New Study Sheds Light on Ancient Microbial Dark Matter

New Study Sheds Light on Ancient Microbial Dark Matter

New Study Sheds Light on Ancient Microbial Dark Matter

March 21, 2023

Reno, Nev.

Shared with permission from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Omnitrophota
Microbial Dark Matter

Header Photo: Obsidian Pool in Yellowstone National Park. Credit: Bob Lindstrom. Photo in the Public Domain

DRI contributes to international team of scientists that unearths first in-depth look at Omnitrophota, one of the world’s oldest and tiniest bacteria 

DRI’s Duane Moser, Ph.D., is a coauthor on a new study in Nature Microbiology that offers the first detailed analysis of a globally prominent, but poorly characterized type of bacteria belonging to a group scientists refer to as “microbial dark matter.” Formally described here for the first time as the Omnitrophota, the existence of this phylum of bacteria was first inferred from environmental DNA nearly thirty years ago.    

This paper illuminates the properties and ecological function of a group of ubiquitous, but poorly understood organisms,” said Moser, associate research professor of microbiology.  

Moser’s contribution to the study included identifying field sites and collecting samples, as well as developing an understanding of environmental context. His long-standing research relationship with the lead authors of the study meant that collaborative projects over the years led to a number of useful datasets for the analysis.  

“The research community has followed the Omnitrophota story since the 1990s, when earlier groundbreaking studies that revealed unexpected diversity within Archaea at Obsidian Pool in Yellowstone National Park were expanded to include bacteria,” Moser says. “In those days, full genomes of uncultivable microorganisms were beyond the reach of available technologies, so a conserved gene that encodes an essential structure shared by all cellular life (the 16S rRNA gene) was used to identify novel life and estimate relatedness between organisms.” 

“What scientists found was so different from anything that had been described previously that scientists of the time proposed that Omnitrophota might be a novel phylum within Bacteria (the equivalent of the evolutionary difference between plants and animals). This interpretation has stood the test of time,” Moser continued.  

“Over the past several decades, Omnitrophota has been frequently encountered in aquatic and soil samples worldwide. In our own work in springs, mines, and shallow groundwaters, Omnitrophota have often been among the more prominent microbial groups detected. I sometimes wonder if the sheer abundance and evident diversity of this omnipresent group has intimidated researchers from tackling its formal description. This was an ambitious project that required the combined expertise of a strong team of collaborators.”   

Brian Hedlund, a microbiologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and lead author of the study, said “Duane’s knowledge of the geology and hydrology of subsurface environments — and how to sample them meaningfully — was really important for this study.” 

Below is the full press release from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.   

  

LAS VEGAS – March 16, 2023 – Bacteria are literally everywhere – in oceans, in soils, in extreme environments like hot springs, and even alongside and inside other organisms including humans. They’re nearly invisible, yet they play a big role in almost every facet of life on Earth.  

Despite their abundance, surprisingly little is known about many microorganisms that have existed for billions of years.  

This includes an entire lineage of nano-sized bacteria dubbed Omnitrophota. These bacteria, first discovered based on short fragments of DNA just 25 years ago, are common in many environments around the world but have been poorly understood. Until now.  

An international research team produced the first large-scale analysis of more than 400 newly sequenced and existing Omnitrophota genomes, uncovering new details about their biology and behavior. The team’s findings are reported in the March 16 issue of the journal Nature Microbiology 

“We now have the most comprehensive view to date of the biology of an entire phylum of microorganisms and the surprising role they play in the Earth’s ecosystems,” said UNLV microbiologist Brian Hedlund, the study’s corresponding author. “There is a finite number of major lineages of life on our planet, and it’s exciting to learn more about organisms that pre-date plants and animals and have been essentially hidden under our noses.”  

The tricky thing with Omnitrophota is that they’re still largely considered microbial dark matter, which means they exist in nature but can’t yet be cultivated as single species in lab studies. Just two species have been microscopically observed, and only very recently.  

To present a comprehensive picture of their biology, scientists compared 349 existing and 72 newly mapped genomes of Omnitrophota. This included a review of publicly available data and new samples collected from geothermal environments, freshwater lakes, wastewater, groundwater, and springs located around the world.   

The team observed that, in most cases, Omnitrophota measure less than 450 nanometers, which places them among the smallest of all known organisms. They also displayed genetic markers consistent with symbiosis – possibly as predators or parasites of other microorganisms, which suggested they would have high metabolic rates. Indeed, when isotope uptake was measured as a proxy for metabolic activity, Omnitrophota were hyperactive.  

“Despite how little we collectively knew about Omnitrophota, they’ve long been cited by microbial ecologists. Our goal was to finally drag this lineage out of the dark,” said Cale Seymour, a recent UNLV master’s graduate and the study’s lead author. “The more we learn about their energy conservation pathways and possible lifestyles, the closer we get to our goal of cultivating them in the lab and bringing them into the light.”  

The study, “Hyperactive nanobacteria with host-dependent traits pervade Omnitrophota,” appeared March 16 in the journal Nature Microbiology. Additional collaborating organizations include Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, the University of North Alabama, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute, Desert Research Institute, Northern Arizona University, Sun Yat-sen University, University of Science and Technology of China, and University of Queensland. 

 

 

First-ever layered lake-sediment sample extracted from subglacial Antarctica

First-ever layered lake-sediment sample extracted from subglacial Antarctica

First-ever layered lake sediment sample extracted from subglacial Antarctica 

March 9, 2023

Golden, Colorado

Shared with permission from the Colorado School of Mines

Subglacial Lakes Antarctica
Header Photo Credit: Matthew Siegfried

Sample gives important details into past dynamics of the Antarctic ice sheet and its cold, dark ecosystems

DRI’s Mark Hausner, Ph.D., is a coauthor on a new study detailing the first layered lake-sediment sample taken from a subglacial lake in Antarctica. Hausner stepped in to assist the project team — dubbed SALSA for Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access — after a difficult deployment created challenges in recovering temperature data from their equipment.

“I worked with the team after their return to recover the best temperature data we could,” Hausner says. Although precise temperature observations couldn’t be recovered, Hausner’s expertise with fiber-optic distributed temperature sensing cables enabled him to identify changes in the data that were consistent with other observations. 

“Using multiple observation methods really increases your confidence in what you’re seeing,” he says. “In this case, satellite observations, surface geophysics, and the temperature profile through the ice and into the lake all tell the same story of a lake underneath 1 km of ice that’s switching from draining to filling.”

Below is the full press release from the Colorado School of Mines.

 

Since the discovery 50 years ago of subglacial lakes in Antarctica — some of the least accessible geological features on Earth — scientists have attempted to extract lake bed sediment to learn about the formation, movement, and past conditions of the ice sheet. Now, a team of researchers with the NSF-funded project Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access (SALSA) has successfully done so, recovering the first layered sediments from beneath the modern Antarctic ice sheet.

Their findings from analysis of the sediment sample, published March 9 in Geology, give important insight into the larger dynamics of the Antarctic ice sheet and its history, including when the ice sheet was smaller than its current size. Their work adds to the sedimentary record of knowledge of Antarctica and also holds implications for understanding how Antarctica may contribute to global sea level change.

Previous studies of modern subglacial lakes were limited to the timescale of the modern ice sheet due to the challenge of sampling an environment locked beneath thousands of feet of ice. The sediment sample extracted by the SALSA team will allow researchers to better understand subglacial activity across almost two centuries, instead of merely two decades.

