Sen. Susan Collins joined leaders from colleges and research institutions across Maine as well as dozens of Maine college students at the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor on Aug. 4 to celebrate the receipt of an $18.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
The five-year award aims to strengthen biomedical research and hands-on workforce training in Maine through the continuation of the Maine IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), a collaborative network of 13 Maine research institutions, universities and colleges led by the MDI Biological Laboratory. The University of Maine and UMaine’s Honors College are part of the network.
“The INBRE program is a powerful instrument for bringing educational institutions from Fort Kent to South Portland together to build on their collective strengths and help our state be more competitive nationally,” Collins said at the event. “Since it began in 2001, INBRE has brought more than $100 million in federal funds into Maine. It has strengthened our state’s research infrastructure and trained more than 2,000 Maine students in biomedical research techniques.”
The full MDI Biological Laboratory news release is online.
University of Maine scientists are partnering with multiple agencies to improve the accuracy of forecasts of hurricanes, superstorms, blizzards and floods that endanger people and animals and destroy property.
UMaine received $1.5 million of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s $5.5 million award to increase the precision of predictions of extreme weather events and coastal flooding in the northeastern United States.
“This project allows us to develop rapid response capability and deploy ocean observing assets before extreme weather events, and use these targeted observations to constrain ocean models and issue timely forecasts for coastal cities and towns in the Northeast United States,” says Fei Chai, professor and director of UMaine’s School of Marine Sciences, and one of four university co-investigators taking part.
The three other UMaine co-investigators are Neal Pettigrew, professor of oceanography; Mary Jane Perry, professor of oceanography and interim director of the University of Maine Darling Marine Center; and Huijie Xue, professor of oceanography. In addition, program manager Linda Magnum, research associate Ivona Cetinic, graduate student Mark Neary and postdoctoral researcher Saswati Deb, will take part in the project.
The UMaine faculty and researchers are among the 39 researchers engaged in the two-year study. The group will build, deploy, garner and analyze data from state-of the-art outfitted floats, gliders and moorings during two winter storms and two summer storms that hit the Gulf of Maine or the area from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
As a severe storm approaches, aircraft will deploy 15 miniature, expendable floats along the forecasted storm track and launch four reusable gliders in the middle of the shallow continental shelf. Researchers will also anchor 10 portable buoy moorings near estuary mouths where storm surge causes significant flooding and damage.
The floats, gliders and moorings are designed to collect three new levels of ocean observations. The new data will be integrated into computer models that predict currents, sea level and turbulent mixing of cold sub-surface water with the surface ocean.
Meteorologists will be provided with a more complete picture about sea surface temperature and upper-ocean heat content, which will result in better-informed storm forecasting, say the scientists.
In addition, more targeted ocean surface data (air pressure, air and sea temperature, ocean waves, sea-level, etc.) collected by the moorings, in conjunction with current coastal flooding models, should enhance forecasting of flooding, they say.
Pettigrew is taking part in the design and manufacturing of the moorings for atmosphere and surface ocean measurements and he and Perry are in charge of glider deployments and data analysis. Chai is heading up ocean ensemble modeling and Xue is specializing in coastal flood modeling.
“Integrated Rapid-Response Observations and Ocean Ensemble Optimization to Improve Storm Intensity Forecasts in the Northeast U.S.” is the name of the study, which is being led by Glen Gawarkiewicz, senior scientist in the Physical Oceanography Department at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
The Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Rutgers University and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science are partners, and the Cooperative Institute for the North Atlantic Region (CINAR) is the cooperating institute.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
Julie Gosse, University of Maine assistant professor of molecular and biomedical sciences, is examining how a synthetic antimicrobial common in soaps and deodorants inhibits cells that sometimes fight cancer.
Triclosan (TCS) was once limited to use in hospitals. But in the 1990s, manufacturers began putting the chemical into antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, body washes, facial cleansers and a multitude of other over-the-counter hygiene products.
TCS also is used in fabrics, plastics and clothing — from yoga mats to kitchenware to socks — to slow or stop the growth of bacteria and mildew. Because of its pervasive presence in products, Gosse says it’s also now in waterways.
When TCS inhibits the function of mast cells in skin, allergic disease may be eased. But Gosse says mast cells are complex players and are involved in both pro- and anti-cancer roles, in fighting bacterial infections and in central nervous system disorders such as autism.
