Jaimie Davis is proving that kids who garden eat better, have improved brain function, and have a lower risk of obesity and related diseases. University of Texas Elementary School students learn to garden. Photo by Alex Wang.
It’s no secret that the rate of childhood obesity in the United States is rising at an alarming pace. Between our multi-screen, sedentary lifestyle and easy access to an abundance of unhealthy, highly processed foods, today’s kids have the odds stacked against them when it comes to fitness.
Jaimie Davis, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences in the School of Human Ecology, has a fresh strategy for fighting back against this wave of childhood obesity — teach kids to garden.
Davis, a registered dietician, has focused much of her research at UT Austin on exploring the connections between nutrition, physical activity and behavior.
The centerpiece of her recent work has been the launch of L.A. Sprouts. Davis and Nicole Gatto at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health developed L.A. Sprouts together in 2012.
L.A. Sprouts is a school garden–based nutrition and gardening intervention aimed at improving diet and reducing the risk of obesity and related metabolic disorders in Latino youth (ages 8-11).
Topics covered in the nutrition component of the program include adding fruits and vegetables to a diet, real food vs. processed food, strategies for eating a healthier breakfast and school lunch, the importance of fiber, and hidden sugars in sodas and other beverages.
Students learn about sowing seeds and transplanting seedlings, composting, watering, and how to use recycled materials for gardening and plant identification.
By testing the effects of school- and community-based gardens, improved nutrition, and cooking interventions Davis is proving that kids who garden eat better, have improved brain function, and have a lower risk of obesity and related diseases.
Jaimie Davis, she’s a Longhorn Game Changer. That’s how we change the world.
Leading computational science center continues growth path
AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas at Austin has received approval from the UT System Board of Regents to expand its facilities. TACC's facilities are home to computing, data, and visualization resources as well as expert staff that support cutting-edge scientific research on such topics as predicting hurricanes and developing new energy sources.
The regents approved the $20 million expansion plans at their board meeting today, clearing the way for construction to begin later this year.
“The center continues to grow, and the demands for the cyberinfrastructure services provided by TACC continue to grow faster than we can possibly meet them. As part of that growth, we need a bigger home, and our project to expand the TACC facilities is taking shape,” said Dan Stanzione, executive director of TACC.
The building is being funded by an anonymous $10 million gift and matching funds from the UT System Board of Regents.
"TACC is a pillar of UT Austin’s research capability. What’s more, it helps scientists around the world push the frontier of knowledge in innumerable fields,” said UT Austin president Bill Powers. “It needs a facility that will help keep Texas at the forefront of advanced computing, and I’m gratified that with this it will have one.”
The new TACC Office Building — a three-story, 38,000-gross-square-foot building — will connect to the existing offices by way of an enclosed walkway. The building will be located in the northeast quadrant of the J.J. Pickle Research Campus on Burnet Road.
The first level of the building will house a public open lobby space, reception area, a 1,500-square-foot visualization lab — an environment of large flat-panel monitors offering an extremely high level of detail and quality for scientists to visualize and analyze data. It will also include an auditorium for approximately 260 people and a flexible training room for 50 people.
TACC conducts research in the field of advanced computing while conducting outreach to increase the awareness of the importance of advanced computing and computational science.
More than 3,000 active, funded research projects in all fields of science are benefiting from the advanced computing resources available at TACC, which includes a comprehensive ecosystem of leading-edge resources in high performance computing (HPC), visualization, data analysis, storage, cloud, data-driven computing, and software.
“As a shining star in the research community, UT must set an example through the continued renewal of those tools that make modern science possible,” UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa said. “The new facilities will allow TACC to maintain its leadership position in the field of computational science, and the UT System is proud to help enable cutting-edge scientific research through the continued financial support of TACC’s endeavors.”
The estimated completion timeframe is January 2016.
The Tower will be ablaze in orange tonight to celebrate the record-breaking success of The Campaign for Texas. The eight-year fundraising effort concluded Aug. 31, topping its $3 billion goal by $120 million. Fireworks will commence around 8:30 p.m.
The $862 million that The University of Texas at Austin raised in the campaign’s final year is believed to set a new single-year record for higher-education fundraising in the state. Gifts to the eight-year campaign came from all 50 states and 97 countries.
“My heart is filled with thanks for every member of the Longhorn family — individuals, foundations, associations and corporations — who helped us,” said UT President Bill Powers in August.
The campaign, which drew more than 270,000 donors of gifts small and large, fueled a campus building boom and an influx of student and faculty talent. The campaign also raised money for pioneering research into matters ranging from the microscopic — designing cancer-fighting nanoparticles — to the vast — building the largest map of the universe ever created.
For more information about the Campaign for Texas, click on the graphic below.
More than 2.5 million children in elementary schools across Texas have one thing in common this time of year: They have teachers who need to meet with their parents or guardians about their successes, challenges and progress at school.
In some school communities, parents think it is “mandatory” to visit with the teacher during parent-teacher conference time. There is no law in Texas making it legally mandatory, but many parents are eager to learn about how their children are doing, especially since they cannot be a fly on the wall, as some would wish.
But, as they prepare to walk into the school, a sort of anxiety or fear overcomes them. I have felt it, and I am a parent of three and a former elementary teacher. What will the teacher say? Will he ask a hard question of me? Will he think I’ve done a good job? Will she notice the same things I have or will there be a whole new set of goals for me to handle at home? This natural anxiety does not keep these parents away.
However, that scenario is not always the case.
Some parents, for a variety of reasons, do not take advantage of the parent-teacher conference. I once had a parent of a child in my class who told me, after several unsuccessful struggles to get him to come in, and finally one successful attempt, that he did not plan to sit down to hear all the bad things about his daughter. With a smile I assured him that my agenda did not include that.
Another time, I had a parent who had a tough upbringing, and lingering memories of her negative experiences at school are what kept her away.
For parents such as these who either are disinclined to come or don’t have the time to make it to their child’s parent-teacher conference, there are other things they ought to be doing.
Consider writing an email to the teacher to let him know that you are not able to make it in, but that you would like to learn about the progress of your child regarding something you noticed on the report card.
You can also arrange a phone conference — just as a teacher might do when she needs to talk with you about your child’s day — to discuss what would have been shared in the parent-teacher conference. If you have received standardized test scores that you would like to learn more about, request that the teacher, or even the school counselor, give you a call.
