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Peace Corps recognizes Illinois alum Colón for ongoing commitment to service

Published October 10, 2014
L-R: Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Manuel Colón, and Peace Corps Chief of Staff Laura Chambers
L-R: Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Manuel Colón, and Peace Corps Chief of Staff Laura Chambers

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet honored University of Illinois graduate Manuel Colón and five other returned Peace Corps volunteers with the Franklin H. Williams award on Wednesday, Oct. 8, during a ceremony at Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The award recognizes returned Peace Corps volunteers from ethnically diverse backgrounds who exemplify an ongoing commitment to community service and Peace Corps’ Third Goal of promoting a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

“In memory of Franklin H. Williams, we honor some of the brightest stars in our Peace Corps family who are incredible champions of our mission at a time when the Peace Corps has never mattered more,” Hessler-Radelet said. “These extraordinary individuals embody what the Peace Corps is all about – a lifelong commitment to service, social justice and cross-cultural understanding.”

As an environmental education Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay from 2010-12, Colón carried out sustainable tourism development work, youth group education, and cultural exchange activities. His most successful project was a national environmental youth group workshop conference called “Paraguay Verde,” which fostered youth interest in environmental stewardship and is now in its fifth iteration with current volunteers in Paraguay.

But for Colón, Peace Corps service was about more than gaining skills and helping others overseas – it was about sharing his experience with people back home and inspiring others to consider making a difference. Even while he was still a volunteer in Paraguay, the Chicago native kept in touch with friends and family and used Skype to chat with prospective applicants at a recruitment event. While home on leave during his two-year service, he was the featured speaker at a 200-guest send-off event for new volunteers in Chicago.

“I'm beyond honored to be a 2014 Franklin H. Williams award recipient,” Colón said. “As I explain the three goals of Peace Corps to people, it's very clear that the first two are constrained to your 27 months abroad, while in service. The beauty of Third Goal is that every volunteer, at any and all stages in their life post-service, can engage in it.”

Now pursuing his Master of Education in Human Resources Development and working as an Undergraduate Recruiter at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Colón continues to assist with Peace Corps recruitment there. (He also earned his bachelor’s degree in natural resources and environmental science from Illinois in 2010.)

As the New Volunteer Coordinator for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Returned Peace Corps Volunteers association, he works closely with Peace Corps’ Office of Diversity and National Outreach to engage prospective, current, and returned volunteers, in addition to promoting recruitment and Third Goal activities to the Queer community through the group’s social media.

Both in his everyday life and while working, Colón never misses an opportunity to share his personal Peace Corps story with diverse audiences. At his alma mater high school, Whitney Young in Chicago, Colón recently spoke to students about the way Peace Corps could, one day, transform their lives, as it has transformed his. In the summertime, he enjoys drinking tereré (Paraguayan iced tea) and listening to music from Paraguay, sharing the country’s culture with his friends and co-workers in the U.S. This year he waved the Peace Corps flag at multiple Pride events, inspiring countless LGBTQ Americans to serve.

Colón’s commitment to bettering his world also extends beyond Peace Corps’ Third Goal. He currently volunteers with the University’s Intensive English Institute as a conversation partner, helping students from South Korea and Saudi Arabia improve their English and learn more about American culture. “The parallels to Peace Corps pre-service training are so strong, so I'm glad I can give back to visitors to our country the same way I was so warmly received by the people of Paraguay,” Colón said.

About the Franklin H. Williams Award: Franklin H. Williams was an early architect of the Peace Corps. He worked at the agency from its inception in 1961 to 1963 and helped Sargent Shriver, the first Peace Corps director, to promote the agency and its programs to the world. Williams’ exceptional public service career included positions as Peace Corps Regional Director for Africa, U.S. Representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and U.S. Ambassador to Ghana. Since the first Franklin H. Williams award ceremony in 1999, 107 outstanding returned Peace Corps volunteers have received the award. For more information on the award and bios for all awardees, please visit: http://www.peacecorps.gov/resources/returned/staycon/williamsaward/?from=hps

About the Peace Corps:  As the preeminent international service organization of the United States, the Peace Corps sends Americans abroad to tackle the most pressing needs of people around the world. Peace Corps volunteers work at the grassroots level with local governments, schools, communities, small businesses and entrepreneurs to develop sustainable solutions that address challenges in education, health, economic development, agriculture, environment and youth development. When they return home, volunteers bring their knowledge and experiences – and a global outlook – back to the United States that enriches the lives of those around them. President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961 to foster a better understanding among Americans and people of other countries. Since then, more than 215,000 Americans of all ages have served in 139 countries worldwide. Visit www.peacecorps.gov to learn more.

