Ohio State astrophysicists involved in stellar discovery

The Milky Way galaxy is surrounded by a halo of stars, as simulated in this image (courtesy Annika Peter, CCAPP)

Scientists are finding galaxies billions of light years away from Earth, yet there are still discoveries to be made right next door.

In January, data from the Dark Energy Survey — which utilizes an 8,000-pound camera mounted on an equally powerful telescope in the Andes Mountains to see deep into space — revealed 11 previously unknown stellar streams orbiting the Milky Way galaxy.

Stellar streams mostly reside on the outskirts (or “halo”) of the Milky Way, and they represent remnants of dwarf galaxies and star clusters that passed by the galaxy too closely and got torn apart by its gravitational pull. Only about 20 stellar streams had been identified in the Milky Way before this discovery, and locating so many at once is unprecedented, said Annika Peter, faculty member at Ohio State’s Center for Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics (CCAPP), which is a key collaborator in the Dark Energy Survey(DES).

“The fact that we found so many streams so close together is surprising, and it tells us that, actually, the Milky Way has munched up quite a lot of these little galaxies over time,” said Peter, who is also a professor in the Departments of Astronomy and Physics.

This lends credence to astronomers’ belief that galaxies are formed from small galaxy building blocks over time, said Paul Martini, professor of astronomy and a member of CCAPP. “The stellar streams are relics of some of these building blocks,” and can provide a sort of fossil record for the Milky Way’s evolutionary history, he said.

In addition to clues about where these stars came from, follow-up measurements will help researchers build a better model of the distribution of dark matter in the Milky Way’s halo, Peter said.

“The orbits of these stars are really sensitive to dark matter,” she said, adding that some people are looking for “stream gaps” for evidence of smaller, starless dark matter halos in the Milky Way.

These types of discoveries are made possible with the enormous data sets produced by large-scale astronomical surveys like DES, though it’s “analogous to searching for a needle in a haystack,” Martini said.


Exploring approaches to save coral reefs — right here in Ohio

With their unique structures and breathtaking colors, coral reefs are one of the world’s most inspiring and appreciated natural wonders. They’re also greatly threatened by environmental stressors associated with climate change, including sea temperature rise and ocean acidification.

Some coral species are less sensitive to these climate shifts than others, and scientists have been trying to pinpoint the causes of their resilience in hopes of better managing reefs in the future.

Naturally, most research in this field is happening in coastal regions. But Andrea Grottoli, professor at The Ohio State University School of Earth Sciences, is conducting some of the world’s leading research on coral resilience — right here in Ohio.

Traditionally, scientists have examined the relationship between corals and their symbiotic algae (which gives them their color, as well as provides them with vital sources of energy) when studying resilience.

When under heat stress, corals may eject some of these algae, making them appear pale or “bleached.” If normal sea temperatures return, they can re-acquire algae, but prolonged stress leads to mortality, Grottoli said.

But there is likely another health component at play. Along with algae, corals also comprise intricate communities of unique and underexplored microbial organisms, collectively known as the microbiome.

Grottoli’s most recent study is the first to explore what role the coral microbiome plays in anatomical resilience under the combined effects of elevated temperature and acidity.

“A coral’s microbiome is thought to be a part of the immune system, just like it is in humans,” Grottoli said.


Tibetan ice core could reveal more than 600,000 years of climate history

Researchers from The Ohio State University are studying the oldest ice core ever drilled outside of the North and South Poles, thanks to an international collaboration co-led by Lonnie Thompson, Distinguished University Professor in the School of Earth Sciences.

The ice core — drilled from the Guliya Ice Cap in Tibet — may include ice that formed more than 600,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest ice samples ever recovered.

The ancient ice contains valuable information about past climate conditions on Earth, which scientists can compare with modern climate models to make predictions about the future. What researchers have found so far “provides dramatic evidence of a recent and rapid temperature rise at some of the highest, coldest mountain peaks in the world,” according to a university news release.