Be sure to look through your child’s returned homework, projects, or tests in order to ask informed questions of the teacher. Conversations should never be confrontational. Keep a positive tone and an open mind to learn the most about your child’s school progress, whether it is in person or through other means of communication.
Before any planned conversation, ask children if they have a question to ask the teacher. No matter how big or small the question might be, a child’s voice is just as important as your voice when building relationships for classroom success.
Jot down a couple of questions and characteristics of your child that you would like to share with the teacher or listen for as she speaks. You may be answering her unasked questions from these inquiries and comments that you can offer.
It is imperative to visit with your child’s teacher. Although not mandatory, your consistent involvement in parent-teacher communication will set up your child for success at school, now and in the future.
It really doesn’t matter what month it is. Teachers and parents must connect in some way. Parents and guardians are their children’s most important figure in ensuring their well-being and always their children’s best advocate.
Sheri Mycue is a clinical assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin.
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Share this story on Twitter:November 6, 2014
AUSTIN, Texas — The School of Social Work and the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) at The University of Texas at Austin are establishing a dual degree program at the graduate level, the first of its kind in the United States. The dual degree will address the gap in services for U.S. Latinos and Latin American immigrants. Graduates of the three-year program will earn the Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) and the Master of Arts (M.A.) with a major in Latin American studies. Students can apply for admission for the fall 2015 semester.
Graduates of the dual degree program will combine clinical social work skills with cultural and linguistic competency suited to diverse Latino and Latin American immigrant populations in the U.S. and abroad.
Dual-degree students must complete 30 credit hours in Latin American studies and 51 credit hours in social work. In addition, they must meet a language requirement (Spanish or Portuguese) and complete research and internship requirements in a Latin American country.
“Latinos are expected to make up close to one-third of the U.S. population by 2050. This dual degree augments our existing programs, particularly the St. David’s Foundation Bilingual Scholarships, to ensure that more graduates are ready for superb culturally competent social work practice with the growing numbers of Latino clients in Texas and beyond,” said Luis H. Zayas, dean of the School of Social Work.
The need for social workers who speak Spanish and understand the Latino and Latin American immigrant cultures is acute, particularly in Texas, where Latinos are the largest ethnic group. Studies have shown that there is an increasing discrepancy between the growth of minority populations in Texas and the number of social service providers that can meet these populations’ cultural and linguistic needs.
“Partnering with social work advances our central mission to teach deep understanding of Latin America in combination with professional training for the common good,” said Charles Hale, director of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections. “We are thrilled to inaugurate this dual degree at a time when the School of Social Work has deepened considerably its faculty expertise in Latin American and Latino studies.”
Impetus for the dual degree came from various sources, including former LLILAS graduate student Cintia Huitzil. A second-generation indigenous Chicana, Huitzil worked to expand indigenous transnational migrants’ access to social services in Los Angeles before coming to The University of Texas at Austin. Once on the Forty Acres, she collaborated with students from LLILAS, the School of Social Work and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies to collect signatures for a letter proposing the dual degree program.
“I hope that in combining these disciplines, LLILAS and the School of Social Work can foment a more critical and conscientious student body with the theoretical and practical background to best serve the Latinos and Latin American immigrants in this country,” Huitzil said.
AUSTIN, Texas — The microbes living in people’s guts are much less diverse than those in humans' closest relatives, the African apes, an apparently long evolutionary trend that appears to be speeding up in more modern societies, with possible implications for human health, according to a new study.
Based on an analysis of how humans and three lineages of ape diverged from common ancestors, researchers determined that within the lineage that gave rise to modern humans, microbial diversity changed slowly and steadily for millions of years, but that rate of change has accelerated lately in humans from the U.S.
People in nonindustrialized societies have gut microbiomes that are 60 percent different from those of chimpanzees. Meanwhile, those living in the U.S. have gut microbiomes that are 70 percent different from those of chimps.
"It took millions of years, since humans and chimpanzees split from a common ancestor, to become 60 percent different in these colonies living in our digestive systems," said Howard Ochman, professor of integrative biology in the College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the study. "On the other hand, in apparently only hundreds of years — and possibly a lot fewer — people in the United States lost a great deal of diversity in the bacteria living in their gut."
That rapid change might translate into negative health effects for Americans. Previous research has shown that compared with several populations, people living in the U.S. have the lowest diversity of gut microbes. Still other research has linked a lack of microbial diversity in human guts to various diseases such as asthma, colon cancer and autoimmune diseases.
The results of this latest study, carried out by researchers from The University of Texas at Austin, Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania and elsewhere, appear this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The lead author is Andrew Moeller, a visiting scholar at The University of Texas at Austin and a graduate student at Yale University.
One possible explanation for humans evolving to have less diversity in their gut microbiomes is that they shifted to a diet with more meat and fewer plants. Plants require complex communities of microbes to break them down, which is not as true for meat.
As for why Americans have experienced much more rapid changes in microbial diversity compared with people in less industrialized societies, some experts have suggested more time spent indoors, increased use of antibacterial soaps and cleaners, widespread use of antibiotics and high numbers of births by Cesarean section all may play a role. Antibiotics and antimicrobial cleaners can kill good bacteria along with the bad, and C-section deliveries prevent babies from receiving certain bacteria from the mother typically conferred during vaginal births.
"Declining diversity in the gut has been a trend for a long time," said Ochman. "It's tantalizing to think that the decrease in microbial diversity in humans is due only to modern medical practices and other lifestyle changes, but this research shows other factors over time also must have played a role."
The researchers analyzed the genetic makeup of bacteria in fecal samples from humans, chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas to draw their conclusions.
Moeller and Ochman's co-authors are Yingying Li at the University of Pennsylvania; Eitel Mpoudi-Ngole at the Institut de Recherches Médicales et d’Études des Plantes Médicinales, Prévention du Sida au Cameroun (Republic of Cameroon); Steve Ahuka-Mundeke at Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale (Democratic Republic of Congo) and the University of Montpellier (France); Elizabeth Lonsdorf at Franklin & Marshall College; Anne Pusey at Duke University; Martine Peeters at the University of Montpellier; and Beatrice Hahn at the University of Pennsylvania.
This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, Agence Nationale de Recherche sur le Sida and the Jane Goodall Institute.
Download the paper "Rapid changes in the gut microbiome during human evolution" (PNAS, November 3,2014) at: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/10/29/1419136111.full.pdf+html
Humans, chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas share common ancestors that lived millions of years ago. Scientists have long speculated that as humans evolved along a different path from the other apes, they lost much of their ancestral microbial diversity. This is the first statistically significant study to confirm that hypothesis.
