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Scholarship & Creative Work
Living together: The best way to divorce-proof a marriage?

Young adults see living together as the best way to protect against divorce, not as an alternative to marriage, a researcher says.

"For a long time, cohabitation has been viewed as a challenge to the institution of marriage," says sociologist Pamela Smock. "But young adults we interviewed are more likely to see living together as a good way to protect against divorce."

Smock, a research scientist at the Institute for Social Research, is the co-author of an article in the current issue of the newsletter of the National Council of Family Relations. In the article, Smock and Bowling Green State University sociologist Wendy Manning review findings from a recent qualitative study of more than 350 young adults in the Midwest.

"Our participants come from diverse social classes and racial and ethnic backgrounds," Smock says.

Most study participants were either living with someone at the time of the interview, or had been living with someone in the recent past. When asked about their relationships, many brought up the subject of divorce.

"Based on experience, young adults are well aware that marriage can be fragile and they want to do whatever they can to avoid a failed marriage," Smock says. "For many, that means living with someone before they consider getting married."

According to Smock and Manning, three themes emerged when the young adults explained why cohabitation is a good way to "divorce-proof" a marriage:

• Socks and toothpaste: Living together is the best way to discover the "real" person and decide whether you are compatible over the long haul.

• The test drive: Living together is a smart way to gain information to decide whether you want to get married.

• A sure-fire antidote to divorce: Not getting married in the first place is the only way to guarantee you won't wind up getting divorced.

According to Smock and Manning, cohabitation serves to weed out marriages least likely to succeed.

Water quality improves after lawn fertilizer ban, study shows

In an effort to keep lakes and streams clean, municipalities around the country are banning or restricting the use of phosphorus-containing lawn fertilizers, which can kill fish and cause smelly algae blooms and other problems when the phosphorus washes out of the soil and into waterways.

But do the ordinances really help reduce phosphorus pollution? That's been an open question until now, says John Lehman, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

"It's one of those things where political organizations take the action because they believe it's the environmentally conscious thing to do, but there's been no evidence offered in peer-reviewed literature that these ordinances actually have a salutary effect," Lehman says.

Now, such evidence exists in a study published by Lehman and students Douglas Bell and Kahli McDonald in the journal Lake and Reservoir Management. The paper, published online Aug. 14, shows that phosphorus levels in the Huron River dropped an average of 28 percent after Ann Arbor adopted an ordinance in 2006 that curtailed the use of phosphorus on lawns. Phosphorus is naturally plentiful in southeast Michigan soils, so fertilizing established lawns with the nutrient is generally unnecessary.

Lehman was in an ideal position to assess the effectiveness of the Ann Arbor ordinance because he and undergraduate student Julie Ferris were already studying nutrient levels in the Huron River and two downstream lakes, Ford Lakes and Belleville Lake, for a different research project.

The study already has attracted the attention of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, which invited Lehman to present the study results at a meeting earlier this year, and may generate interest beyond Michigan's borders.

Study: Long-term exercise, healthy eating habits in young adults

Despite mounting public health concerns about obesity and persistent social pressures dictating that slim is beautiful, young women in their 20s consistently exercise less than young men.

And young black women showed significant declines in exercise between 1984 and 2006, according to a study to be published in the October issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The study is one of the first to analyze long-term patterns in weight-related activities, and to assess how these patterns vary by gender, race and ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

The disparities in health behaviors the study reveals are consistent with disparities in the prevalence of obesity, particular among women, says Philippa Clarke, lead author of the study and a researcher at the Institute for Social Research (ISR).

For the study, the researchers looked at trends over a 23-year-period in six different health behaviors. They measured how often participants reported eating breakfast, and eating at least some green vegetables and fruit; how often they exercised vigorously (jogging, swimming or calisthenics); how often they got at least seven hours of sleep, and how much television they watched on an average weekday.

"Agreement is growing that the source of the obesity epidemic lies in an environment that produces an energy gap, where energy intake exceeds energy expenditure even by as little as 100 excess calories per day," wrote Clarke and co-authors Patrick O'Malley, Lloyd Johnston, John Schulenberg and Paula Lantz, all researchers at ISR.

New method for gene expression experiments akin to watercolor painting in water

Like oil and water, two water-based liquids can mingle without mixing in a new technology developed for biological experiments.

The new micropatterning method is useful in gene expression studies, which essentially turn genes on or off in cells in order to help researchers understand the function of those genes.

"If you take a brush with watercolor paint and move it around in a dish of water, you usually just wash away the paint in the water and get no picture. That's what happens with water-soluble biological reagents in typical cell culture experiments as well. The reagents just diffuse everywhere with no localization," says Shuichi Takayama, associate professor of biomedical engineering and macromolecular science and engineering.

"But we have a system in which you can actually have aqueous solutions that don't mix with each other. Rather than getting a murky dish of washed-away paint, we can create watercolor pictures at the bottom of a dish of water. And when the paint includes gene expression and silencing reagents, we can sketch biological experiments directly onto a canvas of living cells."

Gene expression and silencing reagents are substances that tell cells in an experiment which genes to turn on or off.

In a paper published online on Aug. 16 in Nature Materials, Takayama and his colleagues, led by postdoctoral researcher Hossein Tavana, demonstrate their technique by writing "UMICH" with a fluorescent water-based solution on cells growing in another water-based medium.

The new technology allows researchers to use hundreds of times less reagent than is used in comparable experiments under the current methods.

Researchers from the U-M Health System and the Life Sciences Institute also contributed, including Stephen Weiss, chief of molecular medicine and genetics in the Department of Internal Medicine; and Gary Luker, assistant professor of radiology, and microbiology and immunology.

Molecular 'GPS' helps researchers probe processes important in aging and disease

With all the hype about beneficial antioxidants in everything from face cream to cereal bars, you'd think their targets — oxygen radicals — must be up to no good. It's true, the buildup of oxygen radicals and other reactive oxygen species (ROS) in cells contributes to aging and possibly to diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's.

But in moderate amounts, ROS also help keep cells healthy by controlling cell division, movement and other normal biological processes.

To better understand the role of ROS in disease, scientists first need to explore how ROS function in healthy cells, and research by a U-M team led by chemical biologist Kate Carroll provides an important new tool for doing that. The research is described in a paper scheduled to be published Sept. 18 in the journal ACS Chemical Biology.

The tool, a small molecule called DAz-2, functions something like a subcellular GPS, helping researchers home in on the specific proteins that ROS affect.

The cells of all organisms, from bacteria and yeast to humans, sense ROS through a chemical modification process, known as oxidation, which influences how proteins interact with each other.

"While this overall phenomenon is widely accepted, scientists are still working to identify exactly which proteins are affected by ROS in living cells," says Carroll, assistant professor of chemistry and a research assistant professor in the Life Sciences Institute. Teasing out which proteins are modified and exactly how and where the modification takes place has been hindered by a lack of tools, but Carroll's group has developed a series of chemical probes for that purpose, of which DAz-2 is the latest.

"The new probes allow us to easily sort the proteins we want to analyze and study from other proteins that aren't modified by ROS." Carroll says.

Carroll's coauthors on the paper are graduate student Stephen Leonard and postdoctoral fellow Khalilah Reddie.

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