“The ice cores actually demonstrate that warming is happening, and is already having detrimental effects on Earth’s freshwater ice stores,” Thompson said.

In fact, temperatures in this region are rising at nearly 1.5 times the rate of temperatures at sea level, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Generally, the higher the elevation, the greater the rate of warming,” Thompson said.

Tibet also contains the world’s third-largest store of freshwater ice, and increased melting in the area, as well as in the Arctic and Antarctica, are greatly contributing to rising sea levels. Rapid glacial melting could eventually be catastrophic for the 1.5 billion people in Asia who depend on high-altitude glaciers for a fresh water supply during dry seasons and in times of drought.

“You might think of glaciers as a savings account, in which snow (water) is deposited every year. Under today’s climate, more water is being withdrawn than is being deposited, and the account is dwindling,” said Thompson, adding that scientists also expect to see decreases in yearly precipitation.

He and his research team hope that studying the ancient ice will uncover parallels that exist between ice loss in tropical glaciers — such as those on the Tibetan Plateau — and climate processes elsewhere on the planet.

“Because [the Tibetan Plateau] is the highest and largest of Earth’s elevated regions, it plays a significant role in the global climate system,” he said.

The ice is currently being stored in a -22-degree (F) freezer at Ohio State’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center (BPCRC), said BPCRC post-doctoral research fellow Emilie Beaudon, adding that part of the core will be sent to the National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver for future investigations.

Though the ice is the oldest discovered outside the polar regions, scientists are unearthing even older ice in places like Antarctica. In August, scientists determined that an Antarctic ice core contained 2.7-million-year-old ice — the oldest ever recorded. From the ice they were able to find that 2.7 million years ago, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were less than 300 parts per million. Last year, atmospheric CO2 surpassed 400 ppm for the first time in 3.6 million years.

Collaborators on this project include Ellen Mosley-Thompson, Distinguished University Professor of Geography at Ohio State and Director of BPCRC; Mary E. Davis, Stacy E. Porter, Emilie Beaudon, Ping-Nan Lin, M. Roxana Sierra-Hernández and Donald V. Kenny, all of Ohio State; Tandong Yao, Guangjian Wu and Baiqing Xu of the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research; and Ninglian Wang of Northwest University and Keqin Duan of Shaanxi Normal University, both in Xian, China.

Original Story

Efforts continue to suppress antibiotic-resistant salmonella in Ethiopia

Children play outside near Awash, Ethiopia. Courtesy of Dr. Wondwossen Gebreyes.

In the diverse sub-Saharan ecosystems of Ethiopia, interaction between humans and animals is part of daily life.

This reality is likely a key player in the spread of infectious bacteria like salmonella, which is capable of interspecies transmission. And when frequent human-animal interaction is combined with mal/under-nutrition, subpar sanitation, an HIV/AIDS epidemic and the misuse of antibiotic drugs, the progression of salmonellosis (salmonella infection) in Ethiopia becomes an issue of global significance.

Dr. Wondwossen Gebreyes, professor and director of Global Health Programs at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, has led a research initiative addressing infectious disease in Ethiopia since 2011. One of the initiative’s goals is to discover the various strains, sources and avenues of salmonella in the region.

Of primary concern is multi-drug resistant (MDR) salmonella, which has found refuge in Ethiopia and other developing regions due to the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. When antimicrobial drugs are misused, more paths are cleared for bacteria to develop new, multi-drug resistant strains. When an infection is immune to available treatments, morbidity and mortality rates rise.

Balbine Jourdan

Balbine Jourdan, student at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine

A study conducted in 2013-14 tested stool samples from 765 humans with gastrointestinal complaints at 10 primary health care centers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 59 samples tested positive for salmonella; 27 of these were resistant to three or more antimicrobials; 17
were resistant to five or more antimicrobials; and two were resistant to more than 10 drugs.

