detail, using a statistical technique they recently developed with extensive data collected on tree communities in the 80,000 km2 Madre de Dios river basin, located in the southeastern corner of Peru’s Amazon rainforest.

Yes, there is a negative effect, but there isn’t 100 percent mortality. The story is more complex and much more subtle.— Robert Bagchi

In Western Amazonia, as many as two-thirds of all tree species rely on native, fruit-eating mammals such as spider monkeys and tapirs, or birds like guans, trumpeters and toucans, who are able to travel fairly large distances and carry any ingested seeds far from their parent trees.

Dispersal is advantageous for seeds because spreading out will give seedlings an edge over specialized natural predators who might otherwise wipe out aggregations of undispersed plants.

“The idea is that the seeds escape,” says Bagchi. “A lot of pathogens and insects are quite specific about which plants they will eat, and if there is no dispersal and their desired plants are densely aggregated, those plants will be clobbered.”

In addition, the tree species dispersed by these animals also store the most carbon.

Unfortunately, the large-bodied animals and birds are the favorite quarry of hunters for bush meat.

The researchers examined tree communities in the tropical rain forests of Western Amazonia, in terms of forest spatial organization and carbon storage capacity. They did find that tree communities in hunted forests appear to be undergoing a reorganization, where saplings of species that rely on large hunted animals for dispersal are now growing closer to each other and forming denser clumps in hunted forests.

But the long-term implications for biodiversity and the biomass of forests are not yet clear. And the expectation that without their dispersers, seeds of these plant species will land in the “kill zone” of insects and diseases under their parents and be replaced by other species that store less carbon, culminating in huge decreases in the amount of carbon stored in tropical forests, has not materialized.

A number of factors could be contributing to the reason that previous theories are not proving true, Bagchi says.

Smaller seed dispersers that often increase when their larger competitors are hunted out may be compensating. Additionally, the trees analyzed in the study were already at least 10-15 years old, so follow-up studies will instead focus on the early lives of these trees, starting at the germination stage.

Questions the researchers hope to pursue include, What are the survival rates of undispersed seeds in hunted forests? Is limited dispersal by smaller animals enough to ensure a seed’s survival? How do these stages fit together – does high survival at a later stage compensate for low survival of undispersed seeds?

“We can’t simplify the process to just a linear one,” says Bagchi. “We need data following the whole process, from seed dispersal to trees growing into adults.”

Bagchi also cautions that although these findings are somewhat hopeful in light of previous modeling studies, tropical forests in South America, Asia, and Africa are becoming ever more stripped of their diversity of flora and fauna, fundamentally changing the structure of these complex systems.

This research was supported by grants from the National Geographic Society Grant Program #9487-14; the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission #GA-2010-267243; Directorate for Biological Sciences of the National Science Foundation #0742830. The DOI for the study is 10.1111/1365-2745.12929.


NE Underwater Research, Technology & Education Center Closure

UConn’s Northeast Underwater Research, Technology and Education Center Closes

Exploration and Research that Made a Difference


The University of Connecticut’s Northeast Underwater Research, Technology and Education Center (NURTEC) officially closed on December 31, 2017 after 34 years of activities across the global ocean and large lakes of the world.  Reduced funding and retirement of key personnel necessitated this action.  The Center was established at UConn in 1983 with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Undersea Research Program (NURP) and began fieldwork with research submersibles, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and advanced wet diving technologies in 1984.  Over the next three decades the Center compiled a remarkable record of scientific accomplishment, technological advancement, and operational safety along with developing unique education and outreach programs.  Using the scientific results generated by this work, the Center also influenced ocean policy and management.  A brief retrospective of the Center recognizes that it was guided both by the mandates and mission of NOAA, focused on conservation and sustainable use of ocean and large lake resources and by the spirit of innovation and exploration that runs deep at UConn.