Piglet brain atlas new tool in understanding human infant brain development

Published October 10, 2014
brain imaging
A map created using the MRI based averaged piglet brain atlas. University of Illinois.

URBANA, Ill. – A new online tool developed by researchers at the University of Illinois will further aid studies into postnatal brain growth in human infants based on the similarities seen in the development of the piglet brain, said Rod Johnson, a U of I professor of animal sciences.

Through a cooperative effort between researchers in animal sciences, bioengineering, and U of I’s Beckman Institute, Johnson and colleagues Ryan Dilger and Brad Sutton have developed a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) based brain atlas for the four-week old piglet that offers a three-dimensional averaged brain and anatomical regions of interest. 

This averaged brain atlas, created from images from multiple piglets, will serve as a template for future studies using advanced MRI techniques that can provide important information on brain macro- and microstructure during this critical period of development. The template, as well as tissue probability maps that were also created, are available online and are freely distributed.

“The piglet brain is similar to the human brain in that it is gyrencephalic and experiences massive growth and development in the late prenatal and early postnatal periods. We are concerned that environmental insults such as infection or poor nutrition during these early periods may alter the trajectory of brain development,” Johnson said.

“Pigs provide an excellent translational model for biomedical research. This is a new tool that may be useful to others in the biomedical community,” he added.

While an atlas did already exist for the adult pig, Matthew Conrad, a doctoral student in Johnson’s lab said the previous atlas was created from a single adult animal. “The benefit to using an averaged brain is that it will produce a template that is a better representation of the population. The more animals included the better.”

The atlas was created by taking MRI images of the brains of 15 four-week-old York breed piglets—nine females and six males. The images were then reconstructed into 3D volumes for each pig. Through a series of deformations and averaging of the data sets, the images were eventually aligned to create the final averaged brain.

Conrad explained that having an averaged brain template available will allow better use of the software needed for more advanced techniques in studying the volume of brain regions.

An example of these techniques includes voxel-based morphometry (VBM), which can be used to detect volume difference in the brain. Additionally, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), which looks at white-matter track development and connectivity in brain regions, and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), which looks at white matter and neurochemical changes in the brain, are being conducted.

“The atlas will be used as the population average. When new data sets are brought in, you first line up the new brain images to this template,” Conrad said.

In addition to the average brain atlas, Conrad said they also created population averages for white and gray matter as well as cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). “This is another data set that helps predict the tissue classification,” he said.

Previous studies using MRI imaging of piglets have looked at the effects of iron deficiency on brain development. “For that we did MRI imaging and manual segmentation, and with manual segmentation you are looking at volume changes within very large areas of the brain, but with VBM we can pinpoint smaller changes within discrete brain areas,” Conrad said. “We are now reanalyzing data from those piglets and replicating this study with new protocols, which will allow us to see changes that we didn’t see before.”

Another study is looking at the effects of postnatal infections, such as pneumonia, on brain development. “These types of infections are common in infants, and again it’s a period of time when the brain is undergoing rapid development,” Johnson said.

A third study funded by the National Institutes of Health is focused on maternal viral infection during pregnancy. “The goal is to assess how mom’s immune response to infection influences brain development and future behavior of her piglets,” Johnson explained.

Conrad added that the piglet brain is now being recognized for its potential as a translational animal model for neurodevelopmental studies.

“Much of the research on the effects of pre- and postnatal factors on brain development has been done in rodent models, but the rodent brain develops very differently.  Therefore, the piglet can provide a complementary model wherein results better translate to humans,” Johnson said.

The brain atlas project and related studies are funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The atlas and other resources created during this project are available online at http://pigmri.illinois.edu.

An in vivo three-dimensional magnetic resonance imaging-based averaged brain collection of the neonatal piglet (Sus scrofa)” was recently published in PLOS ONE and is available online at http://www.plosone.org/article/fetchObject.action?uri=info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0107650&representation=PDF. Matthew S. Conrad, Bradley P. Sutton, Ryan N. Dilger, and Rodney W. Johnson were coauthors of the study.

Organic Gardening Day Nov. 1

Published October 9, 2014
rows of organically grown crops

URBANA, Ill. – This year’s Organic Gardening Day will take place on Saturday, Nov. 1, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Urbana Plaza Hotel and Convention Center (formerly the Holiday Inn) in Urbana.

