Faculty Faction: Dr. Richard Deschenes

Dr. DeschenesDr. Richard Deschenes is an Assistant Professor in the Civil/Environmental and Chemical Engineering Department. He graduated with his Bachelors, Masters, and PhD degrees in Civil Engineering from the University of Arkansas Fayetteville. He was born in New Hampshire but later moved to Maine for 4 years, and then moved to Arkansas for 10 years before coming to Ohio.

This is Dr. Deschenes first university teaching experience. “I have always been interested in teaching and academia,” said Dr. Deschenes. “I felt that YSU had that perfect balance of research and teaching for me.”

He enjoys that YSU does not stress research as heavily as many other big-name colleges in the country. Dr. Deschenes wants to focus on teaching in his first few years at YSU. He is excited to get to interact more with his students because of our smaller class sizes. He wants to promote more practicality in his courses, especially in lower level courses where the students usually do not have the opportunity to be hands-on.

“I believe that having more practical classes will help students to build a strong foundation for their future,” said Dr. Deschenes.

He also plans to begin his research in concrete durability and structural engineering. With that being said, he also wants to apply for research grants, both public and private, so that he can provide funding to his student researchers.

This semester, Dr. Deschenes is teaching Statics for engineering students as well as Structural Analysis 1 and its Lab. In the spring, he will be teaching Statics again, but will move forward to teaching Strength of Materials Lab and Structural Analysis 2.

In the future, Dr. Deschenes wants to get involved with the Higher Learning Commission accreditation at YSU and to stay involved in the university while also maintaining ABET accreditation for the Civil Engineering Department. He also wants to potentially co-advise the YSU Student Chapter of American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) with the department head, Dr. Islam. He then plans to help establish a student chapter of the American Concrete Institute (ACI) here at YSU.

Dr. Deschenes spends his free time jogging and hiking. He also enjoys cheering on the New England Patriots and the Boston Red Sox. He has 9 siblings, 8 of which are younger than him. And, he’s not the only civil engineer in his family! Two of his siblings are also civil engineers. Isn’t that cool?

To reach Dr. Deschenes, you can email him at radeschenes@ysu.edu, or visit him during his office hours from 9:30am to 11:15am on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Dr. Sharif Gets Additional Funding Through NSF Grant

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dr. Bonita Sharif, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems at Youngstown State University, has recently been awarded a Community Research Infrastructure grant from the National Science Foundation.

This project grant, totaling $527,806 over three years ($237,196 to YSU and $290,610 to KSU), began in June 2017 and is expected to finish in June 2020. This project relates closely to Dr. Sharif’s CAREER award research on eye-tracking from last year and is in collaboration with a team at Kent State University.

“The purpose of the award is to build infrastructure to help support incorporating eye tracking within the developer’s work environment,” said Dr. Sharif.

Basically, Dr. Sharif and her team are creating an extension for integrated development environments (the platforms developers use for coding) that will allow developers to track their eye movement within the platform. They will be able to replay the eye tracking data to learn from how they look at code.

Dr. Sharif says that this software and research is important because it will help developers’ self-awareness (to learn from their own work and become more efficient) and because it will help educators teach students better. It will also help researchers to conduct large-scale studies in the industry with minimal effort.

“We can show novices how experts fix bugs by what they look at first,” said Dr. Sharif.

It is her goal to release a beta version of the software by the end of the first year and to involve other researchers in beta testing and technical briefing sessions.

“At this point, many researchers have seen a demo of our system,” she said, “but really it’s still just a prototype. We want to make it to a point where it is production ready and people can just download it, install it, and use it. I believe the joint effort with Kent State will be great in moving this forward.”

The full project title is “CI-New: Collaborative Research: An Infrastructure that Combines Eye Tracking into Integrated Development Environments to Study Software Development and Program Comprehension.”

The students involved are undergraduates Ashwin Mishra, Alexander Bonnette, Nicholas Iovino, Chris Hardaway, and graduate student Sahaj Bhattarai.

View the abstract for the project and the full details of the award here.

Biomedical Research Series: Dr. Chet Cooper

Dr. Chet Cooper

Within the Department of Biological Sciences at Youngstown State University, there are many areas of research being explored by faculty and students alike. In a monthly series, we will highlight faculty research that covers various aspects of biomedical efforts from DNA to bacteria, fungi, and more.