For the first 25 years NURTEC operated as one of six regional National Undersea Research Centers (NURC’s), soliciting, reviewing and funding undersea research projects that required placing scientists directly, or virtually, underwater.  After federal budget priorities shifted and NURP was eliminated, NURTEC operated as a University cost center for 11 more years, based on a diversity of grants and contracts.  Over time, the Center used 9 different occupied submersibles, ten different remotely operated vehicles, and multiple approaches for wet diving systems including surface supplied, mixed gas and rebreather technologies.  The Center’s annual request for proposals was based upon NOAA’s national and related regional research priorities and was distributed to over 2,500 scientists across the nation.  Over this period the Center brought in over $43 million of federal funds that supported 246 peer-reviewed undersea research and education projects.  While research was focused primarily off the northeast and U.S. Great Lakes, projects also spanned the globe including Antarctica and U.S. Arctic waters, South China Sea, Eastern Tropical Pacific, African Rift Valley Lakes, Lake Baikal in Russia, Gulf of California, Mediterranean, Red Sea, and the northeast Atlantic off Portugal.  Scientists supported by the Center produced 213 peer reviewed publications with data collected from over 8,750 dives.

map of NURTEC dives

Location of NURTEC supported dives

Staff scientists at the Center and those supported at other institutions, often working with NOAA partners, made direct contributions to improve management and conservation of ocean resources.  Center scientists took results from their underwater studies to State governments, regional Fishery Management Councils, the U.S. Congress, the United Nations, and even the White House.  Some notable examples include the use of research results to significantly influence the development of essential fish habitat and deep sea coral provisions in national fisheries legislation, implementation of fisheries closed areas off the northeast US to enhance sustainable fisheries, identification of management plan alternatives for National Marine Sanctuaries, development of measures to protect vulnerable ecosystems on the high seas through the United Nations, and designation of the first Marine National Monument in the U.S. North Atlantic by President Obama. Such research also aided decisions about Long Island Sound in regards to assessing impacts of a proposed liquid natural gas terminal and impacts of the disposal of harbor dredge material on seafloor habitats.

Studies with other partners focused on the use of underwater technologies to explore our nation’s rich maritime history.  ROVs were used to identify and survey the remains of the steamship Portland, a sidewheel passenger steamer that sank in 1898 in a surprise storm with loss of 192 lives including crew and passengers.  Called the “Titanic of the Gulf of Maine,” the exploration was featured on Discovery’s Science Channel. Thirty-five additional shipwrecks were surveyed while working with NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary program, four of which have been provided additional protection by placement on the National Register of Historic Places.  Further, the Center surveyed the wreck of the Lightship LV-51 that sank at the mouth of the Connecticut River, resulting in its being designated as Connecticut’s second submerged heritage site.

Since its inception the Center played a leading role in developing underwater sampling tools to meet the needs of sponsored researchers working on a variety of diving technologies.  In 1987 the Center initiated its remotely operated vehicle (ROV) program with the purchase of the first commercially available low-cost vehicle, the MiniRover, capable of diving to 1,000 feet and collecting samples using a simple manipulator arm. Over the next thirty years the Center acquired, operated and upgraded a number of ROVs to better serve the research community, culminating with the development of the 1,000-meter Kraken2 (K2). The K2 is widely recognized as one of the most capable and affordable “science class” ROV’s in the country and conducted a wide range of missions in support of ocean science and infrastructure.  Over the past decade the K2 has provided subsea maintenance to help keep the NSF Ocean Observatories Initiative’s Pioneer Array, located on the continental shelf south of Martha’s Vineyard, operational; recovered NOAA’s $500K HabCam towed imaging system that was lost on the wreck of the Bow Mariner; supported numerous projects focused on deep sea corals in the Gulf of Maine, Atlantic seaboard, Gulf of Mexico and National Marine Sanctuaries off the coasts of Oregon and California; and surveyed over 65 nautical miles of subsea cables for the U.S. Navy operating from the Research Vessel Connecticut.

