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Spirit® is published three times per year by the Texas A&M Foundation, which manages major gifts and endowments for the benefit of academic programs, scholarships and student activities at Texas A&M University.

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Also In This Issue

Lab Work: Research at Texas A&M

Research Worth Consuming 

Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists have demonstrated a quick, accurate and portable way to scan produce and crops for numerous consumer and agricultural purposes.

Using Raman spectroscopy, the research team can measure how molecules scatter harmless laser light to efficiently determine the levels of protein, carbohydrates, fiber and carotenoids within corn kernels without destroying the samples. “When it comes to personal diet, if I have this technology, I can scan food that I consume and determine its nutrient value on the spot,” said Dmitry Kurouski, assistant professor of biochemistry and biophysics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and leader of the research team.

The technique can also provide farmers with a proactive and cost-effective method of detecting problems in crop production. For example, using the technology, the team successfully identified varieties of corn plants growing in a field and detected citrus greening disease before visible symptoms appeared. 

“This method could eventually be used to quickly estimate the economic value of grain in a field or predict grain’s starch content, significantly changing the economy for farmers and consumers,” Kurouski added. The researchers are now hoping to commercialize the technique so others can begin using the tool.

Wag-Worthy Research

The College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) is partnering with the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine on a $23 million initiative to advance knowledge about how genes, habits and the environment influence dog aging.

Known as the Dog Aging Project, the 10-year initiative will study an unlimited number of dogs of varying backgrounds; samples such as DNA will be collected from at least 10,000 dogs. Efforts are being led by Dr. Kate Creevy, associate professor of veterinary internal medicine at the CVMBS, as well as Daniel Promislow and Matt Kaeberlein, pathology professors at the UW School of Medicine.

Researchers emphasized that their target goal is to increase canine healthspan, which refers to the period of disease-free life. According to Creevy, the project has the added value of shedding light on the human aging experience as well.

“Aging is the major cause of the most common diseases, like cancer and heart problems,” Kaeberlein added. “Dogs age more rapidly than people do and get many of our same aging diseases, including cognitive decline. They also share our living environment and have a diverse genetic makeup. This project will contribute broadly to knowledge about aging in dogs and in people.”

  • Sounds of the Sea

    Dr. Ana Širović, a Texas A&M University at Galveston marine biology professor and bioacoustician, is researching how sound can be used to mitigate human impact on endangered or vulnerable whales in the Santa Barbara Channel. The project aims to reduce the number of ship strikes of large whales by using acoustics to listen to whales nearby and send daily alerts to ships when the mammals are detected.
  • Fighting Liver Disease

    Texas A&M AgriLife Research Faculty Fellow Dr. Chaodong Wu led a study showing how a natural compound produced by gut bacteria and in widely consumed vegetables can help fight non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The study examined the relationship between concentrations of the compound indole, found in cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli, and the severity of fatty liver disease in humans. It also examined how indole protects against fatty liver and liver inflammation in mouse models.
  • Driving Into The Future

    The Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering installed a new driving simulator with a realistic 270-degree field of vision to use in autonomous vehicle research. Researchers are utilizing the simulator to study self-driving vehicles and cyclist safety as well as technological and physical factors that can affect the performance of law enforcement officials.

Wristwatch Resources

A team of Texas A&M University researchers led by Dr. Farzan Sasangohar, an assistant professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, is developing a wearable continuous monitoring tool to help students manage their mental health.

“Mental health is a real issue among the college student population,” Sasangohar said. “It affects students’ academic performance and their overall quality of life and can also affect motivation, concentration and social interactions, which are all crucial factors for success in college and life. Unfortunately, due to stigmas associated with mental health, many students don’t seek help.” 

The tool, called Mental Health Evaluation and Lookout, or mHELP, aims to reduce some of these stigmas by allowing students to manage their own mental health through a wearable device and app. The device utilizes sensors on commercial smartwatches to detect signs of high anxiety and directs the wearer to therapeutic activities on their mobile phone, including self-assessments, educational content and mindfulness exercises. The tool will also integrate with counseling sessions to help mental health providers guide treatment plans. 

The program is the first of its kind, and Sasangohar hopes to expand it to campuses worldwide.

What Causes Brain Freeze?

Ice cream, smoothies and other cold sweets may be the perfect summer treats, but these delicious delicacies can trigger a mind-numbing side effect known scientifically as sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. More commonly known as brain freeze, the sharp throbbing pain in your forehead is a familiar sensation—but what causes it? 

“A brain freeze occurs when cold food touches a bundle of nerves in the back of the palate,” said Stephanie Vertrees ’01, M.D., a headache specialist, neurologist and clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “The sphenopalatine ganglion nerves are sensitive to cold food and, when stimulated, will relay information that activates a part of the brain, causing a headache.”

Luckily, there are ways to avoid brain freeze. The best approach is to eat cold food slowly so that your mouth has time to adjust to the temperature. “If you feel a brain freeze coming on, press your tongue to the roof of your mouth,” Vertrees added. “The heat from your tongue will warm the temperature in your mouth and reverse the effects of the brain freeze.”

Contact:

Dunae Reader '15

Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications/Spirit Editor/Maroon Co-Editor