"In this study we were able to compare hundreds of humans to hundreds of wild apes," said Andrew Moeller, visiting scholar at The University of Texas at Austin, graduate student at Yale University and lead author of the study. "That gave us the statistical power to actually test whether there is a difference between the species. We couldn't have done that before because we just didn't have enough samples."
The data on humans came from three earlier studies that compared human populations living in Venezuela, Malawi and the U.S. with a wide range of lifestyles including urban, rural and pre-industrial. Using the same data but with a different method of analysis, this latest study confirms earlier research which showed that people living in the U.S. have a much lower microbial diversity than any other population studied.
"There's something interesting going on with humans from the U.S.," said Moeller.
The study also showed that human gut microbiomes, the communities of microbes living in our guts, seem to be specialized for a meat-based diet. Compared with apes, humans have a very high abundance of a particular group of bacteria called Bacteroides, which are known to be associated with meat eating.
"It was surprising that, compared to apes, every human population showed the same general pattern of lower microbial diversity and higher levels of Bacteroides," said Moeller. "These are humans separated by thousands of miles and living vastly different lifestyles."
The three studies that provided the human data used in this latest study are:
Human gut microbiome viewed across age and geography (Nature, May 9, 2012)
A human gut microbial gene catalog established by metagenomic sequencing (Nature, March 4, 2010)
Gut microbiome of the Hadza hunter-gatherers (Nature Communications, April 15, 2014)
Some students trek through canyons noting rock formations. Others fix problems by creating new products.
Some teachers share a curriculum to introduce high school scholars to engineering. Future teachers instruct pupils in the classroom. And others teachers use colorful videos to spark ethics debates.
Initiatives that started at The University of Texas at Austin are shaping the future of education, preparing tomorrow’s leaders and taking Longhorn expertise beyond the Forty Acres. Five programs are helping students succeed and equipping teachers with innovative resources. Learn more about UTeach, Idea2Product, GeoForce, Engineer Your World and Ethics Unwrapped.
UTeach enables undergraduate students to earn a degree in a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) field while also completing a secondary teaching certificate, paving the way for graduate school or a career in either a STEM field or teaching.
“Half of the people who graduate with us weren’t thinking of teaching when they arrived,” says Michael Marder, director of UTeach Natural Sciences. “They get in a room full of kids and realize this is what they were born to do.”
The UTeach program brings college students to elementary and high school classrooms to begin the process of becoming a teacher with hands-on experience under master teachers.
“The biggest problem with the entire K-12 public schooling system is the absence of science and math qualified teachers,” Marder says. “The best and most important thing a university can do to assist public education is to prepare as many of those teachers as possible.”
Nearly 900 UT students have completed UTeach, 90 percent of whom enter the K-12 teaching profession. Of those students, 80 percent remain in the teaching field five years after graduation.Beyond the Forty Acres
A collaboration between the Colleges of Natural Sciences and Education, UTeach was established in 1997. In 2006 the program was expanded nationally, and the model is now being used at 38 other universities.
As part of Georgia’s Race to the Top plan, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement awarded grants as much as $1.4 million to Columbus State University, Southern Polytechnic State University and the University of West Georgia to replicate the UTeach program there.
In Georgia alone, officials expect graduates of the UTeach programs in Georgia to then go on to teach STEM courses to 160,000 secondary students by 2020.Idea to Product Idea To Product, or I2P, puts students from different disciplines on teams vying to commercialize the best solutions to everyday problems. The international competition started here, but specialized versions now take place across the country. What Is It?
Idea To Product, or I2P, is an international, student-led competition for early-stage technology commercialization. Students from across disciplines come together to create new products that solve problems and fill a market need.
Professor Steven Nichols, I2P’s director, says students from engineering, natural sciences, law and business learn the fundamentals of bringing an idea to the market in a course where teams develop products for I2P.
“Instead of how to start a business, we’re trying to teach how to create a new product or service,” Nichols says. “We ask if we’ve solved a problem for anybody else.”
The competition forces students to look at the product’s market potential. Winning entries are unique, innovative, feasible to implement and address a clear need.
Started in 2002, I2P originally filled what Nichols calls an “education hole.” Today it’s an independent entity that hosts specialized competitions across the country. Teams from 63 universities have participated in I2P competitions on five continents.
California State University’s Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology, hosts the Annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium, where its CSUPERB I2P competition culminates.
“One hallmark of the I2P program is that students with no previous experience in biotechnology commercialization can be competitive,” says Susan Baxter, CSUPERB executive director.GeoForce Texas Learning doesn’t always take place in a classroom, as shown by the in-the-field experiences of high school students participating in GeoForce Texas. The program brings students on “geologic field trips” to prepare the youths for careers in the geosciences. What Is It?
GeoForce Texas takes high school students into the field to learn about geosciences and prepare for career opportunities.
Students from minority-serving and inner city-high schools travel on “geologic field trips” to study geosciences in person at McKinney Falls State Park, Florida beaches, volcanic formations on the West Coast and the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico. During these trips, students build a foundation for future geosciences education.
GeoForce Texas alumna and current Jackson School senior Victoria Fortiz says the program pushed her to study geological oceanography.
“Before GeoForce, I didn’t know what geology was,” says Fortiz, a first-generation college student from Eagle Pass. “GeoForce gave me my career path.”
By bringing high-school students into the wild to learn, GeoForce Texas takes aim at two problems — underserved students not reaching full potential and a shortage of new workers entering the geosciences field.
Housed in the Jackson School of Geosciences, GeoForce Texas takes 600 students every summer on the annual field trips. Students begin the program in ninth grade and continue every summer until graduation.
“They’re learning how to do science,” says Samuel Moore, director of outreach and diversity in the Jackson School of Geosciences. “They’re working with the research scientists and looking at formations. They’re coming up with a hypothesis and looking for evidence in layers of sediments.”Beyond the Forty Acres
Founded in 2005, GeoForce Texas boasts a 100 percent high-school graduation rate among participants, and two-thirds of the students have gone on to enter a STEM field.
The model is so successful that GeoForce Alaska (at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks) has replicated the program with high school students there.