Recovering the K2 ROV onto the RV Connecticut following a dive in the Gulf of Maine

Recovering the K2 ROV onto the RV Connecticut following a dive in the Gulf of Maine

Ocean science education was an enduring mission of the Center with a focus on the unique contribution that underwater technologies make to the advancement of science and the engagement of students and teachers.  The High School Aquanaut Program, conducted over the course of 20 years, engaged students and teachers in hands-on field science using submersibles, remotely operated vehicles and acoustic technologies.  The NSF-funded Classroom of the Sea program developed innovative ocean science education approaches for deaf and hard of hearing students.  Most recently, the Center led one of the 14 Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) funded by the NSF – COSEE-TEK – Technology and Engineering for Knowledge that utilized ocean science and technology to provide professional development for high school teachers, and engage and expose students to ocean sciences and engineering career opportunities, including dozens of undergraduate students from the New England Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation.

While NURTEC has ceased to operate, the legacy of excellence and innovation will continue within the Department of Marine Sciences.  Former Center Director Ivar Babb is now a Research Scientist within the Department with a focus on science education and the broader impacts of ocean research.  Research Professor Emeritus and former NURTEC Science Director Peter Auster, who has had a faculty appointment with the Department since 2002, continues his studies on the ecology and conservation of marine fishes, human impacts on the sea, and the use of marine protected areas as conservation tools.  The Underwater Vehicles Laboratory and ROV operations, led by Kevin Joy, will now be directed by the Department’s marine operations program.


New Grant to Study Bacterial Agent of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome


New Grant to Study Bacterial Agent of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome

Anna Zarra Aldrich, Office of the Vice President for Research

Dr. Sivapriya Kailasan Vanaja, an assistant professor at UConn Health, has received a five-year grant for just under $2 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study the agent that causes hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

HUS is a life-threatening condition that afflicts 96,000 Americans each year. This condition results in low red blood cell counts leading to anemia, the destruction of blood platelets, which are essential to clotting blood to close wounds, and even complete kidney failure due to shrunken blood vessels in the kidneys.

HUS is caused by Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC), a bacteria that colonizes the large intestine in humans. In healthy adults, the body’s innate immune responses prevent colonization of EHEC and HUS onset. However, studies from Dr. Vanaja’s lab indicate that EHEC may be inhibiting these crucial immune response pathways, especially an important pathway called the noncanonical inflammasome pathway.

Currently, treatments for HUS are extremely limited, as antibiotics make the disease more severe. However, an internal pathway such as the noncanonical inflammasome Dr. Vanaja is studying has the potential to eliminate the infection if it is not inhibited by EHEC.

Dr. Vanaja’s research could lead to the future development of more effective treatments for EHEC by utilizing newfound information on how it interferes with the pathway.

Dr. Vanaja received her Ph.D. from Michigan State University in comparative medicine and integrative biology. Her research focuses on learning more about how bacterial pathogens alter and interfere with their host organism’s immune responses.

“Bacterial modulation of noncanonical inflammasome” is NIH grant number 1R01 AI132850-01A1.

(Dr. Sivapriya Kailasan Vanaja, left, and a colleague in a UCH lab/UConn Photo)

Are White Coaches Fulfilling the Culture Needs of Black Athletes?


Are White Coaches Fulfilling the Culture Needs of Black Athletes? A Study of Intercultural Communication

Anna Zarra Aldrich, Office of the Vice President for Research

Dr. Joseph Cooper, an Assistant Professor  of Sport Management and Educational Leadership in UConn’s Neag School of Education, is a co-investigator with Dr. Drew Brown, Assistant Africana Studies Professor at the University of Delaware on a grant from the American Athletic Conference to study the topic of whether and how white coaches are fulfilling the cultural needs of black college athletes.

Nine out of the12 universities in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) have white football coaches, but many of the athletes on these teams are black and the quality of the relationship between black college athletes and white coaches often impacts athletes’ developmental experiences in college and post-college, according to the researchers.