This summer, Ohio State veterinary student Balbine Jourdan is working with the Gebreyes team in Ethiopia to study the role of wildlife in circulating MDR salmonella across space and species, which is currently unknown.

Previous work has focused on the prevalence of MDR salmonella in livestock, since the bacteria is known to spread via consumption of animal-derived food products or contaminated water. The next step is for researchers like Jourdan to examine other nearby channels, so that risk factors can be determined.

“The study Balbine is doing this summer will be invaluable in identifying reservoirs of MDR salmonella,” Dr. Gebreyes said. “The data could potentially identify highly MDR strains of wildlife origin, as well as unique genes and resistance factors.”
Canis_simensis_-Simien_Mountains,_Ethiopia-8_0While in Ethiopia, Jourdan will collect samples from carnivorous wildlife carcasses (including hyenas, jackals, foxes and servals) to test for the presence of salmonella. She will also test domestic dog and livestock feces found near sampled carcasses to help indicate direct or indirect transmission from domestic sources.

After seven weeks, Jourdan will return to the U.S. to conduct antimicrobial susceptibility tests, in which salmonella isolates are tested against 12 antimicrobial drugs to detect resistance. This will yield a better understanding of the scope of MDR salmonella in Ethiopian wildlife.

“The findings can be used to evaluate the magnitude of antimicrobial resistance and advise proper antibiotic use not only in Ethiopia, but in other developing countries,” she said. “Such information will be vital for the interruption of transmission cycles and the development of management strategies.”

The results will be compared to prior research on MDR salmonella found in livestock and domestic dogs, in order to map any geographic or pathogenic patterns of resistance.

When asked about the challenges she’ll face during the course of this research, Jourdan noted communication struggles between researchers and Ethiopian locals.

“It has been a challenge already to educate the locals on the importance of research and disease surveillance not only in terms of finding treatments, but in terms of disease prevention.”

That being said, she has thoroughly enjoyed becoming acquainted with a different way of life.

“This project encompasses two of my biggest passions: research and travel,” she said. “I cannot put into words how important I think it is to experience different cultures and traditions. We have so much to give, but we cannot forget that others have so much to give back.”

Jourdan is working toward a dual DVM/MPH-VPH (Master of Public Health in Veterinary Public Health) degree, which she will complete in 2020.

“I have always had a passion for Global Health work, particularly in zoonotic diseases and conservation,” she said. “I want to use my degree to help improve the lives of both humans and animals.”

She plans to collect further data in Ethiopia next year.

Jourdan’s research team includes Dr. Gebreyes, Dr. Jeanette O’Quin, assistant professor-clinical in the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine and Laura Binkley, a doctorate student at the college working on disease surveillance in Ethiopian wildlife with a focus on rabies and pathogen discovery.

This study is part of the Ohio State-Ethiopia One Health Initiative, a partnership between the university and various U.S. and Ethiopian institutions that aims to prevent the spread of infectious and chronic diseases, build capacity for the healthcare workforce in Ethiopia, address environmental concerns and more.

Ingestible camera gives veterinarians 20/20

IMG_1686Dr. Adam Rudinsky joined The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine last summer as instructor-practice in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, specializing in small animal internal medicine.

An alumnus of the college and former resident at the Veterinary Medical Center, Rudinsky is currently in the process of finishing his PhD, which focuses on gastrointestinal disorders and immunology. He recently completed a master’s in gastrointestinal endocrine disease.

Much of Rudinsky’s latest research centers on various gastrointestinal topics in dogs and cats as well as a novel endoscopy tool that the VMC adopted in June 2015, thanks to a grateful client donation. By utilizing a 1 ½ cm pill that encloses a compact, high-resolution camera, veterinarians can now fully analyze an animal’s gastrointestinal (digestive) tract.

“It’s really the first time in veterinary medicine that we’ve had the ability to evaluate the small intestine completely,” Rudinsky said. “There was no previous way of imaging that portion of the body in its entirety.”

