Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sustainability news from Michigan's research universities for the week ending July 23, 2011

I'm running a week behind, as I have had three linkspams nearly ready since Saturday night. In a way, I think that's because they're victims of their own success, as there is just so much sustainability news these days. That written, here are the stories from last week with minimal commentary.

General Sustainability

Michigan State University: Convincing farmers to grow biofuel crops may be difficult
July 21, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. - The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 calls for increasing cellulosic ethanol production to 16 billion gallons by 2022. But persuading farmers to start growing biomass crops to produce this biofuel may prove challenging, according to two new studies by Michigan State University scientists.

In the first study, researchers calculated how many more acres of corn and wheat farmers planted after prices for those crops increased dramatically from 2006 to 2009. This allowed them to estimate how many acres of biomass crops farmers might plant on land that is currently fallow.

To meet the mandated levels, about 71 million acres of biomass crops are needed. In 2011, biomass crops covered so little land that the U.S. Department of Agriculture created a pilot program to encourage farmers to plant 50,000 acres – far less than what is required.

"We looked at the nation’s top 10 crops that already have consistent, recognized markets – and found that even when prices went up 65 percent, farmers only expanded production by about 2 percent," said Scott Swinton, professor of agricultural, food and resource economics who is also an AgBioResearch scientist and affiliated with the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.
Yeah, but nearly all the increase in corn production for the past six years has been for biofuels, so things might not be as grim as the researchers think.

University of Michigan: New entrepreneurship master's degree leverages know-how from two top schools
July 21, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Two top-ranked University of Michigan schools are teaming up to establish a unique professional master's degree in entrepreneurship.

The U-M Board of Regents today approved a proposal by the College of Engineering and the Stephen M. Ross School of Business to offer a joint program that specializes in training students to turn ideas into inventions and inventions into successful businesses.

Pending approval by the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan in October, the program will accept its first students to start in fall 2012.

Michigan State University: 22nd annual Viticulture Day takes place July 27
July 19, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. – The 22nd annual Viticulture Field Day, which brings grape enthusiasts and experts together, will start at 9 a.m. July 27 at the Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center.

The Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center, located in Benton Harbor, is part of Michigan State University AgBioResearch. MSU AgBioResearch has on-campus facilities and 14 outlying field stations located across Michigan that support the work of more than 400 scientists in six colleges at MSU: Agriculture and Natural Resources, Communication Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Natural Science, Social Science and Veterinary Medicine.

Researchers at the center investigate breeding practices for fruits and vegetables and do a variety of evaluations. But on Viticulture Field Day, it’s all about the grapes.
Yet more food open houses from MSU.

Environment, including science and technology

University of Michigan: Positive thinking: Optimism lowers risk of having stroke
July 21, 2011

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—A positive outlook on life might lower the risk of having a stroke, according to a new University of Michigan study.

A nationally representative group of 6,044 adults over age 50 rated their optimism levels on a 16-point scale. Each point increase in optimism corresponded to a 9 percent decrease in acute stroke risk over a two-year follow-up period.

"When people have a positive outlook on life, they undertake actions more likely to produce good outcomes," said Eric Kim, the study's lead author and a clinical psychology doctoral student.

Previous research has shown that an optimistic attitude is associated with better heart health outcomes and enhanced immune-system functioning, among other positive effects. This study is the first known to discover a correlation between optimism and stroke.

University of Michigan: Cancer stem cells recruit normal stem cells to fuel ovarian cancer, U-M study finds
Researchers also find protein that blocks this effect, suggesting potential therapy
July 18, 2011

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center have found that a type of normal stem cell fuels ovarian cancer by encouraging cancer stem cells to grow.

Cancer stem cells are the small number of cells in a tumor that drive its growth and spread. Traditional cancer treatments do not kill these cells, which is why cancer treatments often fail.

In a study published online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers looked in ovarian tissue at the mesenchymal stem cells, which are normal cells found throughout the body. These cells can form different specialized cells such as fat, bone or cartilage.

