Category: News

In the News

Ebenezer Tumban portriat
Ebenezer Tumban

Ebenezer Tumban (BioSci) was quoted in the story “MTU virologist discusses virus differences,” in the Daily Mining Gazette:

MTU virologist discusses virus differences

Joshua Vissers, Associate Editor, Daily Mining Gazette, March 27, 2020

HOUGHTON — Influenza and coronaviruses both travel between the infected wrapped in a stolen bit of the previous host cell’s outer, lipid-based layer called an envelope. That layer protects the viruses from harsh environments, and works as a kind of disguise to help them inject themselves into the next cell. The difference that makes an outbreak of coronavirus so much more dangerous is the difference in that envelope.

“Normally, envelope viruses are not stable in the environment,” Ebenezer Tumban said.

Tumban is a molecular virologist and vaccinologist at Michigan Technological University. He’s been studying viruses in an effort to learn how to vaccinate against them.

Envelopes dry out and deteriorate fairly quickly outside the body, and the virus inside is rendered helpless to infect another cell, he said.

This image shows the lipid envelope of coronavirus, taken from an infected cell, and the crown-like proteins added by the virus that are its namesake.
Provided image This image shows the lipid envelope of coronavirus, taken from an infected cell, and the crown-like proteins added by the virus that are its namesake.

However, coronaviruses have hollow proteins embedded in their envelope. Scientists thought this structure looked like a crown, and so called it corona (Latin for crown).

“The crown basically makes them more stable compared to the regular flu,” Tumban said.

This extra stability allows it to last longer in the air and on surfaces compared to influenza viruses. So a coronavirus-infected person coughing in an area can infect people passing though that area for much longer than someone with influenza.

Despite having symptoms quite similar to a flu, fighting a coronavirus is more difficult for the body than fighting a flu virus for a few reasons. 

“There’s a lot of things, some of it has to do with the virus and some of it has to do with us,” Tumban said.

A more stable envelope means the virus can exist in more parts of the human body. The flu virus is typically destroyed by fluid in the gastrointestinal tract, but COVID-19’s corona protects them from that, according to Tumban.

The virus also seems to be able to suppress immune system response in some people.

“People that were infected with coronavirus had a low level of lymphocytes,” he said.

This suggests that the coronavirus is also infecting those types of cells, which are part of the body’s defense system. The influenza virus doesn’t do that. 

Tumban said there’s also evidence that the virus can trigger a reaction in the body similar to an allergic reaction.

“My body might overreact and produce a lot of cytokines,” he said.

These cytokines can trigger sepsis and organ failure in severe cases.

And medical professionals have fewer tools to fight coronavirus, too.

“We don’t have a vaccine for corona, we have a vaccine for influenza,” Tumban said.

Influenza vaccines have been in use for a long time, training our immune systems in how to make antibodies that fight that particular virus and creating a group immunity that protects even those without the vaccine. While the flu virus does mutate regularly, it’s rarely enough to render a vaccine entirely ineffective.

“Vaccinations from the past might help to make the disease less severe compared to coronavirus which is new,” Tumban said. “You don’t have a single antibody against it in your body.”

People hospitalized with the flu can receive certain treatments like Tamiflu, but Tumban said with coronavirus, doctors right now mostly give “supportive care” – using tools like ventilators to support the patient’s body while it fights or endures the infection on its own.

These factors together create a much more deadly virus than the flu.

“The mortality rate is about 10 times that of influenza,” Tumban said on Tuesday.

Tumban’s calculations, based on numbers from the Centers for Disease Control, show that a high estimate of influenza’s mortality this year is about 0.1% in the United States, but coronavirus is showing to be about 1.27%. 

Worldwide, the mortality rate for coronavirus is about 4.3% according to Tumban.

The increased mortality and lack of treatment and defense are what is leading countries and organizations around the world to implement social distancing and quarantine measures as healthcare providers ramp up capacity and researches search for vaccines.

