University of Minnesota Alumni Association



"Saving Soybeans", "Good News about Day Care", "Alzheimer's Prevention"

Saving Soybeans

Soybeans are susceptible to pests such as the soybean gall midge, a tiny fly that lays eggs on a plant’s stem, which the young eat after hatching. They’ve been found in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri—all major soybean producers—and have been spreading rapidly. Unfortunately, the midges are tough to manage because scientists haven’t been able to fully understand their biology.

That will change, thanks to 10 U of M graduate students who have genesequenced the pest. Working in a class in comparative animal genomics, the students were able to sequence soybean gall midge DNA found on a farm in southeastern Minnesota using a commercially available portable long-read sequencer. The project cost approximately $2,000—impressive, given that a typical sequencing can run into the millions and can involve the work of hundreds of scientists.

“This insect was described to science only a few years ago, in 2019. The fact that we can go from the discovery of a new pest to a class of students publishing a genome sequence in such a short amount of time is a testament to how far the field of genomics has come,” says Amelia Lindsey, assistant professor in the U of M’s Department of Entomology, whose lab served as headquarters for the study.

Experts say that this achievement will pave the way for further research into the biology, genetics, and evolution of the midge, hopefully leading to effective strategies to manage the pest.

This was first published in the March 2 issue of G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics.

Good News about Day Care

For most working parents, child daycare centers are a fact of life. But for decades, debate has simmered about whether or not they negatively impact a child’s behavior. A recent study from the College of Education and Human Development could allay those concerns.

The study, coauthored by Associate Professor Daniel Berry, looked at data collected between 1993 and 2012 from over 10,000 toddlers and preschoolers. Teachers and parents were asked to report on a range of behavioral issues, including biting, hitting, kicking, and not being able to sit still. The study found little evidence to support the notion that more time in childcare increased behavioral issues, and also that a child’s socioeconomic status did not make a difference.

“While we want to be careful in our data interpretation, the fact that we find so little support for a connection between childcare hours and behavior problems across a number of large samples of children—collected across countries with a range of social policies concerning childcare and family leave—is compelling,” says Berry.

Next up for researchers: identifying more ways to increase access, affordability, and equitable distribution of childcare for families who want it, a need that’s particularly acute for families in rural communities.

This study was published in the November 16, 2022 issue of Child Development.

Alzheimer's Prevention

Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 50 million people worldwide—a number that’s expected to double in 20 years due to population growth.

This past spring, scientists at the U of M announced they are conducting breakthrough research that could lead to earlier disease detection and treatment. In their study, College and Veterinary Medicine researchers Manci Li and Peter Larsen examined data from Alzheimer’s brains and healthy brains to identify the key neuropeptides—chemical messengers that are released by neurons—found in Alzheimer’s brains. They discovered that the proportion of cells releasing neuropeptides was significantly lower in Alzheimer’s brains, and that neurons releasing higher and more diverse levels of neuropeptides were disproportionally absent in Alzheimer’s brains. They also confirmed that increased age correlates with decreased neuropeptide activity in the hippocampus—the part of the brain that controls memory and learning—of Alzheimer’s brains.

“In a healthy brain, there are cells that can handle the demands of day-to-day life. But with Alzheimer’s, these cells have either died or the connections are lost, and the cells that are left behind are struggling to keep up with the demand,” says Li. While additional research is needed, this could lead to advances in the early detection of Alzheimer’s, as well as treatment possibilities.

This study was originally published in the February 24 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

Thank you to the team at University Public Relations for their help with these briefs.

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