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Indiana University news tips from the AAAS 2009 annual meeting

Feb. 13, 2009

Four Indiana University Bloomington researchers are presenting at this year's annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago, Feb. 12-16. Descriptions of their talks as well as contact information are provided below.

"Quorum sensing" discoveries point to new disease treatment options
Many human disease agents rely on chemical communication systems to determine when it's time to attack. Indiana University Bloomington biologist Clay Fuqua is one of the leading experts on "quorum sensing," a communication process that enables bacterial pathogens to act cooperatively. In his presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, Fuqua will discuss major strides forward in this field, as well as the implications of those discoveries. Fuqua argues a better understanding of the chemical signals bacteria use to communicate with each other can enable physicians and scientists to promote beneficial bacterial species and stymie the bad ones. Astounding, Fuqua says, is that scientists have only identified a tiny fraction of all the chemical signals bacterial and other microbes use to communicate with each other. Already, these signal chemicals are being grouped into "languages" and "dialects." Fuqua is also the symposium's organizer.

"Signaling and Symbiosis," Friday, Feb. 13, 3:30-5:00 p.m., Hyatt Regency Chicago, Regency C

To speak with Fuqua, please contact David Bricker, University Communications, at 812-856-9035 or

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Biological, techno epidemics and their spread through complex networks
Indiana University School of Informatics Professor Alessandro Vespignani examines statistical features of complex networks that spread epidemics and the newly-developed mathematical tools in computational infrastructure now used to study biological and social contagion and their associated mobility networks. Uniquely affected by time, distance and language constraints, complex mobility networks -- be they biological or technological -- are a crucial component in understanding how epidemics are created and how contagions are facilitated. In this presentation Vespignani examines features of mobility networks and how they relate to the study of contagion models, from WiFi worms to bird flu epidemics. Vespignani began work in the IU School of Informatics complex systems group in 2004 and his research on epidemics is currently supported, in part, by a $1.2 million National Institutes of Health grant to develop a technological infrastructure called EpiC that will support the study of biological and social contagion.

"Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Large-Scale Human Networks," Friday, Feb. 13, 1:30-4:30 p.m., Hyatt Regency Chicago, Columbus Hall, Room GH

To speak with Vespignani, please call 812-856-1829 or e-mail

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Horizontal gene transfer is a crucial force in evolutionary history
While the origin of mitochondria and plastids seems like more of a one-time evolutionary oddity, new genomics data suggest many aspects of these 1.5-billion-year-old "endosymbiosis" events continue into the present day. Indiana University Bloomington biologist Jeffrey Palmer, an expert on horizontal gene transfer, will discuss the impact of the latest discoveries on our understanding of present species. For example, Palmer says, mitochondrial genomes have repeatedly been lost during eukaryotic evolution, with the resulting organelles barely recognizable as endosymbionts, and that eukaryotic symbioses have spread plastids and photosynthesis to the far corners of the eukaryotic world, leading to Russian Doll cells containing genes derived from up to a dozen different eukaryotic and endosymbiont genomes. Complex evolutionary forces are at work here, Palmer explains. New data strongly suggest a deep relationship between symbiosis and the transfer of genes from one species to another.

"Symbiosis as an Evolutionary Driver: Mergers of Cells and Genomes," Saturday, Feb. 14, 1:30-3:00 p.m., Hyatt Regency Chicago, Regency A

To speak with Palmer, please contact David Bricker, University Communications, at 812-856-9035 or

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Local action important in thwarting climate change
Climate change is a global phenomenon that requires a global response. But by focusing only on the level of global governance, we could miss out on benefits that could result from responding to the issue at individual, local, regional and national levels. Elinor Ostrom, IU's Arthur F. Bentley professor of political science and co-director of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, will argue for a polycentric approach to addressing climate change in her AAAS presentation. Her thesis: that developing effective nested institutions at multiple levels is one of the key challenges of the contemporary era. "The message is, 'let's not wait,'" Ostrom said. "Let's recognize we need global action, but let's get started doing a whole bunch of things, as we already have." Her presentation will consider examples such as a Berkeley, Calif., city initiative to help residents pay for installing solar panels; California's stringent state targets for air pollution; and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Consortium, made up of 10 northeastern states. Critics may argue that local and regional actions won't solve the climate change problem, she said, "but cumulatively, they're significant."

"Multilevel Governance for Mixed-Use Landscapes," Sunday, Feb. 15, 8:30-10:00 a.m. Hyatt Regency Chicago, Crystal B

To speak with Ostrom, please contact Jacqui Bauer at 812-855-0443 or