However, while coronavirus can be far more infectious and harmful than the influenza virus, many of the same precautions work to prevent infection. The No. 1 recommendation, hand washing and sanitizing, destroys the all-important envelope protecting the virus, rendering it virtually harmless.

“There’s no way they can cause the disease,” Tumban said.

Editor’s Note: This story has been changed to more accurately portray Dr. Tumban’s work. While he has worked directly with Zika, dengue, HPV and other viruses, he has not worked directly with coronaviruses.


New Funding

Bruce Lee (BioMed) is the principal investigator on a project that has received a $434,993 research and development grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The project is entitled, “Multifunctional Nanocomposite Bioadhesive for Diabetic Wound Repair.” Xiaoqing Tang (BioSci) and Rupak Rajachar (BioMed) are Co-PI’s on this potential three-year project.

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Ebenezer Tumban (BioSci) is the principal investigator on a project that has received a $435,591 research and development grant from the National Institutes of Health. The project is entitled, “Development of a Novel and Broadly Applicable Thermostable Bacteriophage VLPs Platforms for Vaccine Design, Drug Delivery, and Imaging.”

This is a potential three-year project.


Distinguished Teaching Award Finalists Announced

The William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning seeks input for its annual Distinguished Teaching Awards, which recognize outstanding contributions to the instructional mission of the University. Based on more than 50,000 student ratings of instruction responses, ten finalists have been identified for the two 2020 awards. The selection committee is soliciting comments from students, staff, faculty and alumni to aid in deliberation.

This year’s finalists in each of two categories are:

Assistant Professor/Lecturer/Professor of Practice Category

  • Nancy Barr (MEEM)
  • Mike Hyslop (CFRES)
  • Heather Knewtson (COB)
  • Sheila Milligan (COB)
  • Ulrich Schmelze (COB)

Associate Professor/Professor Category

  • Melissa Baird (SS)
  • Mike Christianson (VPA)
  • John Durocher (BioSci)
  • Julie King (ChE)
  • Amy Marcarelli (BioSci)

Comments on the nominees are due by Friday, April 3 and can be completed online. The process for determining the two Distinguished Teaching Award recipients from each list of finalists also involves the additional surveying of their spring classes. A selection committee makes the final determination of the award recipients in early May with the 2020 Distinguished Teaching Awards formally announced in late May.

For more information, contact Margaret Landsparger at 7-1001.


New Funding

Erika Hersch-Green (BioSci/ESC) is the principal investigator on a project that has received a $190,394 research and development grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project is titled, “CAREER: Can Material Costs Contribute to the Structuring of Biodiversity Patterns from Genomes and Transcriptomes to Multispecies Communities?”

This is a potential five-year project totaling $1,127,287.


Be Brief: Glow

Changes in pH cause the rhodol dyes to glow differently, offering insight into diseases that affect mitophagy.Fluorescent dyes help scientists see the inner workings of disease. In a new paper by Haiying Liu (Chem), Rudy Luck (Chem) and Thomas Werner (Bio Sci)—along with student researchers—they examine the efficacy of a rhodol-based fluorescent dye.

Diseases like Alzheimer’s and certain kinds of cancers affect the powerhouses of cells — mitochondria. To keep these powerhouses working efficiently, cells remove damaged mitochondria. This process, called mitophagy, is like a cell taking out the trash. In diseased cells, the garbage piles up and the cell’s pH changes. The rhodol dye responds to pH changes and glows brighter.

Luck adds that he considers it a privilege to be able to contribute to Liu’s attempts to find commercially viable probes. The team also acknowledges that the High-Performance Computer system Superior, managed under Director Gowtham, has advanced the research considerably.

Read more about the next steps of this research on the campus research blog Unscripted and celebrate National Chemistry Week with other Unscripted reads about surface chemistry, the science of brewing and mass spectrometry.


In Print

Business woman working on laptop computer at ergonomic standing desk. Female professional working at her desk with male colleague working at the back.John Durocher (BioSci)Steve Elmer (KIP) PhD student Ian Greenlund, recent graduate Piersan Suriano and Jason Carter published The paper titled “Chronic Standing Desk Use and Arterial Stiffness” in this month’s issue of the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.