Debra and Brian Schutte talk about CoSAGE, their research project in partnership with a unique mid-Michigan community that investigates the genetic causes of common diseases with the goal of promoting community wellness across generations.
Michigan State University: Faculty conversations: Debra and Brian Schutte
July 22, 2011

CoSAGE — an MSU research project focusing on the genetic causes of disease — is unique because of the partners involved in the project: Not only are the husband/wife team of Debra and Brian Schutte involved but also members from the community in which the project is based, who are equally active in the research.

“We’re working with the community in the early phases of this project to learn: What are the prevalent health problems in the community?” Debra Schutte said. “And what is of most concern to the members of the community?

“That will help us identify where to go next in our research.”

The purpose of the Community-based Cooperative for Studies Across Generations, or CoSAGE, is to study the genetic factors that cause common disease – particularly adult onset hearing loss and Alzheimer’s disease, said Debra Schutte, an associate professor in the College of Nursing.

The mid-Michigan community they are working in was chosen because of their extensive genealogical records dating back to the original German settlers in the area, who came in the mid-1800s. These records have been compiled in a database that contains 28,000 people.

In the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, science research across the country was disrupted. The community of plant scientist at Michigan State University engaged their network of collaborators in Japan, and extended an offer to host scientist who needed to continue their research and advance their education.

Michigan State University: Avian ‘Axe effect’ attracts attention of females and males
July 19, 2011

EAST LANSING, Mich. — In a case of life imitating art, avian scents given off by male songbirds have the females (and males) flocking in.

A Michigan State University researcher revealed the process of how males draw attention to themselves through chemical communication in the current issue of Behavioral Ecology. Scents are used in all organisms for many purposes, such as finding, attracting and evaluating mates. But this is the first study of its kind that demonstrates that it is happening among songbirds, said Danielle Whittaker, managing director of MSU’s BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action.

Body-spray commercials feature young men dousing themselves with fragrance and – voila – hordes of beautiful women or even bands of angels descend upon them. Male birds deploy a similar tactic when they release their cologne – or preen oil – secreted from a gland at the base of their tail. It not only works to attract the attention of female birds, but it also has the unintended effect of attracting males as well.

Michigan State University: Students ID remote Michigan sites for earth imaging
July 21, 2011

Spending the summer crisscrossing Michigan and traveling remote back roads may not sound like science, but for two Michigan State University graduate students, it is a key role in the establishment of a massive imaging array to better predict natural disasters.

Benjamin Johnson and Jamie Ryan are identifying locations across the lower peninsula that will host 25 seismic stations as part of EarthScope – a program of the National Science Foundation that is deploying thousands of seismic, GPS and other geophysical instruments to study the structure and evolution of the North American continent and the causes of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

"The seismometers will record earthquakes to produce high-resolution images of the Earth’s interior and allow us to better understand origins and characteristics of earthquakes, both local and distant," said Kaz Fujita, professor of geological sciences and leader of the program at MSU. "These advanced instruments will provide 3-D images of the Earth from 2,000 locations across the continent."

Michigan State University: Researchers find potential key for unlocking biomass energy
July 21, 2011

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Pretreating non-edible biomass – corn leaves, stalks or switch grass – holds the keys for unlocking its energy potential and making it economically viable, according to a team of researchers led by Michigan State University.

Shishir Chundawat, a postdoctoral researcher, and Bruce Dale, professor of chemical engineering and materials science, of MSU led a team of researchers in identifying a potential pretreatment method that can make plant cellulose five times more digestible by enzymes that convert it into ethanol, a useful biofuel. The research was supported by the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, a partnership between the University of Wisconsin and MSU and published in the current issue of Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Currently, ethanol or other biofuels can only be produced in usable quantities if the biomass is pretreated with costly, potentially toxic chemicals in an energy-intensive process. The new discovery could change that.