“The students will tell you this program has changed them,” Moore says. “It helps them to make an informed choice about a career in STEM and in geosciences.”Engineer Your World Engineer Your World brings engineering into high-school classrooms across the country, letting students tackle an array of projects based on real-world problems. Students, like the one pictured here, gain hands-on experience as part of the yearlong curriculum preparing students for careers in engineering. What Is It?
Engineer Your World is a yearlong curriculum high-school teachers use to introduce students to engineering while preparing those students for college and careers in the field.
“The course shows students the context of how engineering solves problems for people and impacts lives,” says Cheryl Farmer, the program director.
High school teachers from across the country come to the university to learn how to teach the course and share resources with other teachers using the same hands-on curriculum.
At the Langham Creek High School in the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD in Houston, a design challenge asked students to “create a pinhole camera for an arts program that works with disabled individuals with limited hand dexterity.”
“It seemed like a far-fetched assignment, but I guess that’s the whole idea behind this,” says Langham Creek senior Henry Hernandez. “You have to think outside the box, start from nothing, build yourself up from errors and change it to an innovation such as this.”
The curriculum can be adapted for any high school grade and gives students an understanding of what engineers do to shape our world.
“Students are doing simplified projects of what a professional engineer does for living,” Farmer says. “They use the same skills and processes, and they can take these methods and skills and apply them to pretty much any situation where they have a problem to solve, in or outside of school.”Beyond the Forty Acres
Engineer Your World started in 2011, when the course was taught in seven high schools across Texas.
This academic year, Engineer Your World, which is housed in the Cockrell School of Engineering, is introducing engineering to about 3,000 high school students in 77 schools in 12 states.
Keith McCall, one of the 60 teachers who joined Engineer Your World this past year, says the program is the kind of hands-on education from which students in his Philadelphia classroom benefit.
“The students are going to love it because the projects are fun and because they’re learning real skills that they can use in their lives,” McCall says.Ethics Unwrapped Following an ethical compass isn’t always easy, but Ethics Unwrapped gives students and professionals the tools needed to stay on course. This animation as well as real-life dilemmas and personal experiences is part of a video series the program uses to teach people how to respond in sticky situations. What Is It?
Ethics Unwrapped is an education resource helping teachers, business leaders and everyone in between learn “how and why people make the ethical decision they do.”
Through lively, colorful and entertaining videos complete with creative animations, students at colleges and businesses around the world use the Ethics Unwrapped videos to learn how to live more ethical lives.
“The big picture is that everybody — and I mean everybody: teacher, engineer or Wall Street banker — tends to think of themselves as good people with the confidence they’ll make ethical decisions. But we aren’t realistic about the pressures we face,” says professor Robert Prentice, the faculty director of Ethics Unwrapped.
“The best way for us to prepare students is to explain how hard it will be to live up to their own standards and show them the pressures they’ll face from their bosses, peers and goals not to live up to their own standards,” he explains.
The program, housed in McCombs School of Business since it launched in 2012, centers around nearly 50 videos on ethics education that anyone, anywhere can use for free. The videos have racked up more than 100,000 views on YouTube from more than 150 countries.Beyond the Forty Acres
The videos are woven into courses at The University of Texas at Austin as well as at more than 100 other colleges and universities, including 45 different disciplines or departments and several dozen business schools.
“What an incredible resource,” says Christopher Adkins, executive director of undergraduate programs in the Mason School of Business at The College of William and Mary. “I only had a chance to see a few clips, but already I can see the value in sharing this with my students.”
Though the Ethics Unwrapped program does help students find an ethical path, it’s also used to teach professionals how to stay on course.
“I really enjoy the content and the commentators in the Ethics Unwrapped videos, and I thought this would be beneficial to share with our staff members,” says Lindsay Verbene, senior manager of compliance operations at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
“We’re offering stuff nobody else is offering,” says program director Cara Biasucci, MFA ’99. “In 10 years, we want to be the go-to resource — if anybody around the world wants to teach ethics, they come to us.”
This story is part of our “Eyes on Innovation” series, which explores UT’s world-changing ideas, fascinating discoveries and new ways of doing things.
Share this story on Twitter:November 4, 2014
AUSTIN, Texas — A paper by Ian Dalziel of The University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences, published in the November issue of Geology, a journal of the Geological Society of America, suggests a major tectonic event may have triggered the rise in sea level and other environmental changes that accompanied the apparent burst of life.
The Cambrian explosion is one of the most significant events in Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history. The surge of evolution led to the sudden appearance of almost all modern animal groups. Fossils from the Cambrian explosion document the rapid evolution of life on Earth, but its cause has been a mystery.
The sudden burst of new life is also called “Darwin’s dilemma” because it appears to contradict Charles Darwin’s hypothesis of gradual evolution by natural selection.
“At the boundary between the Precambrian and Cambrian periods, something big happened tectonically that triggered the spreading of shallow ocean water across the continents, which is clearly tied in time and space to the sudden explosion of multicellular, hard-shelled life on the planet,” said Dalziel, a research professor at the Institute for Geophysics and a professor in the Department of Geological Sciences.
Beyond the sea level rise itself, the ancient geologic and geographic changes probably led to a buildup of oxygen in the atmosphere and a change in ocean chemistry, allowing more complex life-forms to evolve, he said.
The paper is the first to integrate geological evidence from five present-day continents — North America, South America, Africa, Australia and Antarctica — in addressing paleogeography at that critical time.
Dalziel proposes that present-day North America was still attached to the southern continents until sometime into the Cambrian period. Current reconstructions of the globe’s geography during the early Cambrian show the ancient continent of Laurentia — the ancestral core of North America — as already having separated from the supercontinent Gondwanaland.
In contrast, Dalziel suggests the development of a deep oceanic gateway between the Pacific and Iapetus (ancestral Atlantic) oceans isolated Laurentia in the early Cambrian, a geographic makeover that immediately preceded the global sea level rise and apparent explosion of life.
“The reason people didn’t make this connection before was because they hadn’t looked at all the rock records on the different present-day continents,” he said.
The rock record in Antarctica, for example, comes from the very remote Ellsworth Mountains.
“People have wondered for a long time what rifted off there, and I think it was probably North America, opening up this deep seaway,” Dalziel said. “It appears ancient North America was initially attached to Antarctica and part of South America, not to Europe and Africa, as has been widely believed.”
Although the new analysis adds to evidence suggesting a massive tectonic shift caused the seas to rise more than half a billion years ago, Dalziel said more research is needed to determine whether this new chain of paleogeographic events can truly explain the sudden rise of multicellular life in the fossil record.
