FRONTRUNNERS — Fall 2008
   

 
(© Historical Picture Archive/CORBIS, French Print Depicting a Family of Duck-billed Platypuses, ca. 1800–1804. Philip de Bay, Photographer.)

Platypus Genome Holds Clues to Mammalian Evolution

The duck-billed platypus is part bird, part reptile, part mammal—and it has the genome to prove it.

An international consortium of scientists, led by the School of Medicine, has decoded the genome of the platypus, showing that the animal’s peculiar mix of features is reflected in its DNA. An analysis of the genome, published in the journal Nature, can help scientists piece together a more complete picture of the evolution of all mammals, including humans.

The platypus, classified as a mammal because it produces milk and is covered in fur, also possesses features of reptiles, birds, and their common ancestors, along with some curious attributes of its own. One of only two mammals that lays eggs, the platypus also sports a duck-like bill that holds a sophisticated electrosensory system used to forage for food underwater. Males possess hind leg spurs that can deliver pain-inducing venom to their foes while competing for a mate or territory during the breeding season.

“By comparing the platypus genome to other mammalian genomes, we can study genes that have been conserved throughout evolution,” says Richard K. Wilson, director of the University’s Genome Sequencing Center and the paper’s senior author.

The platypus is the earliest offshoot of the mammalian lineage some 166 million years ago from primitive ancestors that had features of both mammals and reptiles.

The platypus is the earliest offshoot of the mammalian lineage some 166 million years ago from primitive ancestors that had features of both mammals and reptiles.

“What is unique about the platypus is that it has retained a large overlap between two very different classifications, while later mammals lost the features of reptiles,” says Wes Warren, research assistant professor of genetics, who led the project.

Comparison of the platypus genome with the DNA of humans and other mammals, which diverged later, and the genomes of birds, whose ancestors branched off an estimated 315 million years ago, can help scientists fill gaps in their understanding of mammalian evolution. The comparison also will allow scientists to date the emergence of genes and traits specific to mammals.

Wilson recently led a team of Washington University scientists in sequencing the corn genome, an accomplishment that should accelerate efforts to develop better crop varieties to meet society’s growing demands for food, livestock feed, and fuel. For more information, see mednews.wustl.edu/news/page/normal/11155.html.


Above: Architecture students critique a recent project in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts that involved building a chicken coop for a farm in New Orleans. (Photo by Joe Angeles)

New Orleans Farm Transformed by Architecture Students

Like much of New Orleans, God’s Vineyard Community Garden, a nonprofit farm in the Lower Garden District, was severely affected by Hurricane Katrina. To help rebuild the garden, 10 senior architecture students from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts collaborated with garden founders Earl Antwine and Noel Jones this past spring. Led by lecturer Derek Hoeferlin, the group hoped to make God’s Vineyard productive again by designing and building a chicken coop.

“I thought the chicken coop would be a terrific project,” says Hoeferlin, a Tulane graduate who previously led three design studios focusing on the Lower Garden District and the Central City neighborhood. “But for me, at the end of the day, the point is to help this great little farm get back on its feet.” Indeed, prior to Katrina, God’s Vineyard fed more than 1,500 people each month, providing vegetables, eggs, and poultry for community meals.


(Photo by David Kilper)

Earthquake Design Holds Up in Competition

Engineering students (from left) Alisa Ma, Eriane (E.J.) Adams (seated), Sherrie Fowler, Josh Kuperman, and team captain Jonathan Bingham work on the model they built in the University’s Earthquake Engineering Lab prior to competing at a seismic design competition in New Orleans the week of February 4. The group was the only team from the Midwest in the competition, which was sponsored by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute. Their structure was made to withstand simulated seismic impacts and to be cost-efficient and visually pleasing. The WUSTL engineers took first place for building costs, sixth for income, 14th for seismic cost, and had an overall ranking of No. 8.


Health-care Management Major Now Available

Health care is one of the fastest growing industries in the country and has the most demand for professionals qualified to take on its challenges. Washington University has turned to the strengths of its medical and business schools to fill that need.

The Olin Business School, in collaboration with the School of Medicine, now offers an undergraduate major in health-care management. Faculty members at both schools will teach courses, and students will develop a strong grounding in all business aspects of the health-care industry as well as in the science behind the medicine.