“The results of this study will fulfill an urgent need by providing insights into the impact of TCS on public health, as well as insights into the inner workings of this crucial cell type, and will point to either pharmacological uses for or toxic impacts of this ubiquitous chemical,” she says.
The National Institutes of Health awarded Gosse more than $420,000 for the three-year project that begins Aug. 1.
In 2012, she and several UMaine undergraduate and graduate students published a paper about TCS that concluded it “strongly inhibits several mammalian mast cell functions at lower concentrations than would be encountered by people using TCS-containing products such as hand soaps and toothpaste.”
This grant, she says, will allow continued exploration of the molecular mechanisms underlying the effects. She and her research team will use a variety of methods and tools — including the fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) technique invented by UMaine physicist Sam Hess. The technique images individual molecules.
Hess is participating in the research, as are Lisa Weatherly and Juyoung Shim, graduate students in Gosse’s lab, and students from the Hess lab.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
The University of Maine School of Nursing has been awarded a federal grant to defray educational costs of family nurse practitioner (FNP) students who will provide primary health care for rural Mainers in medically underserved areas.
The Advanced Education Nursing Traineeship grant, totaling nearly $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will aid eligible, full-time FNP students in the School of Nursing master’s degree program in 2014 and 2015.
“Reducing the financial burden associated with graduate education is a tremendous benefit for the RNs enrolled in UMaine’s rigorous FNP program,” says Nancy Fishwick, director of UMaine’s School of Nursing.
Family nurse practitioners provide comprehensive primary health care services to people, from infancy through adulthood. Since the inception of UMaine’s FNP program in 1992, the majority of its graduates have lived and worked in medically underserved and rural areas in the state.
Maine is both the oldest and most rural state in the nation, according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau. More than 61 percent of Mainers — whose median age is nearly 43 years — live in areas with fewer than 2,500 people.
Mary Shea, UMaine assistant professor of nursing and graduate program coordinator, is directing the project titled “Ensuring Access to Primary Health Care for Rural Maine.” The project’s objectives align with federal health care workforce goals and initiatives that seek to improve access to quality health care for all.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
University of Maine oceanographer Ivona Cetinic is participating in a NASA project to advance space-based capabilities for monitoring microscopic plants that form the base of the marine food chain.
Phytoplankton — tiny ocean plants that absorb carbon dioxide and deliver oxygen to Earth’s atmosphere — are key to the planet’s health. And NASA wants a clear, global view of them.
NASA’s Ship-Aircraft Bio-Optical Research (SABOR) mission will bring together marine and atmospheric scientists to tackle optical issues associated with satellite observations of phytoplankton.
The goal is to better understand marine ecology and phytoplankton’s major role in the global cycling of atmospheric carbon between the ocean and the atmosphere.
“Teams involved in this project are working together to develop next-generation tools that will change forever how we study oceans,” says Cetinic, a research associate at UMaine’s Darling Marine Center (DMC) in Walpole, Maine.
“Methods that will be developed during this experiment are something like 3-D glasses. They will allow us to see more details on the surface of the ocean and to see deeper into the ocean, helping us learn more about carbon in the ocean — carbon that is fueling oceanic ecosystems, as well as the fisheries and aquaculture.”
Cetinic will be a chief scientist aboard RV Endeavor that departs July 18 from Narragansett, Rhode Island. She received $1,043,662 from NASA’s Ocean Biology and Biogeochemistry program for her part in the three-year project.
Cetinic’s crew, which includes Wayne Slade of Sequoia Scientific, Inc., Nicole Poulton of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and UMaine Ph.D. student Alison Chase, will analyze water samples for carbon, as well as pump seawater continuously through on-board instruments to measure how ocean particles, including phytoplankton, interact with light.
Chase, who recently earned her master’s in oceanography at UMaine, will blog about the experience at earthobservatory.nasa.gov/blogs/fromthefield.
Interim DMC director Mary Jane Perry, who is participating in another research cruise this summer (umaine.edu/news/blog/2014/07/08/under-the-ice), will be involved in future data analysis.
Mike Behrenfeld of Oregon State University also will be aboard Endeavor and he and his team will use a new technique to directly measure phytoplankton biomass and photosynthesis.