 

Dr. Chet Cooper is a Professor of Biological Sciences at YSU. He holds a BS degree in Biology from Pitt-Johnstown. He earned his Master and PhD in Microbiology from the University of Texas.

Dr. Cooper researches a fungus that effects AIDS patients in Southeast Asia. The fungus cannot be found in soil or vegetation but it is known that it affects bamboo rats and humans. The only way a human can be infected by this fungus is by traveling to Southeast Asia and being HIV positive. The fungus is breathed in and can live in the body for several years before symptoms are observed.

The fungus, Talaromyces marneffei, was first discovered in the 1950s and brought to greater attention in the 1970s and 1980s when the AIDS epidemic occurred in Thailand. In some places in this country, up to 30% of AIDS patients contracted the fungal disease.

The fungi start attacking a person with AIDS by first giving the patient pneumonia. The infection then will spread to the skin, giving the patient skin lesions. After that, the infection will spread to the organs of the body and can be 100% fatal if it is not treated.

Dr. Cooper started researching fungi in graduate school. His first position out of graduate school was in a state health department in New York. He became familiar with different types of fungi through that position. Soon after, Dr. Cooper was asked to study how this fungus that attacks AIDS patients reacts to anti-fungal agents. His colleague from Thailand worked with him, and his research has progressed since.

“There are only 4-5 labs that study this around the entire world,” said Dr. Cooper. “People come from different countries to earn their PhD at YSU and work in the lab with this fungus.”

“There are several anti-fungal drugs that can be used to treat people who contract the fungus,” said Dr. Cooper. “But we are seeing more and more people experience side-effects and resistance to the drugs.”

At room temperature, the fungi grow filamentously. When the fungi are in the body, it is a single-celled organism that takes the form of a yeast. Dr. Cooper has recently been focusing on genes that could potentially be linked to the yeast phase of the fungus.

“A great co-worker of mine, Dr. Min, developed a software package for the entire genome of fungus,” said Dr. Cooper. “It will tell you the gene products that are pushed out of the cell.”

This software found 538 tentative genes that could potentially be connected to the fungi.

“It is also very important to know that fungi get their nutrition by sending enzymes out of the cell, digesting the substance, and absorbing,” said Dr. Cooper.

Undergraduate students that work with Dr. Cooper are developing a method using Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to identify genes and see a particular gene is on the list of 538 tentative genes. They have used a different form of PCR to see if the genes were specifically expressed in the yeast phase or both the yeast and room temperature phases. The purpose of this was to find solely the corresponding yeast phase genes. It turns out that they found genes that were like this.

This gives evidence that those types of genes are being expressed.  In a future study, Dr. Cooper and his undergraduate students will grow the fungus in the yeast phase and examine it for the proteins produced. If they find the same types of protein in the fungi it will prove the gene is associated with it.

Ultimately, Dr. Cooper wants to determine the genes and proteins that are produced by the pathogenic form, which can lead to treatments and potential cures for this fungus and many others.

Some people who contract the fungus go into remission following initial treatment. However, they must take an antifungal drug for the rest of their lives because the fungi take hold in their immune system. If the drug is not taken, the person will become sick again because the body will not attack its own immune system.

 

To contact Dr. Cooper about his research, you can email him at crcooper01@ysu.edu.

Faculty Faction: Dr. Christopher Arntsen

Dr. ArntsenDr. Christopher Arntsen is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at YSU. He holds a BS degree in both Math and Chemistry from the University of Connecticut. He continued to graduate school at UCLA where he obtained a PhD in Chemistry.

At his time at UCLA, Dr. Arntsen was a TA in the Chemistry department. Following the completion of his PhD, Dr. Arntsen taught at the UCLA extension for one semester.

“I loved the idea of being able to teach and do research,” said Dr. Arntsen. “I really felt that YSU had a great mix of both.”

Dr. Arntsen is currently teaching General Chemistry I and the Physical Chemistry Lab. As a researcher, Dr. Arntsen is a theoretical chemist, meaning he deals with computation and theoretical calculations. Once he gets more settled at YSU, he would love to investigate the bandgap modulation of solar cell perovskites. He wants to study what makes them efficient solar cells and find ways to apply his findings to future research.