“There are places on Earth that we still haven’t explored,” said Matthew Siegfried, assistant professor of geophysics at Colorado School of Mines and a lead author of the paper. “We have now one sample trying to understand an environment that is one and a half times the size of the continental United States. It’s like pulling up a rock in New Orleans and understanding how the Mississippi River and its entire basin has acted for the past 1,000 years.”

The saga of the SALSA team’s quest to explore subglacial lakes is chronicled in “The Lake at the Bottom of the World,” a feature-length documentary film released across multiple streaming platforms on February 28 by the team in partnership with Metamorph Films. The NSF-funded film gives viewers a close look at how the scientists conducted their work amid harsh Antarctic conditions.

‘Like grabbing a package of soup’

Researchers captured the sediment sample on a field expedition in December 2018. They cleanly bored a hole through over 3500 feet of ice over Mercer Subglacial Lake by filling a modified fire hose with sterilized water at nearly 200 °F and aiming it into the ice. They carefully collected sediment cores through a borehole that was constantly freezing back in using a device modified from its typical use in “normal” lakes to fit in a narrow ice borehole.

While researchers knew that even the mere extraction of the sediment from the lake would be a success, the fact that a sample arrived at the lab intact proved even more gratifying.

“We didn’t expect to find this mushy, fragile sediment under the ice sheet,” Siegfried said. “It was basically like grabbing a package of soup, bringing it up 1100 meters to the surface of the ice, shipping it to America, getting it into a CT scanner in Oregon, and somehow maintaining tiny laminations in the sample.”

Previous sediment samples from beneath the modern West Antarctic Ice Sheet have only consisted of a jumbled mixture of marine muds and rocks left behind when glaciers move over the Earth and do not contain a layered history of the region or ice sheet.

“In a 2001 paper published after a decade of subglacial drilling efforts in Antarctica, glaciologist Barclay Kamb somewhat unenthusiastically summarizes that everywhere the project sampled sediments, they found the same uninteresting, sticky, gray mixture,” said Ryan Venturelli, assistant professor of geology and geological engineering at Colorado School of Mines and a lead author on the paper.

“We found that, too. But above that same sticky, gray stuff, we found something different for the first time.”

Understanding subglacial movement

CT imagery of the sample showed a pattern of contrasts that indicated the subglacial lake was filling and draining with water before the scientists’ observational record. This finding offers insight into how long water has been moving under this part of Antarctica — movement that has implications for how the ice sheet moves and contributes to sea level rise. The life cycle of subglacial lakes derived from these contrasts also will enable researchers to better identify how carbon, nutrients and dissolved gasses are transported through the subglacial system to the global ocean.

“We use sediments from normal (subaerial) lakes all the time to build records of regional changes in climate. Subglacial lakes are different, because they are sealed by an overlying ice sheet that shields them from changing seasons and changing climate. Any variation in the subglacial sediment record is driven by changes to the overlying ice sheet and associated water system,” Venturelli said.

“Thanks to satellites that have helped us spy on Antarctica from space since 2003, we have a deep understanding of subglacial lake activity in the modern record, but the sediments we collected as part of SALSA give us an idea of how persistent these features are on a much longer timescale — hundreds of years. It’s our first insight into the life cycle of an active subglacial lake, and that is really exciting,” Venturelli added.

Significance of the sampling effort

The findings shared in Geology come amid more groundbreaking publications from the SALSA team based on the sediment samples they retrieved from Mercer Subglacial Lake. In February, researchers published work in ISME Communications that examined and compared microbial communities in the sediment to other regions under the ice; their work indicated an extensive subglacial ecosystem that is biogeochemically and evolutionarily linked through ice sheet behavior and the transport of microbes, water and sediments. Forthcoming research out soon in AGU Advances, also led by Venturelli, constrains the Antarctic subglacial carbon cycle for the first time and indicates how details of the cycle can be used to estimate how much smaller the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was in the last few thousand years.

“Knowing the dynamics of the ice sheet in the past is critical for predicting how it may respond to changes in the future, but this information has also helped to better understand the connectedness of these ecosystems to processes on the surface and regions beneath deep Antarctic ice that have yet to be explored,” said Brent Christner, a microbiologist at the University of Florida and SALSA Project team member.

 

Arsenic Contaminates Private Drinking Water Wells Across the Western Great Basin

Arsenic Contaminates Private Drinking Water Wells Across the Western Great Basin

Arsenic Contaminates Private Drinking Water Wells Across the Western Great Basin 

February 21, 2023
RENO, Nevada

Arsenic 
Water Wells
Western Great Basin

Above: Researchers test a private well water for traces as metals such as arsenic in Washoe Valley, Nevada. 

Credit: Monica Arienzo/DRI.

A New Study Maps Risk of Elevated Arsenic Levels in Groundwater Wells Across Northern Nevada, Northeastern California, and Western Utah

 

In the arid and drought-stricken western Great Basin, sparse surface water means rural communities often rely on private groundwater wells. Unlike municipal water systems, well water quality in private wells is unregulated, and a new study shows that more than 49 thousand well users across the region may be at risk of exposure to unhealthy levels of arsenic in drinking water.  

Led by researchers at DRI and the University of Hawai’i Cancer Center and published February 16th in Environmental Science and Technology, the study used data from groundwater wells across the western Great Basin to build a model to predict the probability of elevated arsenic in groundwater, and the location and number of private well users at risk. According to the study, the Carson Desert basin (including the town of Fallon, Nevada), Carson Valley (Minden and Gardnerville, Nevada), and the Truckee Meadows (Reno), have the highest population of well users at risk. The new study builds on previous research showing that 22% of 174 domestic wells sampled in Northern Nevada had arsenic levels exceeding the EPA guideline.  

“What we are finding is that in our region, we have a high probability for elevated arsenic compared to most other regions in the country,” said Daniel Saftner, M.S., a hydrogeologist at DRI and lead author of the study. “And we are seeing that geothermal and tectonic processes that are characteristic of the Great Basin contribute to the high concentrations of naturally occurring arsenic in the region’s groundwater.”   

The region’s mountains are also primary sources of arsenic. “As the arsenic-rich volcanic and meta-sedimentary rocks that form the mountains erode, sediment is transported to the valleys below,” says Steve Bacon, Ph.D., DRI geologist and study co-author. Water percolating through the valley floor then carries arsenic into the groundwater. Deeper, older groundwater and geothermal waters tend to have a higher arsenic concentration and can migrate upward along faults and mix with shallow groundwater. 

“We really wanted to better understand the unique geologic factors that contribute to high arsenic in this study,” Saftner says. “It’s important for us to think about the role of the environment as it pertains to human health – where we live can influence what our long-term health looks like.”  

To train and test the predictive model, the research team used data collected through the Healthy Nevada Project, including water samples from 163 domestic wells primarily located near Reno, Carson City, and Fallon. These data were supplemented with 749 groundwater samples compiled from the USGS National Water Information System. The model uses tectonic, geothermal, geologic, and hydrologic variables to predict the probability of elevated arsenic levels across the region.  

Although the U.S. EPA has set an arsenic concentration guideline of 10 µg/L for public drinking water, previous research has shown a range of health effects from long-term exposure to levels above 5 µg/L. Using this concentration as the benchmark, the model and map show that much of the region’s groundwater – particularly in western and central Nevada – is predicted to have more than a 50% probability of elevated arsenic levels.  

“Community members can use our arsenic hazard map to see what the risk is at their location, which might motivate them to test their well water,” says Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., associate research professor at DRI and study co-author. “Then, if they have high levels of arsenic or other contaminants, they can take steps to reduce their exposure, such as installing a water treatment system.”  