“The goal is to develop mathematical relationships that allow scientists to calculate the biomass of the phytoplankton from optical signals measured from space, and thus to be able to monitor how ocean phytoplankton change from year to year and figure out what causes these changes,” he says.
Another research team also will be aboard Endeavor, which for three weeks will cruise through a range of ecosystems between the East Coast and Bahamas.
Alex Gilerson of City College of New York will lead a crew that will operate an array of instruments, including an underwater video camera equipped with polarization vision. It will continuously measure key characteristics of the sky and the water.
The measurements taken from aboard the ship will provide an up-close perspective and validate measurements taken simultaneously by scientists in aircraft.
NASA’s UC-12 airborne laboratory, based at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, will make coordinated science flights beginning July 20.
One obstacle in observing marine ecosystems from space is that atmospheric particles interfere with measurements. Brian Cairns of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York will lead an aircraft team with a polarimeter instrument to address the issue.
From an altitude of about 30,000 feet, the instrument will measure properties of reflected light, including brightness and magnitude of polarization. These measurements will define the concentration, size, shape and composition of particles in the atmosphere.
Polarimeter measurements of reflected light should provide valuable context for data from another instrument on the UC-12 designed to reveal how plankton and optical properties vary with water depth.
Chris Hostetler of Langley is leading that group. He and others will test a prototype lidar (light detection and ranging) system — the High Spectral Resolution Lidar-1 (HSRL-1). A laser that will probe the ocean to a depth of about 160 feet should reveal how phytoplankton concentrations change with depth, along with the amount of light available for photosynthesis.
Phytoplankton largely drive the functioning of ocean ecosystems and knowledge of their vertical distribution is needed to understand their productivity. This knowledge will allow NASA scientists to improve satellite-based estimates of how much atmospheric carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean.
NASA satellites contributing to SABOR are the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO), which view clouds and tiny particles in Earth’s atmosphere, as well as the Terra and Aqua satellites, which measure atmospheric, land and marine processes.
Analysis of data collected from the ship, aircraft and satellites is expected to guide preparation for a new, advanced ocean satellite mission — Pre-Aerosol, Clouds, and ocean Ecosystem (PACE), according to NASA.
PACE will extend observations of ocean ecology, biogeochemical cycling and ocean productivity begun by NASA in the late 1970s with the Coastal Zone Color Scanner and continued with the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view-Sensor (SeaWiFS) and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments on Terra and Aqua.
SABOR is funded by the Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
A University of Maine marine scientist will examine implications of climate change on farmers’ practices and the ensuing consequences for downstream coastal water systems.
Farmers are planting earlier than they were a few decades ago and that means applying fertilizer earlier and, for some crops, being able to plant twice in a growing season, says Damian Brady, assistant research professor at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole, Maine.
Brady will examine where the fertilizer goes and how changes in farming practices affect estuaries downstream that also are being impacted by other climate-related factors, including increased frequency of extreme storms and higher temperatures.
His research will concentrate on understanding these dynamics in Chesapeake Bay; but the findings are expected to apply to agricultural watersheds around the world.
Brady also anticipates learning how management policies with different rules and incentives affect farming behavior and, subsequently, impact watershed and estuary health.
The National Science Foundation awarded Brady nearly $124,000 to create multidisciplinary data-driven simulation models to test scientific hypotheses. The entire project team will provide training for approximately 10 master’s and doctoral students, share tools and knowledge with federal and state environmental management agencies and train 15 high school teachers.
Brady is the project’s assistant director. Collaborators are from The Johns Hopkins University, Cornell University and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
He’ll start the four-year project, titled “WSC-Category 3 Collaborative: Impacts of Climate Change on the Phenology of Linked Agriculture-Water Systems” on Sept. 1.
Enhancing green sea urchin egg production to aid Maine’s depressed urchin market is the research focus of a University of Maine marine bioresources graduate student.
Ung Wei Kenn, a second-year master’s student from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, hopes to increase the egg or roe yield of farm-raised green sea urchins through high-quality feed, a process known as bulking. His research is part of a two-year, more than $215,000 research project funded by the National Sea Grant National Strategic Initiative and led by director Nick Brown and biologist Steve Eddy of UMaine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research (CCAR) in Franklin, Maine.