“I think science education is on the verge of changing to a more project and discovery-based learning,” said Dr. Arntsen. “It’s important for students to learn hands-on skills. I really want to implement more project-based learning in my classes. It would be beneficial for students in higher level classes to have more open-ended projects.”

“I have noticed that the atmosphere at YSU is very friendly, vibrant, and energetic,” said Dr. Arntsen. “I have really enjoyed it in the short time that I’ve been here.”

In the future, Dr. Arntsen wants to get involved with the YSU Student Chapter of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

“I am an enthusiastic Celtics fan,” said Dr. Arntsen. “I will be enthusiastically rooting against the Cavs this year!”

To contact Dr. Arntsen, you can find him at office location in Ward Beecher 5034 on Mondays and Tuesdays from 1:30-2:30 and Mondays and Wednesdays from 6:30-7:30. You can also email Dr. Arntsen at carntsen@ysu.edu.

Recent Publication: Dr. Jack Min

Dr. Xiangjia “Jack” Min, Associate Professor in Biological Science, published a research article in Computational Molecular Biology in September 2017.

 

Title: Comprehensive Cataloging and Analysis of Alternative Splicing in Maize

Author: Dr. Xiangjia “Jack” Min

 

Abstract:

Gene expression is a key step in developmental regulation and responses in changing environments in plants. Alternative splicing (AS) is a process generating multiple RNA isoforms from a single gene pre-mRNA transcript that increases the diversity of functional proteins and RNAs. Identification and analysis of alternatively splicing events are critical for crop improvement and understanding regulatory mechanisms. In maize large numbers of transcripts generated by RNA-seq technology are available, we incorporated these data with data assembled with ESTs and mRNAs to comprehensively catalog all genes undergoing AS. A total of 192,624 AS events were detected and classified, including 103,566 (53.8%) basic events and 89,058 (46.2%) complex events which were formed by combination of various types of basic events. Intron retention was the dominant type of basic AS event, accounting for 24.1%. These AS events were identified from 91,128 transcripts which were generated from 26,669 genomic loci, of which consisted of 20,860 gene models. It was estimated that 55.3% maize genes may be subjected to AS. The transcripts mapping information can be used to improve the predicted gene models in maize. The data can be accessed at Plant Alternative Splicing Database (http://proteomics.ysu.edu/altsplice/).

 

Full article link:

http://biopublisher.ca/index.php/cmb/article/view/3258

Recent Publication: Biology Team

Dr. Michael Butcher, Associate Professor in Biological Science, in collaboration with Dr. Gary Walker, Chairperson and Professor of Biological Sciences, Mr. Julio “Ed” Budde, and student Dylan Thomas published a research article in Journal of Applied Physiology in September 2017.

 

Title: Ontogeny of myosin isoform expression and prehensile function in the tail of the gray short-tailed opossum (Monodelphis domestica)

Authors: Dylan R. Thomas, Brad A. Chadwell, Gary R. Walker, Julio E. Budde, John L. VandeBerg, Michael T. Butcher

 

Abstract:

Terrestrial opossums use their semiprehensile tail for grasping nesting materials as opposed to arboreal maneuvering. We relate the development of this adaptive behavior with ontogenetic changes in myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoform expression from 21 days to adulthood. Monodelphis domestica is expected to demonstrate a progressive ability to flex the distal tail up to age 7 mo, when it should exhibit routine nest construction. We hypothesize that juvenile stages (3–7 mo) will be characterized by retention of the neonatal isoform (MHC-Neo), along with predominant expression of fast MHC-2X and -2B, which will transition into greater MHC-1β and -2A isoform content as development progresses. This hypothesis was tested using Q-PCR to quantify and compare gene expression of each isoform with its protein content determined by gel electrophoresis and densitometry. These data were correlated with nesting activity in an age-matched sample of each age group studied. Shifts in regulation of MHC gene transcripts matched well with isoform expression. Notably, mRNA for MHC-Neo and -2B decrease, resulting in little-to-no isoform translation after age 7 mo, whereas mRNA for MHC-1β and -2A increase, and this corresponds with subtle increases in content for these isoforms into late adulthood. Despite the tail remaining intrinsically fast-contracting, a critical growth period for isoform transition is observed between 7 and 13 mo, correlating primarily with use of the tail during nesting activities. Functional transitions in MHC isoforms and fiber type properties may be associated with muscle “tuning” repetitive nest remodeling tasks requiring sustained contractions of the caudal flexors.