The findings from this study are potentially useful for a range of different applications. “The results can be useful for water utilities or water managers who tap similar shallow aquifers for their water supply,” says Saftner, “as well as irrigation wells that source water from these aquifers.”   

The research team plans to use their model to take a closer look at the health impacts of prolonged arsenic exposure. “Through the Healthy Nevada Project, genetic data and health records are paired with environmental data to help determine whether there are associations between the levels of arsenic in a community’s groundwater and specific health outcomes,” stated Joe Grzymski, Ph.D., research professor at DRI and principal investigator of the project.  

 

hydrographic basin boundaries map

Map showing the hydrographic basin boundaries and predicted average population density with arsenic ≥5 μg/L in (a) the entire western Great Basin; (b) Truckee Meadows (Reno area), Lemmon Valley, and Cold Spring Valley; (c) Carson Valley (Minden and Gardnerville areas); and (d) Carson Desert (Fallon area).

Credit: DRI.

graph displaying predictable probably of arsenic in aquifers in western great basin

Predicted probability of arsenic ≥5 μg/L in alluvial aquifers of the western Great Basin, including (a) mean probability of arsenic ≥5 μg/L, (b) 95% confidence upper bound, and (c) 95% confidence lower bound. Bedrock aquifers and lakes are shown in gray and were not included in the arsenic hazard assessment.

Credit: DRI.

More information:

The full study,Predictions of Arsenic in Domestic Well Water Sourced from Alluvial Aquifers of the Western Great Basin, USA,” is available from Environmental Science and Technology: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.2c07948 

Study authors include: DRI researchers Daniel Saftner, Steve Bacon, Monica Arienzo, Erika Robtoy, Karen Schlauch, Iva Neveux, and Joseph Grzymski, as well as Michele Carbone with the University of Hawaii Cancer Center. 

### 

About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

About the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center

The University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center through its various activities, including scientific research and clinical trials, adds more than $57 million to the Oʻahu economy.  It is one of only 71 research institutions designated by the National Cancer Institute.  An organized research unit within the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, the UH Cancer Center is dedicated to eliminating cancer through research, education, patient care and community outreach with an emphasis on the unique ethnic, cultural, and environmental characteristics of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific.  Learn more at https://www.uhcancercenter.org.  Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/UHCancerCenter.  Follow us on Twitter @UHCancerCenter.

Childhood Traumas Strongly Impact Both Mental and Physical Health

Childhood Traumas Strongly Impact Both Mental and Physical Health

HPN Renown and DRI Logos

November 8, 2022
RENO, NV

Childhood Trauma
Mental Health
Physical Health

Above: The logos for the Healthy Nevada Project, DRI, and Renown Health.

Credit: DRI.

Childhood Traumas Strongly Impact Both Mental and Physical Health

Adult risk for obesity, chronic pain, migraines, and mental disorders increases in proportion to the number and types of traumas experienced in childhood

The social environments we grow up in are critical when determining our wellbeing and health later in life. Most Americans (67%) report experiencing at least one traumatic event in childhood, and a new study shows that these experiences have significant impacts on our health risks as adults. Physical illnesses such as obesity and chronic pain are affected, but mental disorders show the most significant association, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, substance abuse, and depression.

Scientists from DRI and the University of Nevada, Reno, led the study, published on Oct. 6 in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry. More than 16,000 people from the Reno area volunteered for the research as part of the Healthy Nevada Project, one of the most visible genomic studies in the United States powered by Renown Health. Participants answered questions about their social environments before age 18, including experiences with emotional, physical, or sexual mistreatment, neglect, and substance abuse in the household. The researchers combined this information with anonymized medical records to build on existing research about how childhood traumas affect health outcomes.

“The study provides insight as to how social determinants of health may influence adult health disorders,” said Robert Read, M.S., a researcher at the Center for Genomic Medicine at DRI and one of the study’s lead authors.

Nearly two-thirds (66%) of participants recalled at least one type of trauma, and almost one-quarter (24%) reported experiencing more than four. Women and people of African American and Latinx descent reported a higher prevalence of traumatic experiences than men and those with European ancestry, but people in low-income households were the most impacted.

Thirteen mental illnesses showed the most statistically significant associations, including mood disorders, depression, PTSD, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and substance abuse. For every reported type of abuse experienced in childhood, a participant’s risk for PTSD increased 47%. Each cumulative trauma also increased one’s risk for making a suicide attempt by 33%.

The researchers note that although the study is rooted in Nevada — which has high rates of adults with mental illness and poor access to care — it provides a window into deeply rooted public health issues across the nation.

“Combatting the prevalence of childhood traumas is a complex problem,” said Karen Schlauch, Ph.D., a bioinformatics researcher at DRI and one of the study’s lead authors. “Personal experiences with neglect and abuse are more challenging to address, but many of the underlying issues can be tackled at the community level, like food insecurity and poverty.”

Beyond improving our understanding of how early social environments influence our health, Schlauch says that the next target for research is understanding how childhood traumas may be linked with specific traits like impulsivity — a prominent trait in Nevada’s gambling communities.

“In order to address the devastating impacts of early-life adversity on local population health and inequities, we must focus on the dominant social and behavioral mechanisms affecting Nevadans,” said Stephanie Koning, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada, Reno, and study co-author. “Beyond how population needs drive our research, we are partnering with community-based organizations to promote evidence-based interventions across individual, community, and state levels.”

As the study team expands their analysis of the health impacts of early-life adversity, they are exploring how to use the Healthy Nevada Project database to inform community-based interventions. They’ve partnered with community institutional partners — including the Stacie Mathewson Behavioral Health & Addiction Institute and Northern Nevada HOPES — for research and advocacy focused on promoting healthy childhood social environments and well-being throughout an individual’s life.

More information: 

The full text of the study, Using phenome-wide association studies and the SF-12 quality of life metric to identify profound consequences of adverse childhood experiences on adult mental and physical health in a Northern Nevadan population, is available from Frontiers in Psychiatry: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9583677/.

This project was funded by the Stacie Mathewson Behavioral Health and Addiction Institute, Renown Health, and the Renown Health Foundation. Study authors included Karen Schlauch (DRI), Robert Read (DRI), Stephanie Koning (UNR), Iva Neveux (DRI), and Joseph Grzymski (DRI/Renown Health).

For more information on the Healthy Nevada Project®, please visit: https://healthynv.org/.

###

About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

About Renown 

Renown Health is the region’s largest, locally governed, not-for-profit integrated healthcare network serving Nevada, Lake Tahoe and northeast California. With a diverse workforce of more than 7,000 employees, Renown has fostered a longstanding culture of excellence, determination and innovation. The organization comprises a trauma center, two acute care hospitals, a children’s hospital, a rehabilitation hospital, a medical group and urgent care network, and the region’s largest, locally owned not-for-profit insurance company, Hometown Health. Renown is currently enrolling participants in the world’s largest community-based genetic population health study, the Healthy Nevada Project®. For more information, visit renown.org. 