The capsule can be swallowed by an animal directly, or it can be placed within the gastrointestinal tract during a traditional endoscopic procedure. It then moves through the system while taking continuous images, which are communicated to an external monitor for analysis.

Similar technology has been used in human medicine for about 15 years, but in veterinary medicine it’s just getting its start.

Capsule endoscopy bears many potential applications, but is currently being employed as a diagnostic instrument for disorders such as ulcers, polyps, tumors or any sort of gastrointestinal bleeding, Rudinsky said.

IMG_1661_croppedImaging from capsule endoscopy reveals acute bleeding from an ulcer.

“Probably the best way to utilize it is in addition to regular endoscopy, which offers a major benefit because you can’t biopsy with the capsule alone,” he added.

Of primary significance is the device’s capability to identify lesions in their exact locations, which can be specified down to the inch. This is possible due to a three-dimensional tracking system that produces a graph of the capsule’s journey upon its completion. The graph can then be studied to pinpoint the site of any lesions or abnormalities.

“If a dog is going for surgery, for example, and it has metastatic neoplasia or some other kind of cancer issue, we can say to the surgeon ‘you need to be concerned about a lesion 14 inches from the gastroduodenal junction; you need to be concerned about a lesion at this location, etc.’,” Rudinsky said. “So one of the areas we’d like to see this branch into is surgical planning, so that before we send an animal to surgery we can increase our confidence that nothing will be missed.”

Along with potentially enhancing surgical accuracy, capsule endoscopy could play a role in testing the effectiveness of new drugs during clinical trials, since it provides a way to monitor and localize different structures in the gastrointestinal tract.

“For example, you could give this to a dog, test a drug like a de-wormer and test them again afterward to see how many worms they had, how many were killed and how many worms are left,” Rudinsky said.

Comparable studies are ongoing at other institutions, such as Cornell University and University of California, Davis.

The minimally invasive nature of capsule endoscopy makes it particularly advantageous for animals that are ill-equipped to undergo general anesthesia, he said, adding that it has provided an opportunity for intervention in two cases that otherwise would have rendered he and his colleagues powerless.

The VMC is one of three veterinary hospitals in the nation to offer capsule endoscopy, and the 10 or so times that it’s been used thus far have been successful and provided valuable clinical information.

Interested referring veterinarians can call 614-292-0950 and ask to speak with referral coordinator Stephanie Yochem.

Golf outing to fund veterinary care & resources for local poor/homeless population

Twice a month, fourth-year students at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine help provide care to pets owned by homeless and low-income individuals in the Columbus, Ohio, area, in partnership with non-profit organization Faithful Forgotten Best Friends.

Faithful Forgotten Best Friends has supplied free pet food and veterinary care to these animals since the organization began five years ago.

“Our alliance with OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine gives vet students a chance to interact with demographics that they perhaps wouldn’t typically see in their future practice, and they get a lot of hands-on experience,” said FFBF co-founder Constance Swackhammer.  “Most of these animals would not be able to receive treatment otherwise.”
FFBFgolfoutingThis year, Ohio State’s College of Veterinary Medicine is the primary -or “Top Dog”- sponsor for FFBF’s annual charity golf outing, which takes place from 1-6 p.m. on June 18 at Blackhawk Golf Club in Galena, Ohio.

The money raised from the event will fund FFBF’s supplies and services for the year, Swackhammer said, noting that the organization doesn’t have the time or resources to do frequent fundraisers. This includes necessary medicine such as vaccines, heart worm tests/meds, antibiotics, flea/tick meds and spaying and neutering procedures, among others. The proceeds will come from fees for golfers ($75) and a dinner afterward ($25), as well as donated raffle and silent auction items.