 

Full article link:

http://jap.physiology.org/content/123/3/513

Recent Publication: Dr. Michael Butcher & Zachary Glenn

Dr. Michael Butcher, Associate Professor in Biological Science, in collaboration with biology student Zachary Glenn, published a research article in Journal of Mammalian Evolution in September 2017.

 

Title: Architectural Properties of Sloth Forelimb Muscles (Pilosa: Bradypodidae)

Authors: Rachel A. Olson, Zachary D. Glenn, Rebecca N. Cliffe, Michael T. Butcher

 

Abstract:

Tree sloths have reduced skeletal muscle mass, and yet they are able to perform suspensory behaviors that require both strength and fatigue resistance to suspend their body mass for extended periods of time. The muscle architecture of sloths is hypothesized to be modified in ways that will enhance force production to compensate for this reduction in limb muscle mass. Our objective is to test this hypothesis by quantifying architecture properties in the forelimb musculature of the brown-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus: N = 4). We evaluated architecture from 52 forelimb muscles by measuring muscle moment arm (rm), muscle mass (MM), belly length (ML), fascicle length (LF), pennation angle (θ), and physiological cross-sectional area (PCSA), and these metrics were used to estimate isometric force, joint torque, and power. Overall, the musculature becomes progressively more pennate from the extrinsic to intrinsic regions of the forelimb, and the flexors are more well developed than the extensors as predicted. However, most muscles are indicative of a mechanical design for fast joint rotational velocity instead of large joint torque (i.e., strength), although certain large, parallel-fibered shoulder (e.g., m. latissimus dorsi) and elbow (e.g., m. brachioradialis) flexors are capable of producing appreciable torques by having elongated moment arms. This type of functional tradeoff between joint rotational velocity and mechanical advantage is further exemplified by muscle gearing in Bradypus that pairs synergistic muscles with opposing LF/rm ratios in each functional group. These properties are suggested to facilitate the slow, controlled movements in sloths. In addition, the carpal/digital flexors have variable architectural properties, but their collective PCSA and joint torque indicates the capability for maintaining grip force and carpal stability while distributing load from the manus to the shoulder. The observed specializations provide a basis for understanding sustained suspension in sloths.

Full article link:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10914-017-9411-z

Faculty Faction: Dr. Kevin Disotell

Dr. Kevin Disotell

Dr. Kevin Disotell is an assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at YSU. He holds a BS and PhD in Aeronautical & Astronautical l Engineering from The Ohio State University, with the primary focus of aerodynamics.

“While I was a doctoral candidate at Ohio State, I served as an instructor for a technical elective—helicopter aerodynamics—which was my first teaching experience in the classroom,” said Disotell. “It was also a good experience to balance teaching and research duties.”

After his experiences at OSU, Dr. Disotell began his career in the aerospace industry. He was able to contribute to programs and research efforts at NASA.

“I came to YSU from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. Langley was established as our nation’s first civilian aeronautics laboratory, and it was an honor to be part of the 100th anniversary of the center’s opening this year,” said Disotell. “So many amazing achievements in aerospace history have roots at Langley. Having also worked in product development at Ford Motor Company in Michigan, I feel quite fortunate to have been part of such iconic organizations with tremendous histories.”

Dr. Disotell knew that giving college-level students the backgrounds for an aerospace degree would allow them to also experience what he had. Dr. Disotell’s interests in teaching at YSU arose because he could contribute to quality degree programs while also helping YSU to be a national model for public education value. Having been raised in Boardman, Disotell knew how important the university was to the area, so he wanted to be part of the university’s momentum.

“I look forward to creating an integrated teaching and research space in the fluid mechanics laboratory of Moser Hall,” said Disotell. “A key piece of this transformation is a new research-grade wind tunnel that we will build alongside our instructional tunnels. Being in a state of aviation pioneers and in the middle of our country’s Fluid Power Belt, it is important that we offer excellent training in fluid mechanics.”

This semester you can see Dr. Disotell if you are part of the mechanical engineering program or if you are taking Thermodynamics I or Fluid Dynamics.

In his short time here, Dr. Disotell has already started to make an impact at YSU. He has been involved in the effort to create a new student branch for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) on campus. This new student organization will open new doors for students with career interests in the aerospace field. The organization will work to provide its members professional connections. You can read more about the AIAA branch here.

