Did you know? Twelve amazing UB discoveries from 2014

Two petri dishes, one with the UB logo glowing in fiery colors.

Tiny capsules called nanoballoons “fire,” releasing their contents when they’re hit by light. In mice, these devices have been used to transport cancer drugs directly to tumors. This research by UB engineer Jonathan Lovell is among UB discoveries reported widely in 2014. Credit: Jonathan Lovell

UB researchers made headlines around the world this year with studies on coffee, climate change, babies’ eating habits and more

Release Date: December 31, 2014 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. — We helped sequence the coffee genome. We found that Ebola has ancient evolutionary roots. We discovered that the expansion of opportunities to gamble doesn’t necessarily mean that more people will gamble.

This year, UB researchers published studies that caught the attention of news outlets worldwide, from NPR to The New York Times.

Some of the findings reflect the wonders of basic science: They are improving our understanding of how the world around us works, giving us knowledge we never had before. Others could change or save lives in the near future. Enjoy.

DNA of Coffee

With colleagues, UB biologist Victor Albert sequenced the genome of the coffee species Coffea canephora. The research could help farmers breed plants that are better able to survive drought and disease. The project also sheds light on the history of caffeine, finding that this economically valuable substance evolved independently in coffee and tea.

As featured in The Boston Globe's Brainiac blog and The New York Times.

Ebola's family history

Ebola particles (blue) and an infected cell (yellow-green). Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, via CDC

In another biology finding, a UB team led by Professor Derek J. Taylor traced Ebola’s evolutionary roots back to ancient times. Experts once thought that known filoviruses — the family to which Ebola belongs — came into being some 10,000 years ago.  The new study pushes the family’s age back to the time when great apes arose.

As featured in National Geographic’s Phenomena science salon and The New York Times.

Mini cancer-fighters

Balloon-like structures.

A nanoballoon before (left) and after (right) being hit by a laser. The laser causes the balloon to pop open and release cancer drugs. Credit: Jonathan Lovell

Tiny capsules called nanoballoons can pack an awesome punch. In a new study, UB biomedical engineer Jonathan Lovell reported that these diminutive devices could be used to deliver cancer drugs directly to cancer cells. Doctors would inject the nanoballoons into patients’ bloodstream, then pop them open with a harmless laser light at the site of a tumor. This set-up would reduce the side effects of chemotherapy by limiting the drugs’ contact with healthy tissue.

As featured in Fox News and the National Institutes of Health director’s blog.

Looking inside the gut

A rainbow of colors on a black background.

Nanojuice and photoacoustic tomography illuminate the intestine of a mouse. Credit: Jonathan Lovell

In a separate development, Lovell and colleagues created “nanojuice” that doctors could one day use to see inside the small intestine. The juice houses nanoscopic particles containing colorful dyes. After patients drink it, doctors would strike the particles with a laser light to provide a real-time view of the gut.

As featured in Fast Company and Voice of America.

A computer that spots deception

A man's face with one eyebrow raised. This image may not be reused.

It sounds like something out of a sci-fi flick, but it’s real: With colleagues, UB communication professor Mark Frank found that a computer system did better than humans at recognizing fake expressions of pain. Such systems could be used to better read people in a variety of settings, including health care and security.

As featured in WBFO and Tech Times.

Rats gone cold turkey

An illustration of neurons connecting with one another. This image may not be reused.

Binge-drinking rats lost their taste for alcohol when scientists prompted the animals’ brains to release a chemical called dopamine in a specific pattern. “The rats just flat out stopped drinking,” said researcher Caroline Bass in UB’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. The findings suggest it may be possible to use gene therapy in the brain to treat substance abuse.

As featured in CNET and Wired UK.

What babies eat

A baby eating from a spoon. This image may not be reused.

UB pediatrics researcher Xiaozhong Wen led a project to examine the eating patterns of U.S. infants at 6 months and 12 months old — critical ages for the development of lifelong food preferences. The research found that babies’ diets varied according to Mom’s socioeconomic background, with notable differences between children from families with high and low incomes.

As featured in The Washington Post Wonkblog, MSNBC and The Buffalo News.

Keeping the pounds off tots

Researcher Teresa Quattrin is a pediatrics expert at UB and Women and Children's Hospital of Buffalo. Credit: Douglas Levere

In a study, researchers had more success in treating obese and overweight preschoolers in primary care when an overweight parent was also treated. “Our results show that the traditional approach … focusing only on the child is obsolete,” said researcher Teresa Quattrin, a pediatrics expert at UB and Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo.

As featured in The Buffalo News and Newsday.

Video games and moral sensitivity

Researcher Matthew Grizzard is in UB's Department of Communication. Credit: Douglas Levere

Heinous behavior played out in a virtual environment can lead to players’ increased moral sensitivity toward the moral codes they violated. That’s a surprising finding from the research of Matthew Grizzard in the communication department, who published a study titled, “Being Bad in a Video Game Can Make Us More Morally Sensitive.”

As featured in Consumer Affairs and New York Magazine.

Sea level rise, illuminated

In December, UB geologist Beata Csatho and colleagues published a study providing the clearest picture yet of how the Greenland Ice Sheet is changing. The research suggests that scientists may be underestimating how quickly Greenland could lose ice and contribute to sea level rise worldwide in the near future.

As featured in NPR Morning Edition, The Los Angeles Times and NBC News.

Problem gambling surprise

John Welte of UB's Research Institute on Addictions. Credit: Douglas Levere

Despite the rise of online gaming and an increase in the number of casinos, rates of problem gambling remained steady in the U.S. over the past decade. This counterintuitive finding comes from a study led by UB’s Research Institute on Addictions. The result may have something to do with the economic downturn, says scientist John Welte.

As featured in the Christian Science Monitor.

More weed, less domestic violence

A hand holding a marijuana cigarette. This image may not be reused.

A study of 634 couples found that the more often they smoked marijuana, the less likely they were to engage in domestic violence. The research, done by investigators in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions and Research Institute on Addicitions, looked at behavior over the first nine years of marriage.

As featured in The Washington Post Wonkblog and in Salon.com.

Media Contact Information

Charlotte Hsu is a former staff writer in University Communications. To contact UB's media relations staff, email ub-news@buffalo.edu or visit our list of current university media contacts.