Columns

Maureen O’Leary wraps fossils during an expedition in Mali. Photo by Eric Roberts

By Daniel Dunaief

Mali is filled with challenges, from its scorching hot 125 degree temperatures, to its sudden rainstorms, to its dangers from militant and terrorist-sponsored groups.

The current environment in the landlocked country in West Africa makes it extraordinarily difficult to explore the past in a region that includes parts of the Sahara Desert, but that, at one point millions of years ago, was part of a waterway called the Trans-Saharan Seaway.

Maureen O’Leary, professor of anatomical sciences at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, led three expeditions to Mali, in 1999, 2003 and 2008, collecting a wide array of fossils and geological samples from areas that transitioned from an inland seaway that was about 50 meters deep on average to its current condition as a desiccated desert.

Maureen O’Leary and Eric Roberts with Mali guards. Photo from Maureen O’Leary

On her third trip, O’Leary quickly left because she decided the trip was too dangerous for her and the scientific team. Rather than rue the lack of ongoing access to the region, however, O’Leary pulled together an international team of researchers from Australia, the United States and Mali to look more closely and categorize the information the research teams had already collected from the region.

“We made the most of a bad situation,” O’Leary said. “It is a silver lining, to some degree.”

Indeed, O’Leary and her collaborators put together a paper for the June 28 issue of the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History that is over 170 pages and contains numerous images of fossils, as well as recreations of a compelling region during a period from 100 million to 50 million years ago. This time period coincided with one of the five great prehistoric extinction events, during the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary.

O’Leary characterized some of the more exciting fossil finds from the region, which include the first reconstruction of ancient elephant relatives and large predators such as sharks, crocodiles and sea snakes.

The size of some of these creatures far exceeds their modern relatives. For example, O’Leary’s scientific colleagues estimate that a freshwater catfish was about 160 centimeters in length, which is four times the total size of a modern catfish. The larger catfish dovetails with similar observations the researchers had made about sea snakes in 2016 and 2017. They started to knit this trend into a preliminary hypothesis in which a phenomenon known as island gigantism may have played a role in selecting for these unusually large creatures.

“Species become bigger in these environments,” O’Leary said, suggesting that other scientists have made similar observations. “It’s not clear what causes that kind of selection.”

Above, some of the species that lived in and around the TransSaharan Seaway, including an extinct species of crocodile. Illustrated by Lucille Betti-Nash/ Department of Anatomical Sciences, Stony Brook University.

 

In addition to studying vertebrate and invertebrate fossils, scientists including Eric Roberts at James Cook University in Australia looked at the geology of the region. Roberts helped name and describe many of the formations in the area. This provides context for the lives of creatures who survived in an environment distinctly different from the modern milieu of the Sahara Desert.

Roberts, who is a part of the Sedimentary Geology & Paleontology Research Group that has nicknamed themselves Gravelmonkeys, explained that his initial efforts in Mali came from the fieldwork over a course of weeks when he explored the rock sequences and took copious notes on them.

He suggested that the region still represents a geoscience frontier, in part because it is so difficult to get to, takes serious logistics to do fieldwork and is hard to maintain research.“Over many years, I have worked with collaborators on the project to analyze the samples in many different ways and especially to compare our notes and analytical results with descriptions of rocks and geological formations in other parts of the Sahara and further afield in Africa to understand how they are different and how they correlate,” he said.

O’Leary suggested that the paper provides some context for climate and sea level changes that can and have occurred. During the period she studied, the Earth was considerably warmer, with over 40 percent of today’s exposed land covered by water. Sea levels were about 300 meters higher than current levels, although the Earth wasn’t home to billions of humans yet or to many of the modern day species that share the planet’s resources.

Robert Voss, the editor-in-chief of the series at the American Museum of Natural History, praised the work for its breadth. “This was an unusually large and multidisciplinary author team, as appropriate for the broad scope of the report,” he explained .