Dr. Disotell has also expressed an urge to improve several components on campus for YSU engineering students.

“One of my goals is to help expand quality research opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students with our work in the laboratory,” said Disotell. “Getting hands-on experience helps drive innovation and will prepare our students to enter the workforce in the aerospace sector, which continues to see global growth in economic value and manufacturing output. Ohio is a leading supplier to the aerospace industry.”

It is great to know that Dr. Disotell is aiming for the stars here at YSU.

“My favorite pastime is baseball. An ancestor of mine, Gene Desautels, played professional baseball as a catcher around the time of WWII,” said Disotell. “He was teammates with the famous hitter Ted Williams in Boston, and also played for Cleveland among other teams.”

Doesn’t Dr. Disotell sound like an amazing professor? For more information about AIAA or to contact Dr. Disotell for any reason, you can email him at kjdisotell@ysu.edu. Due to renovations, Dr. Disotell has a temporary office in Moser Hall 1460. His office will change after the second-floor updates are completed.

Recent Publication: Dr. Jack Min & Dr. Feng Yu

Dr. Xiangjia “Jack” Min, Associate Professor in Biological Science, in collaboration with Dr. Feng Yu, Assistant Professor in Computer Science and Information Systems published a research article in Current Plant Biology in July 2017.

 

Title: “Comparative landscape of alternative splicing in fruit plants”

Authors: G Sablok, B Powell, J Braessler, F Yu F, XJ Min

 

Abstract:

Alternative splicing (AS) has played a major role in defining the protein diversity, which could be linked to phenotypic alternations. It is imperative to have a comparative resolution of AS to understand the pre-mRNAs splicing diversity. In the present research, we present a comparative assessment of the AS events in four different fruit plants including apple (Malus domestica), grape (Vitis vinifera), sweet orange (Citrus sinensis), and woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca), using spliced mapping of the expressed sequence tags and mRNA sequences. We identified a total of 2039 AS events in apple, 2454 in grape, 1425 in orange, and 631 in strawberry, respectively. In this study grape displayed the maximum number of genes (1588) associated with the splicing, followed by apple (1580), orange (1133) and strawberry (444). Transcripts mapping analysis shows that grape plant has relatively larger intron sizes than introns in other fruit species. The data provide a basis for further functional characterization of the genes undergoing AS and can be accessed at Plant Alternative Splicing Database (http://proteomics.ysu.edu/altsplice/plant/).

Full article link: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214662817300439

Recent Publication: Dr. Mark Womble

“Sex and regional differences in rabbit right ventricular L-type calcium current levels and mathematical modeling of arrhythmia vulnerability.” Experimental Physiology 102 (7): 804-817, 2017.

 

*A figure from this paper was used as the cover illustration for the July 1 edition of this journal.

Abstract

New Findings:

What is the central question of this study?

Regional variations of ventricular L-type calcium current (ICa-L) amplitude may underlie the increased arrhythmia risk in adult females. Current amplitude variations have been described for the left ventricle but not for the right ventricle.

What is the main finding and its importance?

Adult female rabbit right ventricular base myocytes exhibit elevated ICa-L compared with female apex or male myocytes. Oestrogen upregulated ICa-L in cultured female myocytes. Mathematical simulations modelling long QT syndrome type 2 demonstrated that elevated ICa-L prolonged action potentials and induced early after-depolarizations. Thus, ventricular arrhythmias in adult females may be associated with an oestrogen-induced upregulation of ICa-L.

Previous studies have shown that adult rabbit left ventricular myocytes exhibit sex and regional differences in L-type calcium current (ICa-L) levels that contribute to increased female susceptibility to arrhythmogenic early after-depolarizations (EADs). We used patch-clamp recordings from isolated adult male and female rabbit right ventricular myocytes to determine apex–base differences in ICa-L density and used mathematical modelling to examine the contribution of ICa-L to EAD formation. Current density measured at 0 mV in female base myocytes was 67% higher than in male base myocytes and 55% higher than in female apex myocytes. No differences were observed between male and female apex myocytes, between male apex and base myocytes, or in the voltage dependences of ICa-L activation or inactivation. The role of oestrogen was investigated using cultured adult female right ventricular base myocytes. After 2 days, 17β-estradiol (1 nm) produced a 65% increase in ICa-L density compared with untreated control myocytes, suggesting an oestrogen-induced upregulation of ICa-L. Action potential simulations using a modified Luo–Rudy cardiomyocyte model showed that increased ICa-L density, at the level observed in female base myocytes, resulted in longer duration action potentials, and when combined with a 50% reduction of the rapidly inactivating delayed rectifier potassium current conductance to model long QT syndrome type 2, the action potential was accompanied by one or more EADs. Thus, we found higher levels of ICa-L in adult female right ventricle base myocytes and the upregulation of this current by oestrogen. Simulations of long QT syndrome type 2 showed that elevated ICa-L contributed to genesis of EADs.

