University of Texas at Austin

In 1941, Esmond Snell, working with colleagues at the University of Texas, independently discovered and named folic acid, a B vitamin that today is recommended as a supplement for pregnant women to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. In collaboration with other colleagues, he also discovered the B vitamin pantothenic acid and two of the three coenzyme forms of vitamin B6, pyridoxal and pyridoxamine. His work on pyridoxal in lactic acid bacteria, which he proved to be essential for the catalysis of the major reactions involved in amino acid transformations, elucidated the analogous enzymatic pathways involving pyridoxal. “I consider him to be one of the top biochemists in the world from the 1940s on,” Lester Reed said. “He led the way in using bacteria to study metabolic processes, and that work was some of the best biochemistry and microbiology ever.”

In 1927, H. J. Muller found that X-rays could induce genetic mutations in fruit flies (and, of course, in other living things).  He won a Nobel Prize in 1946 for this work. He was teaching at Indiana University when he won the Nobel.  He became a great campaigner about the  genetic dangers of radiation, and his technique for inducing mutations became fundamental to later genetic research.

Linda Schele, a professor in Art and Art History, was among the pioneers in exploring  and interpreting Mayan hieroglyphics. Schele’s meticulous study of Maya hieroglyphics helped break their code and led to greater understanding of the culture. It led to revelations about kingship, royal court life, warfare, bloodletting, and historical chronology. As a professor at The University of Texas at Austin for 18 years, she trained a new generation of leaders in Maya scholarship, she lectured widely and taught scores of lay audiences how to read “glyphs,” and she conducted workshops in history and hieroglyphic writing for modern-day Maya living in Guatemala and the Yucatan.

Denise Schmandt-Besserat, research professor in the Department of Art and Art History, has published extensively on her discovery of when, where, and how writing was first developed. “Discoveries in the history of writing are rare, but Denise Schmandt-Besserat made one in realizing that phonetic writing in the West descends not from pictography, a view repeated everywhere, but from abstract, nonphonetic, mostly noniconographic accounting tokens used in Neolithic farming communities of the Near East beginning from about 8,000 B.C. This immediate precursor of the cuneiform script was a system of tokens–small clay counters of many shapes which served for counting and accounting for goods in the prehistoric cultures of the Near East.

Recent Discoveries
Joseph Beaman, engineering professor, and Carl Deckard, graduate student: desktop manufacturing, aka, selective laser sintering. In selective laser sintering, a directed laser beam is used to consolidate individual powder particles in selected regions. Compared to manual manufacturing methods, selective laser sintering is inherently fast. In addition, this process has the potential to produce accurate, structurally sound three-dimensional renditions of objects designed in a computer and to make such objects available to the user in minutes or hours. The benefits of this new process include greatly reduced prototyping cost and design time, and the capacity to achieve, in one operation, shapes that would otherwise require multiple operations or in some cases shapes impossible to manufacture with standard techniques.

David Smith (a former university undergraduate who is a graduate student at Harvard University) and two astronomers, Dr. John Scalo and Dr. J. Craig Wheeler  have calculated that jolts of radiation from space may affect biological and atmospheric evolution on planets in the solar system and those orbiting other stars.

Dr. Paul D. Gottlieb, director of the School of Biological Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. Scientists at The University of Texas at Austin and their colleagues at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have identified a gene crucial to the development of the heart. When defective, the gene could result in heart defects. The researchers said they have discovered that when a gene referred to as Bop is absent from a mouse embryo, the heart will not develop normally and the embryo dies.

Artie Hatzes of Thueringer Landessternwarte Tautenburg, Bill Cochran of The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory. Astronomers with The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory Planet Search project have discovered the first planet orbiting a star in a close-in binary star system. The discovery has implications for the number of possible planets in our galaxy because, unlike the Sun, most stars are in binary systems.

Hudson Matlock and Lyman Reese  formulated methods predicting underwater pile movements including pile bending and soil movements. They were thus able to develop criteria and procedures for pile foundation design and allow for durable offshore construction. This helped to drill oil wells in deep water.

Dr. Zhen Yao and Dr. Saiful I. Khondaker. Physicists at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a simple process for making tiny metallic electrodes that can test whether individual nanostructures have the right properties for use in future nanoelectronic applications. “This process consistently produces robust, stable electrodes with separations of less than 10 nanometers,” said Dr. Yao, noting that the technique to create the electrodes is done at room temperature using standard instruments, enhancing its potential for application in fundamental nanoelectronics research.

