Disco Shorts

From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Spring 2017

Scientists from several universities, including the University of Minnesota, have isolated and cloned a gene that makes wheat resistant to Fusarium head blight. The devastating disease, commonly known as wheat scab, has caused several billion dollars in grower losses in U.S. wheat fields. Frequent epidemics are reported in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and South America.

Nearly 100 scientists from the University of Minnesota, other American universities, and China have participated in the 20-year-long research project leading up to this discovery, which was made by a team at Kansas State University. Bikram Gill, a distinguished professor of plant pathology and director of the Wheat Genetics Resource Center at Kansas State, credited several scientists, including University of Minnesota Professor of Wheat Breeding and Genetics James Anderson, whose research team has been working on resistance to Fusarium head blight since 1993.

Anderson’s team was the first to genetically map the location of the resistance gene to a small segment of the wheat chromosome. They have worked closely with researchers at Kansas State and Washington State University to help prove the identity of the resistance gene.

The study was published in the October issue of Nature Genetics.


“Just imagine.” That might be the only direction necessary for a brain-computer interface technology developed at the University of Minnesota that allows people to use only their minds to control a robotic arm. The discovery could lead to significant improvement without surgical intervention for people who are paralyzed or have neurodegenerative diseases. This is the first time that people can operate a robotic arm to reach and grasp objects in a complex 3D environment using only their thoughts without a brain implant, says U biomedical engineering professor and lead researcher Bin He.

Eight healthy human subjects completed the study’s experimental sessions, which used the noninvasive technique electroencephalography (EEG)-based brain-computer interface. Participants wore EEG caps fitted with 64 electrodes that converted weak electrical activity—thoughts—into action. After first learning to control a virtual cursor on a computer screen, they moved on to controlling a robotic arm to reach and grasp objects on a table. Eventually, they were able to move the robotic arm to reach and grasp objects in random locations on a table and move objects from the table to a three-layer shelf using only their thoughts.

The study was published in the December issue of Scientific Reports.


s2017_discoshorts_inline300 A study led by researchers at the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment (IonE) has produced the first-ever map of farming households around the world. Family-run farms play a crucial role in helping to feed people globally. Small farmers are also central to the development of successful policies that aim to alleviate poverty, boost food security, and protect biodiversity and natural resources.

Despite their importance, little has been known until now about the location and size of family farms (also known as smallholder farms), which often are situated in remote areas where some of the world’s most vulnerable people live. IonE researchers used census data from millions of households in dozens of countries that was made available by the Minnesota Population Center to identify and map smallholder farms in developing countries. They identified more than 900 places in 83 countries that are likely to be home to a high concentration of small farms, which are key sources of important agricultural commodities.

Information about the number, location, and distribution of small farms can be used to guide investments and target policies for agricultural development, food security, and sustainable land use.

The study was published in the November issue of Environmental Research Letters. Details about the map, above, can be found at environment.umn.edu.


A study coauthored by University of Minnesota Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management Katy Kozhimannil (B.A. ’99) found a striking increase in cases of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), or opioid withdrawal, especially in rural areas.

The study found a nearly sevenfold increase in NAS in rural areas from 2004 to 2013, along with a fourfold increase in urban areas. While fewer than 15 percent of all births in the United States occur in rural areas, the study found that 21 percent of all NAS cases occur in there.

“Every infant who is withdrawing has a mom who was exposed to opioids and possibly didn’t have access to the treatment she needed,” says Kozhimannil. She recommends that policies and programs aimed at reversing the rising trend of opioid-affected births in rural areas focus on both prevention and treatment, including developing rural health care infrastructure to include mental health, substance abuse, chronic pain, and obstetric services.

The study was published in the December 12, 2016, issue of JAMA Pediatrics.

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MINNESOTA ALUMNI MAGAZINE, Spring2017

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