“Seldom is such a large geographic area so poorly known paleontologically, so there was a unique opportunity here to break new ground and establish a broad framework for future work,” he added.

Voss described O’Leary as a “force of nature” who “responds constructively to peer reviews.” Roberts, too, appreciated the effort O’Leary put into this work.

O’Leary “drove the entire process and product,” which was only possible with someone of her “vision to wrangle so much science from so many different scientists into one place,” he offered in an email.

Roberts is very pleased with the finished product and added that it is “something that I will be proud of for the rest of my career. This took a lot of effort over the years and it great to see the end product.”

O’Leary said that much of the literature for the science in Mali was in French, which had kept it a bit below the radar for scientific discourse, which tends to be in English.

Indeed, O’Leary was able to facilitate conversations among the many people involved in this project because French was the common denominator language. She studied French at the Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland. “When I was sitting in my high school French class, I didn’t think it would come in so handy to be fluent in French” in her career, O’Leary said. “It was helpful as a female leader in this situation to be able to speak for [myself], whether speaking to other Americans or collaborating or working with guards.”

O’Leary plans to look at different projects in the United States, including in Puerto Rico, and in Saudi Arabia next. “We now have this synthetic story for Mali [and will be] building out from this to other areas. I anticipate a large time to ramp up to study areas like deposits in Nevada.”

Gábor Balázsi. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Take two identical twins with the same builds, skill sets and determination. One of them may become a multimillionaire, a household name and the face of a franchise, while the other may toil away at the sport for a few years until deciding to pursue other interests.

What causes the paths of these two potential megastars to diverge?

Gábor Balázsi, an associate professor in biomedical engineering at Stony Brook University, asked a similar question about a cellular circuit in the hopes of learning more about cancer. He wanted to know what is it about the heterogeneity of a cancer cell that makes one susceptible to treatment from chemotherapeutic drugs and the other resistant to them. Heterogeneity comes from molecular differences where the original causes may be subtle, such as two molecules colliding or a cell being closer to the tumor’s surface, while the consequences can create significant differences, even among cells with the same genes.

In research published this week in the journal Nature Communications, Balázsi used two mammalian cell lines that were identical except that each carried a different synthetic gene circuit that made one more heterogeneous than the other. He subjected the two cell lines, which would otherwise perform the same function, to various levels of the same drug to determine what might cause one to be treatable and the other to become resistant. 

Through these mammalian cells, Balázsi created two circuits, one of which kept the differences between the cells low, while the other caused larger differences. Once inserted in the cell, these gene circuits created uniform and variable populations that could serve as models for low and high heterogeneity in cancer.

Working with Kevin Farquhar, who recently graduated from Balázsi’s lab, and former Stony Brook postdoc Daniel Charlebois, who is currently at the Department of Physics at the University of Alberta, Balázsi tried to test how uniform versus heterogeneous cell populations respond to treatment with different drug levels. 

Using the two synthetic gene circuits in separate but identical cell lines, the Stony Brook scientists, with financial support from the National Institutes of Health and the Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology at SBU, could re-create high and low stochasticity, or noise, in drug resistance in two cell lines that were otherwise identical.

While the work is in its preliminary stages and is a long way from the complicated collection of genes responsible for various types of cancer, this kind of analysis can test the importance of specific processes for drug resistance.

“Only in the last decade or so have we come to realize how much heterogeneity (genetic and nongenetic differences) can exist within a tumor in a single patient,” Patricia Thompson-Carino, a professor in the Department of Pathology at the Renaissance School of Medicine at SBU, explained in an email. “Thinking of cancer in a single patient as several different diseases is a bit daunting, though currently, this heterogeneity and its direct effects on how the cancer behaves remains poorly understood.”

