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How Technology and Environmental Studies Affect Health
Missouri Ag Connection - 01/14/2022

As environmentally conscious as organizations try to be, new technology and other products are still developed that may negatively impact the earth or human health long-term.

That's why scientists are constantly putting these items to the test and asking questions for the greater good.

Dr. Paul Durham, director of the Center for Biomedical and Life Sciences at the Jordan Valley Innovation Center. and distinguished professor of biology at Missouri State University, talks with Sara Woodman, senior research scientist at the Center for Biomedical and Life Sciences, about several ongoing research projects.

Exploring a gas sensor project

When you have an accumulation of metals, Durham explains acid rain can cause the metals to leach into the soil, then seep into the groundwater.

"Then animals, including ourselves, can be exposed to that," Durham said.

In a current study, Woodman says they are experimenting with what this exposure could cause to different organs and tissues.

"If you're ingesting of some of these metals, you would expect the gut would be one of the first places that you would see it," she said.

In their study, the colon and gut microbiome are among the most affected.

"If you want to have a healthy brain, you have to have a healthy gut," he said. "This study has implications on cognitive function down the road."

Keeping water sensors in top condition

Water sensors are developed to detect metals and other contaminants in natural water sources. But these water sensors can become unreliable due to bacteria.

Woodman and Durham are simulating different conditions to test how long these sensors can be reliably used. They're also wondering what modifications could be made to prevent bacterial growth on the sensors.

"We're doing some shorter term and also some longer term studies," Woodman said, "on what we can do to prevent malfunctioning of these sensors due to growth."

Although the water sensor project is ongoing, Durham says the preliminary findings are revealing some unexpected differences between water sources and water collected at different points throughout the year.

"Well water actually is fairly clean. There aren't as many microorganisms," Durham said. "You can imagine the pond water is the worst...Pond water in April is not the same pond water in August, though, during the dog days. And the rivers seemed to be a little bit more consistent."

This information is important to identifying what kind of materials will be better for future water sensor designs, he noted.

Hearing and migraines

Technology also allows more in-depth study for debilitating health conditions, like migraines, a long-term interest of Durham's lab.

His lab is now collaborating with Dr. Wafaa Kaf, professor of audiology, on the intersection of migraines and sensitivity to sound, or phonophobia.

"A lot of focus in the research world has been on photophobia and trying to come up with ways to minimize the impact of flashing, strobing and bright lights," Durham said.

But migraine sufferers often report phonophobia as the most bothersome symptom, according to Durham.

"Migrainers can actually hear a fluorescent light all of a sudden," he said. "Or there's a sensitivity to loud sounds. The children's volume hasn't turned up. Your sensitivity to it has turned up."

To better understand the connection between hearing and migraine, Durham and Kaf partnered to purchase a piece of equipment - all in hopes of providing insight to create an effective treatment.

It all starts with sound producers - like ear buds - and probes placed on the near and forehead, Woodman explained.

"These probes will detect how various parts of the brain and the spinal cord respond to different volumes and tones," she said.

"This cross pollination [of departments] allows you to unlock mysteries of things and understand how things are really happening," Durham added.

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