Wayne State University: Wayne State University researchers examining how toxicity of fatty acids links obesity and diabetes
Research may lead to new anti-obesity drugs
July 19, 2011

DETROIT - Though it generally is known that obesity dramatically increases the risk for type 2 diabetes, the biological mechanisms for that connection still are unclear.

Backed by several grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), James Granneman, professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences and pathology in Wayne State University's School of Medicine, is examining the nature of those mechanisms, specifically how the toxicity of lipids, or fatty acids, links obesity and diabetes.

As people become obese, their adipose tissue, which stores energy from food, loses its ability to do so, releasing toxic lipids, or free fatty acids (FFAs), which make their way to muscles and the liver. The FFAs then interfere with insulin's ability to promote the use of glucose as a fuel by cells in the muscle and liver. As a result, the pancreas is stimulated to produce more insulin, but diabetes can occur if the pancreas is unable to meet the higher demand. Some 20 million people in the United States suffer from type 2 diabetes and its complications.

"It's not how fat you are that causes diabetes, but rather how well your adipose tissue functions to handle toxic fatty acids," said Granneman, whose laboratory is part of WSU's Center for Integrative Metabolic and Endocrine Research (CIMER).

Michigan State University: New radio-pharmacy streamlines access to medical procedures
July 21, 2011

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University is partnering with Cardinal Health to open a radio-pharmacy on campus, a move that streamlines access to nuclear imaging agents created at an MSU cyclotron and used in medical procedures such as PET scans.

Timely access is crucial: The imaging agents created at MSU's medical cyclotron and dispensed at a radio-pharmacy decay very quickly and lose potency, meaning patient-specific doses must get to hospitals and clinics quickly, said Tom Cooper, interim chairperson of MSU's Department of Radiology.

"The procedures that rely on these agents are often very time-sensitive," Cooper said. "By partnering with Cardinal Health, we will be able to ensure patients at hospitals and clinics across Michigan and the region have ready access to potentially life-saving care."

Society, including culture and politics

University of Michigan: Decent minimum standard of health benefits should not be based on social productivity, says U-M doctor
Proposals for limiting health care based on productivity get uncomfortably close to “death panel” fears; public needs to believe allocation is fair
July 21, 2011

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Basing health care or life-prolonging treatments on the basis of whether patients are productive citizens gets too close to justifying fears reflected in the public response to “death panels,” according to commentary co-authored by a U-M physician.

The commentary, published in the American Journal of Bioethics, calls for engaging the public in deliberations about health care spending, especially what counts as a decent minimum set of health benefits.

The University of Michigan’s Susan Goold, M.D., M.H.S.A., M.A., co-wrote the commentary with Matthew Wynia, M.D., M.P.H., Director of the American Medical Association’s Institute for Ethics, in response to an article in the journal by Lawrence J. Schneiderman, M.D. of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. Schneiderman’s article advocates rationing health care based on a patient’s social productivity.

“Whether it is defined as working, going to school or raising a family or in any other way, using social productivity as a criterion for rationing isn’t a good idea that might be taken too far, as the author claimed, it is a bad idea from the outset,” says Goold, professor of Internal Medicine and Health Management and Policy at U-M.

University of Michigan: Social media study: Conservatives were top tweeters in 2010 elections
July 21, 2011

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—The results of a study on candidates' use of Twitter in the 2010 midterm elections suggest that Republicans and Tea Party members used the social medium more effectively than their Democratic rivals.

The University of Michigan study, among the first to examine the Tea Party's social media strategies, also showed that analyzing Twitter activity can lead to good predictions of election winners.

Various social media tools have become a key part of campaign strategies in recent years. In 2010, nearly a quarter of online adults used social networks including Twitter to engage with the election.

In this study, researchers from the U-M School of Information and the College of Engineering looked at more than 460,000 tweets—three years' worth from 687 candidates running for national House, Senate and gubernatorial seats.