Dr. Camille Parmesan, an assistant professor of integrative biology. A biologist at The University of Texas at Austin has teamed up with an economist to provide the strongest statistical evidence yet that global warming is affecting the natural world. Even when the pair considered habitat destruction or other possible underlying causes for behavior changes in plants, animals and other wildlife, the analyses still pointed to global warming. “Allowing there to be nonclimatic explanations in the model requires the global climate change pattern to be stronger to stand out,” Parmesan said. “But even then, we still came up with the same overall conclusion—that these changes are linked to general global warming.”

Scientists have determined that a single gene’s activity is enough to cause changes in embryo cells that are needed to form a normal brain and spinal cord, an event whose disruption leads to birth defects such as spina bifida. Principal investigator John B. Wallingford from The University of Texas at Austin and his colleagues have determined that a gene called shroom initiates changes in the shape of a ribbon of embryonic cells called the neural plate. The gene produces a protein that they revealed causes neural plate cells to roll up into a tube that seals along the seam. This sealed tube develops into the brain and spinal cord. If the folding step or other steps in the process, called neural tube closure, fail to occur in the first month of pregnancy, a developing baby is aborted spontaneously or reaches term but has life-threatening spina bifida or anencephaly.

In Dec. 2002, Dr. Adron Harris’ lab in the neurobiology section of the School of Biological Sciences demonstrated that a single protein is the final target of many different drugs that produce pain relief, and that the protein likely is the key to differences in the way men and women respond to pain.

Dr. Hedy Edmonds from the Marine Science Institute published a Nature study that identified hydrothermal vents in the Arctic Ocean for the first time. The vents, whose temperatures can reach 350 degrees C, often harbor unusual microorganisms, and the ones in the Gakkel Ridge could very well be different from those in other oceans.

In Feb. 2003, Dr. Peter Thomas and colleagues from the Marine Science Institute identified a fast-acting steroid-response receptor in a fish, and used that to identify counterparts in humans and others animals that could be used to develop new fertility drugs and other advances. The findings come after more than 20 years of scientific effort to identify these receptors, which are thought to create changes inside cells in different ways than their slower-acting counterparts.

A system that delivers insulin to diabetics without using needles was developed by the College of Pharmacy at The University of Texas at Austin. Similar to an inhaler, the system is seeking approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The system includes a unique composition containing insulin in combination with a novel delivery route through the inside of the cheek called transmucosal delivery.  The device, which looks like an inhaler, is sprayed into the mouth — aiming at the cheek area — and the insulin is deposited on the buccal membrane. The research, conducted by Dr. Bill Williams, was funded by DelRx,  a subsidiary of MQS, Inc.

A pioneering drug discovery software which helps scientists find better drugs faster has been developed by Dr. Robert Pearlman, professor of pharmacy at The University of Texas at Austin.  His drug discovery software, designed to help scientists make better decisions about which compounds to synthesize and test, is used by pharmaceutical companies across the world.  The computer-assisted drug discovery software greatly improves the odds for drug discovery. This makes the drug development process more effective and predictable and ultimately means savings of both time and money.

The late Karl Folkers, professor of chemistry and adjunct professor of pharmacy and recipient of the Presidential National Medal of Science, is noted particularly for research on the early development of antibiotics, the isolation and synthesis of B vitamins, the isolation and characterization of crystalline vitamin B12, the structure and synthesis of coenzyme Q10, the structure and synthesis of the first hypothalamic hormone (thyrotropin), and on the use of vitamin and related substances in the treatment of diseases, particularly vitamin B6 and coenzyme Q.  His research group at the university developed an enzymatic assay for measuring vitamin B6 status in blood. At the same time, they identified the structure of and synthesized thyrotropin-releasing hormone from samples provided by collaborators at Tulane University. This collaboration expanded to other peptidic hormones and ultimately resulted in development of a number of inhibitors to luteinizing-releasing hormone (LHRH). Folkers and his group continued work on coenzyme Q, including the development of an improved laboratory assay for its measurement in blood and tissue and the study of its clinical uses.

