Hexbyte Glen Cove Catching the COVID wiggle: Researchers develop new way to visualize how the spike protein shows off its moves

Hexbyte Glen Cove

3D print of a spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19–in front of a 3D print of a SARS-CoV-2 virus particle. The spike protein (foreground) enables the virus to enter and infect human cells. On the virus model, the virus surface (blue) is covered with spike proteins (red) that enable the virus to enter and infect human cells. Credit: NIH

Coronaviruses are slippery, and that makes it hard to create effective vaccines that provide long-term protection. Now, University of Connectiut (UConn) researchers have developed a new way to model the spike protein of the virus and test its binding to antibodies. That could give scientists a firmer grip on the virus that causes COVID-19.

By now, the majority of adult citizens in the US have been vaccinated against COVID, and many have had booster shots as well. Despite this, about 30% of hospitalized COVID patients in Connecticut are fully vaccinated. Although there are several different COVID vaccines in use around the world, none of them provides long-term, durable protection against the virus.

The problem is the coronavirus’s spike protein. The spikes coat the virus, and are so wiggly and flexible that they slip through the clutches of like a weasel through a wedding ring. Without a firm grasp on the spike, the immune system cannot make good antibodies. And without good neutralizing antibodies, the immune system’s memory of the virus is too fuzzy to last.

“It’s kind of out-of-focus. Anything out of focus is hard to grasp, hard to understand, and hard to grab,” says Paulo Verardi, a pathobiologist in UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources.

Verardi gave several lectures about the coronavirus early in the pandemic as part of “The COVID-19 Pandemic: Impacts on Health, Business, and Society,” the largest and most popular class ever given at UConn, and many faculty members took it. Anna Tarakanova, a computational biophysicist and assistant professor of mechanical engineering, was one of them. She is an expert at modeling dynamic proteins. She spoke with two of her graduate students, Genny Kunkel and Mohammad Madani, and they had an idea. What if they modeled the spike protein, figured out how it moved when it interacted with the immune system, and then froze it in just the right position for the immune system to get a grip on it?

Tarakanova reached out to Verardi, and he liked the idea. Although all current COVID vaccines approved in the US use stabilized versions of the spike protein, no one knows if there are better or worse positions for the immune system to use as a template. Tarakanova’s team could figure that out. UConn biochemist Simon White joined the team as well.

Their first paper, describing which parts of the spike protein flex, how mutations affect that flexibility, and how it all affects antibodies’ grip, was published in the Biophysical Journal on Dec. 21. They also produced video clips of how the moves.

“We are actively building models of some of the emerging natural variants like delta, lambda, and omicron to see how this evolves,” says Tarakanova.

They want to see how each interacts with antibodies, and eventually use that knowledge to make the best possible version for antibodies to fix on—so that the world has a against COVID that works for the long term, and doesn’t require a booster every six months.

More information:
Genevieve Kunkel et al, Modeling coronavirus spike protein dynamics: implications for immunogenicity and immune escape, Biophysical Journal (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.bpj.2021.11.009

Catching the COVID wiggle: Researchers develop new way to visualize how the spike protein shows off its moves (2022, January 11)
retrieved 12 January 2022
from https://phys.org/news/2022-01-covid-wiggle-visualize-spike-protein.html

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Faculty mentor training program strengthens university’s institutional climate

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Physicians, scientists and educators at UC San Diego Health Sciences participate in faculty mentorship training sessions (pre-pandemic). Credit: UC San Diego Health Sciences

Many universities are in search of strategies to improve their faculty diversity and institutional climate. One factor known to be critical for faculty satisfaction is proper mentorship, but many faculty, particularly women and those from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds, lack clear access to high quality mentoring. To address this, the Office of Faculty Affairs at University of California San Diego Health Sciences developed a formal Faculty Mentor Training Program (FMTP), which they hope other universities will be inspired to replicate.

In a paper published online on December 23, 2021 in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Science, FMTP leadership detailed the program’s design and success in improving mentorship quality and satisfaction, especially among underrepresented faculty.

“Our goal was to create an opportunity for all faculty to receive high quality and effective mentorship,” said study first author JoAnn Trejo, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Pharmacology at UC San Diego School of Medicine and assistant vice chancellor for UC San Diego Health Sciences Faculty Affairs. “This has never been done before in a health system-wide fashion, but now that we’ve developed and tested this approach, it can be applied to any medical school in the nation.”