“When I started FFBF, people really didn’t get it. They said ‘you want to help homeless and poor people take care of animals? Well they can’t even take care of themselves, so why would you want to do that?’” Swackhammer said. “And the reason is that many of these people are in a temporary situation, and chances are they’ve already lost everything but that pet, which is the last bit of normalcy in their lives.”

People will often do anything to keep their pet fed, including feeding the pet their own food.

“Our clients are men, women, veterans and families. Often these folks have lost their job, car, home and have also become estranged with their family. With FFBF and Ohio State, their animals get the same great care that every pet deserves, regardless of the owner’s housing situation,” Swackhammer said. “We offer help without any judgment – only kindness to people and their ‘best friends.’”

If a pet is healthy, vaccinated and “altered,” finding a place to live is much easier, she added, noting that the ultimate goal is to get these people off the streets.

“Homelessness and poverty are situations that all major cities in the U.S. are working on, not just Columbus. Columbus has always had services to help the people, but no one had been providing help for the pets,” Swackhammer said. “We have seen many of these folks get back into housing, and they’re able to take their pet with them. That’s the icing on the cake!”

But in the meantime, FFBF has the simple aim of promoting the human/animal bond by keeping these animals medically well.

FFBF has several ground rules for those who benefit from their services. First, they can only receive care for their personal pet, and second, they must allow FFBF to spay or neuter the pet, unless there is an extenuating medical circumstance.

“For us, spaying/neutering is the holy grail,” Swackhammer said. “Our organization is trying to keep pets from ever having to go to the shelter.”

FFBF volunteers provide veterinary services every first and third Tuesday of the month, from 9:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. (appointment only) at the Holy Family Church Parish Center, located at 588 West Gay St., Columbus, OH 43215. FFBF also distributes pet food, donated by Blue Buffalo, from 1:30-3:30 p.m. on the same days. There are income requirements as well as current limitations in certain high-poverty areas.

From 2004-2014, 176,575 individuals classified as poor in Columbus, according to February 2016’s Ohio Poverty Report, and poverty status was determined for 790,894 people, or 22.3 percent of the city’s population.

This summer, FFBF is being featured as part one of a three-part documentary called “Poindexter,” which was shown at the Film Festival of Columbus on June 6. Watch the trailer here.


Screenshot from “Poindexter,” a three-part documentary that features Faithful Forgotten Best Friends. The film was shown at Film Festival of Columbus on June 6.

Original story

Veterinarian, engineer team up to design contraceptive approach for wild horses

whbWhile we’re often concerned with the population decline of certain species, there are some animals that thrive a little too well, such as the wild horse and burro (a small donkey).

Wild horses and burros (WH&B) can be found roaming free in many western states. The animals have been federally protected since 1971 as part of the Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which declares the animals “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the west.” In 1971, there were 25,000 WH&B on U.S. lands.

But over the past few decades, the WH&B population has surged to an unprecedented 67,000, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is in charge of managing the species.

This is 40,000 more than the BLM’s Acceptable Management Level of 27,000, at which wildlife and livestock can live in balance with the animals.

Dr. Marco Coutinho da Silva, associate professor-clinical at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. John Lannutti, professor at Ohio State’s College of Engineering, are collaborating in an effort to curb this overpopulation, thanks to an $800,000 grant from the BLM.

Several negative effects have ensued from WH&B overpopulation including the destruction of crops on surrounding agricultural lands, and a shortage of resources that can cause the animals to starve to death.

Currently, the animals are rounded up every three years and given various treatments, one being a contraceptive. The contraceptive is in the form of a vaccine that contains porcine zona pellucida (PZP), which inhibits pregnancy by stimulating the creation of antibodies that prevent sperm from attaching to eggs.

Although the PZP vaccine works as it’s supposed to, it hasn’t been totally effective in hindering WH&B population growth. One issue could be the drug’s instant release form, which may wear off long before the females are re-vaccinated. This hypothesis led the BLM to look to researchers who can redesign how it is delivered once inside the body.