Wayne State University: New Literacies Conference at Wayne State addresses new technologies to transform K-12 education
July 21, 2011

The integration of technology in the classroom as a tool for promoting diversity and addressing education inequality will be the focus of the College of Education's 2011 New Literacies Conference, "Teaching and Learning in the Decades Ahead."

The conference, which takes place 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. August 18, 2011, on Wayne State's main campus, includes breakout sessions, two keynote addresses and a presentation by newly appointed College of Education Dean Carolyn Shields. Educators, school administrators, college and high school students, community organization staff members and parents are encouraged to attend.

The conference explores how teachers and faculty can integrate technology and social media into curricula in a way that positively tackles education inequalities, highlights the value of diversity and provides ideas to improve public education.

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman featured on Comcast Newsmakers, hosted by Paul W. Smith, at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

Michigan State University: MSU honored for student-volunteer program
July 21, 2011

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University has earned a prestigious national award for its efforts to promote student volunteering and engagement.

MSU is among a number of U.S. universities that were named to the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.

The award annually recognizes institutions of higher education for their commitment to and achievement in community service.

Wayne State University: Wayne State's College of Education provides local organizations and schools with dedicated student teachers year-round
July 19, 2011

The demand for dedicated, quality teachers across Detroit has the College of Education's Office of Field Experiences at Wayne State University busy these days. More than 100 undergraduate students enrolled in the courses Introduction to Education and Becoming a Professional Educator are experiencing what it's like to teach this summer.

Each semester, the Office of Field Experiences partners with local nonprofit organizations and schools for its service-learning program. Julie Osburn, assistant director in the Office of Field Experiences, said Wayne State has nearly 70 partners - up from 50 last year - and expects more in the fall.

Wayne State University: Actor, singer and humanitarian Harry Belafonte to deliver Keith Biennial Lecture Sept. 8
July 19, 2011

DETROIT (July 19, 2011) - The Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University Law School is pleased to announce its rescheduled Fifth Keith Biennial Lecture featuring prominent actor, singer and humanitarian Harry Belafonte. Belafonte's lecture, "Where We Are Headed," is sponsored by Comerica Bank. The event will begin at 7 p.m. in Wayne State University's Community Arts Auditorium on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011.

"The Keith Biennial Lecture has quickly become one of the most significant and anticipated civil rights events in the Detroit community," said Peter Hammer, Wayne Law professor and director of the Keith Center. "We are excited to have Mr. Harry Belafonte deliver this important address. This event will serve as an appropriate kickoff to our fall events and festivities, which will culminate with the Oct. 19 grand opening ceremony for the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights."

"I am very proud that Comerica has the opportunity to partner in furthering Judge Keith's living legacy," said Caroline Chambers, national manager of diversity initiatives at Comerica Bank. "We are especially excited to fund the Keith Center Biennial Lecture Series and to welcome Harry Belafonte to Detroit. Mr. Belafonte is an American icon and an important voice in our civil rights history. We look forward to hosting students at the lecture who, I hope, will be inspired and motivated by his example."

University of Michigan: U-M renews partnership with Traverse City Film Festival
July 22, 2011

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—For the second consecutive year, the University of Michigan has formed an educational partnership with the Traverse City Film Festival. The collaboration calls for U-M faculty from the school's screen arts department to serve as jurors for short and feature films and documentaries. In addition, the festival will once again offer a public venue for the premiere screening of two short films by U-M film students.

"We are extremely proud of our association with the University of Michigan," said Michael Moore, Oscar-winning filmmaker and founder of the Traverse City Film Festival. "Our goal is to further the appreciation of great films. And to do that, we have been expanding both our film offerings and educational initiatives with the help of some of U-M's finest film professors and experts."

The six-day festival, which attracted 106,000 admissions last year, will be held July 26-31. Since the inaugural festival in 2005, the Traverse City Film Festival has nearly tripled the number of screenings, doubled attendance while offering compelling panel discussions and an onsite film school, where classes are presented on screenwriting, acting and the film industry.

