Disco Shorts

From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Summer 2016

Married couples are happier when they spend time together, according to a study by two researchers from the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota. While many studies have focused on the time parents spend with children, little is known about the effects of spouses spending time together and how they feel about it. Researchers Sarah Flood (Ph.D. ’09) and Katie Genadek (Ph.D. ’12) used individual-level data from 47,000 couples in the 2003–2010 American Time Use Survey, including the 2010 Well-Being Module, to look at how much time individuals spend with their spouse each day and the effect on their well-being. They found that individuals are nearly twice as happy when they’re with their spouse, and reported that their activities were more meaningful and less stressful. The research also showed that though it’s commonly thought that dual-earner couples spend less time together than single-earner couples, the difference is only 30 minutes more together per day on average. Parents of young children spend the least time together. The study was published in the October issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.

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Studies using “dirty mice” may help boost human immune system research, according to a study by University of Minnesota researchers. Researchers in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, curious about why standard lab mice don’t reflect important features of the adult human immune system, compared the immune systems of free-living mice—so-called “dirty mice” caught in barns or purchased in pet stores—to those of humans and found that the immune systems of dirty mice better mirrored human immune cell types and tissue distribution. “We wanted to know whether this is because lab animals are shielded from microbes that normal mice encounter in the wild,” says researcher Stephen Jameson, a professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology and member of the Center for Immunology. The study found that lab mice immune systems, in contrast to those of dirty mice, more closely resembled those of newborn humans. When lab mice were housed with dirty mice, their immune systems adapted to better mirror an adult human’s, a model that could provide an important addition to basic immunology research and diseases impacted by inflammation.

The study was published in the April issue of Nature.

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Agricultural waste can now be more effectively turned into a variety of useful products thanks to a new synthetic biopathway engineered by University of Minnesota researchers. The use of food to make inedible products has long been controversial because it affects food prices and supply. That’s why researchers have been seeking ways to use sustainable resources such as agricultural waste, including corn stover and orange peels, to make everyday products from spandex to chicken feed. For this study, researchers specifically looked at the process for using inedible biological byproducts (lignocellulosic biomass) to produce butanediol, which is currently used to make 1 billion pounds of spandex annually for clothing and home furnishings. The process could make possible the biomanufacturing of that amount of spandex each year. But researchers were most excited to discover that this sustainable pathway could be used to produce other products as well. “We found that this new platform could be used to convert agricultural waste to chemicals that can be used for many other products, ranging from chicken feed to flavor enhancers in food,” says lead researcher Kechun Zhang, a chemical engineering and materials science assistant professor in the College of Science and Engineering.

The paper was published in the February issue of the journal Nature Chemical Biology.

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Lithium battery material may harm key soil microorganisms, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin. Lithium ion batteries are used to power, among other things, portable electronics and electric and hybrid vehicles. But research coauthored by University of Minnesota chemist Christy Haynes suggests that the new nanoscale materials used in the batteries may cause environmental problems. For the study, researchers examined the effects of the compound nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC), a newer material manufactured in the form of nanoparticles that is being increasingly incorporated into lithium ion batteries, on the common soil and sediment bacterium Shewanella oneidensis. Known for its ability to convert metal ions to nutrients, the bacterium is ubiquitous worldwide, making it particularly relevant for study. Exposed to particles released by degrading NMC, the bacterium showed inhibited growth and respiration. But more research is needed, says Robert Hamers, the UW chemistry professor who led the study. “It is not reasonable to generalize the results from one bacterial strain to an entire ecosystem, but this may be the first ‘red flag’ that leads us to consider this more broadly.” Future studies will look at the effects of NMC on higher organisms.

The study was published in the January issue of the journal Chemistry of Materials.



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