“I’m not claiming this is the ultimate explanation of the Cambrian explosion,” Dalziel said. “But it may help to explain what was happening at that time.”
Remember the “Great Recession?” Led by a trillion-dollar loss in collateralized debt obligations, the financial system came dangerously close to collapse. The regulators clearly did not understand the extent of the risk in these securities. Even the managers of the financial institutions did not appear to understand the risks they were taking.
If you enjoyed that recession, you will love the next one. We have a significant financial system risk that could make the “Great Recession” look minor.
For years we have heard about security breaches of credit card companies, financial information and email services. The good news is that you do not hear too many reports of anything being stolen. In other words, if the security breaches were the work of criminal networks, you would expect the information to be used quickly.
But that has not happened in mass scale. Most of the stories you hear about credit card fraud still hinge on the capture of information from a specific physical breach and, as expected, these are typically monetized very quickly to act before the breach is detected.
If these huge breaches are not the work of criminal networks, they may be state or terrorist sponsored. These sponsors have an interest in draining as much money as possible, but they may also have a significant interest in disrupting the American financial system.
In 2012, two-thirds of payments made in the United States were made by payment cards. If those transactions could be halted, it would have a devastating effect on the economy. Almost everyone has heard of “denial of service attacks,” when hackers drive millions of transactions at a particular site, overwhelming the servers and shutting them down.
Now consider such an attack using millions of fraudulent credit card transactions. These attacks would drain as much money as allowed out of the banks, and each issuing bank would be on the hook for losses of more than $50 per customer.
The attacks would overwhelm the security functions of the banks, in effect driving a possible shutdown of the system that handles two-thirds of daily transactions in the United States.
Neither the financial system nor individuals are prepared for a shutdown of the credit card processing network. Most people no longer carry enough cash to make the purchases they normally charge to their cards, so almost a panic would ensue as they rush to try to handle this new financial environment.
The resulting effect on the economy, as well as the effect on Americans’ feelings of security, would be devastating.
Our security agencies are doing an outstanding job of trying to address these issues and intercept many attacks, but they can’t do it alone. Two issues must be addressed.
First, the banking regulators need to immediately begin reviewing the preparations of issuing banks to handle a massive credit card fraud attack and ensure that these preparations will work if needed. The banks must have viable plans in place to instantly identify and work their way through such an attack.
Second, the financial institutions must actually begin to work with the intelligence agencies in what Director of National Intelligence James Clapper referred to as a “joint effort” to stop cybercrime. This is just one of several possible scenarios for serious financial cyberattacks. We need the joint effort to prevent whatever scenario may come.
As Yogi Berra is often quoted as saying, “The future is hard to predict, because it hasn’t happened yet.” These attacks haven’t happened yet, but I can predict that it’s only a matter of time, and our financial system must act now to ensure that we are protected.
John Highbarger is a lecturer of marketing in the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin.
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Want Job Security? Jobs of Tomorrow will be in Service, Applying Manufacturing Technologies
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The McCombs School of Business will officially break ground on the new 458,000-square-foot graduate business building. The building will house the Texas MBA and Texas Masters of Science in Technology Commercialization (MSTC) programs, expand executive education and conference capacity, and include additional spaces for campus parking. Robert B. Rowling Hall is scheduled to welcome its first class of students in 2017.
WHEN: Friday, Nov. 7, 2-3 p.m.
WHERE: Whitis Avenue at 20th Street (Across from the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center)
WHO: Scheduled speakers include University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers; McCombs School of Business Dean Tom Gilligan; McCombs Graduate Programs Dean Eric Hirst; MBA student and Graduate Business Council President Maureen McCaffery; and McCombs alumnus and former Regent Bob Rowling, whose gift of $25 million launched the campaign to fund the construction of the building.
AUSTIN, Texas — With mid-term elections less than a week away, immigration and border security remain foremost on Texans' minds when they think about the problems facing the state, according to the latest University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll.
Twenty-three percent of registered voters said border security is the most important problem facing Texas today, with 18 percent naming immigration. Hot button social issues such as abortion and gay marriage registered just 2 and 1 percent respectively.
A majority of Texans — 71 percent — strongly or somewhat support the deployment of National Guard troops to the Texas border to assist with the increased flow of immigrants from Central America.
Sixty percent also strongly or somewhat agree that “undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States should be deported immediately.” Thirty-four percent strongly or somewhat disagreed with the statement.
“Border security and immigration have ranked as the top perceived problems facing the state for several polls in a row,” said James Henson, Director of UT Austin’s Texas Politics Project and co-director of the poll. “This is particularly true of Texans who identify as Republican, and likely has been reinforced by political candidates who have made border security and illegal immigration centerpieces of their political campaigns during the 2014 campaign.”
The statewide poll, conducted Oct. 10-19, surveyed 1,200 registered Texas voters and had a margin of error of +/-3.28 percentage points.
A majority of those polled also expressed a favorable opinion of Texas' voter identification law, with 66 percent saying they had a very or somewhat favorable opinion. Texans were somewhat split on the law’s perceived effect on voter turnout, with 38 percent saying the laws decrease turnout and 43 percent saying they have no effect on turnout.
President Barack Obama continues to receive low marks, with 57 percent of those polled “disapproving strongly” or “disapproving somewhat” of his job as president.
Texans appear somewhat divided on U.S. involvement in foreign affairs. Asked if the country would be better off “if we just stayed home and did not concern ourselves with problems in other parts of the world,” fifty-four disagreed somewhat or strongly, while 43 percent agreed somewhat or strongly.
“Texans were closely divided on American engagement with problems in the world at a time when many of those problems are in the news,” Henson said. “The lack of consensus among political leaders on engagement with problems like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the Ebola epidemic in Africa is mirrored in public opinion, too.”
This is the latest in a series of online polls conducted by the Texas Politics Project and The Texas Tribune. Comprehensive poll results, information about methodology and the survey dataset are available at the Texas Politics Project website.
I want to share with you a very important development. UT Austin recently received a research grant of $58 million to head a team studying methane hydrate, a substance found in abundance beneath the ocean floor and under Arctic permafrost. The U.S. Department of Energy is providing more than $41 million, with the remainder coming from industry and research partners. The fact that this is one of the largest research grants in the University’s history is certainly noteworthy, but the real excitement comes from the potential developments from the study itself.