Indeed, Thompson-Carino added that she believes Balázsi’s work will “shed light on cancer cell responses to therapy. With the rise in cancer therapies designed to specific targets and the resistance that emerges in patients on these therapies, I think [Balázsi’s] work is of extremely high value” which may help with the puzzle of how nongenetic or epigenetic heterogeneity affects responses to treatment, she continued.

In the future, researchers and clinicians may look to develop new ways of biomarker analysis that considers the variability, rather than just the average level of a biomarker.

Balázsi suggested that looking only at the variability of cells is analogous to observing an iron block sinking in water. Someone might conclude that all solids sink in liquids. Similarly, scientists might decide that cellular variability always promotes drug resistance from observations when this happens. To gain a fuller understanding of the effect of variability, however, researchers need to equalize the averages. They then need to explore what happens at various levels of drug treatment.

Current therapies do not target heterogeneity. If such future treatments existed, doctors and scientists could combine ways of treating heterogeneity with attacking cancer, which might work in the short term or prevent cancer from recurring.

Balázsi suggests his paper is a part of his attempt to address three different areas. First, he’d like to figure out how to categorize patients better, including the variability of biomarkers. Second, he believes this kind of analysis will assist in creating future combinations of treatments. By understanding how the variability of cancer cells contributes to its reaction to therapies, he might help create a cocktail of treatments, akin to the effort that helped with the treatment of HIV in the lab.

Third, he’d like to obtain cancer samples and allow them to evolve in a lab, where he can check to see how they respond to treatment levels and administration scheduling. This effort could allow him to determine the optimal drug combination and dosing for a patient.

For the work that led to the current Nature Communications paper, Balázsi explored how mammalian cells respond to various concentrations of a drug. Over 80 percent of the genes in these cells are also present in human cells, so the mechanisms he discovered and conclusions he draws should apply to human cancer cells as well.

He concluded that cells with more heterogeneity, where the cells deviate more from the average, resist drugs better when the drug level is high. These same cells, show greater sensitivity when the drug is low.

Balázsi recognizes that the work he’s exploring is a “complex problem” and that it requires considerable additional research to understand and appreciate how a therapy might kill one cancer cell, while the same treatment in the same environment doesn’t have the same effect on a genetically identical cell.

Shoreham-Wading River's 2019 commencement exercises. Photo by Bill Landon

We congratulate each and every one the 2019 high school graduates in our circulation area. These students were born 18 years ago, at a time when planes deliberately took down the World Trade Center in New York City and crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a hillside in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. At around the time these children turned 8 years old, the U.S. and world economy collapsed after the financial industry bundled and sold bad mortgage debt. Currently, the nation and countries of the world are coping with election systems troubled with interference from foreign adversaries, whose interests aim to make people question the efficacy of democracy as a form of governance.

As we look forward, and put the past behind us, let’s make sure we take time to remind these graduates of the greater good of humankind. We should also celebrate the good nature within themselves to reassure these young adults that the future is perpetually full of hope and opportunity.

Over the last several decades, despite the tragedies, we have also seen many remarkable achievements. A nation elected its first black president, and we’ve seen women march for their rights and run and be elected to public office at historic rates. Aside from politics, over the last 20 years, scientists have sequenced human DNA, which is helping to develop effective treatments for cancer and other potentially deadly diseases. We’ve also watched the world change as the home computer and telecommunication turned mobile. Consequently, it’s become easier than ever to stay in touch. With the touch of a finger, we can access and enjoy the music, stories and performances of a world full of talented artists, writers and filmmakers.

Adversity and tumultuous times somehow, thankfully, spark creativity and inspire people’s inner goodness. Think of the ’60s, and how that peace and love-conquers-all theme galvanized a culture. It’s an age-old message, really, of biblical proportion. High school graduates should know that as caring human beings they already hold the core qualities they need to thrive.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We make them before we even get up. We lie in our beds, staring at our alarm clocks, where we are faced with the first of countless decisions. Should we get up now or can we afford to wait a few minutes before climbing out of bed?

