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March 02, 2016

In Research

Scientists map bed bug genome

closeup ohoto of a bedbugRochester biologist Jack Werren is part of team that has mapped the genome of Cimex lectularius, the common bed bug (pictured).

With an eye toward eradicating the common bed bug, an international research team has successfully mapped the genome of Cimex lectularius to get a better understanding of its genetic makeup. The findings—by a large group of researchers that includes Jack Werren, the Nathaniel and Helen Wisch Professor in Biology—have been published in the journal Nature Communications.

“There’s an explosion of insect-genome sequencing right now,” Werren says. “But the bed bug is particularly interesting because it’s a human parasite, a major pest, and has a unique biology.”

In his part of the sequencing project, Werren discovered 805 possible instances of genes being transferred from bacteria within the bed bug to the insect’s chromosomes—a process called lateral gene transfer.

A great deal more work needs to be done before any eradication steps can be taken based on the results, Werren says. Only six of the 805 candidate sites for the gene transfer have been identified in the common bed bug as having received genetic material from bacteria.


Teens are more caring when they feel support from others

A study by Rochester researchers finds that caring for others dips during adolescence. But when young people feel support from their social circles, their concern for others rebounds.

“Young people often perceive relationships they have as being less supportive during middle and early high school years,” says Laura Wray-Lake, assistant professor in psychology. “Our study showed that youth perceptions of supports from parents, school, friends, and the community decreased across adolescence. Social responsibility—values that support caring for the welfare of others—declined in concert with these decreases in support.”

There’s an instructive take-away. “Relationships with parents, schools, and peers do get more complex during adolescence, and some young people may start to feel less bonded to those around them,” Wray-Lake says. “But, if a student has support from their parents and their school, and they also have supportive friends, those relationships are going to give them a boost in terms of prosocial engagement.”

Wray-Lake and her colleagues also looked at students’ individual behaviors and found that over time, volunteering resulted in an increase in values of caring. The actual experience of being civically engaged appears to enhance social responsibility values, the researchers said.

The opposite is true, however, for substance use. An increase in substance use is related to lower social responsibility over time.  According to the study, which was published in Developmental Psychology, young people who get involved with risky behavior may have values that are more hedonistic—living in the moment and having fun—which can conflict with social values that lead to helping and caring for other people.


Scientists seek to improve flu vaccine for the infants

Scientists at the School of Medicine and Dentistry have discovered a way to make a nasal spray flu vaccine safer for those who are at greatest risk of catching the flu, particularly infants under age two. The research is in its early stages, but offers promise for a vaccine that could better protect the most vulnerable.

The currently available nasal spray vaccine, FluMist, one of several types of flu vaccines offered every year, is approved for use in people ages two through 49. Infants, asthmatics, and older adults are not eligible for the vaccine, which is made from live flu virus that is dampened down so that it doesn’t cause the flu. Because the virus is live, it activates multiple components of the immune system and creates a more robust immune response than the traditional injection version of the vaccine, which includes inactivated or killed flu virus. 

Working with a vaccine similar to FluMist that is used in mice, Andrew Cox, a graduate student in the laboratory of Stephen Dewhurst, used molecular genetics to alter the vaccine virus so that it replicates only in the nose and not in the lungs. The distinction is important because the main reason FluMist was not approved for use in children under age two is that it was associated with wheezing in infants in clinical trials.

“No one has tried to tweak a vaccine virus like this before,” says Cox, lead author of the study, which appears in the Journal of Virology. “If we can make the nasal spray flu vaccine safer for very young children, it should provide better protection and remove a shot, which makes children and parents happy.”

“FluMist is very safe in the populations that it is licensed for and creates a good immune response in kids ages two to five, who are very susceptible to flu,” adds John Treanor, professor of medicine and of microbiology and immunology and chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at Strong Memorial Hospital. “It would be a major accomplishment if we were able to develop a live vaccine like FluMist for children ages six to 24 months.”


Study examines cloud software

New research from the Simon Business School sheds light on the growing competition between two widely used cloud computing models—software-as-a-service (SaaS) and modified off-the-shelf (MOTS) software.

“The key factor that drives competitive business strategies in this highly aggressive market is the provider’s pricing scheme,” says Abraham Seidmann, the Xerox Professor of Computers and Information Systems and Operations Management at Simon.

In their paper, “Analyzing Software as a Service (SaaS) with Per-Transaction Charges,” Seidmann and his coauthor Dan Ma, associate professor of information systems at Singapore Management University, built a game-theory model to explore competitive pricing strategies of the two platforms on a per-transaction basis to determine where and how each service modality gives end-users more value for their money.

The researchers offer three recommendations: SaaS providers should adopt a higher-value but a lower-price strategy; SaaS users should see economies of scale with steadily reduced SaaS prices; and MOTS providers should instead focus on enhancing product value with richer features and full functionality and integration ease.