WUSTL Programs Rank in Top 10

Several WUSTL schools, academic areas, and departments at the graduate and professional levels currently hold top-10 rankings in U.S. News & World Report’s 2008 rankings of graduate and professional programs.

  • The George Warren Brown School of Social Work ranks No. 1 among master’s of social work programs.
  • The School of Medicine ranks No. 3 among research-oriented medical schools. Many individual programs are very highly ranked as well, including the Program in Occupational Therapy (tied for No. 1) and the Program in Physical Therapy (tied for No. 2). Several other academic areas also achieved top-10 rankings. Pediatrics is tied for a No. 7 ranking; audiology is ranked No. 5; and internal medicine is ranked No. 8.
  • The School of Law’s trial advocacy program is No. 4 in the nation, and the clinical training program ranks No. 6.

Many other University programs rank in U.S. News’ top 25. The complete list of rankings is available at grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/grad.


Dendritic cells (green) in islets of Langerhans. (Courtesy Image)

Type 1 Diabetes’ Possible Cause Identified

Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine working with diabetic mice have examined in unprecedented detail the immune cells long thought to be responsible for type 1 diabetes.

Researchers examined the immune cells from isolated insulin-making structures in the pancreas, the islets of Langerhans. They caught these cells, known as dendritic cells, “red-handed” carrying insulin and fragments of insulin-producing cells known as beta cells. This can be the first step toward a misdirected immune system attack that destroys the beta cells, which would prevent the body from making insulin and causing type 1 diabetes.

The results, reported online in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, push scientists a step closer to finding ways to treat this condition.

“Now that we’ve isolated dendritic cells from the pancreas, we can look at why they get into the pancreas and determine which of the materials that they pick up are most critical to causing this form of diabetes,” says senior author Emil R. Unanue, the Paul and Ellen Lacy Professor of Pathology. “That may allow us to find ways to inhibit dendritic cell function in order to block the disorder.”

The American Diabetes Association estimates that 1 million to 2 million Americans suffer from type 1 diabetes, also called juvenile diabetes because it frequently develops in children.

Patients require insulin injections to survive because the immune system has destroyed the islets of Langerhans, which contain the body’s only beta cells. The insulin these cells make is required for the critical task of regulating blood sugar.


(Photo by David Kilper)

Dome Improves Law School Courtyard

On May 5, construction crews lifted a massive steel canopy structure up two stories over the School of Law’s Anheuser-Busch Hall, using the largest crane in Missouri. The law school installed the canopy over the open-air courtyard to create a year-round accessible public space. Designed by Washington, D.C.–based Hartman-Cox, the completed structure covers a span of 6,054 square feet. The canopy installation is part of an overall renovation project for the law school.


(Courtesy Image)

Sculptor Harriet Hosmer Celebrated at Kemper

Neoclassical sculptor Harriet Goodhue Hosmer (1830–1908) was one of the most successful female artists of her day. She also was the first woman to study anatomy at what would become the Washington University School of Medicine. Hosmer produced many of her most significant works—such as the bronze statue of Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton in Lafayette Park (see Parting Shot)—for St. Louis patrons.

This past summer the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum joined other local institutions in celebrating Hosmer’s life and work. Four sculptures, from the permanent collections of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum and the Saint Louis Art Museum, were on exhibit in the Teaching Gallery. The museum also hosted an international symposium, which was organized by the Lafayette Park Conservancy, on Hosmer.


Professor Muthanna Al-Dahhan (left) and graduate student Rajneesh Varma are researching effective ways to take agricultural waste and make biofuel out of it. (Photo by David Kilper)

Bioenergy Produced from Farm Waste

Engineers at Washington University have found a better solution for treating farm waste and producing bioenergy using anaerobic digesters.

These scientists are studying ways to take manure and produce biogas from it. Anaerobic digesters employ reactors that use bacteria to break down organic matter in the absence of oxygen. The major end product of anaerobic digestion is methane, which can be used directly for energy. The methane also can be converted to methanol, or, when partially oxidized, to synthesized gas, which is a mix of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Synthesized gas then can be converted to clean alternative fuels and chemicals.