“I was always interested in the vertical integration of aquaculture and seafood processing,” says Ung, who completed his undergraduate work at the University of Tasmania, Australia. “I am also passionate about seafood that is popular in Asia. This topic is a blend of all that.”
Ung came to UMaine because he was attracted to the project, but he praises CCAR, where he conducts his research, as a key part in his decision to work at UMaine.
“I always felt that aquaculture is not just a science; it is a business as well,” says Ung. “CCAR is special in that it is specifically set up to assist aquaculture businesses by providing scientific and technical know-how. I would not have this luxury at most other places.”
Ung’s research potentially could have significant economic benefit for the state. Maine exports roe to Japan, where it is considered a delicacy. Since the late 1990s, Maine has suffered a dramatic sea urchin industry decline, dropping to a 2.6 million-pound yearly harvest after 1993’s 42-million-pound high, according to information on the Maine Sea Grant website.
“(Using bulking), we can produce out-of-season urchins, enabling the industry to get the best prices, such as when there is a festival in Japan,” Ung says.
Ung places wild green sea urchins, which are harvested from Hancock County’s Frenchman Bay, in a recirculating aquaculture system, where they are fed fresh and dried kelp and a commercial diet that fosters higher-quality eggs. Harvested sea urchins are usually 57 mm in diameter.
Ung hopes his research will lead to increased roe yield and improved roe quality. After four months of urchin dieting, Ung analyzes roe yield, texture and color data at the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department’s physical properties lab. Taste testing is completed at the UMaine Consumer Testing Center. Roe pre- and post-experimentation aspects are compared to determine if quality has been enhanced.
High-quality roe is sweet, smooth and yellow, gold or orange in color, while poor-quality roe has a watery appearance or bitter taste.
“There is a commercial component where we want to demonstrate that the urchins can be enhanced at a commercial scale,” Ung says. “A higher-quality roe yield would mean better selling prices.”
Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745
A new pepper variety has been developed with a high capsinoid content to make it less pungent while maintaining all the natural health benefits of the fruit, according to researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Maine.
The researchers — Robert Jarret from the USDA/Agricultural Research Service in Griffin, Georgia, and Jason Bolton and L. Brian Perkins from the University of Maine School of Food and Agriculture — developed the new small-fruited Capsicum annuum L. pepper through traditional breeding methods in an effort to make the health benefits of hot peppers available to more consumers.
In hot peppers, capsaicinoids are the compounds associated both with their signature heat and health benefits, which include being a source of antioxidants. But that pungency can limit their use in foods and pharmaceuticals.
Capsinoids, closely related compounds of capsaicinoids, provide the same benefits without the pungency.
Starting in 2006 with a USDA seed grant, Perkins, a UMaine assistant research professor and director of the Food Chemical Safety Laboratory, and Bolton, then a food science graduate student, screened about 500 subspecies of Capsicum annuum. They forwarded their data to Jarret, who selected those with the highest concentrations of capsinoids.
Jarret then began to classically breed the selected varieties at the USDA facility in Georgia. Perkins screened the results and they repeated the process, selecting the best capsinoid producers from each generation.
The culmination of their work is germplasm 509-45-1. The peppers are very small, with each plant producing up to 1,000 peppers. According to Perkins, there will likely be additional selection to prepare the plants for marketability, both as a food product and for medical experiments.
Currently, small quantities of seed are available from the USDA for research purposes.
Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745
Signature and Emerging Areas of excellence in research and education at the University of Maine have been announced by UMaine Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Jeffrey Hecker.
The designations, which resulted from months of campus dialogue and faculty forums led by the provost, will inform strategic and focused planning and resource allocation to preserve UMaine’s national stature and impact in Maine. The initiative to define UMaine’s Signature and Emerging Areas is a significant component of Blue Sky Pathway 1 — Serving Our State: Catalyzing Maine’s Revitalization in the five-year strategic plan. It will be followed this fall by campus-wide dialogue about foundational areas of research and education for a 21st-century land grant university.
“In this time of rapid change in higher education, it is more important than ever that institutions think strategically about their programs,” Hecker says. “In the Signature Areas UMaine has achieved national and international distinction, and these areas will be key in our planning for the future, including our fundraising and development efforts. The Emerging Areas are those with the great potential to reach that next level of excellence. Together, they make a compelling statement about the distinctiveness of UMaine among America’s research universities.”