Methane hydrate is an ice-like solid compound that forms in low-temperature and high-pressure environments where molecules of methane, a chief constituent of natural gas, are trapped within a lattice structure of water molecules. The worldwide energy implications are huge: within the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, where the team will be sampling, there is estimated to be 7,000 trillion cubic feet of methane hydrate, more than 250 times the amount of natural gas used in the United States in 2013. You can read more here.
With another Halloween approaching, children of all ages are thinking about what to wear to earn their treats. There will certainly be some dressed in capes and fangs as vampires, but this creature of the night has long been more than a once-a-year monster.
The vampire has historically appeared precisely at times when we most need to identify, or to put a face of horror on, that which threatens us.
The current vampire madness has given us much choice in identifying our scapegoat for the conflicts of the 21st century. For the younger consumer, there is the “starter” vampire, Edward Cullen, in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series. Edward’s sparkly visage is not only pinup poster fodder; it gives contemporary tweens a safe understanding of things that go bump in the night. Although he is a vampire, Edward is unthreatening in his attractiveness. Even his car, a Volvo, is safe and reliable.
Charlaine Harris’ “True Blood” series, however, places her imagining of the world of Others in the multicultural town Bon Temps, where vampires have “come out of the coffin” into the world of the living by drinking the synthetic blood, Tru Blood. Her vampires are sexual, and raise questions of social prejudice and acceptance.
My fascination with the fanged revenant began with Jonathan Frid’s portrayal of Barnabas Collins in the 1960s gothic soap opera, “Dark Shadows.” Barnabas was fodder for my childhood nightmares: refined and educated, but also ghoulishly pale and fanged.
What I failed to realize then was that the popularity of the vampire on television and in movies was a reaction to the political and cultural upheaval of the Vietnam era and culture wars at home.
Vampires at once fascinate and terrify. Their bite promises eternal life, but at what price? Once “infected,” we become parasites, undead who feed on the living. Modern images of vampires often portray them as young, handsome and often “foreign,” whether as the iconic Transylvanian count or the misfit high school student in the “Twilight” series.
Perhaps the most famous vampire, Bram Stoker’s Dracula from his 1897 novel, was portrayed as an ethnic profile of an Eastern European Jew, immediately recognizable as the pogroms in Russia forced thousands to seek refuge in Europe.
Bela Lugosi’s suave, tuxedoed count in Tod Browning’s 1931 film, “Dracula,” was the first American vampire film. His heavily accented rendition of “I never drink … wine” gave American moviegoers both chills and an escape from the Great Depression. But this Dracula was also the foreign monster, an enemy we could all identify, fear and despise.
Decades later in the 1980s, while the U.S. was in the midst of an economic recession and AIDS was threatening to become a pandemic, Anne Rice brought us the memorable vampires Lestat and Louis. Her reimagining of the vampire myth in the middle of yuppie, corporate America in “Interview with the Vampire” provided readers with an escape from the ubiquitous upsetting stories spouting from 24-hour cable news.
Again, the vampire provided us with almost human embodiments of evil, an antidote to the helplessness we felt in the face of actual threats to our security and well-being.
What does the future hold for vampires? As vampires in past decades have become able to live in daylight and withstand the sight of a crucifix, a century from now we might see the myth further transformed to describe a global phenomenon, with nations uniting against a worldwide siege.
A timeless myth, the vampire story hundreds of years into the future might depict the creature as the primary inhabitant of planet Earth.
Introducing students to historical figures such as Vlad Dracula, a medieval “Christian crusader” battling invading Muslim Turks in Wallachia, is exactly what I do in my class on vampires at The University of Texas at Austin. The course also traces the occurrence of the vampire in Russia and Eastern Europe in tandem with periods of strife. It is not coincidental that Vladimir Putin has repeatedly referred to Chechen rebels as “vampires.” Undoubtedly the need to identify our enemies as vampires will live as long as the myth.
For young vampires on Halloween, though, we can avoid their tricks with a simple treat.
Thomas Garza is a University Distinguished Teaching Associate Professor of Slavic and Eurasian studies at The University of Texas at Austin.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Austin American Statesman.
To view more op-eds from Texas Perspectives, click here.
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AUSTIN, Texas — U.S. News & World Report has ranked The University of Texas at Austin No. 30 in the world in its first-ever Global University Rankings, marking the fourth time this year a prestigious international group has placed UT Austin among the best international universities.
The rankings are based on 10 indicators that measure universities' academic research performance and their global and regional reputation, according to the publication. Students are encouraged to use the rankings to explore higher education options globally and compare key aspects of schools' research missions.
"This ranking confirms what we see on our campus every day: outstanding faculty teaching world-class students. We say, 'What starts here changes the world.' The world is noticing," said President Bill Powers, who will be stepping down as president next June after nine years leading the flagship university.
The ranking placed UT Austin No. 23 among U.S. universities and No. 10 among public universities in the U.S.
UT Austin has been ranked near the top globally in other recent publications, including:
- No. 28 in the world by Times Higher Education (United Kingdom).
- No. 29 in the world by the Center for World University Rankings (Saudi Arabia).
- No. 39 in the world by the Academic Ranking of World Universities, which is compiled by the Center for World-Class Universities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University (China).
The U.S. News Global Rankings are based on different criteria than the U.S. News Best College rankings, which listed UT Austin at No. 53, and annual Best Graduate School rankings, which rate individual disciplines.
The global rankings focus specifically on schools' academic research and reputation overall and not their separate undergraduate or graduate programs, according to U.S. News. And they rely heavily on metrics such as faculty publications, citations and highly cited papers, drawing on data from Thompson Reuters, the largest international organization that tracks research productivity.
The overall rankings include 500 universities in 49 countries.
A new poll from The University of Texas at Austin reveals markedly different perspectives on energy issues based on the age of voters, a finding that could help determine the outcome of next week’s elections.
The latest UT Energy Poll, conducted Sept. 4-16, shows contrasting views and preferences among consumers in numerous areas, including energy policy, preferred sources of energy and financial support from the federal government.
Varying perspectives can be traced to several demographic variables, including gender and political affiliation, but the most pronounced differences reflect the age of survey respondents.
For example, 41 percent of survey respondents under age 35 say the U.S. should permit export of natural gas to other countries, while just 22 percent of those age 65 and older support the policy.
Nearly half of the 2,105 U.S. residents surveyed (46 percent) say candidates’ views on energy issues will greatly influence their choices at the ballot box.