About the University of Nevada, Reno

The University of Nevada, Reno, is a public research university that is committed to the promise of a future powered by knowledge. Nevada’s land-grant university founded in 1874, the University serves 21,000 students. The University is a comprehensive, doctoral university, classified as an R1 institution with very high research activity by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Additionally, it has attained the prestigious “Carnegie Engaged” classification, reflecting its student and institutional impact on civic engagement and service, fostered by extensive community and statewide collaborations. More than $800 million in advanced labs, residence halls and facilities has been invested on campus since 2009. It is home to the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine and Wolf Pack Athletics, maintains a statewide outreach mission and presence through programs such as the University of Nevada, Reno Extension, Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, Small Business Development Center, Nevada Seismological Laboratory, and is part of the Nevada System of Higher Education. Through a commitment to world-improving research, student success and outreach benefiting the communities and businesses of Nevada, the University has impact across the state and around the world. For more information, visit www.unr.edu.

Arsenic Contaminates Private Drinking Water Wells Across the Western Great Basin

Elevated levels of arsenic and other metals found in Nevada’s private wells

Elevated Levels of Arsenic and Other Metals Found in Nevada’s Private Wells

October 26, 2022
RENO, Nevada

Water Treatment
Arsenic
Private Wells

Above: Researchers test a private well water for traces as metals such as arsenic in Washoe Valley. Private wells are the primary source of drinking water, serving 182,000 people outside of Nevada’s bustling cities. 

Credit: Monica Arienzo/DRI.

Study shows that many household wells need better drinking water treatment and monitoring

 

Outside of Nevada’s bustling cities, private wells are the primary source of drinking water, serving 182,000 people. Yet some of the tested private wells in Nevada are contaminated with levels of heavy metals that exceed federal, state or health-based guidelines, a new study published in Science of The Total Environment shows. Consuming water contaminated by metals such as arsenic can cause adverse health effects.

Scientists from DRI and the University of Hawaii Cancer Center recruited households with private wells through the Healthy Nevada Project. Households were sent free water testing kits, and participants were notified of their water quality results and recommended actions they could take. More than 170 households participated in the research, with the majority from Northern Nevada around Reno, Carson City and Fallon.

“The goals of the Healthy Nevada project are to understand how genetics, environment, social factors and healthcare interact. We directly engaged our participants to better understand environmental contaminants that may cause adverse health outcomes,” said co-author Joseph Grzymski, Ph.D., research professor at DRI, principal investigator of the Healthy Nevada Project®, and chief scientific officer for Renown Health.

Nearly one-quarter (22%) of the private wells sampled had arsenic that exceeded safe levels determined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — with levels 80 times higher than the limit in some cases. Elevated levels of uranium, lead, cadmium, and iron were also found. 

 

two female scientists collect well water samples

Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., and Erika Robtoy, undergraduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno collect well water samples in Palomino Valley, Nevada.

Credit: Daniel Saftner/DRI.

“We know from previous research that Nevada’s arid climate and geologic landscape produce these heavy metals in our groundwater,” says Monica Arienzo, Ph.D., an associate research professor at DRI who led the study. “It was important for us to reach out to community members with private wells to see how this is impacting the safety of their drinking water.”

Fewer than half (41%) of the wells sampled used water treatment systems, and some treated water samples still contained arsenic levels over EPA guidelines. Although average levels of heavy metal contaminants were lower in treated water, many homes were unable to reduce contaminants to levels considered safe.

The state leaves private well owners responsible for monitoring their own water quality, and well water testing helps ensure water is safe to drink. This study shows that more frequent testing is needed to ensure Nevada’s rural communities have safe drinking water. This is particularly important as the effects of climate change and population growth alter the chemistry of groundwater, potentially increasing metal concentrations.

“The results emphasize the importance of regular water quality monitoring and treatment systems,” said co-author Daniel Saftner, M.S., assistant research scientist at DRI.

Although the research focused on wells in Nevada, other arid communities in Western states are facing similar risks of water contamination.

 

More information:

The full study, Naturally Occurring Metals in Unregulated Domestic Wells in Nevada, USA, is available from Science of The Total Environment: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.158277.

This project was funded by an NIH award (#1R01ES030948-01). The Healthy Nevada Project was funded by grants from Renown Health and the Renown Health Foundation. Study authors included Monica M. Arienzo (DRI), Daniel Saftner (DRI), Steven N. Bacon (DRI), Erika Robtoy (DRI), Iva Neveux (DRI), Karen Schlauch (DRI), Michele Carbone (University of Hawaii Cancer Center) and Joseph Grzymski (DRI/Renown Health).

### 

About DRI 

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

About Renown Health

Renown Health is Nevada’s largest, not-for-profit integrated healthcare network serving Nevada, Lake Tahoe, and northeast California. With a diverse workforce of more than 6,500 employees, Renown has fostered a longstanding culture of excellence, determination, and innovation. The organization comprises a trauma center, two acute care hospitals, a children’s hospital, a rehabilitation hospital, a medical group and urgent care network, and the locally owned not-for-profit insurance company, Hometown Health. Renown is currently enrolling participants in a community-based genetic population health study, the Healthy Nevada Project®. For more information, visit renown.org.

About the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center

The University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center through its various activities, including scientific research and clinical trials, adds more than $57 million to the Oʻahu economy.  It is one of only 71 research institutions designated by the National Cancer Institute.  An organized research unit within the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, the UH Cancer Center is dedicated to eliminating cancer through research, education, patient care and community outreach with an emphasis on the unique ethnic, cultural, and environmental characteristics of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific.  Learn more at https://www.uhcancercenter.org.  Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/UHCancerCenter.  Follow us on Twitter @UHCancerCenter.

Media Contacts:

Renown Public Relations
M: 775.691.7308
E: news@renown.org

Detra Page – DRI
M: 702.591.3786
E: Detra.Page@dri.edu

Study Shows Importance of Ensuring Participant and Provider Follow-up After a Genetic Screening Result

Study Shows Importance of Ensuring Participant and Provider Follow-up After a Genetic Screening Result

Graphic representation of the DNA sequence

April 27, 2022
RENO, Nev.

Genetics
Genetics Screening
Actionable Care Plans
Above: Graphic representation of the DNA sequence. In a recent study, Healthy Nevada Project scientists looked at the impact that notifying a patient of a positive finding for a CDC Tier 1 condition had on the care that the patient received in the months and years that followed.
Credit: Gio_tto, “Graphic representation of the DNA sequence”, https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/dna-sequence-gm498188318-79526609.

Study Shows Importance of Ensuring Participant and Provider Follow-up After a Genetic Screening Result

New research from the Healthy Nevada Project® finds that a confirmed diagnosis does not always result in changes to patient care
front page of Incomplete Penetrance of Population-Based Genetic Screening Results in Electronic Health Record

The full text of the study,  Incomplete Penetrance of Population-Based Genetic Screening Results in Electronic Health Record, is available from Frontiers in Genetics: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fgene.2022.866169/full?&utm_source=Email_to_authors_&utm_medium=Email&utm_content=T1_11.5e1_author&utm_campaign=Email_publication&field=&journalName=Frontiers_in_Genetics&id=866169.

Reno, Nev. (April 27, 2022)Presenting individuals with potentially life-altering health information doesn’t mean the individuals – or their healthcare providers – will act on it. Follow-up education and conversations about actionable care plans with patients and their doctors are key next steps, according to new research from the Healthy Nevada Project.  

The Healthy Nevada Project is a genetic screening and research project that launched in 2016 as a partnership between DRI and Renown Health. The project now has more than 50,000 participants, with genetic sequencing provided by Helix 

Between September 2018 and September 2020, the Healthy Nevada Project successfully notified 293 participants that they were genetically at risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, Lynch syndrome, or familial hypercholesterolemia – three common genetic conditions known collectively as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tier 1 conditions. In a study published today in Frontiers in Genetics, Healthy Nevada Project scientists looked at the impact that notifying a patient of a positive finding for a CDC Tier 1 condition had on the care that the patient received in the months and years that followed.  