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy discovered the first key in solving a major mystery in the fight against bacterial infections and cancer. Drs. Laurence Hurley and Sean Kerwin discovered the presence of a previously unknown complex created by the combination of bacterial DNA and two classes of drugs known as quinolones and quinobenzoxazines. Quinolones are a class of potent antibacterial agents while quinobenzoxazines are quinolone derivatives which have shown great promise in fighting cancer cells. Until their discovery, the precise mechanism of action has been unclear, therefore stumping scientists in their efforts to improve the effectiveness of the drugs and reduce side effects.  The model for the complex provides a new paradigm for structures of complexes of this type and at the same time provides critical new insight into the rational development of new, more effective antibiotics and anticancer agents.

In what is considered a significant step toward understanding how addiction to alcohol can occur, scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have discovered a mechanism linking a previously identified neuroprotein to the effects of alcohol on the brain. Richard Morrisett, an associate professor of pharmacology, and his research team at the Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research and the College of Pharmacy, have identified the involvement of the neuroprotein, DARPP-32, as a key element initiating ethanol addiction. DARPP-32 was identified by a Nobel laureate in the 1980s, but Morrisett’s research team is the first to establish a tie between DARPP-32 and the molecular mechanism within the brain that stimulates addiction to alcohol. Discovery of the link, he said, is the first step toward understanding the seemingly contradictory nature of alcohol effects that has stymied researchers.

Grant Willson et. al: Invention of Step and Flash Imprint Lithography
Engineering faculty at The University of Texas at Austin have created a process with the potential to make the smallest, fastest and cheapest computer chips.  Led by Dr. Grant Willson, professor of chemical engineering and chemistry at UT Austin, the engineering research team developed a radically different process for patterning semiconductor devices. Their new method uses simple molds and operates at the old-fashioned conditions of low pressure and room temperature.

Brent Iverson/George Georgiou:  Anthrax antibodies
Using modern laboratory techniques — Georgiou, Iverson and Jennifer Maynard, a then-doctoral candidate in chemical engineering — developed a strategy to interrupt the lethal process at the toxin delivery stage. In a series of laboratory tests conducted last summer, rats given the antibody survived 10 times a normally lethal dosage of anthrax toxin.

Jeff Bennighof: Invention of Automated Multilevel Substructuring algorithm and software for vibration analysis.
A powerful software package that may soon lead to quieter, more comfortable automobiles has been developed by University of Texas at Austin engineers and licensed to the world’s major automakers, says an aerospace professor who researched the problem of predicting noise and vibration in vehicles for more than a decade. Dr. Jeffrey Bennighof copyrighted the software, called Automated Multilevel Substructuring (AMLS), in 2000. By fiscal year 2002, it was the fifth-largest moneymaker among all technologies licensed through the university, bringing $303,950 in earnings to The University of Texas at Austin. “AMLS reduces enormously the time an engineer has to wait for complex vibration analysis jobs to finish,” he said. “Jobs that previously would have taken days in the job queue of a central supercomputer can finish in a matter of hours on a local workstation.”

Rebecca Richards-Kortum:  Cervical cancer detection
A new, painless cervical cancer detection method that uses a small fiber optic probe instead of a surgical knife will be made available to 1,800 women through a new grant to UT Austin and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. The $8.9 million grant to finance the clinical trial comes from the National Institutes of Health. The cancer-detecting laser probe was developed by Dr. Rebecca Richards-Kortum, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UT Austin’s department of biomedical engineering, and Dr. Michele Follen, a professor of gynecologic oncology at M.D. Anderson. Follen is leading the clinical trial to support U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the device. The probe is being made available to women in Houston. The device is intended to replace the colposcopy, a test that is used as a follow-up to the long-standing cervical cancer detection procedure known as the Pap smear. The colposcopy is used when the Pap smear indicates the possibility of cervical cancer, the second most common cancer in women worldwide.

Alan Lambowitz:  Gene therapy
Researchers at UT Austin have discovered a mechanism for targeting exact locations on strands of DNA that could greatly expand basic genetic research, open the door to new possibilities in genetic engineering and improve the ability to fight diseases — including cancer and HIV — on the genetic level. Their research centers on mechanisms called group II introns, which they believe may be ideal for delivering therapies that could disrupt rogue genes and enhance the activity of genes that fight or prevent infection. Their discoveries were published in the July 21 issue of the journal Science. Dr. Alan M. Lambowitz, director of UT Austin’s Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, and Dr. Huatao Guo, a postdoctoral researcher at the institute, are lead authors of the research. Dr. Bruce A. Sullenger, director of research for the Center for Genetic and Cellular Therapies at Duke University Medical Center, was a collaborator. Also contributing were Michael Karberg, a molecular biology graduate student at UT Austin, and Duke graduate students Meredith Long and J.P. Jones III.