Chuck Voigt, University of Illinois vegetable and crops specialist and coordinator of the event, said that experts from around the country will present educational sessions to inspire organic gardening.

William Woys Weaver, from Devon, Pennsylvania, will give two presentations. One of his talks will be about the kitchen garden, and the other talk will be about the health benefits of heirloom food plants. William is the author of books on heirlooms, local foods, Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, herbal cures, and more. “He is a very in-demand speaker and we are lucky to have him with us this year,” Voigt said.

Marty Travis, of Spence Farm in Fairbury, Ill., is the seventh generation living the small farm life on a family farm settled by his ancestors in 1830. “Marty, along with his wife Kris and son Will, grows a great variety of crops and livestock organically,” Voigt said. “He has also grown a wide variety of grain crops, often on a rather small scale. He’ll share some of the basics of producing diverse grain plants, either in the field or the garden. The diversity of what’s produced at Spence Farm is amazing.”

In addition to the speakers, there will be a retail area selling a broad range of gardening products.

Online registration is available until Oct. 27. The cost for the day is $60, which includes an organic lunch buffet. For more information, contact Linda Harvey by calling 217-244-1693 or send an email to lharvey@illinois.edu.

On-site registration on Nov. 1 begins at 8 a.m., will continue only as long as space allows, and will not guarantee lunch. The first educational session begins promptly at 9 a.m.

 

Oct09

Test Bill Test

8:52 AM to Friday, October 10, 9:52 AM
Bill's Office

This is a Food Security Event

Invasive plant wins competition against its native cousin

Published October 8, 2014

URBANA, Ill. – Because of its aggressive behavior and its harmful effects, the invasive prairie plant Lespedeza cuneata has been added to several noxious weed lists.  Research at the University of Illinois on how soil bacteria interact with the plants’ roots to form nodules that fix nitrogen demonstrated that the invasive variety had superior performance when pitted against the native plant variety Lespedeza virginica.

“We expected Lespedeza cuneata to be a strong competitor when up against its native cousin that’s planted primarily for prairie restoration,” said U of I microbial ecologist Tony Yannarell. “There are a number of studies showing that L. cuneata grows quickly, is able to shade out its competitors, and has a high rate of nitrogen fixation, which allows it to ‘self-fertilize’ on unproductive soils.”

Yannarell explained that Lespedeza plants establish a “partnership” with bacteria in the soil to form nodules that fix nitrogen. “We wanted to demonstrate that the partners in this symbiosis matter,” he said.

Because the nitrogen-fixing gene is in the bacteria, the first step in the research was to identify bacteria that have the gene. “We started with isolating a pool of 50 bacteria [from the root nodules of invasive and native Lespedezas] and discovered that some of them weren’t traditional nodule-forming bacteria.”

Ultimately, seven bacteria were identified and used in a three-month greenhouse experiment in which various combinations of native and invasive varieties of Lespedeza were grown together in pots. Of the seven, five bacteria were found to benefit the invader and two did not benefit either of the plant varieties.  

“We were hoping to be able to change the degree of competitiveness by using different varieties of Lespedeza by varying the bacteria,” Yannarell said. “It turned out that none of the bacteria seemed to be better for the native plant.

“A really intriguing pattern that we found is that a lot of these strains of bacteria that are good for the invader belong to the Bradyrhizobium genus of bacteria that’s been shown in other parts of the world to be good at fixing nitrogen so this was one more confirmation of that information,” Yannarell said.

Yannarell said that this study provides yet another piece in the ecological puzzle.

The invasive Lespedeza cuneata was intentionally brought into the United States from Japan near the end of the 1800s. At the time, people liked its nitrogen-fixing capacity and soil fertilization. It was intended to be used to stabilize river banks and rehabilitate poor soil. Yannarell said that it has been recommended as wildlife forage, and some think that it has tannins that can act as a deworming treatment for goats. Now, however, it’s considered to be a noxious weed that grows in the South and Midwest. It is commonly called silky bush clover.

Yannarell stressed that there are a lot of different species of Lespedeza that are native to North America and indicative of high-quality prairie. Although Lespedeza cuneata isn’t a plant that would be intentionally planted by prairie restorationists, it has been seen in prairie seed mixes.

“Invasive Lespedeza cuneata and native Lespedeza virginica experience asymmetrical benefits from rhizobial symbionts,” was published in Plant and Soil and was co-authored by Lingzi Hu, Ryan R. Busby, and Dick L. Gebhart. The work was supported by a grant from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center and by the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 

Additional Images:
  • Root nodules

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