The online poll also corroborates a longstanding trend among likely voters: A much higher percentage of older respondents (87 percent) indicate they are likely to vote in the Nov. 4 election, compared with 68 percent of those age 35 or under.
“Consumer perspectives on energy issues continue to track political party lines, but we’re seeing a widening gulf among older and younger Americans,” said Sheril Kirshenbaum, director of the UT Energy Poll.
The generational divide surfaces in several areas, particularly the importance of environmental protection and support for renewable forms of energy:
- Fifty-six percent of younger consumers say they are willing to pay much higher prices to protect the environment, compared with only 20 percent of respondents age 65 and older.
- Sixty-eight percent of survey respondents under age 35 say they would be more likely to vote for candidates who support steps to reduce carbon emissions, compared with 50 percent of those age 65 and older.
- Support for renewable sources of energy is considerably stronger among younger consumers, with nearly 2 out of 3 (65 percent) favoring an expansion of financial incentives for companies engaged in renewable technologies. Less than half of older respondents (48 percent) say they would support candidates who endorse such incentives. Likewise, 62 percent of younger respondents favor requiring utilities to obtain a percentage of their electricity from renewable sources, versus 48 percent of older voters.
- Younger consumers also strongly support subsidies for renewable energy, with 72 percent saying they back federal government support, compared with 58 percent among Americans age 65 and older.
- Fifty-two percent of respondents 65 and older say they are familiar with hydraulic fracturing for fossil fuel extraction, compared with 39 percent of younger Americans. Among those familiar with the term, only 37 percent of younger survey respondents support its use, compared with more than half (52 percent) of Americans age 65 and older.
For complete online survey results, charts and other information, visit www.utenergypoll.utexas.edu.
Data from The University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll were weighted using U.S. Census Bureau figures, as well as propensity scores, to ensure the sample's composition reflects the actual U.S. population. The poll was developed by the McCombs School of Business to provide an objective, authoritative look at consumer attitudes and perspectives on key energy issues. It is designed to help inform national discussion, business planning and policy development. This is the seventh wave of the Energy Poll, which was launched in October 2011.
AUSTIN, Texas — Getting children who are overweight to regularly eat even just a helping or two of the right vegetables each day could improve their health in critical ways, a new study in the November edition of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports.
School cafeterias, families, policymakers and health professionals have been looking for ways to address a growing epidemic of childhood obesity, which is three times as prevalent now as it was a generation ago. The study’s finding that even small amounts of green and orange vegetables can help the children who are most at risk — regardless of whether they lose weight — suggests selecting the right vegetables is a critical part of the puzzle.
The study found that making nutrient-rich vegetables (including leafy foods such as spinach or broccoli and orangish vegetables such as carrots) even a small part of a child’s daily diet reduced bad fats in the body. It also improved insulin levels in a group of overweight Latino children monitored by a research team from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California and from The University of Texas at Austin.
Children who regularly consumed one or two fist-size servings of these nonstarchy vegetables reduced their risk for liver problems, Type 2 diabetes and other complications of obesity. Although the children, who ranged in age from 8 to 18, continued to eat fewer nutritious vegetables than what’s recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the improvements to their health were significant.
“For a lot of at-risk children, intake of vegetables is really low,” said Jaimie Davis, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at UT Austin and one of the authors of the study, which notes that fewer than 6 percent of children eat the USDA-recommended multiple servings of nutrient-rich vegetables most days.
“We found, though, even eating less than a full serving of these vegetables can really have a pronounced effect on children’s health. One large leafy green salad as a regular part of lunch is enough to make a difference.”
Researchers looked at the effects of nutrient-rich vegetables in the diets of 175 overweight or obese Latino youths in Los Angeles. They found differences of a quarter cup per day in consumption of nutritious vegetables could be linked to improvements in metabolic health, including lower insulin levels and fewer “bad fats” in the body: visceral fat that lingers around internal organs and liver fat. Some types of body fats are more dangerous because they can lead to serious health complications, and they send the wrong signals to the brain about when and how much to eat.
Authors of the study emphasized that the type of vegetable matters, and that starchier vegetables such as corn and potatoes did not bring the positive effects of leafy greens and orange vegetables.
In addition to Davis, the paper’s authors are Lauren Cook, Gillian O'Reilly, Michael Goran, Donna Spruijt-Metz and Marc Weigensberg, all of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.
The hands tied nooses and then, as eternity neared, pulled the lever. There, at the high scaffold, those hands collected the debts of hundreds of criminals. The life masks of 20th century English executioners Albert Pierrepoint and Syd Dernley seem to float, ghostlike, in their display in the Tarlton Law Library. The plaster casts are part of the Hyder Collection, given to the UT Law School Foundation in 2011.
The life masks are two of the more macabre artifacts in the Hyder Collection, which includes over 1,000 pieces of legal history. Elton M. Hyder, Jr., LL.B. ’43, together with his wife, Martha Rowan Hyder, created the collection of art and artifacts to represent the historical development of law and the growth of the rule of law throughout the world. Their goal was to create for the law library an environment reminiscent of a fine gentleman’s library. The collection was donated to the Law School Foundation in 2011 for permanent display in the law school.
The first of the two hangmen, Albert Pierrepoint, decided he wanted to enter the family business of executions when he was only 11 years old. By the time he reached 38, he was “the U.K.’s unchallenged ‘Number One,’ the unofficial title of the most senior executioner.” After WWII, he hanged 200 war criminals in four years.
The second hangman, Syd Dernley, learned the ropes from Pierrepoint. Dernley took the lives of about 20 people between 1949 and 1954, and he “remained a fierce advocate for the death penalty, and hanging in particular, until his death.”
Each of the collection’s pieces comes with an intriguing backstory and glimpse into the past. When discussing the many items, Hyder’s wife, Martha Rowan Hyder, once said, “I like to think that the ghosts of all these people are walking around the library.”
The University of Texas at Austin is a vast place, with more than 40 acres of campus containing untold collections, artifacts and treasures. Our #HiddenUT series shines a spotlight onto UT’s unheralded gems.Plaster casts of the hands of English executioner Albert Pierrepoint.
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Thousands of boys and girls across Texas are now deciding what they want to be this Halloween. Boys have a multitude of Halloween costume options this year, ranging from scary to funny and from nerdy to powerful.
Girls’ costumes, on the other hand, are limited in variety and seem to increasingly feature the same, sexy silhouette: sleeveless, fitted bodice, short skirt and high heels.
