Dear Faculty and Staff,
As the fall 2013 semester pushes into the last weeks, I'd like to take a moment to present our newest faculty and staff who have joined the college this fall. This year, we are pleased to welcome these additions to the CNSM faculty:
These new faculty members bring research strengths to our college that complement existing research and provide opportunities for collaboration. In addition, they increase the breadth and depth of research-based learning to support our students as they pursue their education in math and the sciences.
As the faculty members of the college well know, their research pursuits benefit both the students in the lab and in the classroom. Our students take the skills they build in their class labs and their faculty-mentored research into the work place as highly employable graduates. An opportunity to see the results of our students’ work happens every fall at the annual Student Research Symposium. This year’s symposium was held on Friday, September 13, 2013, in the University Student Union. Students who had spent their summer or part of the past year conducting research with CNSM faculty members presented posters of their work. A review of this year’s symposium is included in this edition. Looking forward, please encourage your students to consider presenting their research data in the CSULB Student Research Competition in February.
Our college has been fortunate to have hired several new staff members this year. In Biological Sciences, Lynda Stassi and Noah Kelly are the new team in the front office that is providing much needed support for the department. In Chemistry and Biochemistry, Cynthia Ybarra is a welcome return to the Issue Room. Amber Parker has just recently joined Irene Howard in the Physics and Astronomy Department Office. The Science Shop has increased its service with the addition of Joseph Hoffman. The CNSM Advising Center has added two new advisors, Ana Zavala and Lizett Bobadilla. Additionally, this issue of Highlights features one of our newer staff members, Suellen Jacob, the Biology Vertebrate Technician and the work she is doing with the department's collections.
Our students' success in their classes and their research is due in no small part to the efforts being made across the college by both faculty and staff to support and engage our students. Please accept my thanks to all of you who work with the students and help them achieve their goals and successes. The excellence we achieve in this college is because of you.
Best wishes during this very busy and productive time of the Fall semester.
Laura Kingsford, Ph.D.
Dean, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
California State University, Long Beach
Department of Mathematics and Statistics
Lurking in the environment around us are many hazards to our health. They may be chemical or biological and most often are present in small quantities that pose no threat. However, when a hazard – or several together – becomes elevated enough in a given environmental circumstance, it may cause sickness. Some of the factors determining whether disease commences include the degree to which the hazard is present in our environment, the extent to which our bodies are exposed to the hazard, and the physiological pathway(s) leading from exposure to effects. However, the concern still comes down to an overall question: at what concentrations will different environmental hazards ultimately lead to sickness in people?
How much of a pathogenic virus or a chemical toxicant will make you sick? If food in a restaurant is contaminated with a bacterial pathogen, how many of the bacteria in a given dish will "tip the balance" in your body and result in food poisoning? If your water or air contains chemical pollutants, how much exposure will result in illness? Furthermore, to what extent are these impacts different in you as compared with others? For Professor Hojin Moon, these are the questions that challenge him as he develops new predictive statistical models to address such issues. To the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other agencies, his kind of applied statistics can provide critical tools that help them to limit unnecessary spreads of diseases and enable more effective management of public health. "Risk assessment" emphasizes the risks associated with low-exposure levels. "Safety assessment" emphasizes setting exposure levels that carry low or minimal risk. Important to either approach is the need for dose-response models from which risk can be estimated.
Food safety is a major issue in the modern era, particularly in a culture in which fast foods and prepared foods are highly popular and heavily consumed. The CDC estimates that in a given year, there are 48 million illnesses, 130,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths in the United States directly due to foodborne pathogens (CDC, 2011). Examples of the most common pathogens domestically that cause foodborne illnesses are illustrated in Figure 1. Each of us has most likely experienced the effects of these pathogens several times in our lives.