According to their results, among the 293 Healthy Nevada Project participants who were notified of their genetic risk of a CDC Tier 1 condition, 71 percent of participants with electronic health records shared their findings with healthcare providers. However, only 30 percent of the electronic health records for these patients contained documentation of the genetic diagnosis, and only 10 percent of examined patients experienced a possible change in care after receiving the results of their genetic screening.  

“The Healthy Nevada Project was implemented with a ‘hands-off’ approach where the participants receive their findings and decide with whom and when to share those findings. The findings were not automatically added to their electronic health records,” said Dr. Gai Elhanan, health data scientist at DRI and co-lead author of the study. “What we’re learning now is that to ensure that important genetic findings are integrated into the care journey it is important to make their inclusion into the electronic health records part of the study.” 

This study builds on previous Healthy Nevada Project research published in Nature Medicine demonstrating the importance of screening for CDC Tier 1 conditions, which affect about one in 75 individuals and can be mitigated or even prevented from developing into disease when detected early. This study found that as many as 90 percent of the CDC Tier 1 cases are missed by clinical providers during normal clinical care screenings and examinations. 

During the current study, the Healthy Nevada Project scientists found that 19 percent of studied participants had already developed one of the CDC Tier 1 conditions, and thus would have potentially benefited from earlier notification about their condition. The study team hopes that their findings will encourage individuals in Nevada to obtain genetic testing for these relatively common conditions. Even if individuals are older or have already suffered from diseases related to these conditions, testing could also prove beneficial to siblings, children, and grandchildren who may also be at risk and who could subsequently be screened in the event of a positive finding. 

The study team also encourages informing health care providers of the importance of incorporating genetic diagnoses into the pharmaceutical (for example, for Familial Hypercholesterolemia) and treatment advice given to patients.  

“As a result of this analysis, the clinicians at Renown Health and the Healthy Nevada Project researchers have made significant changes, including obtaining informed consent from participants to report positive findings from their genetics reports directly into their electronic medical record,” said Daniel Kiser, M.S., assistant research scientist of data science at DRI and co-lead author of the study. “This will help both participants, their clinical providers, and the whole state maximize the long-term benefits of the Healthy Nevada Project voluntary population-based genetic screening.”  

Additional information:

The full text of the study,  Incomplete Penetrance of Population-Based Genetic Screening Results in Electronic Health Record, is available from Frontiers in Genetics: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fgene.2022.866169/full?&utm_source=Email_to_authors_&utm_medium=Email&utm_content=T1_11.5e1_author&utm_campaign=Email_publication&field=&journalName=Frontiers_in_Genetics&id=866169.  

This project was funded by Renown Health, the Renown Health Foundation, and the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Study authors included Gai Elhanan (DRI), Daniel Kiser (DRI), Iva Neveux (DRI), Shaun Dabe (Renown Health), Alexander Bolze (Helix), William Metcalf (DRI), James Lu (Helix), and Joseph Grzymski (DRI/Renown Health).  

For more information on the Healthy Nevada Project® or to request genetic screening, please visit: https://healthynv.org/ 

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About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

About Renown Health 

Renown Health is the region’s largest, locally governed, not-for-profit integrated healthcare network serving Nevada, Lake Tahoe and northeast California. With a diverse workforce of more than 7,000 employees, Renown has fostered a longstanding culture of excellence, determination and innovation. The organization comprises a trauma center, two acute care hospitals, a children’s hospital, a rehabilitation hospital, a medical group and urgent care network, and the region’s largest, locally owned not-for-profit insurance company, Hometown Health. Renown is currently enrolling participants in the world’s largest community-based genetic population health study, the Healthy Nevada Project®. For more information, visit renown.org.  

About Helix 

Helix is the leading population genomics and viral surveillance company operating at the intersection of clinical care, research, and data analytics. Helix enables health systems, life sciences companies, payers, and government partners to accelerate the integration of genomic data into patient care and public health decision making. Learn more at www.helix.com.   

Childhood Traumas Strongly Impact Both Mental and Physical Health

Childhood trauma and genetics linked to increased obesity risk

HPN Renown and DRI Logos

March 9, 2022
RENO, NV

Childhood Trauma
Genetics
Obesity

Above: The logos for the Healthy Nevada Project, DRI, and Renown Health.

Credit: DRI.

Childhood trauma and genetics linked to increased obesity risk 

New study from the Healthy Nevada Project® shows strong influence of genes and environment on human health 
Front page screenshot of Healthy Nevada Project study

The full text of the study, The Impact of ACEs on BMI: An Investigation of the Genotype-Environment Effects of BMI, is available from Frontiers in Genetics: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fgene.2022.816660/full

Reno, Nev. (March 9, 2022)New research from the Healthy Nevada Project® found associations between genetics, obesity, and childhood trauma, linking social health determinants, genetics, and disease. The study, which was published this week in Frontiers in Genetics, found that participants with specific genetic traits and who experience childhood traumas are more likely to suffer from adult obesity.  

In 2016, DRI and Renown Health launched the Healthy Nevada Project®, the nation’s first community-based, population health study, which now has more than 60,000 participants. The project is a collaboration with personal genomics company, Helix, and combines genetic, environmental, social, and clinical data to address individual and community health needs with the goal of improving health across the state and the nation.  

The new study focuses on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which are traumatic and unsafe events that children endure by the age of 18. Over 16,000 participants in the Healthy Nevada Project® answered a mental health survey, and more than 65 percent of these individuals self-reported at least one ACE occurrence. These 16,000 participants were cross-referenced with their genetic makeup, and clinical Body Mass Index (BMI) measures.  

According to the research team’s findings, study participants who had experienced one or more types of ACE were 1.5 times more likely to become obese adults. Participants who experienced four or more ACEs were more than twice as likely to become severely obese.    

“Our analysis showed a steady increase in BMI for each ACE a person experienced, which indicates a very strong and significant association between the number of adverse childhood experiences and adult obesity,” said lead author Karen Schlauch, Ph.D., of DRI. “More importantly, participants’ BMI reacted even more strongly to the occurrence of ACEs when paired with certain mutations in several genes, one of which is strongly associated with schizophrenia.” 

“We know that genetics affect disease in the Healthy Nevada Project® [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31888951/], and now we are recognizing that ACEs also affect disease,” said Healthy Nevada Project® Principal Investigator Joseph Grzymski, Ph.D., of DRI and Renown Health. “Our new study shows that the combination of genes and environmental factors like ACEs, as well as many social determinants of health, can lead to more serious health outcomes than either variable alone. More broadly, this new work emphasizes how important it is for population genetic studies to consider the impact of social determinants on health outcomes.” 

The study team believes that it is important for clinical caregivers to understand the strong impact that negative childhood experiences such as ACEs can have on both child and adult health. The researchers hope the information from this study will encourage doctors and nurses to conduct simple screenings for ACEs and consider a patient’s social environment and history in combination with genetics when developing treatment plans for better patient health. 

According to the 2019 Youth Behavior Risk Survey (YRBS), 25.6 percent of Washoe County teenagers are overweight or obese. Obesity is a serious health concern for children and adolescents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obese children and adolescents are more likely to become obese as adults.   