 

Information regarding the authors:

YSU Faculty: Dr. Mark D. Womble (Department of Biological Sciences; senior author) and Dr. Jozsi Z. Jalics (Department of Mathematics and Statistics; contributing author).

YSU Students: At the time that this research was performed, Zane M. Kalik (lead author) was an undergraduate Biology student, Joshua L. Mike (contributing author) was an undergraduate Mathematics and Chemistry student, Moriah Wright (contributing author) was an undergraduate Mathematics student, and Cassandra Slipski (contributing author) was a Biology graduate student.

CSIS Professor and Student Participate In Summer Research Project

Dr. Lazar and Zackary Harnett at Lawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryDr. Alina Lazar, Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems, and her student Zackary Harnett traveled to the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab this summer.

They joined efforts with the lab as part of the Scientific Data Management Group. Dr. Lazar and her student, Zack, were sponsored by the Department of Energy through the Visiting Faculty Program. They worked closely with the Energy Technology Area on a research project titled “Sequence Cluster Analysis for Identifying Long-term Lifecycle Trajectory Patterns.”

This research project was performed to further study the relationship between life-cycle patterns and decisions or choices (such as the choices of purchasing a home, owning a car, or investing in new technologies). Dr. Lazar and Harnett assisted the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab to show the wide availability of mobile devices and sensors that are connected to the internet. They collected research in data sets to model long-term user behavior of both test variables.

The research Dr. Lazar and Harnett assisted with observed sequence data representations, as well as several methods designed to test similarity algorithms. Methods to test these algorithms can range from classical approaches to a system called Optimal Matching. The methods used can then display what it would take to overcome the issues present between life-cycle patterns and decisions. It can also use strategies to model real sequence data to identify life-long behavior and produce descriptive self-explanatory visualizations even in the presence of disturbances and missing values.

Dr. Alina Lazar is a Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems. She completed her PhD in Computer Science in 2002 from Wayne State University. She specializes in several areas like data analysis, algorithms, and data mining.

Biomedical Research Series: Dr. Michael Butcher

Within the Department of Biological Sciences at Youngstown State University, there are many areas of research being explored by faculty and students alike. In a monthly series, we will highlight faculty research that covers various aspects of biomedical efforts from DNA to bacteria, fungi, and more.

Dr. Michael Butcher is an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at YSU. He earned his PhD in Zoology from the University of Calgary. Afterward, he completed a two-year NSF post-doctoral fellowship at Clemson University before becoming a full-time professor at YSU.

At YSU, Dr. Butcher conducts three different types of research with assistance from multiple graduate and undergraduate students. The main focuses of his laboratory research are the mechanical properties and shape of limb bones, fiber architecture and force production in the limb muscles, and development of muscle fiber types. His most recent work involves studies of muscle form and contraction activity in tree sloths.

Every other year, Dr. Butcher has traveled to The Sloth Sanctuary in Limón, Costa Rica. This gives him the opportunity to study species of two-toed and three-toed sloths.

On his most recent trip, he and his research team visualized live muscle contractions of the sloths using implanted fine wire electrodes. They recorded muscle activity while sloths performed combinations of walking, climbing, and hanging exercises. In addition, Dr. Butcher and his team conducted very detailed dissections on cadaver sloths to learn about their muscle architecture.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“What we do is take geometric measurements of the muscles,” Butcher said. “For example, how long is the muscle belly, how long are the muscle fibers, at what angle are the muscle fibers? Then we apply a couple basic calculations.”

They could then estimate the force, power, and torque (strength) properties of sloth muscles. Dr. Butcher considers this approach to the study of muscle form and function “simple, but elegant.”