In order to control diseases caused by microbial contaminants in food, it is important to understand the dose-response relationships between exposure to particular pathogens and the health effects observed. From a health management perspective, a principal objective in this is to determine, as accurately as possible, the lowest "infectious dose" (ID) for each pathogen of concern. However, it is very difficult to obtain such data on humans for low levels of microbial contamination. To circumvent this problem, a key approach taken by Dr. Moon and his colleagues has been to develop mathematical models based upon the more available and definitive data (on humans or animals) from exposure to higher levels (doses) of microbial contamination. These models are aimed at effectively extrapolating low-dose effects from high-dose data, in order to establish exposure limits, also referred to as "benchmark doses".
In microbial risk assessment, IDp levels are defined as a dose estimate that is expected to cause a response (infection, illness) at a predetermined risk level, p. Therefore, IDp levels of 0.01 = p = 0.1 represent risk levels in the range of 1-10%. While a number of dose-response models can provide a reasonably good fit to data derived from experimental (higher) dose ranges, they often yield very different ID estimates in the low-dose range (this is referred to as model uncertainty). Dr. Moon's research team has been pursuing a potential solution to this problem by developing "model averaging" methods that can be used to establish dose-response models that more accurately estimate ID. While research groups from around the world have pursued model averaging approaches, newly published work by Dr. Moon proposes a novel method to estimate the lower confidence limit (LCL) for an ID that takes into consideration model uncertainty, as well as data uncertainty. The ID is estimated using a weighted average of effective dose (ED) estimates from dose-response models, and calculating the variance of the ID estimate with separate components for model uncertainty and data uncertainty using a bootstrap method. A recent paper by Moon et al. (2013) tested this method using Monte Carlo simulations, which indicated that their approach provides a useful and efficient tool for accurate calculations of lower confidence limits on IDs. In another recent paper published by Dr. Moon, with lead author and graduate student Steven Kim, a diversity index (DI) was proposed that provides modelers some parameters (based upon goodness-of-fit and divergence among a set of parsimonious models) that are useful for selecting dose-response models that will improve model averaging results (Kim et al., 2013). These two aforementioned articles are two of the most recent papers among 17 peer-reviewed articles and two book chapters published since Dr. Moon joined the faculty in 2007.
Prior to arriving at CSULB, Dr. Moon was a Mathematical Statistician at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For more than five years, he worked in the FDA's National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) in the Division of Biometry and Risk Assessment (DBRA), and undertook research on statistical models and methods for toxicology and risk assessment, developing classification algorithms for biomedical decision-making. Prior to his stint at the FDA, Dr. Moon was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas' M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Moon received Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Hanyang University in South Korea, followed by a second Master's degree from the Florida Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. degree in Statistics from the State University of New York, Stony Brook. His academic background led him to three principal areas of research that he pursues today. In addition to his interests in risk assessment as described earlier, Dr. Moon conducts research in toxicogenetics and in biomedical decision making. In all three areas, "personalized medicine" (PM) is an underlying theme. PM refers to a system of customized patient healthcare, wherein medical decisions, practices and/or products are tailored to each individual patient and to her/his genetic background. At present, PM is in its infancy, but it is poised to be a major emphasis in the future of medicine.
The objective of Dr. Moon's toxicogenetics research is to understand how a person's individual genetics can influence her/his cytotoxic response to toxic chemical exposures. In one line of studies, Dr. Moon is building predictive statistical models of cytotoxicity based upon data from in vitro studies in which lymphoblastoid cells derived from 884 different patients have been exposed to 156 environmental toxicants and drugs. He is modeling inter-individual variability in cytotoxicity based on genomic profiles, in order to predict cytotoxicity in individuals. He is also evaluating population-level parameters of cytotoxicity across different types of chemical compounds based upon their structural attributes, in order to predict median cytotoxicity and mean variance in toxicity for different kinds of compounds.
Dr. Moon's research in biomedical decision making involves a close partnership with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock and is aimed at improving medical therapeutic strategies based upon a given individual's risk factors (related to genetic background) and a given disease's characteristics. Working with the research group of Dr. Ralph Kodell at UAMS, Dr. Moon is characterizing high-dimensional predictive genomic biomarkers for their potential use in optimizing individual patient treatments, and they are developing novel statistical decision-making algorithms based upon this work. The overall effort is aimed at advancing specific PM therapies that take into account population heterogeneity and which may eventually replace the "one-size-fits-all" approaches that we see today. In the future of PM, the use of chemotherapy drugs to treat cancer, which have varied efficacy and toxic side-effects across patients, will be considered "stone age medicine" that didn't tune in to the differing genetic backgrounds of each patient.
