Faculty research

Using teenage defiance to encourage healthy eating; loneliness is heritable; the mystery of the missing crust; preventing kidney stones.

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Rebel without a candy bar

Teenage defiance can be harnessed to motivate healthy eating. A team of researchers including Christopher Bryan, assistant professor at Chicago Booth, and Cintia Hinojosa, research coordinator and lab manager at Chicago Booth, published a study in September in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that shows teenagers choose healthier options when they are presented as acts of rebellion. When given information that portrayed the junk food industry’s marketing practices as unfair and deceptive, eighth graders were far more likely to abstain from sugary foods than peers who received conventional educational material focusing on the individual benefits of healthy eating. The idea of battling “manipulative” corporations in the name of social justice proved to be better motivation for changing adolescent behavior than emphasizing long-term health outcomes.

Handed-down loneliness

Loneliness may be heritable, according to new research published online in Neuropsychopharmacology. In the first genome-wide association study of loneliness, John Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor of Psychology; Lide Han, postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Human Genetics; and their colleagues examined genetic and health information of more than 10,000 people aged 50 years and older. From three questions that assess the tendency to feel lonely over a lifetime, the researchers concluded that loneliness is a modestly heritable trait. The researchers also found strong genetic correlations between loneliness, neuroticism, and depression. The team’s next goal is to identify a specific set of genes that is responsible for long-term loneliness.

Quietly sinking

What happened to Earth’s crust when Eurasia and India began to collide 56 million years ago? It sank, according to Miquela Ingalls, doctoral student in geophysical sciences; David Rowley, professor in geophysical sciences; and Albert Colman, assistant professor in geophysical sciences. In a study published in the November Nature Geoscience, the researchers used recently revised estimates on plate movements to calculate the amount of continental crust before the collision. What they discovered was that about half of this mass is not found on Earth’s surface today. “We’re taught in Geology 101 that continental crust is buoyant and can’t descend into the mantle,” Ingalls said, but in this case that was the only place the missing crust could have gone. The team’s refutation of this traditional assumption has important implications for understanding how the chemical makeup of Earth’s interior has changed and the evolution of the continents over time.

End of the stone age

A study published online in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology in October suggests that intestinal flora may prevent kidney stones. A team led by assistant professor of medicine Hatim Hassan and including professor of medicine Eugene Chang, MD’76; assistant professor of medicine Dionysios Antonopoulos; research specialist Donna Arvans, AB’85; and research associates Mohamed Bashir and Mark Musch, PhD’83, found that Oxalobacter formigenes, an intestinal bacterium, reduces the amount of oxalate in the urine. Oxalate is a compound that combines with calcium to form the most common type of kidney stone, and O. formigenes helps transport oxalate through the colon. The bacteria is easily killed by antibiotics, and more than a quarter of people lack O. formigenes in their colons. The team is now working on identifying the proteins produced by O. formigenes so that they may be used separately for treatment and prevention of kidney stone disease.

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