Mark Estelle et al: Discovery of plant growth mechanism
Scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have discovered the mechanism by which a key hormone called auxin regulates the growth and development of plants by promoting the degradation of repressor proteins. The discovery could eventually allow scientists to manipulate plant growth in desirable ways. The researchers’ findings have been published in the Nov. 15 issue of the journal Nature. Geneticists Dr. William M. Gray, a postdoctoral fellow, and Dr. Mark Estelle, both with The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, wrote the paper along with Dr. Stefan Kepinski, Dr. Dean Rouse and Dr. Ottoline Leyser of the Department of Biology at the University of York. Estelle is the D. J. Sibley Centennial Professor in Plant Molecular Genetics. Gray is lead author of the paper. The auxin study was conducted on a plant called Arabidopsis, the first plant for which the entire genome has been sequenced. Previous studies had identified proteins involved in auxin’s regulation of many aspects of plant development. This is the first study to reveal how the mechanism actually works and to identify the specific complex of proteins that promotes degradation of the repressor proteins. Auxin is required for plant growth, stimulation of cell division and cell elongation. Among other things, auxin regulates lateral root formation and the direction in which plants grow, or gravitropism.

Malcom Brown et al:  Discovery of green algae that synthesizes cellulose
Cellulose in a new group of organisms may be a promising new resource for the industrial production of the substance and could eventually eliminate the need to harvest trees for wood or pulp, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin say. The discovery of cellulose biosynthesis in nine species of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, also may be the source of the genetic material used for cellulose biosynthesis in present-day plants such as trees and cotton. The findings of the researchers, who include David R. Nobles, Dr. Dwight K. Romanovicz and Dr. R. Malcolm Brown Jr., have been published in the October issue of Plant Physiology.

Joe Campbell:  Invented photodetector widely used in telecommunications
Dr. Joe C. Campbell, a professor of electrical engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, has been elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the highest honor earned in the engineering profession. Campbell is widely credited for having developed the modern-day detectors of laser light used in telephone and other telecommunication systems to receive voice and data over fiber optics. “Anytime you make a long distance phone call, you use a laser and our patented detector,” said Campbell, the Cockrell Family Regents Chair in Engineering No. 3. These devices are a type of photodetector, a semiconductor device that absorbs light pulses of laser and converts this optical information into complex electrical signals. The avalanche photodiodes are used in fiber optic long-distance telecommunications where information is transmitted for long distances as pulses of light. At the end of the transmission, the light must be changed back into electrical information. Campbell’s avalanche photodiodes are able to do this at high speeds with very little distortion or noise. Campbell is using the same concept to enhance computer speed by using optical transmission of data rather than slower electrical signals.

Mark Raizen:  Discovery of light guided nerve cell growth.
Scientists have discovered a way to direct the growth of nerve cells using a laser, which could one day provide a new avenue for treating spinal cord injuries or for connecting nerve cells for other purposes. Conceptual image of laser guidance: A neuron’s key internal skeletal components are highlighted in red and green, and the laser’s light is depicted at right. Actin molecules within the cell that permit growth are stained red. A neuron’s laser-guided growth, captured with superimposed images. The cell’s growth cone changes from its original position (in yellow) to its final position (in blue) after 20 minutes. By using low energy laser light placed at the edge of growing nerve cells (neurons), the investigators nudged neurons to extend their appendages in new directions. “Small proteins within the cell that participate in growth would be attracted to this light, and would start drifting in the light’s general direction,” said Dr. Mark G. Raizen, one of the leaders of the research and a physics professor at The University of Texas at Austin. The results will be published online next week by the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. Josef Käs from the University of Leipzig in Germany was a co-lead investigator for the research.

Dr. Leslie Jarmon
Published the first PhD dissertation in the world to be accepted only in CD-ROM format back in 1996, breaking the paper barrier — no paper version.  According to William E. Savage, director of academic relations at University Microfilms at the time, it was the first dissertation to be accepted and stored in this format.  I had tremendous support of Teresa Sullivan, then Dean of the Grqaduate School, and an array of technology innovators and scholars across campus.

Old version of the story:
The Chronicle of Higher Education 3/8/1996  “Universities Wonder Whether to Allow Dissertations on CD-ROM”