Figure 1A: Norovirus is a genus of single-stranded RNA, non-enveloped viruses that cause the “stomach flu”. Symptoms of infection include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Noroviruses are extremely contagious (fewer than twenty virus particles can cause an infection) and are easily transmitted by ingesting contaminated food or water, by person-to-person contact, and even via aerosolized viruses (after vomiting or toilet flushing of vomit).
Image is an electron micrograph of Norovirus particles (image credit: Centers for Disease Control).
Figure 1B: Salmonella bacterial infections cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps for up to 72 hours after infection, and illness can last up to 7 days in some patients. Salmonella is commonly transmitted by food contaminated with animal feces. Contaminated foods include beef, poultry, milk, and eggs, as well as tainted fruits and vegetables. Since the 1990s, 45 Salmonella outbreaks have been linked to poultry.
Image is a color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph of Salmonella typhimurium invading cultured human cells (credit: Illinois Department of Health).
Figure 1C: Although most strains of Escherichia coli bacteria (E. coli) are harmless, some strains cause diarrhea while others may cause urinary tract infections, or respiratory illness including pneumonia. E. coli strain O157 (shown above) causes sickness by synthesizing Shiga toxin, which results in severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), and vomiting. Most people get better within 5–7 days. E. coli O157 is transmitted by contaminated food or water, or by oral contact with contaminated surfaces; it is highly virulent, with less than 10-100 sufficient to cause infection. Sources of infection included undercooked ground beef, unpasteurized milk and juices, raw produce, contact with infected live animals (it is common in cows), and swimming in contaminated lakes or pools.
Image shows Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157 (credit: Centers for Disease Control).
On Friday, September 13, 2013, the Annual CNSM Student Research Symposium was held in the University Student Union ballrooms. 78 Graduate and undergraduate students from CSULB and students from Cerritos and Long Beach City College presented 64 posters reporting the results and progress of research conducted at CSULB or other universities during summer research experiences. Student research was supported by the following programs: Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC U*STAR), Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE), Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LS-AMP), Bridges to the Baccalaureate, Amgen Scholars, HSI-STEM Grant, departmental support, and other grants.
The symposium was attended by 280 members of the campus community, including faculty, staff, students, and other guests. The attendees were treated to a showcase of both graduate and undergraduate student accomplishment with the support of faculty-mentored research. Presented research results and research progress ranged across a diversity of topics, including amongst others:
Student presenters indicated that they would continue to use their results by publishing papers, and in application to graduate schools in the health professions or research.
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Jason Schwans, Ph.D., originally hails from Sioux Falls, South Dakota and he claims that the climate is "slightly" different than southern California. After completing a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry and Music (cum laude) at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, he ventured to graduate school in Chicago where he completed both his M.S. and his Ph.D. in Chemistry. Seeking a change from locales that are very cold in the winter, he ventured to the Bay Area as a postdoc and was especially delighted to venture further south to CSULB in August 2012.
When not participating in science related activities, Jason pursued his avid interest in music. While working on his dual major in chemistry and music, his performance instrument was the saxophone. He has always had a great time in wind ensemble, jazz band, and various other performance organizations. Studying science in graduate school and beyond has left little time for performance, but he continues to listen and read about music. Collecting vinyl turned into a passion with a particular interest and focus in classical music and he now has a collection that numbers in the thousands. He also enjoys attending live performances and has been to the Met in New York and numerous performances in San Francisco including the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony. Now that he lives in southern California he looks forward to attending some of the wealth of fine performances offered here.