“Obese and overweight children and adolescents are at risk for multiple health problems during their youth, which are likely to be more severe as adults,” said Max J. Coppes, MD, PhD, MBA, FAAP, Nell J Redfield Chair of Pediatrics at the University of Nevada Reno School of Medicine, Physician in Chief of Renown Children’s Hospital. “Obese and overweight youth are more likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. Losing weight, in addition to a healthy diet, helps to prevent and control multiple chronic diseases and improves quality of life for a lifetime.”  

“We’d like to thank all of the Healthy Nevada Project® participants who provided information to make our work possible,” said Robert Read, M.S., of DRI. “Our research illustrates that it’s not just genetics that cause disease, but that our environment and life experiences interact with our genes to impact our health in ways that we are only beginning to understand.” 

Many thanks to Renown Health, the Stacie Mathewson Behavioral Health and Addiction Institute, and the Center for Genomic Medicine at DRI for supporting this significant work. Renown is currently enrolling participants in the world’s largest community-based genetic population health study, the Healthy Nevada Project®. For more information, visit renown.org. 

More information: 

The full text of the study, The Impact of ACEs on BMI: An Investigation of the Genotype-Environment Effects of BMI, is available from Frontiers in Genetics: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fgene.2022.816660/full 

This project was funded by the Stacie Mathewson Behavioral Health and Addiction Institute, Renown Health, and the Renown Health Foundation. Study authors included Karen Schlauch (DRI), Robert Read (DRI), Iva Neveux (DRI), Bruce Lipp (DRI), Anthony Slonim (Renown Health), and Joseph Grzymski (DRI/Renown Health). 

For more information on the Healthy Nevada Project®, please visit: https://healthynv.org/ 

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About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

About Renown 

Renown Health is the region’s largest, locally governed, not-for-profit integrated healthcare network serving Nevada, Lake Tahoe and northeast California. With a diverse workforce of more than 7,000 employees, Renown has fostered a longstanding culture of excellence, determination and innovation. The organization comprises a trauma center, two acute care hospitals, a children’s hospital, a rehabilitation hospital, a medical group and urgent care network, and the region’s largest, locally owned not-for-profit insurance company, Hometown Health. Renown is currently enrolling participants in the world’s largest community-based genetic population health study, the Healthy Nevada Project®. For more information, visit renown.org. 

Media contacts: 

Kelsey Fitzgerald, DRI
Senior Communications Official
775-741-0496
Kelsey.fitzgerald@dri.edu 

Renown Public Relations
775-691-7308
news@renown.org 

Wildfire smoke more dangerous than other air pollutants for asthma patients

Wildfire smoke more dangerous than other air pollutants for asthma patients

Photo caption: Smoke from wildfires covering the city of Sparks, Nevada. Credit: GChapel, Adobe Images.

 

Reno, Nev. (Sept. 22, 2020) – For people who suffer from asthma, wildfire smoke is more hazardous than other types of air pollution, according to a new study from the Desert Research Institute (DRI), the Renown Institute for Health Innovation (Renown IHI) and the Washoe County Health District (WCHD).

The study, which published last month in the journal Environmental Health, examined associations between airborne particulate matter (PM) from sources such as wildfire, transportation and industry, and medical visits for asthma at Renown Health’s emergency departments and urgent care centers in Reno, Nev. during the six-year period from 2013-2018.

According to their results, on days when wildfire smoke was present, elevated levels of PM2.5 (fine particles of 0-2.5 micrometers in size, about 30 times smaller than a human hair) led to a 6.1 percent increase in medical visits for asthma patients when compared with days of similar pollution levels that came from non-wildfire sources.

“Since we found significantly stronger associations of PM2.5 with asthma visits when wildfire smoke was present, our results suggest that wildfire PM is more hazardous than non-wildfire PM for patients with asthma,” said lead author Daniel Kiser, M.S., Data Scientist with DRI and Renown IHI.

 


Above, a timelapse video from DRI’s Western Regional Climate Center shows an impressive smoke front move into the city of Reno on August 18, 2013. The smoke, which rolls in at approximately 1:05 in the video, was from the American River fire near Sacramento, Calif.


An increase in the harmfulness of PM from wildfires compared to PM from other sources may be attributable to differences in the chemical composition of PM or changes in human behavior, since people are more likely to be outdoors in the summer, when wildfires typically occur. The research team notes that caution should be used when applying these results to other areas of the country, such as the Southeastern United States, since the harmfulness of wildfire smoke may be affected by the type of fuel that is being burned. Other factors, such as the distance that wildfire smoke was carried by the wind and burn temperature, may also play a role in the harmfulness of wildfire smoke.

The researchers found that air quality in the Reno area was affected by wildfire smoke on a total of 188 days during the study period. A total of 18,836 asthma-related emergency room and urgent care visits occurred over the same five-year period of time, indicating that the influences of wildfire smoke and other types of air pollution on this medical condition are important to understand.

“In places like Reno, where wildfire events occur regularly during parts of the year and are expected to become more frequent in the future, an accurate understanding of the impacts of wildfire smoke on population health is critical,” Kiser said.

comparison of clear, moderate and smoky days in Stead, NV

From left to right, this series of three photos documents recent air quality conditions on clear, moderate, very smoky days in Stead, Nev. Credit: Daniel Kiser/DRI.

Additional Information:

The full text of the article “Particulate matter and emergency visits for asthma: a time-series study of their association in the presence and absence of wildfire smoke in Reno, Nevada, 2013–2018,” is available from Environmental Health: https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-020-00646-2

To learn more about the Renown Institute for Health Innovation, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/renown-ihi/

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About the Desert Research Institute

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, visit  www.dri.edu.

Healthy Nevada Project participants report on COVID-19

Healthy Nevada Project participants report on COVID-19

14,000 Nevadans quickly report on signs and symptoms to enhance predictive public health models for Nevada. 

Reno, Nev. (April 1, 2020) – The Healthy Nevada Project, a first-of-its-kind, community-based population health study combining genetic, clinical, environmental and social data, offers free genetic testing to every Nevadan interested in learning more about their health and genetic profile. With more than 50,000 study participants enrolled in just three years, the Healthy Nevada Project has become the fastest-enrolling genetic study in the world. Now, the team is demonstrating that they can quickly assess how thousands of people across Nevada are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Project was created by Renown Institute for Health Innovation (Renown IHI) – a collaboration between Reno, Nev. based not-for-profit health network, Renown Health, and the world leader in environmental data, Desert Research Institute (DRI). Leveraging Renown’s forward-thinking approach to community health care and DRI’s data analytics and environmental expertise, Renown IHI has grown its capabilities to lead a large, complex research study of significance that is able to analyze and model public health risks in Nevada and serve as a national model for future population health studies working to improve overall health through clinical care integration.

Utilizing the study’s unique online survey tools, a population health research team at the Renown IHI, led by Joseph Grzymski, Ph.D., last week began asking consented participants about their COVID-19 experiences. A 13-question online survey sent to participants included questions about possible exposure and risks of the novel COVID-19 virus, such as recent domestic and international travel, attendance at large public events, and if participants are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 such as a fever.

“We’ve had over 14,000 participants respond as of Monday,” explained Joseph Grzymski, Ph.D., an associate research professor at the Desert Research Institute (DRI), Chief Science Officer for Renown Health, and principal investigator of the Healthy Nevada Project. Grzymski says initial data shows that:

  • 22-percent (3,080) of respondents reported that they had traveled outside of Nevada in the past 14 days, but very few (less than 700) had traveled to or been in contact with individuals recently in China, Iran, or Italy.
  • Approximately 30-percent (4,100) of individuals who responded had taken their temperature in the previous 48 hours, with 5-percent (more than 200 individuals) reporting they had an elevated temperature.