Dr. Cooper and Dr. Brown will conduct interviews and administer surveys to college athletes from three different AAC schools to better understand if black college athletes feel their relationship with their white coaches fulfill their cultural needs.

The study will apply co-cultural communication theory, which studies how non-dominant groups in society create alternative forms of communication to articulate their experiences. In addition, this study will incorporate critical race theory, which scrutinizes existing societal power structures that marginalize people of color and is germane to the study of the dynamic between white coaches and black college athletes. Thus, this study will explore the role race, culture, and communication styles play in the relationship between “in group” and “out group” members across the lines of race and sport role involvement.

After completing this study, Dr. Cooper and Dr. Brown will generate suggestions for the direction of future research in this area to improve these critical relationships.

Dr. Cooper received his Ph.D. in Kinesiology and Sport Management and Policy from the University of Georgia. His areas of interest are sport management, gender and race in sports, racism and other forms of oppression, higher education and qualitative research.

(Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

UConn Historian Wins $50K Grant from NEH

UConn Historian Wins $50K Grant from National Endowment for the Humanities

Anna Zarra Aldrich, Office of the Vice President for Research

University of Connecticut history professor Dr. Frank Costigliola has been awarded over $50,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to write a book on how emotional reactions are inextricably linked to the cognitive processes used by foreign policy actors, with a focus on one such strategist in particular.

George F. Kennan was America’s foremost Soviet strategist during the early Cold War. He authored the containment doctrine, which became the lodestar of U.S. policy during the half-century long struggle with the Soviet Union. Ironically, Kennan also had great love for the people, culture and land of Russia.

Professor Costigliola’s book explores the contradictions and the consistencies between Kennan’s Russophilia and his policies directed against the Kremlin. Kennan’s passion for the Russian people seeped into his policies directed against their Soviet rulers. Kennan presents a fascinating figure also in that he was a pioneering environmentalist who deplored the uncontrolled urbanization and industrialization that characterized 20th century American society.

By the 1950s, Kennan, now out of government, had developed into a critic of Washington’s Cold War policies, which he regarded as too militaristic. In 1966, he became one of the first Establishment figures to publicly testify against the Vietnam War. Kennan, who lived to be 101, deplored the nuclear arms race of the 1980s and the expansion of NATO up to Russia’s border in the 1990s.

Dr. Costigliola is examining the diaries, letters and speeches of Kennan for evidence of the emotional aspects of his integrated thinking.  By analyzing traditionally overlooked gestures and behaviors and paying attention to the choice of metaphors and other tropes in Kennan’s language, Dr. Costigliola will be able to parse the various elements, including emotional reactions, that shaped Kennan’s thinking and behavior.

Dr. Costigliola will use a multidisciplinary approach, utilizing insights from psychology, philosophy, political science and even neuroscience. No existing historical analysis of the Cold War period properly acknowledges and explores the vital role emotion played in motivating many of the actions that shaped the protracted conflict, making the focus of this work a truly revolutionary way of viewing the actors involved in it.

Dr. Costigliola hopes his work will help diminish the traditionally Western way of viewing reason and emotion as opposing modes of decision-making by showing that one always informs the other.

“As foreign policy is a constant hot-button issue in the politics of every country, this work has a clear impact on the world in which we are living today,” said Dr. Costilgiola. “Having a better understanding of what emotional links inform foreign policy advisors’ recommendations could help foster a more understanding international community as we begin to realize that everyone, politicians and advisors included, is human and is swayed by their culturally inflected emotional interpretations and reactions.”

Dr. Costigliola received his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1973. He specializes in U.S. foreign relations and 20th century American history.  He has written extensively on George F. Kennan, most notably with a book titled The Kennan Diaries (2014).

This project is NEH grant: #  FA-251382-17.

(Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

What Makes the Bacteria Behind Lyme Disease Tick?

Read on on UConn Today.