In addition to music, Jason enjoys spending time outdoors and has started to explore parks and trails throughout Long Beach and neighboring communities. As one who is relatively new to the Long Beach and Los Angeles area, he says he is in adventure mode when he sets out to explore nearby places and discovering what makes this area so exciting and a great place to live.
Vertebrate Museum Manager
Department of Biological Sciences
In January 2013, the Department of Biological Sciences hired Suellen Jacob to be the Vertebrate Museum Manger. As the new keeper of the vertebrate collections, Suellen takes her task of looking after them very seriously. Pausing in the task of identifying a butterfly fish by counting the spines in its dorsal fin, she says that as a child she was "attracted to dead things," and would collect bones and other animal artifacts whenever she could to study them later. Despite the seeming preoccupation with animal morbidity, Suellen's fascination is not really with dead animals, but rather with the opportunity to study animal structures and how they fit into their habitat. With this passion as a guide, she drew animals and developed her drawing skills throughout her childhood as her family moved around the world following her parents' trail of jobs in academia. Suellen was born in Pomona, California, and when she was around eight, she moved with her family first Toronto, and then to Arizona. She returned to Toronto where she developed her musical talents with the violin and remembers fondly its excellent mass transit system. Her family then moved to Italy for a brief period, to Davis in northern California, and finally on to Texas near Dallas.
Suellen began her college study as an art major at Furman University in South Carolina where she often found herself at odds with some of her instructors due to her persistence about drawing animals in her work as much as possible. Because it looked like fun, she took a biology field trip class and found herself enthralled with the discipline. Enrolling in as many biology classes as she could, she managed to complete her bachelor's degree with a double major in art and biology. As a participant in field classes at Furman, she was introduced to natural history collections and the importance of the data associated with them. She also gained experience with digitizing data and database work. While making museum specimen and studying biological structures, Suellen also kept drawing. When she held her senior art show, most of her work was bought by faculty in the biology department.
After completing her bachelor's degree, Suellen enrolled in the Master in Biology at the University of Cincinnati, where her study focused on mammals. Along with her study in mouse foraging behavior, she volunteered to work with collections at the Cincinnati Museum Center. When she completed her master's, she took a temporary field job in New York where she says she trapped mice in the woods and recorded data about them. Her real passion, though, lay in collections, and when she heard about the opening to work with the CSULB collections, she applied.
As the Vertebrate Museum Manager, Suellen supports the teaching in the department by providing the specimen used by faculty in teaching their labs. In addition, she also curates the department's museum-quality collections, which consist of mammals, birds, and fish. The collections hold an important place in the department's curriculum and research. The guiding principle for keeping collections in the department is captured in a statement made by the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections: "Our ability to understand the natural world depends on the collection, preservation, and ongoing study of natural history specimens." This philosophy underpins of one of the department's core teaching tenets: the value of hands-on learning. Collections provide the most benefit when they are accessible to students (the teaching collections) and the research community (museum collections). An important component of keeping collections is to improve accessibility by making the information digitally available. Suellen is spearheading the effort to digitize the collections in the department, including the invertebrates (insects and diatoms) that are maintained by entomologist professor Dessie Underwood.
Many of the specimen in the department's collections have been collected by department faculty. One of Suellen's first tasks has been to identify previously unlabeled collection items, and to ensure that they are stored in proper conditions following their move into the Hall of Science. She has nearly completed recording an array of previously unidentified animals' taxonomy so that identification could be made. Suellen is keenly aware that collections are a significant source of information about a local area and that its value increases when it can be shared. To that end, digitizing collection data will increase access to both students and researchers. Under her direction, the mammal and ornithology collections will be digitized. At this time, the herpetology collection will not be included in the digitizing project; few have data and so they are strictly a teaching collection. The fish collection is being cataloged to ready to begin digitizing. The bird and mammal collections are both cataloged and labeled very well. Since the invertebrate collections are ready to be digitized, Suellen is currently working with Dessie to create a relational database that will make them available through the CNSM website. Her enthusiasm for establishing an electronic record of the Department of Biological Sciences collections is helping to preserve knowledge of locally collected specimen and adds value to the research community.