The goal is two-fold: to have farms that grow their own energy by using readily available farm waste to power the farm, and to eliminate the environmental threat of methane, a greenhouse gas considered 22 times worse than carbon dioxide.

“The final goal is a simple system ready for use by farmers on site for bioenergy production and for animal and farm waste management.”

“Each year livestock operations produce 1.8 billion tons of cattle manure,” says Muthanna Al-Dahhan, professor of energy, environmental, and chemical engineering. “If it sits in fields, the methane from the manure is released into the atmosphere, or it can cause ground-water contamination, dust, or ammonia leaching, not to mention bad odors.” Treating manure by anaerobic digestion gets rid of the environmental threats and produces bioenergy at the same time.

“The process is complex, but we’re seeking to simplify it for use as a quick assessment and evaluation of the digester,” says Al-Dahhan. “The final goal is a simple system ready for use by farmers on site for bioenergy production and for animal and farm waste management.”


Social Work Celebrates Nearly 100 Years with Book

To celebrate nearly 100 years of existence and a new era in social work education, the George Warren Brown School of Social Work has published What We Believe: A History of the George Warren Brown School of Social Work: 1909–2007.

“We are implementing a new strategic plan, and it is the perfect time for us to remember and learn from our history,” says Edward F. Lawlor, dean of the Brown School.

Author Candace O’Connor begins the book with a look at poverty in St. Louis and the early history of social work education locally; she concludes with an overview of more recent accomplishments and a glimpse at the future. For example, the School will offer a master’s of public health degree beginning in 2009 as part of the new Institute for Public Health at the University.

In addition, the book contains first-person accounts from alumni and current and former faculty.

To order What We Believe, please visit the Web site: gwbweb.wustl.edu/Alumni/Pages/SocialWorkHistory.aspx.

The book also is available for purchase from the Campus Store in Mallinckrodt Student Center.


PAD students performed Cecil Slaughter’s Grid last fall at a Washington University Dance Theatre concert. They reprised the piece at the National College Dance Festival in New York in June 2008. (Photo by David Marchart)

Dancers Reach Festival Pinnacle

A group of 18 student dancers from the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences took top honors at the Central Region Conference of the American College Dance Festival Association (ACDFA).

The conference was held March 4–9 at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas. The students were recognized for their performance of Grid, an original work choreographed by Cecil Slaughter, senior lecturer in dance. Grid was one of only eight pieces selected—from a field of 26 contenders—for a gala concert that concluded the conference.

There is no national champion for the festival. However, Grid was one of only two works selected from the Central Region—which includes Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska—for presentation at the ACDFA’s biennial National College Dance Festival, which took place June 4–6 at Barnard College in New York.

“The ACDFA festivals are to college dance what the NCAA tournament is to college basketball, but this competition focuses on creativity in choreography and performance,” says Mary-Jean Cowell, associate professor of dance and coordinator of the PAD’s Dance Program. “It is a great achievement for any dance program to present work at the National Festival,” she says, noting that Washington University was last represented at the National Festival in 1996.

“This work is about constructing and deconstructing boundaries such as racial, gender specific, and territorial through the exchange of energy.”

Grid premiered as part of the 2007 rEvolutions, the Washington University Dance Theatre concert. Performers include Jimmy Brooks, Sandy Chen, Elissa Eggers, Leah Flamm, Alex Gordon, Joshua Hasam, Eliotte Henderson, Lauren Keldie, Christine Koh, Jen Machlin, Angela McDaniel, Jeff Mitchell, A.J. Singletary, Jessica Spraos, Abby Turner, Jonathan White, Kristin Yancy, and Fan Yang.

“This work is about constructing and deconstructing boundaries such as racial, gender specific, and territorial through the exchange of energy,” says Slaughter of the piece, set to music by Layo and Bushwacka as well as Shukar Collective. “It’s based on different patterns—patterns of thought, patterns of behavior, patterns of reaction—and what happens when they intersect.”


(Photo by Vincent Novicki)

Record-Breaking Track and Field Member Earns All-America Honors

Junior Tanner Coghill of the Washington University men’s track and field team earned All-America honors in the 400-meter hurdles on the last day of the 2008 NCAA Division III Championships. The competition took place in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on May 22–24.

