Apparently, a lot of science writers had the same question that Georgia Tech researchers Young-Hui Chang and Lena Ting did: how do flamingos stand on one leg for long periods of time? What biomechanics are involved? Now it's Futurity's turn to show off the results of the study by Chang, a professor in the School of Biological Sciences, and Ting, a professor in the Wallace Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering. 

Kennda Lynch may spend a lot of time on an ancient lake basin in Utah, but in her mind she's picturing herself on a barren Martian landscape, searching for proof of past life. That's because the paleolake contains minerals also discovered on Mars, and her work could help determine where the Mars 2020 Rover mission will land. Lynch, a postdoctoral research fellow with the School of Biological Sciences, is on Georgia Tech's team for the NASA Astrobiology Institute, which helps the space agency develop scientific goals for future missions. She was recently profiled by her undergraduate alma mater, the University of Illinois, where she majored in biology and engineering. Her profile on the university's Industrial Systems Engineering website can be found here

Don't let the title fool you. Yes, Young-Hui Chang, professor in the School of Biological Sciences and co-author of the recent widely shared study on flamingos, does indeed talk about his work on the science of locomotion and how mechanics, physics, and the nervous system are tied together as people and animals move about. But in this podcast, Chang also shares thoughts on his family, how he became interested in science, career highs and lows, and advice for other researchers. (Those who follow podcasts on iTunes can find Chang's episode here.)

Believe it or not, a certain species of paper wasp is believed to have facial recognition ability. How exactly is that ability reflected in the wasps' brains? That's what Ali Berens, a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Biological Sciences set out to explore in her new study. By running paper wasps through some recognition exercises of faces and patterns and then studying the DNA in their brains, Berens and coworkers found more than 200 genes that were active during facial recognition. 

Greg Huey's new study of wildfires and their impact on air quality is sparking some attention, as firefighters throughout the country deal with summer blazes. USA Today zeroed in on the finding that uncontrolled wildfires shoot harmful microscopic aerosols into the air at a much higher rate than previously thought. Those particles can drift for miles before being inhaled and potentially doing serious damage to the heart and lungs. Meanwhile, the International Business Times' coverage of the study provides detail on how researchers flew instrument-laden planes into California wildfires to gather their data, and the "crazy bumpy" rides that resulted. Huey is a professor in, and the chair of, the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. 


Professor recognized for motor skills research

June 27, 2017 | Atlanta, GA

T. Richard Nichols, a professor in the School of Biological Sciences, has been named an honorary member of the American Physical Therapy Association, the organization announced on June 21. He was named to APTA by a unanimous vote of its House of Delegates.

“I’m very honored by it,” Nichols says. “It’s unusual because you have to be a physical therapist to be a regular member. I am not a physical therapist, I’m a basic scientist.”  

Nichols' research areas of interest include motor control, sensory feedback, spinal cord injury, muscle physiology, and limb mechanics. In addition to his research in the School of Biological Sciences, Nichols is also a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, a partnership between Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering and Emory School of Medicine.

Nichols was chair of the School of Applied Physiology until 2016, when it joined the School of Biology to form the School of Biological Sciences.  

APTA cites Nichols as “an internationally recognized scholar whose research has contributed to the advancement of scientific knowledge related to the control of movement.” APTA also calls Nichols a “stalwart advisor” who has done exemplary work to help train future physical therapists and advanced physical therapist clinicians.

APTA’s approximately 95,000 members include physical therapists, their assistants, and those who are studying to become therapists. The organization represents their interests in the legislative and regulatory arenas. 

For More Information Contact

Renay San Miguel
Communications Officer/Science Writer
College of Sciences


Phage therapy to treat bacterial infections gets vital assist from the mammalian immune system

July 12, 2017 | Atlanta, GA

EDITOR'S NOTE: The figure showing the effect of phage therapy on mice was added on July 18, 2017.

The rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs poses a serious public health threat.  In response, scientists and clinicians are exploring alternative ways to cure bacterial infections that are untreatable by antibiotics.