Michigan State University: Michigan State scholar helps make MLB umpire schedule a hit
July 20, 2011

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Growing up in soccer-crazed Turkey, Hakan Yildiz knew so little about baseball, even the word “umpire” had no meaning to him.

Today, Yildiz, an assistant business professor at Michigan State University, is part of a team of researchers whose complex method for scheduling Major League Baseball umpires has proven so successful the league has used it five of the past six seasons.

The method – by Yildiz, Michael Trick from Carnegie Mellon University and Tallys Yunes from the University of Miami – will be highlighted in a forthcoming special issue of the research journal Interfaces focusing on sports analytics.

“Major League Baseball has benefited from this study,” said Yildiz, a faculty member in MSU’s Department of Supply Chain Management. “The umpire schedules are more balanced and have fewer violations of league-imposed travel rules and restrictions.”

Michigan State University: More students to study in China
July 21, 2011

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- In an effort to strengthen United States-China ties, Michigan State University is the only institution in the Midwest - and one of six in the nation - to receive a grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation in support of the U.S. State Department's "100,000 Strong Initiative."

MSU received $200,000 to send 30 students to China to participate in programs focused on Chinese language, business and culture. In total, the foundation awarded $1 million for about 160 students nationwide.

The initiative was inspired by President Barack Obama's vision to see 100,000 American students study abroad in China. Specifically, the program targets the areas of education, culture, sports, science and technology and women's issues.

"This grant will make opportunities to study in China more accessible to MSU students, who may not have otherwise considered a study abroad program," said Brett Berquist, executive director of the Office of Study Abroad. "Through the richness and diversity found within Chinese cultures, our students will learn how cultural traditions, history and language affect global business practices within the United States and Michigan."


Michigan State University: Law clinic receives inclusive excellence grant
July 21, 2011

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- The Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives at Michigan State University has approved a $35,000 Creating Inclusive Excellence Grant for the MSU College of Law Small Business and Nonprofit Clinic.

Creating Inclusive Excellence Grants are awarded for MSU projects, programs and proposals aimed at creating and supporting an inclusive university. The grants promote efforts to enhance the values of quality, connectivity and inclusiveness within the university's educational and work environments.

The clinic's Community Economic Development Inclusiveness Project will offer legal assistance to local entrepreneurs, with a heightened outreach to the Chinese community. A recent survey conducted by U.S.-China Creative Space, a nonprofit organization in East Lansing, showed that 69 percent of Chinese students in the Lansing area would like to start a business or invest in the United States.

Wayne State University: Invisible poverty: One in three Michigan seniors can't afford basics according to Wayne State University study
July 20, 2011

Michigan's older adults are more likely to be poor and at greater risk of not being able to afford their basic living expenses than U.S. Census data indicate. According to a recent analysis by the Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology's Seniors Count! project, 37 percent of Michigan's seniors are living at or below a level of basic economic security. Many of these older adults dwell in the state's seemingly well-to-do suburbs. Yet they struggle financially - not to purchase vacations and luxury vehicles - but to buy the basic food, housing, transportation and medical care needed to survive.

"This invisible poverty is all around us," explained Thomas Jankowski, Ph.D., lead author of the study and associate director of research at Wayne State University's Institute of Gerontology. In Oakland County, home to Bloomfield Hills (one of the five wealthiest suburbs in the U.S.), one of every three people over age 65 is unable to meet basic living expenses. "As more people live longer, this will worsen," he said.

Jankowski and his team unearthed these statistics by applying the Elder Economic Security StandardTM Index (Elder Index) to Michigan population data. The Elder Index measures economic security by producing a snapshot of basic expenses in retirement, including housing, health care, food, transportation, other essentials and long-term care when needed. While 17 states have adopted the Elder Index, only Michigan was able to apply data from the Seniors Count! project to the index and spotlight the high percentage of the state's seniors who fall short of this critical income benchmark.
Next up, sustainability news from the public research universities of Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio.

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