Category: Research

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.


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.


Call for Applications: Songer Research Award for Human Health Research

2018-19 Songer Award Recipients.
2018-19 Songer Award Recipients. Pictured Left to Right: Abby Sutherland, Billiane Kenyon, Jeremy Bigalke, Rupsa Basu, Matthew Songer, and Laura Songer.

Matthew Songer, (Biological Sciences ’79) and Laura Songer (Biological Sciences ’80) have generously donated funds to the College of Sciences and Arts (CSA) to support a research project competition for undergraduate and graduate students. Remembering their own eagerness to engage in research during their undergraduate years, the Songers established these awards to stimulate and encourage opportunities for original research by current Michigan Tech students. The College is extremely grateful for the Songers’ continuing interest in, and support of, Michigan Tech’s programs in human health and medicine. This is the second year of the competition.

Students may propose an innovative medically-oriented research project in any area of human health. The best projects will demonstrate the potential to have broad impact on improving human life. This research will be pursued in consultation with faculty members within the College of Sciences and Arts. In the Spring of 2019, the Songer’s gift will support one award for undergraduate research ($4,000) and a second award for graduate research ($6,000). Matching funds from the College may allow two additional awards.

Any Michigan Tech student interested in exploring a medically related question under the guidance of faculty in the College of Sciences and Arts may apply. Students majoring in any degree program in the college, including both traditional (i.e., biological sciences, kinesiology, chemistry) and nontraditional (i.e., physics, psychology, social science, bioethics, computer science, mathematics) programs related to human health may propose research projects connected to human health. Students are encouraged to propose original, stand-alone projects with expected durations of 6 – 12 months. The committee also encourages applications from CSA students who seek to continue research projects initiated through other campus mechanisms, such as the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program, Pavlis Honors College activities or the Graduate Research Forum (GRF).

Funds from a Songer Award may be used to purchase or acquire research materials and equipment needed to perform the proposed research project. Access to and research time utilizing University core research facilities, including computing, may be supported. Requests to acquire a personal computer will be scrutinized and must be fully justified. Page charges for publications also may be covered with award funds, as will travel to appropriate academic meetings. This award may not be used for salary or compensation for the student or consulting faculty.

To apply:

  • Students should prepare a research project statement (up to five pages in length) that describes the background, methods to be used, and research objectives. The statement also should provide a detailed description of the experiments planned and expected outcomes. Students must indicate where they will carry out their project and attach a separate list of references/citations to relevant scientific literature.
  • The application package also should provide a concise title and brief summary (1 page) written for lay audiences.
  • A separate budget page should indicate how funds will be used.
  • A short letter from a consulting faculty member must verify that the student defined an original project and was the primary author of the proposal. The faculty member should also confirm her/his willingness to oversee the project. This faculty letter is not intended to serve as a recommendation on behalf of the student’s project.

Submit applications as a single PDF file to the Office of the College of Sciences and Arts by 4:00 p.m. Monday, April 22. Applications may be emailed to djhemmer@mtu.edu.

The selection committee will consist of Matthew Songer, Laura Songer, Shekhar Joshi (BioSci) and Megan Frost (KIP). The committee will review undergraduate and graduate proposals separately and will seek additional comments about the proposed research on an ad-hoc basis from reviewers familiar with the topic of the research proposal. Primary review criteria will be the originality and potential impact of the proposed study, as well as its feasibility and appropriateness for Michigan Tech’s facilities.

The committee expects to announce the recipients by early May of 2019. This one-time research award will be administered by the faculty advisor of the successful student investigator. Students will be expected to secure any necessary IRB approval before funds will be released. Funds must be expended by the end of spring semester 2020; extensions will not be granted. Recipients must submit a detailed report to the selection committee, including a description of results and an accounting of finds utilized, no later than June 30, 2020.

Any questions may be directed to Megan Frost (mcfrost@mtu.edu), David Hemmer (djhemmer@mtu.edu) or Shekhar Joshi (cpjoshi@mtu.edu).


Students Present at the 2017 Undergraduate Research Symposium

Several undergraduate students working in biology research laboratories presented at Michigan Tech’s 2017 Undergraduate Research Symposium this year. The event highlights the amazing cutting-edge research being conducted on our campus by some of our best and brightest undergraduate students!

Michelle Kelly URS 2017

Michelle Kelly from Amy Marcarelli’s laboratory challenged the assumption that variation of biological nitrogen transformation rates within streams are small. Her findings suggest that these rates can actually significantly vary and may not be estimated by a single study site per reach. Michelle’s research was funded by a Research Experience for Undergraduates through the National Science Foundation.

 

Hannah Marti URS 2017Hannah Marti from John Durocher’s laboratory explored the potential health benefits of acute mindfulness meditation. In her pilot study, she observed a reduction in anxiety, heart rate, and aortic pulse pressure after the one introductory hour of mindfulness mediation. Hannah’s research was funded through the Undergraduate Research Internship Program sponsored by the Portage Health Foundation. Hannah earned an honorable mention for her presentation!

 

Jacob Schoenborn URS 2017

Jacob Schoenborn from Xiaoqing Tang’s laboratory studied mice to understand the influence of blueberries on the function of pancreatic beta cells, which regulate the amount of glucose in the blood. His results suggest that the bioactive substances in blueberries can improve beta cell sensitivity. Jacob’s research was funded through the Undergraduate Research Internship Program sponsored by the Portage Health Foundation. Jacob earned an honorable mention for his presentation!

 

David Trine URS 2017David Trine from Thomas Werner’s laboratory reviewed the abdominal pigment pattern of Drosophila guttifera by through five toolkit genes. His findings will help to understand the evolutionary process of color patterns on animals and also may lead to future cancer research. David’s research was funded through a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship.

 


Thomas Werner: The Butterfly Effect

Thomas Werner 201701120031Thomas Werner knew he wanted to be a butterfly biologist from a very young age when he found chasing butterflies to be a preferable diversion to missing his friends and helping his parents harvest their garden plot.

His Journey from East Berlin to the Keweenaw has been a metamorphosis. His work with fruit flies is giving researchers an avenue to explore for cancer screening, prevention, and treatment.

“I love the precision and detail work of making a clean, crisp image.”

Explore more what Werner has to say about his research in Michigan Tech’s Research Magazine article, “The Butterfly Effect”.