The results of the study indicate that using a standing desk for more than 50% of the workday did not effectively reduce arterial stiffness. The study confirms that aerobic fitness reduces arterial stiffness, and that aging increases arterial stiffness. The authors wish to thank faculty and staff members from around campus who participated in this study.

The article can be viewed free.


The 2019 41 North Film Festival Returns, Oct. 31–Nov. 3

41 North LogoThe annual 41 North Film Festival will be held Oct. 31 to Nov. 3 at the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts. This year’s program features more than 20 films from around the world, along with music, events and special guests Anishinaabe filmmaker/producer Michelle Derosier and Michigan Tech alumnus actor/writer/producer Curtis Fortier.

This year’s highlights include:

  • Thursday, Oct. 31, 7:30 p.m.: HUMAN NATURE, which delves into the complexities of editing the human genome. Followed by a Q&A with Caryn Heldt (ChE), Paul Goetsch (BioSci) and Alexandra Morrison (HU).
  • Friday, Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m.: PICTURE CHARACTER (an Emoji Documentary). This informative and entertaining film covers everything from how emojis came into existence to how new emojis are added to the unicode system. To add to the fun, come in an emoji-inspired costume and you might win a prize. Stick around after the film for emoji cookie decorating and music in the lobby.
  • Saturday, Nov. 2, will feature a full day of programming about our relationship to the environment. Films include ANTHROPOCENE: THE HUMAN EPOCH, THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM, HONEYLAND, and our featured presentation of Michelle Derosier and her film ANGELIQUE’S ISLE, inspired by the true story of Angelique Mott, an Anishinaabe woman who, with her husband, was abandoned by unscrupulous copper miners and left to die during the winter of 1845 on an island off of Isle Royale (today known as Mott Island).
  • Sunday, Nov. 3. Michigan Tech alumnus Curtis Fortier will be on hand to present and discuss some of his work as an actor/writer/producer. Fortier will be followed by a new docudrama about the life of information theorist Claude Shannon, THE BIT PLAYER. The festival will close Sunday evening with MAIDEN, the thrilling and emotional story of the first all-female crew to compete in the Whitbread Round-the-World Yacht Race.

See the full line-up of films and events at 41northfilmfest.org. The festival is free and open to the public. Students will need to bring their HuskyCard. Tickets for everyone else can be reserved at tickets.mtu.edu or by calling 7-2073. They will also be available in the Rozsa lobby prior to each film.


6th Annual Michigan Physiological Society Meeting

Ten graduate students, seven undergraduate students, four faculty members, and two recent alumni from Michigan Tech recently participated in the 6th annual Michigan Physiological Society Meeting held on the campus of Central Michigan University on June 27-28.

John Durocher (BIO) served as the president of the society and Ian Greenlund (KIP) served as the trainee committee chair. Four MTU graduate students completed oral presentations, with Jeremy Bigalke (KIP) winning one of the top oral presentation awards.

Another thirteen MTU students were active in poster presentations, with Sarah LewAllen (BIO) winning one of the top poster presentation awards. Finally, two graduate students served as moderators for oral presentations.
In conjunction with the annual meeting, the 3rd annual Michigan Physiology Quiz competition was held. Michigan Tech competed against six other teams from around the state. Team members included Jana Hendrickson (KIP), Sarah LewAllen (BIO), Jill Poliskey (BIO), and Colleen Toorongian (KIP).

The Michigan Tech team was very competitive through four rounds but missed making the final round between the top three teams by a single question. All team members did a great job with the intense questions.

Michigan Tech was one of only three universities from around the state to achieve Diamond-Level Sponsorship! This was possible thanks to the College of Sciences and Arts, Michigan Tech Graduate School, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Department of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology, and Department of Biological Sciences. Additional faculty and staff members from Michigan Tech also made individual awards that contributed to the cash prizes for the quiz competition, oral presentations, and poster presentations.