Major players in the competitive on-demand software market need to adapt to the changing times and offer both SaaS and MOTS options, the researchers say.

Learn more at

Scientists discover stem cells capable of repairing skull, face bones

A team of Rochester scientists has, for the first time, identified and isolated a stem cell population capable of skull formation and craniofacial bone repair in mice—achieving an important step toward using stem cells for bone reconstruction of the face and head in the future, according to a new paper in Nature Communications.

Senior author Wei Hsu, Dean’s Professor in the Department of Biomedical Genetics and a scientist at the Eastman Institute for Oral Health, says the goal is to better understand and find stem-cell therapy for a condition known as craniosynostosis, a skull deformity in infants. Craniosynostosis often leads to developmental delays and life-threatening elevated pressure in the brain.

Hsu’s findings contribute to an emerging field involving tissue engineering that uses stem cells and other materials to invent superior ways to replace damaged craniofacial bones in humans due to congenital disease, trauma, or cancer surgery.

For years Hsu’s lab, including the study’s lead author, Takamitsu Maruyama, research assistant professor in the Center for Oral Biology, focused on the function of the Axin2 gene and a mutation that causes craniosynostosis in mice. Because of a unique expression pattern of the Axin2 gene in the skull, the lab then began investigating the activity of Axin2-expressing cells and their role in bone formation, repair, and regeneration. The latest evidence shows that stem cells central to skull formation are contained within Axin2 cell populations, making up about 1 percent—and that the lab tests used to uncover the skeletal stem cells might also be useful in finding bone diseases caused by stem cell abnormalities.

The team also confirmed that this population of stem cells is unique to bones of the head, and that separate and distinct stem cells are responsible for formation of long bones in the legs and other parts of the body.


Study sheds light on risk-taking behavior of drug addicts

A new study provides insight into how the brains of drug addicts may be wired differently. The findings, which appear in the journal Psychopharmacology, show that while drug users have very strong motivation to seek out “rewards,” they exhibit an impaired ability to adjust their behavior and are less fulfilled once they have achieved what they desire. Addressing the disconnect between the craving for a drug and the ability to regulate behavior may be one of the keys to breaking the cycle of addiction.

“The vast majority of people, when faced with something they want, will assess how achievable the goal is and adjust their actions and expectations in order to maximize their potential to achieve it,” says senior author John Foxe, the Killian J. and Caroline F. Schmitt Professor in Neuroscience and chair of the Department of Neuroscience. “However, it appears that the integrity of this system of assessment and self-regulation is impaired in substance abusers and this may contribute to the risk-taking behaviors and poor decision-making commonly associated with this population.”

The researchers observed that cocaine users in the study—compared to study volunteers with no drug history—showed far greater response to reward-predicting cues, implying that they were highly motivated to achieve the reward. At the same time, the cocaine users appeared to be less capable of recalibrating their actions to improve their chance of success and had a considerably more muted response to winning points.

The reward-processing dysfunction in the cocaine users was also correlated with a higher level of anhedonia, as measured by a questionnaire filled out by the study volunteers. Anhedonia is the inability to experience pleasure from activities or stimuli that people would typically find enjoyable.

The findings could provide researchers with new approaches to treating addiction by focusing on improving an individual’s self-monitoring capabilities.


Team-based approach helps patients control blood pressure

blood pressure arm cuff on a patient

A team-based approach to the treatment of hypertension led to a 30 percent improvement in blood pressure control in patients receiving care at a clinic in the city of Rochester. The intervention, highlighted in a study in the Journal of the American Society of Hypertension, helped a population that typically faces many barriers to treatment: low-income, minority patients. 

In the United States, approximately one-third of the adult population has high blood pressure. Despite the high prevalence and known benefits of treatment, only about half of patients have their blood pressure under control, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Thomas Rocco, senior study author and clinical associate professor of medicine, says that control rates are even lower in minorities.

John Bisognano, professor of medicine and director of UR Medicine’s Comprehensive Hypertension Center, says the findings are important because improving the treatment of high blood pressure can have a profound effect on public health.

“By controlling high blood pressure you are preventing heart attacks, strokes, and kidney disease, which translates to lower health care costs in the long run,” says Bisognano, a study author and incoming president of the American Society of Hypertension. “You are also decreasing the emotional, physical, and financial burdens that these conditions place on families.”

The team-based approach to treatment began with the development of clinical teams—which included physicians, pharmacists, and nurses who worked together to help patients best manage high blood pressure. Pharmacists recommended strategies like the use of pill boxes and setting up automatic pharmacy refills to make it easier for patients to stick with prescribed medication regimens. They also consulted with treating physicians to ensure patients received the optimal combination of medications. Nurses ensured that patients were able to obtain medications; addressed barriers to care, such as a lack of insurance or transportation to appointments; followed up with patients with reminders about blood pressure checks; and reviewed home blood-pressure readings for patients with a home monitor.


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