To understand his research interests, it is important to know some of the unusual characteristics of a sloth.

“Why a sloth?” Dr. Butcher was asked. “Because they’re old and interesting mammals that do something really different from what humans are capable of doing.”

In a sloth’s body, there is only about 24% muscle mass. Dr. Butcher and his students are finding that their muscles have a high tolerance for lactic acid and rarely fatigue, unlike skeletal muscles in humans. Much to his surprise, Dr. Butcher is also learning that sloths primarily use anaerobic mechanisms to allow them to conserve energy and resist fatigue. This contributes to a sloth’s ability to hang from tree limbs for extended periods of time.

Other factors that relate to the strength and stamina of sloths are lower body temperature, lower metabolism, and slower digestion than most placental mammals.

“Sloths also have a network of blood vessels in their forearms that lowers the temperature of the muscles,” Butcher said. “This allows the muscles to remain strongly contracted for gripping branches while using energy at a slower rate.”

With these distinctive characteristics, sloths can conserve a tremendous amount of energy. For this very reason, Dr. Butcher finds sloth research remarkably insightful.

Dr. Butcher does not simply perform research to learn more about muscle structure-function in sloths, but rather to give further evidence of the performance range of muscles, in general. He wants to continue studying how muscles are put together and how they work, as functionality is diverse for animals depending on their lifestyle.

While this research has medical applications such as bioengineering artificial muscles and limbs, Dr. Butcher remains committed to fundamental science where his findings contribute towards education in the scientific community, future textbooks, and enhancement of the courses that he teaches at YSU.

Dr. Butcher stresses the immense contribution from his students. He believes that they are vital to his research efforts. To further his studies in primitive mammals Dr. Butcher plans to travel to Argentina this fall to investigate muscle properties in rare species of armadillos.

Biomedical Research Series: Dr. Gary Walker

Within the Department of Biological Sciences at Youngstown State University there are many areas of research being explored by faculty and students alike. In a new monthly series, we will highlight faculty research that covers various aspects of biomedical efforts from DNA to bacteria, fungi, and more.

Dr. Gary Walker is a professor and chairperson of Biological Sciences at YSU. He obtained a PhD in Biological Sciences from the Wayne State University of Michigan. He began graduate school with an interest in becoming a developmental biologist with focus on cell division and later in stem cells.

His interest in biomedical research began decades ago but recently changed direction when he collaborated with a local neurologist, Dr. Carl Ansevin. They wrote several papers together and heavily researched muscle proteins. Now he is mainly focusing on the basic molecular programming of muscle tissue with anticipation that he can eventually engineer a functional muscle.

Dr. Walker is currently studying the growth of muscle cell cultures to advance the fundamental understanding of muscle development and function. In addition, he is interested in tissue engineering, specifically 3D-printed structures, which will be used primarily for therapy purposes.

Given his research background, one of his goals is to create functional muscles. To create a 3D-printed tissue structure, Dr. Walker grows myoblasts in cell cultures that are then mixed with a bio gel. The bio gel aides in the suspension of the cells and maintains the 3D structure throughout the printing process. A computerized 3D fluid printer is then used to create a specific geometric structure allowing the “tissues” to transfer to culture vessels so that the myoblasts can grow.

“As you can see, these myofibers form in all sorts of directions,” said Dr. Walker. “So you can’t make a functional muscle because in a functional muscle all these fibers have to be aligned parallel.”

In the end, once the cells are understood and a live tissue is formed, Dr. Walker wants to tinker with the geometry of the tissue, making it more like a standard muscle tissue.

Once the structure is fit for usage in medical procedures, his personal hope for the 3D-printed muscle tissue is to benefit trauma patients and those who experience muscle diseases. This research project has tied together his love of growing cells and researching how functional tissues are formed. The project is also a great way to show the transition between basic and applied knowledge.

There is great potential for this research and Dr. Walker could be an important part of this advancement of biomedical technology.

Recent Publication: Biology Student, Faculty, and Staff

Thomas DR, Chadwell BA, Walker GR, Budde JE, Vandeberg JL, Butcher MT. “Ontogeny of myosin isoform expression and prehensile function in the tail of the gray short-tailed opossum (Monodelphis domestica),” Journal of Applied Physiology, May 2017. DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00651.2016

Former YSU biology student Dylan Thomas authored this paper in collaboration with faculty and staff from YSU, Ohio University, and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The paper was submitted in July 2016 and was accepted and published in May 2017 by the American Physiological Society.

