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Sleeve gastrectomy, most common weight-loss surgery, lowers women’s tolerance to alcohol

Published November 17, 2017
Marta Yanina Pepino, an assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition (l) and postdoc M. Belen Acevedo.

URBANA, Ill. – Women who have had gastric sleeve surgery to lose weight may want to consider limiting the number of alcoholic drinks they consume post-surgery.

A new study from a team of researchers at the University of Illinois and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that after undergoing sleeve gastrectomy, women could be legally intoxicated after drinking half the number of drinks than women who did not have this surgery.

Sleeve gastrectomy, similar to another weight-loss surgery, Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (RYGB), speeds up alcohol absorption to the bloodstream. After drinking, blood alcohol levels increase much faster and reach higher levels than what would be expected before surgery, explains Marta Yanina Pepino, an assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at U of I who led the study.

“After having a sleeve gastrectomy, if a woman has a couple of drinks, she could be exposing her brain to blood alcohol levels that are achieved in a woman without surgery when she consumes four or five drinks,” adds first author M. Belen Acevedo, a postdoc in Pepino’s group at U of I. “Drinking, such that it raises blood alcohol levels above legal drinking limits, is considered a binge drinking episode and has been associated with an increased risk of developing alcohol problems.”

The study is available online in the journal Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases.

The researchers wanted to learn whether sleeve gastrectomy, currently the most frequently used weight-loss surgical procedure used in the United States and the world, would affect how the body handles alcohol, also known as alcohol pharmacokinetics.

“We know that changes in the pharmacokinetics of a drug are important because the faster a drug of abuse reaches your brain, the higher the potential for addiction,” Pepino explains. “Although it is well known that RYGB affects how the body handles alcohol, findings from earlier studies on the effects of sleeve gastrectomy on alcohol pharmacokinetics are contradictory.”

Out of three previously published studies, Pepino says that two found that sleeve surgery did not change blood alcohol levels and one study found that sleeve surgery causes a higher blood alcohol peak. “However, all previous studies on sleeve gastrectomy, estimated blood alcohol levels by using breathalyzers, which might not reliably estimate peak blood alcohol levels in bariatric patients,” she adds. 

For the current study, 11 women who had sleeve surgery and eight who had RYGB surgery within 1-5 years before the study began, as well as nine women who had not had either surgery, were evaluated in two sessions. In one session the women consumed the equivalent of two standard alcoholic drinks over a 10-minute period. At another, they consumed non-alcoholic drinks. At each visit, the researchers measured blood alcohol levels by using gas chromatography and compared them to estimations of blood alcohol levels obtained from breath alcohol measures using a breathalyzer. They also used a questionnaire to determine the women’s level of drunkenness.

Only women were included in the study because they comprise the majority of patients who get bariatric surgery, Pepino says.

For the women in the non-surgery group, blood alcohol contents peaked at 0.6 g/L about 26 minutes after they finished drinking. In those who had sleeve surgery and RYGB, blood alcohol contents peaked at 1.1 and 1.0 g/L about 9 and 5 minutes, respectively, after finishing the drink. The women who had sleeve surgery or RYGB also reported more intense feelings of drunkenness.

Another finding showed that breathalyzer values compared to those measured by gas chromatography, which Pepino calls the “gold-standard” technique, underestimated blood alcohol by 27 percent. Because of this finding and the fact that breathalyzers must be used 15 minutes after the final drink of alcohol, Pepino points out that breathalyzers may not be a reliable way to get accurate alcohol levels from those who have had sleeve or RYGB surgery.

“Bariatric surgeries are the most effective long-term treatment of obesity that we know of today, and findings from this study or others showing associations between RYGB and increased risk to develop alcoholism are not to say we should not perform these procedures,” Pepino says. “The therapeutic effects of these surgical procedures are unparalleled. People recover from diseases such as diabetes and are able to leave many of their medications because of these procedures.

“We hope our finding motivates surgeons and the team of bariatric support professionals interacting with bariatric patients to discuss the potentially serious consequences of moderate alcohol consumption following sleeve gastrectomy and RYGB.”

Marta Yanina Pepino is an assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and the Division of Nutritional Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois.