One approach is to use bacteria-killing viruses – also known as bacteriophage, or phage. Phage therapy has been used for nearly a century outside the U.S., most prominently in Russia and Georgia, the former Soviet republic. Clinical trials are ongoing in Europe, including a wound burn treatment trial involving multiple hospitals.

In the U.S., recent successes have heightened interest in moving phage therapy to the clinic.  A dramatic example is the cure of a University of California,  San Diego, professor who was near death from an infection by the toxin-excreting superbug Acinetobacter baumannii

Yet, many of the mechanisms underlying phage therapy remain unclear. “The key conceptual challenge is that phage kills individual bacterial cells but not necessarily an entire population of bacteria,” says Joshua S. Weitz, professor of biological sciences and physics at Georgia Tech.

In phage therapy, successful treatment has long been assumed to be due primarily to the phage’s bacteria-killing action.  Now, work by Weitz and his team at Georgia Tech and groups led by Laurent Debarbieux and James P. Di Santo at the Institut Pasteur, in Paris, France, finds that immune cells of the animal host act synergistically with phage to cure an otherwise fatal respiratory infection in mice.

“This joint project analyzed the conditions necessary to eliminate pathogen populations when host immune responses are compromised,” Weitz says. The work is published in the July 2017 issue of Cell Host & Microbe.

The researchers investigated the effect of host immunity in an animal model of acute pneumonia caused by multiple-drug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a pathogen on the serious-threats list of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). The team – including the paper’s joint first authors, Institut Pasteur’s Dwayne R. Roach and Georgia Tech’s Chung Yin (Joey) Leung – integrated preclinical experimental data with mathematical modeling to characterize interactions between bacteria, phage, and the immune response.

The animal studies indicate that neutrophils – an important type of white blood cell that is part of the body’s major innate defense – are essential to cure the infection during phage treatment. Leveraging results from preclinical experiments and mathematical models, the researchers conclude that neutrophils eliminate what the phage cannot defeat: emerging, phage-resistant P. aeruginosa cells.  Together, phage and neutrophils synergistically cure the acute bacterial infection.

The finding has important implications. “In terms of clinical consequences, one could reconsider the selection of patients likely to benefit from phage therapy. It may not be appropriate or recommended for people with severe immunodeficiency,” Debarbieux says.  The work will help identify candidates for human phage therapy and could be used to explore synergistic interactions between phage and immune responses in other disease contexts, such as cystic fibrosis.

A second paper describing mathematical details of the therapeutic synergy between phage and the immune system, jointly authored by Leung and Weitz, is published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.

Work at Georgia Tech was supported by an U.S. Army Research Office grant (W911NF-14-1-0402).

Work at Institut Pasteur was supported by Fondation EDF, Vaincre la Mucoviscidose (IC1011), Association CA.ZO.LA. Luttons contre la mucoviscidose, and the European Respiratory Society (RESPIRE2–2015–8416).

For More Information Contact

A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

Ants as energetic engineers – that's clear from the latest study led by School of Biological Sciences Associate Professor David Hu. The work reveals in great detail how fire ants can build Eiffel Tower-like structures with their own bodies. Applications could lead to structure-building robots. This New York Times video shows off the Tech research team's experiments, including an X-ray video highlighting the ants' remarkable ability to quickly build wide-base towers. Hu is also an associate professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and an adjunct associate professor in the School of Physics. 

Somebody should cue up "Ants Marching" by the Dave Matthews Band for this roundup of how media outlets are covering David Hu's new research. The School of Biological Sciences associate professor led a team that studied how fire ants, without apparent leadership or coordination, can build Eiffel Tower-like structures out of their own bodies when looking for food or escape. Those on the bottom don't get crushed – ants circulate in and out of these tall towers like water. In addition to the Nature story, here is how Cosmos reported on the new research, and here is New Scientist's take. 

New research focusing on the remarkable tower-building abilities of fire ants continues to attract attention from top media outlets, such as this story from the Washington Post. Also, study co-author Craig Tovey, a professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, takes us behind the scenes of the research in this post for The Conversation. David Hu also worked on the study. Hu is an associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences and the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. He is also an adjunct associate professor in the School of Physics. 


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