Glaciers and icebergs


Geoscientists at Rutgers—Ken Miller, Robert Kopp, Benjamin Horton, and James Browning—are predicting that the ocean off the coast of New Jersey will rise 1.5 feet by mid century and 3.5 feet by 2100, leading to flooding levels that will exceed those of Superstorm Sandy. Melting ice sheets and warming oceans are accelerating the trend.

Down in the Deep-Blue Sea

A new study recently published in Science and led in part by Yair Rosenthal reveals that the oceans are absorbing heat 15 times faster than at any time over the last 10,000 years. Although the ability of the seas to absorb heat may buy scientists and policymakers more time to address climate change, Rosenthal says the problem is real. “We may have underestimated the efficiency of the oceans as a storehouse for heat and energy, but it’s not going to stop climate change.”

Rosenthal, a professor of marine and coastal sciences at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and a professor of earth and planetary sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences, and his colleagues studied marine sediment collected from the water surrounding Indonesia, where the Pacific and Indian oceans overlap, to evaluate the heat content over the last 10,000 years. The researchers measured the ratio of magnesium to calcium in the shells of a species of foraminifera called Hyalinea balthica. Warmer waters when the organism calcified led to the formation of more magnesium. The researchers’ work showed that intermediate waters in the Pacific had been cooling steadily from about 10,000 years ago—until the recent uptick in temperature.

Meanwhile, activity on the surface of the ocean—namely rising sea levels—is not encouraging. Geosci­entists at Rutgers are predicting that the seas off the coast of New Jersey will rise 1.5 feet by mid century and 3.5 feet by 2100, leading to flooding levels that will exceed those of Superstorm Sandy. Ken Miller, Robert Kopp, Benjamin Horton, and James Browning GSNB’96, who are affiliated with the Rutgers Climate Institute, worked with Andrew Kemp of Tufts to base their predictions, in part, on the 2,500-year history of the waters off the coast of the mid-Atlantic states, demonstrating that sea levels have been rising a foot each century since the end of the last Ice Age. Melting ice sheets and warming oceans are accelerating these trends.
— Ken Branson

Stopping a Deadly Cancer

One of the more virulent forms of cancer to afflict women is ovarian cancer. Two professors at Rutgers, Tamara Minko of the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy and Lorna Rodriguez of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, believe an out-of-control protein, called CD44, allows tumors to proliferate and become resistant to conventional drug treatments. And because there is a lack of a good screening method to detect ovarian cancer, most women are diagnosed after the disease has metastasized to other organs, limiting the effective of surgery and chemotherapy. The five-year survival rate for patients with advanced-stage ovarian cancer is 30 percent.

“Once the ovarian cancer becomes drug resistant, we cannot cure it,” says Rodriguez, a gynecologic oncologist who provides treatment to ovarian-cancer patients and is director of the precision medicine initiative at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. “Circumventing the development of drug resistance is a reasonable approach and very much needed.”

The two scientists believe that they have developed a targeted drug-delivery system that could make ovarian cancer more treatable and increase survival rates for this most deadly of gynecological cancers in the United States. In a new study published in Clinical Cancer Research, Minko and Rodriguez provide results of animal research in which the cancer is attacked genetically by using small, inhibiting RNA molecules that target and decrease the excess CD44 protein in cancer cells while simultaneously treating patients with the anti-cancer drug paclitaxel. The twin approach allows cells within the cancerous tumors to be successfully treated, even at an advanced stage. Because the CD44 protein is expressed on the surface of many cancer stem cells, the ap­proach developed by the Rutgers scientists may help treat other cancers.

“We expect that the proposed treatment will be especially effective in advanced stages of ovarian cancers, where there are many cancer stem cells in the tumors that resist conventional drug treatment,” says Minko.
— Robin Lally

A Cause of Parkinson’s?