The paper, “Sleeve gastrectomy surgery: When two alcoholic drinks are converted to four,” is published in the journal Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases. Co-authors include Maria Belen Acevedo, J. Christopher Eagon, Bruce D. Bartholow, Samuel Klein, Kathleen K. Bucholz, and Marta Yanina Pepino.

Funding for the research is provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants AA 020018, AA024103, DK 56341 (Nutrition Obesity Research Center), UL1 RR024992 (Clinical Translational Science Award), and the Midwest Alcohol Research Center AA 11998.

eDNA tool detects invasive clams before they become a nuisance

Published November 17, 2017
handful of clams
University of Illinois aquatic ecologist Eric Larson holds a handful of invasive Corbicula clams.

URBANA, Ill. – When seeking a cure for a disease, early detection is often the key. The same is true for eliminating invasive species. Identifying their presence in a lake before they are abundant is vital. A recent University of Illinois study successfully used environmental DNA to detect invasive clams in California and Nevada lakes. Researchers believe this tool can help identify pests before they become a problem.

“Environmental DNA, or eDNA, means we’re finding the DNA of an animal or plant that we’re looking for from an environmental sample, like water,” says U of I aquatic ecologist Eric Larson. “It’s an emerging tool that has the potential to be better at detecting rare species in some cases, relative to some of our more traditional survey methods. There’s a lot of DNA floating around in a lake or a stream, and if we can capture and identify it, it can tell us what organisms are present, including invasive species.”

Larson and colleagues from Rice University, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Nevada at Reno developed a type of laboratory analysis called an eDNA assay to test for the presence of Corbicula, an invasive freshwater clam. Larson says, “We found eDNA for Corbicula in four of 11 lakes where we already knew it existed, including Lake Tahoe, and did not find eDNA of the clam in seven other lakes where it had never been found. The location of Corbicula eDNA within Lake Tahoe also closely matched where we know the clams are. So these results confirmed that the assay works well, and that it could be helpful in monitoring for new populations of this invader as it continues to spread.”

Larson says Corbicula is very common in Europe and the United States but they’re not everywhere yet. The clams, which are originally from East Asia, aren’t very large, but can have major effects on freshwater ecosystems like lakes and rivers. Unchecked, they become invasive, and can even clog pipes and damage infrastructure, similar to the impacts observed for other invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels in the Great Lakes region.

Corbicula firmly established in Lake Tahoe by 2007,” says University of Nevada aquatic ecologist and study co-author Sudeep Chandra. “They influence the water quality and reduce the remarkable clarity in the nearshore habitat of Lake Tahoe. By recycling and excreting nutrients, the invasive clams contribute to the growth of nearshore algae. So detecting them around the lake is critical to understanding where the clams will degrade water quality.”

The invasive clams even occur in Larson’s backyard in Champaign, Illinois. “They’re very distinctive and are hyper-abundant in central Illinois,” Larson says. “If you see a lot of little white shells on the stream bed, those are probably Corbicula.” Larson is continuing his lab’s eDNA research on Corbicula in these streams of central Illinois. “Because we now know that the eDNA assay works well, we want to apply it to some other questions,” says Larson. “Is there a best time of the year to use eDNA to detect this invader? If we can’t find their DNA in the winter, does it spike in the summer? Do floods mobilize a lot of DNA, making it easy to detect or does flooding dilute the DNA that’s there?” Larson hopes that answers to these additional questions will help managers and researchers find and react to new Corbicula invasions elsewhere before they become problematic.

The study, “Development and field validation of an environmental DNA (eDNA) assay for invasive clams of the genus Corbicula” is online at the journal Management of Biological Invasions. The article is lead-authored by Dominique A. Cowart, a U of I postdoctoral researcher, and coauthored by Mark A. Renshaw, Crysta A. Gatnz, and David M. Lodge of the University of Notre Dame, Scott P. Egan of Rice University, and John Umek and Sudeep Chandra of the University of Nevada Reno.

This research was supported by the US Environmental Protection Agency, US Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch Project, funds from the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act, Truckee River Fund, Nevada Division of State Lands, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, as well as California’s State Parks and the Lahontan Water Quality Control Board to Southern California and others to support surveys of clams in the Tahoe region, and a UIUC STEM postdoctoral fellowship to Cowart.