Is a young girl’s desire for a sexy Halloween costume a harmless whim or something more troubling? Should parents go along with their daughters’ requests for those sexy, and often popular, costumes? Based on studies of pre- and early-adolescent girls, we think that parents should be worried about sexy Halloween costumes and guide their daughters toward less sexually alluring outfits.
Why? Social scientists have found that the exposure to sexualized messages is associated with body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, low self-esteem and depression among adult women. Although the solitary act of wearing a sexy costume is unlikely to affect adolescent girls’ development, a generalized interest in being sexually alluring to boys does appear to be harmful.
As social scientists, we have been studying pre- and early-adolescent girls who believe that sexual attractiveness is an important aspect of their identity.
In multiple studies, we found that 10- to 15-year-old girls with higher levels of “internalized sexualization” differ from their peers in troubling ways. The first set of findings shows that such girls earn lower grades in school and score lower on standardized tests of academic achievement than their peers.
Another study showed that when young adolescent girls came into our lab to film a mock newscast, girls with higher and lower scores on the internalized sexualization measure prepared differently: girls with higher levels of sexualization spent more time putting on makeup, and less time practicing the script, than girls with lower levels of sexualization.
What this means is that those girls who believe that being sexually attractive to boys is important invested more of their time and effort into doing just that. Because everyone’s resources are limited, the investment in sexiness comes at the expense of other things, including academics.
In yet another study, we found that the more that 11- to 15-year-old girls internalize the importance of being sexually attractive to boys, the more they wear tight clothing and skin- and cleavage-revealing clothing. That’s a logical link. Although some feminists have claimed that sexual desirability might be a source of empowerment for women, we found the opposite. We found the girls with higher levels of sexualization in our study showed higher rates of body shame than their peers.
So what should parents do when their elementary- and middle-school-age daughters want a sexy costume? Parents should support their child’s choice of costume theme, and then commit to a search for a less sexualized version.
Parents could also foster girls’ creativity by encouraging them to make their own costumes. Parents can explicitly label the costume features (e.g., high heels, fishnet stockings) that they find objectionable, and explain that highlighting one’s body by wearing skin-tight or revealing clothing distracts from what’s really important about girls and women: their skills, interests and personal qualities.
Competence, rather than sexiness, is a Halloween guise worth adopting.
Rebecca S. Bigler is professor of psychology and women’s and gender studies at The University of Texas at Austin. Sarah McKenney is an evaluator at the New York City Department of Health.
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School Homework Needs to be More Motivating
Spanking, Whooping, Beating – It’s All Hitting
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Should parents go along with their daughters’ requests for those sexy, and often popular, Halloween costumes?http://t.co/RKmUwUo42R— Texas Perspectives (@TexPerspectives) October 27, 2014
The Tower won’t be the only thing that looks a little darker than usual on Oct. 24.
The University of Texas at Austin Energy and Water Conservation (EWC) Program and the student chapter of Longhorn Lights Out is asking the campus community to turn off lights, computers and other equipment when leaving campus buildings for the weekend on Friday, Oct. 24.
Called Longhorn Lights Out, this voluntary initiative demonstrates how simple, individual actions can result in significant energy savings across campus. Since the beginning of Longhorn Lights Out in April 2013, the university has saved nearly 54,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity — the equivalent of turning off 4,153 13W compact fluorescent bulbs and removing the greenhouse gas emissions of 53,460 pounds of carbon dioxide, according to emission calculations from the university power plant.
In support of Longhorn Lights Out, the Tower will not be lit from sunset on Oct. 24 to dawn on Oct. 25. (For safety reasons, the clock faces and aircraft warning lights on the Tower will be lit.) The university will be joining Bowling Green University, University of Toledo, University of Kansas and Penn State University in turning off lights and powering down monitors in buildings — an initiative known as Campus Lights Out.
On Friday, volunteers from the student chapter and other organizations will assist with turning off lights and electronics. EWC is partnering with the student organization Texas Tower Public Relations in the Moody College of Communication to promote the event.
AUSTIN, Texas — Scientists working on islands in Florida have documented the rapid evolution of a native lizard species — in as little as 15 years — as a result of pressure from an invading lizard species, introduced from Cuba.
After contact with the invasive species, the native lizards began perching higher in trees, and, generation after generation, their feet evolved to become better at gripping the thinner, smoother branches found higher up.
The change occurred at an astonishing pace: Within a few months, native lizards had begun shifting to higher perches, and over the course of 15 years and 20 generations, their toe pads had become larger, with more sticky scales on their feet.
"We did predict that we'd see a change, but the degree and quickness with which they evolved was surprising," said Yoel Stuart, a postdoctoral researcher in the College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin and lead author of the study appearing in the Oct. 24 edition of the journal Science.
"To put this shift in perspective, if human height were evolving as fast as these lizards' toes, the height of an average American man would increase from about 5 foot 9 inches today to about 6 foot 4 inches within 20 generations — an increase that would make the average U.S. male the height of an NBA shooting guard," said Stuart. "Although humans live longer than lizards, this rate of change would still be rapid in evolutionary terms."
The native lizards studied, known as Carolina anoles or green anoles, are common in the southeastern U.S. The invasive species, Cuban anoles or brown anoles, are native to Cuba and the Bahamas. Brown anoles first appeared in South Florida in the 1950s, possibly as stowaways in agricultural shipments from Cuba, and have since spread across the southeastern U.S. and have even jumped to Hawaii.
This latest study is one of only a few well-documented examples of what evolutionary biologists call "character displacement," in which similar species competing with each other evolve differences to take advantage of different ecological niches. A classic example comes from the finches studied by Charles Darwin. Two species of finch in the Galápagos Islands diverged in beak shape as they adapted to different food sources.
The researchers speculate that the competition between brown and green anoles for the same food and space may be driving the adaptations of the green anoles. Stuart also noted that the adults of both species are known to eat the hatchlings of the other species.
"So it may be that if you're a hatchling, you need to move up into the trees quickly or you'll get eaten," said Stuart. "Maybe if you have bigger toe pads, you'll do that better than if you don't."
Stuart's co-authors are Todd Campbell at the University of Tampa; Paul Hohenlohe of the University of Idaho; Robert Reynolds of the University of Massachusetts, Boston; Liam Revell at the University of Massachusetts, Boston; and Jonathan Losos at Harvard University.
Support for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.