Abstract:

Terrestrial opossums use their semi-prehensile tail for grasping nesting materials as opposed to arboreal maneuvering. We relate the development of this adaptive behavior with ontogenetic changes in myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoform expression from 21 days to adulthood. Monodelphis domestica is expected to demonstrate a progressive ability to flex the distal tail up to age 7 months, when it should exhibit routine nest construction. We hypothesize that juvenile stages (3-7 months) will be characterized by retention of the neonatal isoform (MHC-Neo), along with predominant expression of fast MHC-2X and 2B, which will transition into greater MHC-1β and 2A isoform content as development progresses. This hypothesis was tested using Q-PCR to quantify and compare gene expression of each isoform to its protein content determined by gel electrophoresis and densitometry. These data were correlated with nesting activity in an age-matched sample of each age group studied. Shifts in regulation of MHC gene transcripts matched well with isoform expression. Notably, mRNA for MHC-Neo and 2B decrease, resulting in little-to-no isoform translation after age 7 months, whereas mRNA for MHC-1β and 2A increase, and this corresponds with subtle increases in content for these isoforms into late adulthood. Despite the tail remaining intrinsically fast-contracting, a critical growth period for isoform transition is observed between 7 and 13 months, correlating primarily with use of the tail during nesting activities. Functional transitions in MHC isoforms and fiber type properties may be associated with muscle ‘tuning’ repetitive nest remodeling tasks requiring sustained contractions of the caudal flexors.

Faculty Publication: Dr. Jim Andrews

Daniel Wehrung, Elaheh. A. Chamsaz, James H. Andrews, Abraham Joy, and Moses O. Oyewumi, “Engineering Alkoxyphenacyl-Polycarbonate Nanoparticles for Potential Application in Near-Infrared Light-Modulated Drug Delivery via Photon Up-Conversion Process,” Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology 17, 4867-4881 (2017). 

This publication describes the results of experiments primarily done at NEOMED, but also at YSU’s Dept. of Physics & Astronomy, using nano-crystals to convert near infrared light to ultraviolet light. Typically, ultraviolet light is difficult to apply as a form of medical phototherapy due to its harmful effects to other tissues. Using the materials studied in this paper, the primary exposure would instead be to infrared light that is then converted to ultraviolet at the site of the phototherapy for localized treatment. This work was led by Daniel Wehrung as part of his successful PhD dissertation work at NEOMED under the supervision of Dr. Moses Oyewumi in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Dr. Andrews assisted with experiments at YSU as part of this study.

Abstract:

Photoresponsive delivery systems that are activated by high energy photo-triggers have been accorded much attention because of the capability of achieving reliable photoreactions at short irradiation times. However, the application of a high energy photo-trigger (UV light) is not clinically viable. Meanwhile, the process of photon-upconversion is an effective strategy to generate a high energy photo-trigger in-situ through exposure to clinically relevant near-infrared (NIR) light. In this regard, we synthesized photon upconverting nanocrystals (UCNCs) that were subsequently loaded into photoresponsive nanoparticles (NPs) prepared using alkoxyphenacyl-based polycar- bonate homopolymer (UCNC-APP-NPs). UCNC loading affected resultant NP size, size distribu- tion, colloidal stability but not the zeta potential. The efficiency of NIR-modulated drug delivery was impacted by the heterogenetic nature of the resultant UCNC-APP-NPs which was plausibly formed through a combination of UCNC entrapment within the polymeric NP matrix and nucleation of polymer coating on the surface of the UCNCs. The biocompatibility of UCNC-APP-NPs was demonstrated through cytotoxicity, macrophage activation, and red blood cell lysis assays. Studies in tumor-bearing (nu/nu) athymic mice showed a negligible distribution of UCNC-APP-NPs to retic- uloendothelial tissues. Further, distribution of UCNC-APP-NPs to various tissues was in the order (highest to lowest): Lungs > Tumor > Kidneys > Liver > Spleen > Brain > Blood > Heart. In all, the work highlighted some important factors that may influence the effectiveness, reproducibility biocompatibility of drug delivery systems that operate on the process of photon-upconversion.