The Signature Areas, identified by their strengths in research and education: Forestry and the Environment, Marine Sciences, College of Engineering, Advanced Materials for Infrastructure and Energy, Climate Change, STEM Education, and Honors College. These interdisciplinary Signature Areas are world-class and will feature prominently in UMaine planning for the future.
Emerging Areas represent those programs that may have not yet achieved critical mass or reputation, but have begun to capitalize on interdisciplinary collaboration; have a track record of success with external support from a variety of sources; and involve integration of the research, teaching and service missions. They are: the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering; Northeastern Americas: Humanities Research and Education; Data Science and Engineering; Sustainability Solutions and Technologies; Aging Research; and Finance Education.
Provost Hecker convened the first of three Academic Affairs Faculty Forums on Dec. 3, 2013 to discuss and gather feedback on the Signature and Emerging Areas initiative. In early January, the Advisory Committee for Signature and Emerging Areas drafted the selection criteria, which included: demonstration of a strong “fit to place” meeting Maine’s cultural, workforce and economic needs; international and national reputation; high level of productivity; proven record of sustainability; ability to leverage existing resources; interdisciplinary and/or multidisciplinary; integration of research, teaching and service missions.
A call for concept papers was issued to the campus community, resulting in 58 submissions. These concept papers were reviewed by a team comprised of UMaine faculty and administrators, a member of UMaine’s Board of Visitors, and external reviewers from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association of the Advancement of Science. Twenty submissions were selected for participation in the full proposal phase of the review.
Public forums were held May 21 and May 22 that included brief presentations on the proposed Signature Areas. Ongoing community feedback was essential in helping the Provost’s team determine the final list of Signature Areas.
Brief descriptions of the Signature Areas:
Forestry and the Environment, focusing on sustainable forests and the forest-based economy, and education in forests, wildlife and the environment. UMaine is nationally and internationally recognized in its advanced wood composites, wood processing, biofuels, wood chemistry and forest resources research. A signature strength for teaching is UMaine’s location, providing unique opportunities for hands-on educational experiences in Maine’s forest and aquatic resources, and in communities statewide. Lead faculty: Hemant Pendse, Forest Bioproducts Research Institute; Robert Wagner, Center for Research on Sustainable Forests; Stephen Shaler, Forest Resources; Doug Bousfield, Paper Surface Science Program; Mike Bilodeau, Process Development Center; Amy Luce, Technology Research Center; Dan Harrison, Wildlife Ecology, Aram Calhoun, Ecology and Environmental Sciences
Marine Sciences, including a multidisciplinary Marine Research Solutions initiative to improve understanding of the physical, biological and socioeconomic processes that shape the ocean; to be a reliable, deeply engaged partner with policy makers, fisheries stakeholders, marine industries and coastal communities, helping to develop solutions for the broad array of issues associated with Maine’s marine resources; and to provide high-quality, interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate education, outreach and research for the Gulf of Maine. Lead faculty: Fei Chai, Pete Jumars, Mary Jane Perry, Rebecca Van Beneden, William Ellis, Sara Lindsay, Rhian Waller, Marine Sciences; Paul Anderson, Aquaculture Research Institute; Mario Teisl, Economics; Krish Thiagarajan, Mechanical Engineering
STEM Education, including research that investigates the complex intersection of individual content knowledge, social learning environments, pedagogical knowledge of our teachers, and development and use of materials for the classroom. Understanding this complex system requires deep knowledge of disciplinary content and of models of teaching and learning. This area supports expanded and improved teaching and learning of STEM from pre-school through graduate school. Lead faculty: Michael Wittmann and John Thompson, Physics; Jonathan Shemwell, Education; Harlan Onsrud, Computing and Information Science; Susan McKay, RiSE Center; Mohamad Musavi, Engineering
Climate Change, including internationally recognized research, and highly integrated undergraduate and graduate educational opportunities, as well as an emerging academic focus on changing ecosystems and climate — impact on animal and human health. The Climate Change Institute has evolved beyond a singular focus on research to be a leader and a vehicle for broad integration of climate change strengths across campus and statewide. Lead faculty: Paul Mayewski, Jasmine Saros, Ivan Fernandez, Gregory Zaro, Climate Change Institute; Eleanor Groden, School of Biology and Ecology; Mario Teisl, School of Economics; Susan Erich, Anne Lichtenwalner, School of Food and Agriculture
Advanced Materials for Infrastructure and Energy, developing the use of advanced materials in civil infrastructure, energy, aerospace and defense applications. As an interdisciplinary research center, the Advanced Structures and Composites Center focuses on development of novel advanced composite materials and technologies that capitalize on Maine’s manufacturing strengths and natural resources, while creating new industries and job opportunities, and educating students. Lead faculty: Habib Dagher, Stephen Shaler, Larry Parent, Douglas Gardner, William Davids, Eric Landis, Krish Thiagarajan, Advanced Structures and Composites Center