Coghill broke the Washington University school record in the 400-meter hurdles in the preliminaries and submitted the second-best time of his career, 52.76 seconds, in the final. He also garnered All-America recognition for the first time in his career.

Due to several outstanding sports teams, the Washington University Department of Athletics finished second in the 2007–2008 United States Sports Academy Directors’ Cup Division III standings. This finish is the highest in school history.

 


Learning the Business of Sports

From allegations of steroid use to astronomical salaries for athletes, the business of professional sports has unique challenges rarely covered in a standard M.B.A. curriculum. The Olin Business School is an exception. In spring 2008, the School introduced a new course in sports management that featured several luminaries in the field.

Sports Management was co-taught by finance Professor Todd Milbourn and by Seth Abraham, former CEO of Time Warner Sports and CEO of Madison Square Garden.

“This was a wonderful introductory class for students to get a panoramic view of the business of sports around the world,” says Abraham. “What was once a pastime has now transformed into a global economy. Television rights, team and league management, corporate sponsorship and marketing, media coverage, and the impact of multinational corporations were all covered in-depth. Students received perspective on how the sports economy works.”

In addition to regular class meetings, the course had four distinguished guest lecturers teach about issues directly related to their professional expertise. These guests included Tony Ponturo, senior vice president of global marketing at Anheuser-Busch; Neal Pilson, former chairman of CBS Sports; Harvey Schiller, former president of the Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Braves, and the Atlanta Golden Thrashers; and Selena Roberts, former award-winning columnist for The New York Times and now the first female columnist at Sports Illustrated.

“We were thrilled to be able to offer this unique course to our students,” says Mahendra Gupta, dean of the Olin Business School. “We expect the class will become a permanent fixture in the future.”


Fumagillin nanoparticle treatment reduces the growth of tumors. (Courtesy Image)

Nano-sized Technology Super-sizes Chemotherapy Effect on Cancerous Tumors

Using nanotechnology, researchers at the School of Medicine have found a way to dramatically reduce chemotherapy doses.

The researchers focused a powerful drug directly on tumors in rabbits using drug-coated nanoparticles. They found that a drug dose 1,000 times lower than used previously for this purpose markedly slowed tumor growth.

“Many chemotherapeutic drugs have unwanted side effects, and we’ve shown that our nanoparticle technology has the potential to increase drug effectiveness and decrease drug dose to alleviate harmful side effects,” says lead author Patrick M. Winter, research assistant professor of medicine and biomedical engineering.

The nanoparticles are extremely tiny beads of an inert, oily compound that can be coated with a wide variety of active substances. In an article published online in The FASEB Journal, the researchers describe a significant reduction of tumor growth in rabbits treated with nanoparticles coated with a fungal toxin called fumagillin. Human clinical trials have shown that fumagillin can be an effective cancer treatment in combination with other anticancer drugs.

The fumagillin nanoparticles were effective in very low doses because they concentrate where tumors create new blood vessels. The rabbits that received the nanoparticles showed no adverse side effects.

Senior author Gregory M. Lanza, associate professor of medicine and of biomedical engineering, and Samuel A. Wickline, professor of medicine, of physics, and of biomedical engineering, are
co-inventors of the nanoparticle technology. The nanoparticles measure only about 200 nanometers across, or 500 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

“They can carry chemotherapeutic drugs specifically to tumors,” says Lanza.


Honors

Two transfer students received Elizabeth Gray Danforth Scholarships from the Women’s Society of Washington University: Nicholas Bloom and Jack Duncan. The scholarships, which cover full tuition at the University, are awarded annually to two outstanding local community college transfer students.

Three doctoral students were inducted into the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society: Keona Ervin, Department of History in Arts & Sciences; Henrika McCoy, George Warren Brown School of Social Work; and Tracy Nicholson, Molecular Microbiology and Microbial Pathogenesis Program in the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences.

Robert E. Blankenship, the Markey Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences, received the Charles F. Kettering Award from the American Society of Plant Biologists for his work in photosynthesis.

Daniel M. Bornstein, professor of religious studies and of history in Arts & Sciences, was named the Stella Koetter Darrow Professor in Catholic Studies.

Adrienne Davis, professor of law, was named the William M. Van Cleve Professor of Law.