Two Rutgers professors have come to the conclusion that an organic compound commonly found in moldy environments—known as “mushroom alcohol”—could damage dopamine and cause symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease. In conducting experiments with fruit flies, Arati Inamdar and Joan Bennett, researchers at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, made the connection between the compound—1-octen-3-ol—and its role in attacking two genes that help package and transport dopamine, the chemical secreted by neurons to send messages to one another. The reaction of the fruit flies to mushroom alcohol was similar to their response to exposure to pesticides such as paraquat and rotetnone, commonly used in rural areas where Parkinson’s is on the rise—but where mold is common, too. Muhammad Hossein and Jason Richardson, of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, assisted in the study.
— Ken Branson

Getting High to Avoid the Lows

Refuting the commonly held assumption that addicts abuse drugs to reach euphoric highs, a new study indicates that the flip side of the coin may reveal the cause: substance abusers are just trying to avoid devastating emotional lows. In a study appearing online in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, Mark West, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the School of Arts and Sciences, working with doctoral student David Barker in the department’s graduate program in behavioral and systems neuroscience, discovered through their study of rats that the initial positive feelings of intoxication are fleeting and replaced by sustained negative emotional responses whenever drug levels begin to dip. The two researchers believe their findings may shed light on human addiction to alcohol, tobacco, and food.
— Robin Lally

The Celebrity Seal of Approval

When it comes to the public’s willingness to contribute to a charitable foundation, there is nothing quite like having a celebrity, like Jay Z and his Shawn Carter Foundation, as the public face of it. According to Erica Harris and Julie Ruth, faculty members at the School of Business–Camden and coauthors of the article The Relationship of Celebrity Affiliation to Nonprofit Contributions: A Donations Demand Model Assessment, people are more inclined to give to an organization associated with a well-known person, believing that the celebrity’s involvement, whether he or she endorses or established it, means that the foundation is efficiently run and the money is going to the intended recipients, not up in administrative smoke. Harris and Ruth evaluated the top 15 celebrity charities for efficiency, or the ratio of total costs to money spent on the actual mission of the organization. The leaders? Surfer Kelly Slater’s foundation, the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS foundation, Larry King’s cardiac foundation, the Jane Goodall Institute, Elton John’s AIDS foundation, and charities headed by Boomer Esiason, Andre Agassi, and Michael J. Fox.

Bewitched, Bugged, and Bewildered

Just when you thought the loathsome cockroach was something to deal with during the warm months, think again. A species that can withstand freezing temperatures has turned up in New York. According to Rutgers–Newark researchers Jessica Ware GSNB’08 and Dominic Evangelista NCAS’10, the species, Periplaneta japonica, has been prevalent in Asia but was never confirmed in the United States—that is, until Ware, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, and Evangelista, an evolutionary biologist in the Department of Biology, documented its presence in a study published by the Journal of Economic Entomology.

Ware and Evangelista suspect that ornamental plants found along the High Line development in Manhattan arrived in soil that contained the cockroach. Despite the species’ arrival, the Rutgers researchers believe there is no reason to believe fresh waves of cockroaches are imminent. Indeed, the cold-weather roach and the warm-weather roach may compete for resources and thus have less time and energy to reproduce.

Discouraging Repeat Offenders

Louis Tuthill, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Rutgers–Camden, has provided the research behind the Trenton Violence Reduction Strategy, a new program to reduce crime in the state’s capital by helping chronic offenders break the cycle of crime through participation in a comprehensive program of deterrence, ranging from family and community involvement to utilizing social services such as job training, counseling, and substance-abuse treatment.

“It really takes a holistic view of these offenders,” says Tuthill, “by taking into account not only those who are directly affected by their crimes, but also their communities and the fragile families that are left behind when they are incarcerated.”

Tuthill oversaw the research that was the basis for other deterrent policing strategies, such as Boston Ceasefire and Chicago CeaseFire. The three-year program was developed in collaboration with the Trenton Police Department and The College of New Jersey.

The Immigrant Experience

Popular perceptions to the contrary, the number of children in a family is not the leading cause for why so many immigrants are mired in poverty. According to Myungkook Joo, as assistant professor in the School of Social Work, other determinants, such as availability of jobs, level of parental education, and the dynamics of the family, are more telling explanations of its persistence. In his study, published in Social Service Review, Joo presents evidence that refutes claims that large immigrant families are putting the brakes on the American economy.

“Because the majority of children in immigrant families, including those in noncitizen families, are U.S. citizens by birth and are likely to remain here throughout their lives, investing in human capital and economic outcomes should be an important national agenda,” Joo says. The immigrant population doubled from 1990 to 2007 and is now 13 percent of the U.S. population. The number of immigrant children also roughly doubled, representing 82 percent of the increase in the nation’s population of children.
— Steve Manas