College of Engineering, focusing on the role of the state’s only comprehensive engineering program that features a high level of synergy between teaching, research and public service. Engineering leads the campus with respect to the quality of students it attracts, retention and graduation rates, as well as job placement. Lead faculty: Eric Landis, William Davids, Donald Hummels, Hemant Pendse, Scott Dunning, Engineering; David Batuski, Physics
Honors College, increasing the recruitment and retention of students in preprofessional programs, involving faculty campuswide in the honors education enhancing study abroad and off-campus partnerships that expand and strengthen community-engaged research, and involving students in the creation of new knowledge. Lead faculty, Francois Amar, Honors
Brief descriptions of the Emerging Areas:
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Engineering (GSBSE), leveraging Maine’s academic and nonprofit biomedical research institutions, specifically UMaine, University of Southern Maine, University of New England, The Jackson Laboratory, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory and Maine Medical Center Research Institute through a unique educational model. GSBSE student research focuses on issues prevalent in the state of Maine, such as cancer- and aging-related illness. Lead faculty: David Neivandt, Chemical Engineering and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Engineering
Northeastern Americas: Humanities Research and Education, focusing on scholarship of New England, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. The area is distinctive in its international scope, its multicultural depth and its array of campuswide programs, including the Canadian-American Center, Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, Maine Folklife Center, Franco American Programs, Native American Programs and Humanities Initiative, as well as the departments of History, English, Art and Modern Languages. Interdisciplinary, regional research contributes to understanding Maine’s cross-border economy, and it provides interpretative resources for the state’s “creative economy” and its heritage-based tourist industry. Lead faculty: Richard Judd, History; Pauleena MacDougall, Folklife Center; Darren Ranco, Anthropology and Native American Programs
Data Science and Engineering, leveraging UMaine strengths in data science and engineering, and data-sensitive science areas by applying data-centric methods to issues relevant to Maine’s interests and natural and economic sustainability. DSE brings together computer scientists, mathematicians, statisticians and engineers with domain scientists to address critical challenges of capturing, storing, managing, sharing, and analyzing massive data sets for new scientific discoveries and insights. Lead faculty: Kate Beard-Tisdale, School of Computing and Information Science; Ali Abedi, Yifeng Zhu, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Sustainability Solutions and Technologies, using the field of sustainability science and other interdisciplinary approaches to address the intersecting environmental, sociocultural and economic dimensions of diverse societal challenges, including renewable energy, urbanization, forest resources, water resources, marine fisheries, agriculture and climate change. Faculty conduct sustainability research in collaboration with stakeholder organizations representing government, business and industry, and nongovernmental organizations. Lead faculty: David Hart, Senator George J. Mitchell Center and School of Biology and Ecology; Jonathan Rubin, Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and School of Economics; Aram Calhoun, Wildlife Ecology and Ecology and Environmental Science; Shaleen Jain, Civil and Environmental Engineering; Hemant Pendse, Chemical and Biological Engineering; Darren Ranco, Anthropology and Native American Programs; Mario Teisl, School of Economics; Robert Wagner, School of Forest Resources
Aging Research, advancing successful aging in Maine and the nation as it addresses: maximizing individual productivity; minimizing institutionalization and the need for costly long-term care; preventing and mitigating the impact of illness and injury; and promoting community integration, social engagement, full accessibility, personal independence, vitality, mobility, elder friendly communities and citizen safety. Utilizing a research incubator model, this area will maintain productive partnerships with the business and nonprofit sectors. Lead faculty: Len Kaye, Center on Aging and Social Work; David Neivandt, Chemical Engineering and the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering; Laura Lindenfeld, Communication and Journalism
Finance Education, addressing the critical need of the state of Maine to educate business professionals who can carry out economic development and improve job opportunities for the people of Maine. Student learning is enhanced through state of the art technologies and information science, opportunities to invest and manage funds, and engagement with businesses in Maine and nationally. Lead faculty: Ivan Manev, Maine Business School
Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745
Editor’s note: This version has been updated
Two studies by researchers at the University of Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI) uncovered compelling data on women’s knowledge of both the dangers and health benefits of eating fish while pregnant. The first study found that Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (MeCDC) advisory led women to decrease their consumption of fish, while a follow-up study found a newly-designed advisory led to a healthier, more balanced approach to fish consumption.