Trejo and her colleagues set out to establish an evidence-based mentorship program that all faculty, including physicians, researchers and educators, would have access to. They especially hoped this would help address disparities in mentoring of women, LGBTQ and other underrepresented faculty.

Trejo says hiring diverse faculty is only the first step, but making them feel welcomed and a sense of belonging in the community is what really impacts their success.

“Good mentoring involves being able to connect with a person in an authentic way and trust that they have your best interest in mind,” said Trejo. “Those sorts of relationships may not be as easy to establish when there are cultural differences between the mentor and mentee. So if you leave mentorship to happen by chance, as we often do, underrepresented individuals find fewer opportunities to be mentored by senior faculty, and the quality of their mentorship is not as high.”

FMTP has now trained 23 percent of all Health Sciences faculty between 2017 and 2020, and shows no signs of slowing down. Senior faculty mentors receive training in effective communication, promoting and addressing equity and inclusion, and later develop their own mentoring philosophy statements. Junior faculty mentees learn how to maximize their mentoring relationships and are encouraged to establish a career development plan. Senior and junior faculty are then matched within their departments based in part on clinical and research interests.

Following this three-year pilot of the program, data now reveal how the trainings have influenced the culture at UC San Diego Health Sciences. FMTP participants were significantly more satisfied with the quality of mentoring received compared to non-participants, with the greatest increase in satisfaction reported by underrepresented faculty (from 38 percent satisfied in 2017 to 61 percent in 2019). Underrepresented faculty also reported an improved morale and a greater sense that their environment was supportive for underrepresented faculty.

The surveys also suggested some areas for continued improvement. While senior faculty reported feeling more confident in their ability to mentor women, LGBTQ and underrepresented faculty, they were still not sure if they were meeting these mentees’ expectations. Future plans for FMTP now include additional sessions focused on culturally aware mentorship.

Since many of the mentoring taught by FMTP are universally applicable, Trejo believes it will continue to have impact not only on the faculty, but also on all of their mentees, including medical students, residents, fellows, graduate students and postdocs.

“We’re very excited about what we’ve learned and accomplished so far,” said Trejo. “I’m astounded by the unique ways each department has successfully implemented formal mentorship, and we look forward to helping the program grow and expand at UC San Diego Health Sciences and beyond.”

Co-authors include Deborah Wingard, Virginia Hazen, Alexandra Bortnick, Karen Van Hoesen and Vivian Reznik, all at UC San Diego, as well as Angela Byars-Winston and Christine Pfund at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

More information:
JoAnn Trejo et al, A System-Wide Health Sciences Faculty Mentor Training Program Is Associated with Improved Effective Mentoring and Institutional Climate, Journal of Clinical and Translational Science (2021). DOI: 10.1017/cts.2021.883

Faculty mentor training program strengthens university’s in

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Hexbyte Glen Cove A new approach to enterprise risk management

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

While some organizations can respond to unexpected events, which can span from disruptive technologies and intensified competition to extreme weather events and climate related disasters, most of them cannot, and have a challenging time. So, how do we deal effectively with an increasingly complex and uncertain world?

Faced with uncertain and unpredictable business conditions that regularly trigger major corporate scandals, there has been increased focus on risk governance and reporting driven by public expectations, regulatory requirements, and corporate law initiatives.

In support of this, various professional associations and public policymakers recommend adoption of Enterprise Risk Management (ERM)—notably the COSO and ISO 31000 frameworks. The ERM guidelines and standards can be valuable in helping companies identify and deal proactively with risks—and opportunities.

However, is this sufficient to deal with complex and risky international business contexts? These essential issues are explored in a new ground-breaking research article published in Long Range Planning.

Based on unique survey data from among the 500 largest companies in Denmark, the new research study from Copenhagen Business School investigates the effects of adopting ERM frameworks. And, as something new, the study analyzes risk management performance in conjunction with internal strategic decision-making processes.

“This is the first study of its kind to provide a more complete organizational picture of the risk management effects. We find that pursuit of basic strategy-making efforts is fundamental to gain positive effects from adoption of formal risk management practices,” says Professor Torben Juul Andersen from the Department of International Economics, Government and Business at Copenhagen Business School.

