Study Breaks: 3 Intriguing Findings from Researchers Across Michigan

Data includes a local connection to a supermassive black hole, antibiotic resistance in soil, and more
This past May, a team of researchers known as the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration produced an image of a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. // Photo courtesy of the EHT Collaboration

DEAD BACTERIA CAN HARM SOIL: We hear a lot about antibiotic resistance in humans and the potential problems it can cause, but such resistance among crops and livestock is leaving them vulnerable to infectious bacteria, which threatens the world’s food supply. Researchers at Michigan State University say, in a paper published by the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, that they’ve found that the DNA of dead bacteria in soil may introduce antibiotic resistance to living bacteria. The research team, which included natural sciences professor Sarah Evans, sterilized soil samples and then added living cells of one bacteria strain along with the DNA from dead bacteria known to be antibiotic resistant. “This work demonstrates that dead bacteria … are an overlooked path to antibiotic resistance,” the team writes.

RETHINKING SPERM AGE: Most infertility studies assess the likelihood of pregnancy based, in part, on would-be parents’ ages, but new research at Wayne State University finds the “epigenetic” age of the male contribution may yield accurate predictions. In the study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, lead author J. Richard Pilsner, WSU’s director of molecular genetics and infertility, asserts that a formula that accounts for genetic and environmental factors is better for assessing the true “biological age” of cells. (Smokers, for instance, have sperm with significantly higher epigenetic ages.)

“The ability to capture the biological age of sperm may provide a novel platform to better assess the male contribution to reproductive success, especially among infertile couples,” Pilsner says. Knowing whether the sperm is epigenetically “old” would allow couples “to realize their probability of achieving pregnancy during natural intercourse, thereby informing and expediting potential infertility treatment decisions,” he says.

THE MITTEN AND THE BLACK HOLE: Behind the image nationally publicized in May of a blurry, glowing, orange-y “supermassive black hole” at the center of the Milky Way galaxy is a lesser-known Michigan connection. University of Michigan researcher Mark Reynolds was on the “multi-wavelength team” of scientists who helped NASA identify energy emissions from what is known as Sagittarius A*, captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). “The resulting data will have amazing value to the accretion physics community, and the image is a sight to behold,” Reynolds says. “To take part in this historic EHT campaign and unveil the supermassive black hole in our galactic backyard … is an amazing scientific achievement.” Some 300 researchers from around the world worked for five years to obtain the image that made headlines.

This story is from the August 2022 issue of Hour Detroit. Read more in our digital edition