Postdoctoral fellow Ashley Groshong in the Spirochete Lab at UConn Health. (Office of the Vice President for Research Photo)
UConn Health researchers led by postdoctoral fellow Ashley Groshong, shown here in UConn Health’s Spirochete Research Lab, are advancing understanding of how the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi transmits Lyme disease, pointing to the potential for ultimately developing therapeutics to target this system. (Office of the Vice President for Research Photo)

Connecticut residents are all too familiar with Lyme disease, but the precise mechanisms of how humans become infected are still unclear. Researchers from UConn Health are advancing the understanding of how the causative bacterial agent of Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), survives in ticks and mammals.

The findings from Ashley Groshong, a postdoctoral fellow in the Spirochete Research Lab at UConn Health, and her colleagues were recently published in mBio.

Here’s a refresher on the typical steps involved in the spreading of Lyme disease.

An infected black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) feeds on and infects a mammal, like a white-footed mouse, to transmit a pathogen (i.e. Borrelia burgdorferi) to its next mammalian host. While the tick may prefer to feed from small rodents or deer, oftentimes humans are an accidental host. In this case, transmission of the bacteria to humans results in disease pathology.

This bacterial pathogen is a spirochete, which means it has a unique spiral shape, and it is slow to replicate. It also depends entirely on its host for nutrients, a unique characteristic that has drawn attention from many Lyme researchers. While previous genetic analyses have suggested that the Bb’s genome encodes a cellular transport system capable of importing nutrients from the host in the form of peptides, the importance of the system for viability and pathogenesis had never been established.

“We wanted to target the energy domain of the system to understand exactly how important this system is for survival and proliferation during infection,” explains Groshong. “If we understand how B. burgdorferi acquires its nutrients from its hosts and which nutrients are essential, it could potentially lead to a novel target for therapeutic intervention.”

The peptide transport system is quite complex, preventing previous evaluation of its role in the bacteria. To better understand the importance of peptides, a source of amino acids, Groshong and the UConn Health team adopted a novel approach. Groshong created a mutant version of B. burgdorferi that effectively blocks the spirochete’s normal methods of consuming peptides by targeting the lynchpin of the transporter, the part of the system that provides energy for peptide transport.

The research showed that spirochetes deprived of peptides failed to replicate, which indicates that peptide uptake is essential for bacterial viability and ability to infect. In other words, Groshong and the UConn Health team have shown that if Bb’s transport system is inhibited, it would be possible to block the proliferation of the bacteria in an infected mammal, such as a human or rodent. Interestingly, this is the only pathogen demonstrated to require peptides for basic viability, making this a unique find in the world of pathogenic bacteria.

Lyme disease research is particularly important for Connecticut residents, where the condition was first recognized in Lyme, Connecticut, in 1975. According to the Connecticut State Department of Public Health, approximately 30,000 people in the state are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year.

“When it comes to helping Connecticut tackle Lyme disease, UConn is providing support on all fronts,” says Radenka Maric, vice president for research at UConn and UConn Health, “from tick testing at the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory to innovative research like Dr. Groshong’s at the Spirochete Research Lab. UConn’s faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and students are conducting research to find solutions to the major health challenges we face today.”

Groshong plans to build on this research through a project that will explore possible ways to target this system for the development of therapeutics and to evaluate if a limited peptide environment, such as the mammal, promotes the formation of antibiotic-tolerant persister cells. This research will be funded through a Blackman Fellowship from the Global Lyme Alliance.

According to Groshong, there is still a long way to go before this research could translate into a new treatment option, but she’s hopeful about what this discovery means for the study of Lyme disease.

“Right now, our options for treating and preventing this infection are limited and not specific to the bacteria,” says Groshong. “Our goal is to conduct research that could lead to better understanding of how these bacteria cause disease, as well as novel and targeted approaches to new therapies.”

Other UConn Health authors include Abhishek Dey, Irina Bezsonova, Melissa J. Caimano, and Justin D. Radolf.