Eric Larson is an assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois.

Holiday wreaths

Published November 16, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Decorative wreaths are a popular favorite during the holiday season. A holiday wreath adds color, interest, and a festive focal point inside or outside your home.

“A wreath can be made from a variety of fresh greenery,” says Andrew Holsinger, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. “Some of the plant material used for your wreath may even be found in your own landscape.”

When creating a holiday wreath with fresh plant material, remember that gathering the live material is actually pruning the plant, and proper cutting techniques are necessary. Be sure to distribute the cuts evenly around the plant to preserve its natural form and beauty.

“Pines, firs, and cedars hold up well for indoor uses,” Holsinger says. “Just like Christmas trees, these evergreen materials will dry out slowly over time.” A wreath placed outdoors may last for several weeks and those with many broadleaf evergreens actually will last longer if used outdoors. A few nice, needled choices for outdoor wreaths are spruces or hemlock.

Don’t be disappointed if you don’t have the selection of plant material in your landscape, Holsinger says. Typically, many florists and garden centers have adequate supplies, but contact them as early as possible to find the best choices.  A difficult growing season sometimes results in some shortages.

“Caution should be used when decorating with plant materials inside the home,” says Holsinger. “Poisonous berries can be found on yews, mistletoe, holly plants, and many others.”

The leaves of yew are particularly toxic. Keep all these plants out of the reach of children and pets. Never place fresh greenery near heat sources such as heat vents, space heaters, sunny windows, or open flames such as candles and fireplaces.

Proper care of plant material will keep your wreath looking great from the start. Holly branches will need protection from freezing temperatures after cutting, otherwise the leaves and berries may blacken. Use outer tips of branches since they are often the most visually appealing and offer the best uniformity in appearance.

Holsinger also provides some recommendations for the preservation and use of greenery.

“When selecting greenery from your landscape be sure to use sharp cutters and immediately put the cut ends into water until ready to use,” he says.

When preparing the cuttings, keep the greenery out of sunlight. Prepare the cuttings to be consistent lengths to arrange around the frame of the wreath. 

Maintain balance in your wreath by using uniform bundles of plant material as you secure them to the wreath frame. In addition to green materials, use other plant materials to decorate your wreath. These add color and texture. Some popular choices are dried hydrangea blooms, pinecones, or reindeer moss. 

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

New degree in Computer Science plus Crop Sciences melds the worlds of agriculture and data technology

Published November 16, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Technology and data are increasingly integral to agriculture, and the University of Illinois’ Department of Computer Science and College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences have introduced a first-of-its-kind major built on that relationship.

Starting in the fall of 2018, students will be able to enroll in the new CS + Crop Sciences undergraduate program at the university, one of a growing number of CS + X degrees at U of I.

According to German Bollero, professor of biometry and head of the Department of Crop Sciences in the College of ACES, agriculture’s growing reliance on technology is producing vast amounts of data – from molecular genetics, the study of weather and the climate, GIS-based data gathering, and the many applications of drones.

“The generation of huge data sets has expanded the demand for people with the skills to integrate computer science and agriculture,” Bollero said.

The new degree is expected to be in high demand among students, and has the potential for high impact, said Lenny Pitt, the associate head of the Department of Computer Science and its director of Undergraduate Programs.

“When we talk about this partnership, it has an opportunity to really impact the world, in terms of food production, high-tech farming techniques, the environment, and costs and efficiency,” Pitt said.

Agricultural technology companies are taking notice of the new program. “Syngenta located its first Digital Innovation Lab at the Research Park to gain better access to a wealth of student talent and a world-ranked research university. This decision is continually solidified through news of programs such as CS + Crop Science. I'm excited to interact with a new batch of students who seek to bring engineering skills to the burgeoning field of agriculture,” said Brandon Dohman, innovation lead for the Syngenta Digital Innovation Lab at the University of Illinois Research Park.   

CS + Crop Sciences plans to begin with 5 to 10 students in the fall of 2018 before eventually enrolling 60 to 80 students. The deadline to apply for the fall is Dec. 1. Students can apply at

News Writer:

ACES Staff

New method analyzes corn kernel characteristics

Published November 16, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – An ear of corn averages about 800 kernels. A traditional field method to estimate the number of kernels on the ear is to manually count the number of rows and multiply by the number of kernels in one length of the ear. With the help of a new imaging machine developed at the University of Illinois breeders can learn the number of kernels per ear, plus a lot more information than can be manually observed.