Using a novel nanoscale production method, Coutinho da Silva and Lannutti are developing a tiny capsule for the contraceptive that allows it to survive and function in WH&B for three years or longer, reducing the birth rate and eliminating the need for extra round-ups.

“It’s basically a carrier that we can design with different properties to release the vaccine at a predetermined time periods,” Coutinho da Silva said. “The goal is to provide timed boosting mechanisms without the need for us to physically go and give the horses an injection.”

One challenge the researchers face during testing is to accurately mimic the biomechanical pressures their capsule will undergo once it’s placed inside the animal. They will do this by using a specialized machine that exposes the capsule to specific levels of tension and compression at intervals that simulate the behavior of WH&B in the wild.

Coutinho da Silva and Lannutti begin biomechanical testing this month, and if their design proves successful they will move to several live-animal models.

“If animal testing is efficacious, the next step will be to generate a more proficient delivery system, potentially being able to dart animals from helicopters,” Coutinho da Silva said, adding that this would lessen the labor and monetary burdens involved in supporting current WH&B contraceptive initiatives.

Research reported herein was supported by the United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management under agreement number L15AC00146.

Original story

Deceased therapy dog passes on genes, 16 years later


Losing a beloved pet is never easy. We oftentimes ponder how lovely it would be to see our pet again, and reminisce on photos and videos that remind us of our love for them.

But some pet owners, such as Jennifer and Steve Trotta, take it one step further by cryopreserving the animal’s eggs or semen while they’re still alive.

Quincy, the Trottas’ Golden retriever, had some of his semen frozen 16 years ago at The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center before he passed away, as the Trottas knew they would want to pass on his genes in the future to preserve his legacy.

Quincy -a field golden- was a comfort dog for 10 years at a nursing home where Steve used to work. Quincy had full run of the building, Steve said, so that he could engage residents with his kind and gentle demeanor. His presence allowed people to experience some of the proven benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) such as lower stress, anxiety and an overall improved mood, among many others. People at the nursing home loved him, Steve said, and one resident even ended up painting a portrait of him.

Since Quincy passed away at age 14, the Trottas have been looking for the perfect female dog to breed with his DNA. Unfortunately, their first female failed to pass the rigorous health screening required for responsible breeding of healthy Golden retrievers, and the Trottas were forced to wait even longer for the perfect match.

Then they found Halle, a 3-½ -year-old Golden retriever and comfort dog. Steve said he plans to employ her compassionate temperament for AAT just like Quincy. After going through some training, Halle recently brought smiles to disabled children and adults at Carleton School in Syracuse, Ohio.

Halle was artificially inseminated with Quincy’s semen in February, and was confirmed pregnant on March 22.

“The success rate of breeding with frozen semen is about 50-50,” said Dr. Erin Runcan, assistant clinical professor of theriogenology/reproductive medicine and the specialist who worked with the Trottas. “We increased our chances with Halle by using two doses of frozen semen instead of just one.”

These types of procedures are done frequently by the theriogenology service at the VMC, she said, adding that another reason that pet owners will have semen frozen is to send it overseas for breeding in other countries, or to other states when the male might not be available for breeding.

Halle successfully gave birth to three puppies -two females and one male- who were welcomed into the world on April 25.

“We’re keeping two of the puppies, and giving the other to my brother-in-law,” Steve said. “But there was a long line of family and friends hoping to get one of Quincy’s offspring.”

The Trottas live in Athens, Ohio. Steve is a physical therapist at Ohio University Therapy Associates and Jennifer is an intervention specialist at Beacon School. The couple has regularly taken in rescued golden retrievers, two of which currently live with them and Halle.

“It’s a happy ending, and it’s exciting that we were the ones that froze the semen so long ago and that we were able to breed her and get a successful litter,” Runcan said. “We applaud the Trottas on their dedication to the health of the Golden Retriever breed, and wish them all the luck with their new family members.”


Original story