Environmental Enrichment in Cognitive Aging; The Ethics of Vaccine Allocation; Recovery & ID of Marines Lost during the First Battle of Makin Island

For March 17, 2021

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Hi WN@TL Fans,

My Dad used to read the Wall Street Journal every afternoon after coming home from teaching history at Dixon High School.  When he retired he eventually stopped reading the Journal, likely because he’d shifted into more conservative investments.  Also, he’d gotten himself a financial advisor: less analysis, fewer decisions, lower need for the WSJ.   While he read less frequently about finances, he did take up doing crossword puzzles and then sudoku.  Both take patience and diligence, and he enjoyed doing the puzzles by the hour.  At least some of his seven children guessed it helped him keep his mind sharp, or rather he thought it would help keep his mind sharp, or at least he thought it wouldn’t hurt.


On a grander scale, and some 30 years earlier, my Grandpa Deutsch in his 70th year decided to design and build a cottage on the Rock River.  He drew up the plans, calculated the dimensions, built a budget, plotted out the sequence of delivery of materials, and in April 1968 he used a transit level and rod to shoot the locations & elevations of the footings.  He enlisted his pre-teen grandsons to dig the 4-foot-deep holes for the footings.  Then came the posts, skirt boards, ledger boards and floor joists, the 4×8 sheets of plywood for the subfloor, the stud walls, the rafters, the 4×8 sheets of roofing plywood, the tarpaper, the shingles, the siding, the windows, the wiring, the plumbing, the tongue & groove floors, the interior doors, the ceiling tiles.  What a project to engage the mind and the hands.  Worked well for a 10-year-old, too.


I’ve watched other folks move into retirement and take up painting or music, weaving or woodworking, literature or languages.   Big or small, I wonder how much such projects give the aging brain a better shot at staying sharp by making connections, finding extensions, seeing patterns, discerning nuances.


Seems to me that keeping a burning for yearning for learning is a pretty good thing in its own right.

I hope such things also help us make the most of our brains in the time we have left.

On March 17 Corinna Burger of Neurology provides insights into keeping a sharp mind with her talk, “Use It or Lose It: the Role of Environmental Enrichment in Cognitive Aging.”


Description:  Cognitive reserve/resilience is a growing focus in the field of aging and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and, although high educational attainment provides resilience to age-related cognitive impairment and AD, the molecular mechanisms giving rise to the functional benefits of high cognitive activity are unknown. My lab studies how environmental enrichment improves cognitive function in aging rats to identify pharmacological or lifestyle changes that can provide resilience to the effects of aging and neurodegeneration.


Bio: Corinna Burger is an Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology. She received her PhD from the University of Colorado Health Science Center and did post-doc research at the State University of New York and at the University of Florida before joining the faculty at UW-Madison.  Her lab is interested in two main problems in molecular neuroscience: the molecular biology of learning and memory, and the genetic mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative disorders.

Link:  https://www.neurology.wisc.edu/burger-lab



On March 24 Paul Kelleher of Philosophy speaks on “The Ethics of Vaccine Allocation” as part of the “UW Philosophers at Work” series of the Department of Philosophy.


[By the way, I (Zinnen) turned 63.5 last week, and I do have a dog in this fight.  You might, too.  The priorities they are a-changing.]


Description:  Drawing on first-hand experience as a philosopher-bioethicist who has helped to write state- and hospital-level allocation guidelines during the pandemic, Paul Kelleher will discuss the ethics of equitable vaccine allocation.


Bio:  Paul Kelleher is Associate Professor of Bioethics and Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His teaching and research explore ethical and philosophical dimensions of public policy, especially health policy and climate change policy. He co-chairs the Advisory Committee for UW–Madison’s University Health Services, serves on the UW Hospital Ethics Committee, and has served on two state-level committees concerned with the allocation of scarce COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.


Links:  http://paulkelleher.net




On March 31 Bill Belcher of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Department of Anthropology will share the saga of “The Recovery and Identification of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion: The First Battle of Makin Island.”


Description:  During the early days of World War II, Col. Evans Carlson trained two battalions of US Marines in guerilla warfare and amphibious assault.  In August of 1942, those skills were put to the test in an assault on a Japanese Seaplane base on Butaritari Island (aka Makin Island) to divert resources from the main objective on Guadalcanal.  In the aftermath of this assault, 30 US Marines were killed, but left behind during the hasty retreat.


In 1999, the precursor to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the US Army Central Identification Laboratory located and excavated the remains of 19 of these Marines (along with one local islander).  Using standard forensic techniques and the then innovative analysis of mitochondrial DNA, all 19 individuals were identified and returned to their families.  This presentation will briefly go over the history and excavation of the site, but primarily focus on the techniques used to identify the individuals.


Bio:  I am a forensic anthropologist and archaeologist, but also an environmental archaeologist with a specialty in animal bones from archaeological sites-zooarchaeology. I am interested in understanding the application of forensic anthropological methods to the identification of human remains. These are important to the families and friends of descendants as forensic anthropology brings the identification back to a family for closure of an emotion and situation of loss. We attempt to recover possible human remains restore the identity to loved ones through research-based forensic science. As the Coordinator for the Graduate Certificate in Forensic Anthropology, I welcome students at the undergraduate and graduate level to learn the identification techniques and processes as a service-based discipline as UNL.


I have worked in two disparate areas of research, one as an environmental archaeologist and the other as a forensic anthropologist/archaeologist. My environmental archaeology program focuses on the analysis of ancient (3rd and 4th millennium BCE) fish remains and their modern counterparts. This will allow us to examine significant changes in fishing, butchery, ancient trade, as well as climate change.

After retiring from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, my primary focus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is to provide opportunities to learn and conduct research related to the identification of missing US service members in conjunction with the Scientific Analysis Directorate Laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, NE.

Link:  https://sgis.unl.edu/william-belcher

UW-Madison MIA Recovery & Identification Program: https://www.biotech.wisc.edu/missing-in-action



The middle weeks of March are peppered with notable days:  Canoecopia, Daylight Savings, the Ides, St Patrick’s Day, the Spring Equinox, March Madness.  The sap is rising up in all of us.


And come April 9-11, we’ll have the 19th Annual UW Science Expeditions Campus Open House to dive into.  Experience science as probing the unknown at your public, land-grant research & extension university.  You can check out the schedule of online and outdoor events at https://science.wisc.edu/science-expeditions/


Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab!


Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H