“If you take that same ear of corn into a lab, you can take the same approach but use an imaging system to get a more accurate measure of the total number of kernels,” says Tony Grift, lead scientist on the project. “But you can go a lot further than that. By pinning the ear on a spike and turning it automatically, we can present each row individually to a camera. This allows us to determine up to 16 morphological characteristics of each kernel, including kernel area, circumference, and circularity, a measure for how close the kernel shape is to a circle. We can also calculate the center of gravity and the location of the kernel on the ear, in fact we use these to make sure we don’t count kernels more than once.”

The imaging machine itself isn’t fancy. It’s more like a tabletop photography studio. A single halogen light is hung outside, above the box. The box itself is made from high-density polyethylene or HDPE, which is typically used to make cutting boards. This plastic adheres to virtually nothing (which is ideal for cutting boards) including glue, so it was assembled with bolts and fasteners.

Grift says the key is in the lighting. “Having a good camera is one thing, but light is very important. Light has to come from everywhere, so we channel light from the halogen bulb through a thin layer of the same HDPE material, which reflects off the side walls in which the cameras were mounted as well. Using the box is simple: You open the door, put the ear of corn on the spike, close the door, and a motor automatically rotates the ear as many times as needed to capture all rows. The motor and two cameras inside are controlled by a computer program that records the information.”

Grift says he’s been working with U of I maize breeder Martin Bohn since 2002 on perfecting imaging boxes. “We began working with roots, we called the box the Corn Root Imaging Box or CRIB,” Grift says. “Corn roots have an awkward shape which is difficult to capture. But we can calculate the stalk diameter, the root angle, and the fractal dimension, which is a way to describe a root’s complexity.”

He says that at some point, he and his colleague Abdul Momin realized that they could put anything inside the box and decided to experiment with an ear of corn.

Because an ear of corn is a natural object, the variations can make it difficult to image accurately. “It’s easier with ears that have very ‘well-behaved’ rows of kernels,” Grift says. “The rows on some ears of corn begin to spiral a bit, making it difficult to get an accurate reading without duplicating some kernels. Former students Wei Zhao and Yu Zhang made adjustments to allow for missing kernels, dead kernels, or some that were squeezed together or twisted, but overall, the imaging system works well.”

“This is where it gets really interesting,” Grift says. “All of the measurements mean very little to us. I like to joke that we agricultural engineers are just glorified technicians on the project. We just provide the numbers in spread sheets. The spread sheet then goes to Martin Bohn who creates a QTL map—quantitative trait loci map—that associates the particular characteristics of the kernel with the genes that control them.”

Martin Bohn, corn breeder and geneticist in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I and co-author, notes that improved phenotyping methods, like the one this paper focuses on, are critical if we want to leverage genomic information in breeding and genetic research.

“Most plant characteristics that determine the agronomic potential of plants are highly complex,” says Bohn. “For example, a large number of genes, mostly with small effects, contribute to traits farmers are interested in, such as yield, efficient uptake and use of nutrients, tolerance to drought, heat, cold, etc. We can only hope to find these important but small effect genes if we can measure plant traits efficiently and accurately for a large number of plants, hence the term high-throughput phenotyping. The method we report here does not only provide the technology to do exactly this, but it might also be possible to go beyond this. Imagine, being able to determine the nutritional content of each kernel on the cob using our approach. We would love to expand this idea and work with companies to move on from manual, tedious field measurements to smart imaging techniques.”

The study, “Semi-automated, machine vision based maize kernel counting on the ear,” is published in Biosystems Engineering. The research was conducted by Tony Grift, Wei Zhao, Abdul Momin, Yu Zhang and Martin Bohn.

This work has been partially supported by a grant from the College of ACES.

Tony Grift is an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. Wei Zhao is a former MS student, Abdul Momin is a postdoctoral research associate in the Institute for Genomic Biology at U of I, Yu Zhang is a former visiting scholar and Martin Bohn is an associate professor in the Department of Crop Sciences.