“Nevada’s ability to test patients suspected (or at high risk) for COVID-19 on a broader scale is extremely important to containing this pandemic and ensuring proper treatment,” said Anthony Slonim, M.D., Dr.PH., FACHE, president and CEO of Renown Health. “The data that Healthy Nevada Project participants are sharing with us is critical to helping our IHI data scientists and researchers better understand, anticipate and plan for Nevada’s broader population-level health risks in the coming weeks and months.”

“We have and continue to be proactive in dealing with the best evidence provided by the CDC, the World Health Organization, our counterparts around the nation and State and County Health Departments. Renown physicians

and staff continue to enact the emergency preparedness plans we have been developing for months to create additional capacity for inpatients and to continue to deliver high-quality care during the anticipated surge in COVID-19 cases in northern Nevada based on predictive analytical models used by Renown. The survey data that Healthy Nevada Project participants have given our researchers is key to helping us assess the risks, possible exposure, and presence of COVID-19 symptoms across Nevada. We thank every participant for taking the time to help us, help them.”

Other insights from the initial Healthy Nevada Project, COVID-19 survey results include:

  • 17% (~2,400 individuals) had experienced a dry cough in the past 14 days;
  • 3.8% reported to be in known contact with individuals at risk for COVID-19, with 45 individuals reporting they had been in contact with a known case of COVID-19 and a further 16% were uncertain about possible contact;
  • 92% (~13,000 individuals) of respondents consented to be re-contacted for further testing and additional information about COVID-19.

Grzymski said in addition to providing an ongoing analysis of survey responses to Renown Health, researchers are also working to understand if there could be genetic mechanisms responsible for the severity of COVID-19 illness.

“This COVID-19 situation is, “not a sprint, it is a marathon,” added Slonim, “at Renown, we have put many exceptional plans in place to safely screen, diagnose and treat members of our community who come to us for care. We have effectively trained and practiced these measures throughout the years, and are now ready to implement them as needed. At the same time, we continue to refine, in real-time, the data that supports our predictive analytic models. We are using every tool and resource-including this data from Healthy Nevada Project participants, to ensure that we are meeting both the health and healthcare needs of the people we serve.”

Slonim explained, “The past two months have been a challenging time as our city, the nation and healthcare colleagues around the world are addressing the evolving COVID-19 situation. Yet here in Nevada, standing proudly with all of you across this state – I see hope and determination. The passion and commitment, expertise and the unparalleled care our health teams are providing to all of those who need care, along with community engagement in research studies like this, will continue to get us through the months ahead.

“We are thrilled to see the constant, fast-paced evolution of the Healthy Nevada Project and the way our participants have responded so quickly to our requests,” said Joseph Grzymski, Ph.D. “the data that our participants have provided us, in less than a week, has allowed us to discover risk factors within communities and take action to live longer, healthier lives. That’s what makes the Healthy Nevada Project so exciting for all of us.”

For more about the Healthy Nevada Project please visit healthynv.org.

For up-to-date information on Renown’s approach to keeping our community safe, visit renown.org/covid-19/ 

Renown Institute for Health Innovation is a collaboration between Renown Health – a locally governed and locally owned, not-for-profit integrated healthcare network serving Nevada, Lake Tahoe, and northeast California; and the Desert Research Institute – a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. Renown IHI research teams are focused on integrating personal healthcare and environmental data with socioeconomic determinants to help Nevada address some of its most complex environmental health problems; while simultaneously expanding the state’s access to leading-edge clinical trials and fostering new connections with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Learn more atHealthynv.org.

Population health study “Healthy Nevada Project” goes statewide, adding 25,000 participants

Las Vegas, Nev. (May 8, 2019) – The Healthy Nevada Project, a first-of-its-kind, community-based population health study combining genetic, clinical, environmental and social data, is expanding enrollment to Las Vegas. The Project aspires not only to offer genetic testing to every Nevadan interested in learning more about their health and genetic profile but ultimately, to develop and expand the Project for communities across the United States to drive positive health outcomes nationwide.

Adding 25,000 Study Volunteers in Southern Nevada

The Healthy Nevada Project is announcing a statewide expansion – opening 25,000 testing slots in Las Vegas in a collaboration with University Medical Center of Southern Nevada (UMC), which serves as the host-site for Las Vegas.

With UMC welcoming the study to southern Nevada, the Healthy Nevada Project will offer no-cost genetic testing through a simple spit sample to 25,000 study volunteers. Study volunteers will take Helix’s clinical-grade DNA saliva test and will receive their ancestry and traits, at no cost, through the My Healthy Nevada Traits app. Participants will then be given a chance to answer a follow-up health survey from Renown Institute for Health Innovation (Renown IHI), and upon survey completion, will be entered to win an iPhone.

In addition, study participants can agree to be notified about genetic test results that could impact their health, and which could be used to improve their medical care. This return of clinical results, plus genetic counseling and other genetic services as appropriate, will be provided by Genome Medical, the leading network of clinical genetics specialists.

“This is an incredible opportunity to learn more about our genetics and improve health throughout the Silver State,” said Mason VanHouweling, CEO of UMC. “In support of UMC’s commitment to promoting innovation in health care and building a better future for our home state, we embrace the opportunity to collaborate with Renown Health while hosting the Healthy Nevada Project in southern Nevada.”

Healthy Nevada Project’s Evolution & Ongoing Expansion

With more than 35,000 study participants enrolled in just over two years, the Healthy Nevada Project has become the fastest-enrolling genetic study in the country. The Project was created by Renown IHI – a collaboration between Reno, Nev.-based not-for-profit health network, Renown Health, and the world leader in environmental data, Desert Research Institute (DRI). Leveraging Renown’s forward-thinking approach to community health care and DRI’s data analytics and environmental expertise, Renown IHI has grown its capabilities to lead a larger, more complex research study of significance that will analyze and model public health risks in Nevada and serve as a national model for future population health studies working to improve overall health through clinical care integration.

During the Project’s pilot launch in September 2016, more than 10,000 community members signed up for DNA testing in just 48 hours. In March 2018, phase two offered full genomic sequencing through a simple spit test from partner, Helix, to northern Nevadans. In October 2018, the Project announced the return of clinical results for study participants, notifying them of their risk for CDC Tier 1 conditions including familial hypercholesterolemia, BRCA positive 1 and 2, and Lynch syndrome, a precursor to colon cancer.  These conditions affect more than one percent of the population and are inherited so they impact family members as well. Now, the Project announced its next phase – expanding enrollment to 25,000 people in southern Nevada through a collaboration with UMC.

Serving as a National Model

This expansion to Las Vegas truly makes this the “Healthy Nevada Project” with a statewide impact making Nevada the only state in the U.S. to offer such a program.

“Nevada was ripe to advance population health goals because, sadly, our state ranks near the bottom in health outcomes. The Healthy Nevada Project is working to change that,” said Anthony Slonim, M.D., DrPH, FACHE, president and CEO of Renown Health and president of Renown IHI. “Our researchers are working on a number of clinical programs and scientific studies to determine why in Washoe County, the county in which Renown Health is located, Nevada’s age-adjusted death rates for heart disease, cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease are 33 percent higher than the national rate. Imagine if we can gather more data like this on a national scale and use it to change the future of health and health care? That is what the Healthy USA Project is looking to do in the years to come.”