Marquita James, Arts & Sciences Class of ’08, was presented with the Harriet K. Switzer Leadership Award from the Women’s Society of Washington University.

Ronald Leax, the Halsey Cooley Ives Professor of Art, was named dean of the College and Graduate School of Art in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.

Robert McCarter, professor of architecture in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, was named the Ruth & Norman Moore Professor of Architecture.

Edward S. Macias, executive vice chancellor, dean of Arts & Sciences, and the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences, was named provost, effective January 1, 2009.

Troy Paredes, professor of law, was nominated by President George W. Bush to serve as one of five commissioners of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Helen Piwnica-Worms, professor of cell biology and physiology at the School of Medicine, was named the Gerty T. Cori Professor.

Ralph S. Quatrano, the Spencer T. Olin Professor and chair of the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences, was named interim dean of Arts & Sciences.

Craig K. Reiss, professor of cardiology at the School of Medicine, was named the Sam and Marilyn Fox Distinguished Professor in Medicine.

Henry L. “Roddy” Roediger III, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Sciences, received the Howard Crosby Warren Medal from the Society of Experimental Psychologists for his work involving human memory.

Salvatore P. Sutera, senior professor of biomedical engineering, was named interim dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science.

Karen Tokarz, professor of law, was named the Charles Nagel Professor of Public Interest Law and Public Service.

Stephen D. Williamson, professor of economics in Arts & Sciences, was named the Robert S. Brookings Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences.


(©iStockphoto)

Law School Expands Worldwide Reach

The School of Law is launching a unique Transnational Law Program for students in both the United States and Europe. This program expands upon the School’s partnership with Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

Beginning in fall 2008, a new four-year combined degree program will be offered in association with four prestigious European universities: Utrecht, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Trento (Italy), and Catholic University of Portugal.

The new Transnational Law Program allows U.S. students to study at both Washington University and Utrecht University. These students will spend five semesters acquiring a solid foundation in U.S. law with an emphasis on international and transnational law from an American perspective.

Then they will undertake three semesters of study in Utrecht, acquiring an appreciation for European law and enhancing their understanding of international and transnational law. Faculty and students from the other three European partners will contribute to the strength of the program.

“There is a growing need for lawyers who understand American and European law, who can identify legal issues, and who know reliable sources in the U.S. and Europe,” says Kent D. Syverud, dean of the law school and the Ethan A.H. Shepley University Professor.

Upon completion of the program, the U.S. graduates will earn a J.D. from Washington University and an LL.M. from Utrecht School of Law. European participants will pursue a complementary course of study; after earning their degree from Utrecht, they will enter the LL.M. program at Washington University.

“The integrated aspect of the curriculum makes it unlike any other offering at our peer institutions,” says Michael Peil, assistant dean for international programs and executive director of the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute at the School of Law. “Both our American and European graduates will be prepared for rewarding professional lives in an increasingly globalized world.”


(Photo by Joe Angeles)

Truman Scholarship Awarded to Kelley Greenman

Junior Kelley Greenman (right) learns from Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton that she has been awarded a Harry S. Truman Scholarship. Truman Scholars are selected based on academic performance, leadership, and dedication to public service. Greenman, who is from Marathon, Florida, is one of 65 scholars selected from among 595 candidates nominated by 283 colleges and universities. Joy Kiefer (center), assistant dean in Arts & Sciences, nominated and supported Greenman throughout the arduous application process. “I couldn’t be more excited and grateful to receive this honor,” says Greenman, an environmental studies major in Arts & Sciences. Her award will provide up to $30,000 for graduate study.


Bone Drug Could Stop Spread of Breast Cancer

Maintaining bone density could be a key to decreasing the spread of cancer in women with locally advanced breast cancer, according to research at the School of Medicine.

Bones are common sites for the spread of breast cancer. Scientists here found that women treated for stage II/III breast cancer who also received a bone-strengthening drug were less likely to have breast tumor cells growing in their bones after three months. The bone-strengthening drug used was zoledronic acid, a drug that decreases bone turnover and reduces bone fractures in patients with osteoporosis.


Editors’ Note

The editors note that the DNA graphic accompanying the Frontrunner titled “Sequencing 1,000 Human Genomes” in the summer issue of the magazine was an abstract illustration. Human DNA is a right-hand helix.