Mario Teisl, professor in the School of Economics, will present and discuss results of the studies, which were published in two peer-reviewed journals, as a featured speaker at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2014 National Forum on Contaminants in Fish. Both journal papers are among the first to examine how information about methylmercury in fish is conveyed to pregnant women in specific states and how that information is used, which is information the EPA has indicated it needs.
Teisl has been part of two research teams from SSI’s Knowledge to Action Collaborative that have closely examined MeCDC’s methylmercury advisories sent to pregnant women. He will lay out how the successive sets of data tracked an evolution in the way information is conveyed to and interpreted by pregnant women in Maine.
“MeCDC suspected that the original advisory was not working as best as it could for this audience and our initial study confirmed the state could do better,” Teisl said.
In the first study, published in 2011 in the journal Science of the Total Environment, Teisl and colleagues found that the advisory was changing pregnant women’s eating habits, but not always in the intended manner. Instead of limiting high-mercury fish and switching to a careful diet of low-mercury fish, many pregnant women were dramatically decreasing their overall consumption of all fish, thus missing many of the benefits of eating fish. The misinformation seemed to stem from the fact that the advisory was aimed at sports fishermen and mainly focused on the risks of eating sport-caught fish.
“The old pamphlet was targeted more toward anglers. On the cover, there was a photo of a family fishing. The problem is that very few women eat sport-caught fish. Most eat fish from the grocery store. A lot of pregnant women didn’t understand how the information pertained to them,” Teisl said.
In 2006, the MeCDCredesigned its advisory, adding specific information about fresh, frozen and canned fish. Sue Stableford, a health literacy expert at the University of New England, worked closely with the MeCDC on both advisories, providing extensive assistance with research, focus group testing, and use of ‘easy-to-read’ techniques.
The new literature contains recipes, meal plans and colorful charts, informing women of fish to avoid, fish to limit and fish that are low enough in mercury to eat twice a week while pregnant. The pamphlet emphasizes the importance of fish in the diet, including the fetal/maternal health benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids and protein. In the second study, published in 2013 in the journal Environmental Science, Teisl and colleagues found women who read the updated advisory were knowledgeable about healthy fish consumption in pregnancy. People who did not read the advisory generally lacked essential knowledge about healthy fish diets.
“Our evaluation of the Maine CDC’s updated fish consumption advisory suggests that it successfully improved women’s specific knowledge of both the benefits and risks of consuming fish while pregnant. This improved knowledge has the potential to minimize methylmercury health impacts and maintain, if not increase, overall low-mercury fish consumption,” said Haley Engelberth, who received a master’s of science in Ecology and Environmental Science from UMaine in 2012. Engelberth was on both SSI methylmercury research teams and the lead author of the 2013 paper.
Other researchers on the teams included: Kathleen P. Bell, associate professor, UMaine’s School of Economics; Eric Frohmberg, (then) toxicologist, state of Maine; Karyn Butts, research associate, University of Southern Maine; Sue Stableford, director of the Health Literacy Institute at University of New England; Andrew E. Smith, director, Environmental and Occupational Health Programs, Maine CDC; Kevin J. Boyle, (then) professor of ecology and environmental sciences, UMaine.
Teisl will make his presentation at the Sept. 22–24 conference in Alexandria, Virginia.
Funding for this research was provided by National Science Foundation award EPS-0904155 to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine and by the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention through the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention National Public Health Tracking Grant and U.S. EPA Cooperative Agreement #CR82628301-0.
Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745