“The Healthy Nevada Project is committed to providing study participants clinically actionable data that will help improve their health,” said Joseph Grzymski, Ph.D., associate research professor at DRI, principal investigator of the Healthy Nevada Project and chief scientific officer for Renown Health. “We are providing this information at the individual level so study volunteers can make lifesaving changes to reduce their risk. We’re also doing it on the community level to develop leading-edge research on health determinants for entire neighborhoods, states and eventually, the country.”

Expanding to Become the Healthy USA Project

The accelerated speed of the Project is made possible thanks to the ever-decreasing cost of sequencing. Today, Helix is able to sequence an entire exome – which allows reporting on most actionable genomic knowledge – for a fraction of what it would have cost just 10 years ago. Additionally, advances in digital health mean Helix and Project researchers can capture unprecedented amounts of health data digitally, making significant contributions to advancing precision health. The partnership has managed to remove the traditional barriers of population health studies, including the difficulty in recruiting participants, establishing quality high-throughput lab systems, and scaling interpretation and return of results. This development will be key as other health systems around the country join the Project.

“We are thrilled to see the constant, fast-paced evolution of this Project with Renown IHI,” said Justin Kao, Co-Founder of Helix. “In less than a year, we have sequenced the DNA of thousands of study participants and are now preparing to offer this incredible study in other states. Combining environmental, clinical, social and genetic data allows us to discover risk factors within communities and help people take action to live longer, healthier lives. That’s what makes the next step of the Healthy USA Project so exciting for all of us.”

Northern and southern Nevadans over age 18 who are interested in taking part are encouraged to learn more and sign up for the study at HealthyNV.org.

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About UMC

UMC offers the highest level of care in Nevada, providing a wide range of exclusive and specialized health care services to community members and visitors. UMC is home to Nevada’s only Level I Trauma Center, only Designated Pediatric Trauma Center, only Burn Care Center and only Center for Transplantation. Children’s Hospital of Nevada at UMC serves as the state’s only hospital to be recognized and accepted as an associate member of the Children’s Hospital Association. Offering highly skilled physicians, nurses and staff members supported by the latest, cutting-edge technology, UMC and Children’s Hospital of Nevada continue to build upon their shared reputation for providing Nevada’s highest level of care. In support of its mission to serve as the premier academic health center, UMC is the anchor partner for the UNLV School of Medicine. For more information, please visit www.umcsn.com and www.chnv.org.

Renown Institute for Health Innovation is a collaboration between Renown Health – a locally governed and locally owned, not-for-profit integrated healthcare network serving Nevada, Lake Tahoe and northeast California; and the Desert Research Institute – a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. Renown IHI research teams are focused on integrating personal healthcare and environmental data with socioeconomic determinants to help Nevada address some of its most complex environmental health problems; while simultaneously expanding the state’s access to leading-edge clinical trials and fostering new connections with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Learn more at https://healthynv.org/.

Helix is a genomics company with a simple but powerful mission: to empower every person to improve their life through DNA. Our affordable, turnkey population health solution enables institutions to quickly scale projects that engage communities and accelerate research and discovery, ultimately allowing every person to benefit from the power of genomics. We’ve also created the first marketplace for DNA-powered products where people can explore diverse and uniquely personalized products developed by high-quality partners, providing powerful tools to increase engagement and speed the pace of population-scale genomics. Helix is headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, has an office in Denver, Colorado and operates a CLIA-certified and CAP-accredited next-generation sequencing lab in San Diego powered by Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) NGS technology. Helix was created in 2015. Learn more at www.helix.com.

Helix, the Helix logo and Exome+ are trademarks of Helix Opco, LLC. All other trademarks referenced herein are the property of their respective owners.

Study provides new insight into how microbes process nitrogen

Study provides new insight into how microbes process nitrogen

Reno, Nev. (Feb. 19, 2019): Microbes play a key role in Earth’s nitrogen cycle, helping to transform nitrogen gas from the atmosphere back and forth into organic forms of nitrogen that can be used by plants and animals.

New research from the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev. provides new insight into how this process happens, through the examination of a unique species of microbe called Intrasporangium calvum that was found in a contaminated groundwater well at Oak Ridge National Laboratory Field Research Station in Tennessee.

The study, which published in Frontiers in Microbiology in January, examined the response of I. calvum to different concentrations of environmental resources and how those differences impacted the microbe’s nitrogen cycling ability. The study team also investigated the evolution of this microbe, the biochemistry behind the reactions, and how each of those factors interact with the environment.

Although most microbes perform just one step in the nitrogen cycle – converting nitrogen gas (N2) from the atmosphere to ammonia (NH3) in the soil, for example – the research team discovered that I. calvum could perform two types of reactions: respiratory ammonification and denitrification. Respiratory ammonification retains nitrogen in an ecosystem as ammonium in the soil or water, while denitrification sends nitrogen on a path back to the atmosphere as a gas.

“The microbe that we studied is unique because it can essentially ‘breathe’ in nitrogen and then send the nitrogen along one of two pathways, ‘exhaling’ either ammonium or nitrous oxide,” said David Vuono, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher fellow with DRI’s Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences and Applied Innovation Center, and lead author of the new study. “This is kind of like humans breathing in oxygen and then having the ability to exhale either carbon dioxide or methane.”

Sample bottles of I. calvum are sterilized via flame in the Genomics Laboratory at DRi. February 2019. Credit: DRI.

With the ability to perform more than one type of reaction – either sending nitrogen back to the atmosphere or retaining it in the soil or water – Vuono and his team wondered what would trigger the microbe to select one pathway versus the other. Previous studies had concluded that the ratio of carbon (C) to nitrate (NO3) in the surrounding environment was the determining factor, but Vuono wondered if the story wasn’t actually more complex.

In this study, Vuono and his team looked beyond the C:NO3ratio to investigate the importance of the overall concentration of each nutrient. They tested the response of I. calvumunder conditions of both high and low resource availability, while keeping the ratio of C:NO3at a constant level.

According to their findings, it is the resource concentration, rather than the C:NO3ratio, that determines pathway selection. When grown under low carbon concentrations, the team found that these microbes were more likely to process nitrogen by ammonification; under high carbon concentrations, denitrification prevailed.

“As we learned, the concentration of nutrients available to these microbes is what determines where the nitrogen ends up, whether it takes a pathway back towards the atmosphere or returns to ammonium,” Vuono explained. “That is a really important distinction, because depending on the environment that you’re in, you may want to remove nitrogen or you may want to retain it.”

In a waterway, for example, high levels of nitrogen can cause algae blooms and dead zones; by creating conditions that favor denitrification, it is possible that microbes could be triggered to send nitrogen back to the atmosphere. In an agricultural field, on the other hand, nitrogen deficiencies in the soil can lead to poor plant growth; by creating conditions that would promote respiratory ammonification, microbes could be prompted to retain nitrogen in the soils, eliminating or lessening the need for chemical fertilizers.

David Vuono, Ph.D., prepares a sample of I. calvum for analysis in the Laboratory of Molecular Responses at DRI. February 2019. Credit: DRI.

This study was funded by the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), the Desert Research Institute postdoctoral research fellowship program, Ecosystems and Networks Integrated with Genes and Molecular Assemblies (ENIGMA), and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research).

Other DRI scientists who contributed to this study included Robert Read, John A. Arnone III, Iva Neveux, Evan Loney, David Miceli, and Joseph Grzymski.

The full study, titled Resource Concentration Modulates the Fate of Dissimilated Nitrogen in a Dual-Pathway Actinobacterium, is available online from Frontiers in Microbiology (22 January 2019): https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2019.00003