Effective ways to deal with risk

The findings show that it takes more than implementing formal ERM frameworks to deal with uncertain global conditions—it takes a broader organizational engagement. The research suggests that corporate leaders and public policymakers should engage in deeper thinking about more effective ways to deal with the impending risks of our time that are girded with many uncertainties and unknown factors.

“When actual developments take us by surprise and organizational decision-makers must deal with influences from unexpected events—like pandemics and climate effects—formal control-based guidelines and practices are insufficient. They are convenient and make us feel safe but provide a false sense of security,” says Professor Andersen.

The study argues that future solutions need a combination of fast responses with ongoing assessments of developments and viable solutions. “Companies that enable local responses and engage in strategic planning to assess sudden events perform significantly better compared to companies that only adopt formal ERM frameworks,” adds Professor Andersen.

Positive performance outcomes

The research found that adhering to the principles of ERM is linked to positive performance outcomes, but these effects are substantially enforced by decentralized responses and central strategic considerations.

“Hence, it is not sufficient to adopt formal risk management practices to deal with impending risk events. Instead, the ability to deal effectively with uncertain and unknown conditions hinges on local responses and ongoing strategic analyses,” says Professor Andersen.

The study urges policymakers to think actively about how to deal with emergent risk situations, the most significant of which will exceed prior expectations and imagined scenarios. “The only way to find new viable solutions is by experimenting—or acting fast through local responses that may point the way towards an adapted strategic direction,” he adds.

“There is a need for more versatile risk responses to with and the unknown conditions of the evolving future where formal control-based approaches actually may curtail the ability to create innovative solutions,” Professor Andersen concludes.

More information:
Torben Juul Andersen et al, Conjoint effects of interacting strategy-making processes and lines of defense practices in strategic Risk Management: An empirical study, Long Range Planning (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.lrp.2021.102164

Provided by
Copenhagen Business School

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Study finds gender bias in language prevalent, even for language experts

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Gender bias has not changed in more than 20 years, even by language experts who are aware of the potential dangers of such prejudices, according to a study coauthored by Rutgers University-New Brunswick that examined textbooks used to teach undergraduates studying the scientific structure of language.

“There is a pressing need to revisit to prevent the perpetuation of implicit biases,” said study co-author Kristen Syrett, an associate professor and undergraduate program director in the Department of Linguistics at Rutgers. “A move toward more inclusive is urgent not just for linguists for the benefit of our field but more generally in a broader social context.”

The study, published in the journal Language, looked at six textbooks published between 2005 and 2017 to determine if the selection and placement of words conveying a gender bias was similar to that seen in a study researchers had done more than 20 years ago.

What linguists—who study the structure of sentences to investigate —found is that nothing has changed since the first study was done in 1997.

According to the data, male protagonists occurred almost twice as often as females in the textbooks and appeared in more prominent roles in stories or examples. Men were more likely to be portrayed as having stable occupations like a doctor or professor, handling books and spreading violence, whereas women were more likely to exhibit emotions, especially negative ones such as anger or unhappiness.

In the study, female-gendered arguments were more likely to be associated with physical (59.4 percent versus 54.3 percent) and emotional activities (17.3 percent versus 15.9 percent), while male-gendered arguments were associated with intellectual activities (11.9 percent versus 7.2 percent).

The findings suggest the pattern has continued to be prevalent in linguistics for decades, implicitly communicating an ingrained bias against women to undergraduate students who are learning about the study of language as a science.

The researchers say gender-inclusive content will open the doors for a more diverse body of linguists.

“The effects of gendered, sexist language pervasive among educators and media are not only observed in higher education. They are also documented in children as young as preschool and early elementary age,” said Syrett. “A first step is to increase the number of examples with female, non-binary and gender-fluid protagonists and to remove stereotypical representations of all identities. It is crucial to accompany these changes with processes aiming to remove structural barriers supporting gender inequalities and others that go beyond the gender sphere.”

The study’s coauthors included researchers from Stony Brook University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Toronto.

More information:
Paola Cépeda et al, Gender bias in linguistics textbooks: Has anything changed since Macaulay & Brice 1997?, Language (2021). DOI: 10.1353/lan.2021.0061

Study finds gender bias in language prevalent, even for language experts (2022, January 11)
retrieved 12 January 2022
from https://phys.org/news/2022-01-gender-bias-language-pr

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