Decisions range from the mundane to the mind blowing: Do you want pickles, lettuce and tomatoes and what kind of bread would you like; you’re taking a pay cut so you can do what job exactly; are you sure you want to sell that stock today when it may be worth more tomorrow?

We rarely take a step back from the decision-making process because we generally don’t want to slow our lives down, leaving us less time to make other decisions.

Some of the decisions we make are through a force of habit. We buy the same ketchup, take the same route to work, wear the same tie with the same shirt or call the same person when we are feeling lonely.

Just because we have always done something one particular way, however, doesn’t mean we made the best choice, or that we considered how the variables in our lives have changed over time.

As we age, we find that our needs, tastes and preferences evolve. Our bodies may have a lower caloric demand, especially if we spend hours behind a desk. We might also be more prepared to debate or argue with our priest or rabbi, or we might have a greater need to help strangers or make the world a better place for the next generation. The way we make decisions today may be inconsistent with the way we made them for the younger versions of ourselves.

We may have some of the same tastes for movies or books that we had 20 years ago. Then again, we may place a higher value on experiences than we do on possessions.

Eating a particular food, calling a person who makes us feel inadequate or sticking with the same assignments or jobs is often not the best way to live or enjoy our lives.

Inertia affects the way we decide on anything from whether to vote Democratic or Republican to whether we would like pasta or salad for lunch. Sure, I could defy the old me. But then am I remaking a decision or remaking myself?

Ah, but there’s the real opportunity: We can follow the Latin phrase “carpe diem” — seize the day — and redefine and reinvent ourselves as long as we do it with purpose and focus.

Sure, that takes work and planning and we might change something for the worse, but maybe we would make our lives better or leave our comfort zone for greater opportunities. We can decide to take calculated risks with our lives or to move in a new direction. After all, we teach our children to believe in themselves. And if we want to practice what we preach, we should believe in ourselves, too, even on a new path.

Why should we put our lives on automatic pilot and sit in the back seat, making the same circles month after month and year after year? Some routines and decisions, of course, are optimal, so changing them just to change won’t likely improve our lives.

But for many decisions, we can and should consider climbing back into the driver’s seat. For a moment, we might cause our paths to rock back and forth, as if we shook the wheel, but ultimately we can and will discover new terrain.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

My parents married on July 4, 1925. It might seem counterintuitive for them to join each other on Independence Day, but back then to marry meant independence from one’s nuclear family. They were now off on their own, together ready to start a new branch of the family. And they began to have children. They were doing what had been done for only a few centuries before them, marriage being a fairly recent construct in humankind’s history.

Given statistics today, almost a century later, what they did seems almost quaint. Tucked into the back pages of The Wall Street Journal’s Business & Finance section, amid such stories about carmaker Tesla’s quarterly earnings and predictions about the future of tech stocks, is an article that would amaze my parents but speaks to our times: “Despite high costs, more women are interested in single motherhood,” by Veronica Dagher.

Not only are couples no longer feeling the need to marry before they have children. In today’s society, some women don’t need to be part of a couple before they embrace motherhood. Increasing wages for women create economic independence, and the share of women earning top salaries in high positions exploded 500 percent between 2008 and 2012. Women have gone from 1.9 percent among the top 0.1 percent of highest earners to 10.5 percent.

In 2017, according to the WSJ article, four in 10 births were to either solo mothers or mothers living with nonmarital partners. Fifty years ago, the number was one in 10. That means these four out of every 10 children are being raised without a father. That has got to have profound effect on those children. 

According to California Cryobank, a major sperm bank in the United States, about one-third of its clients are single mothers by choice. Further, the number has increased by 3 to 5 percent in the last five years. Rosanna Hertz, a Wellesley College professor, who wrote the book, “Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice: How Women are Choosing Parenthood Without Marriage and Creating the New American Family” (2006), has found that most of those mothers are college educated and earn roughly double the national household median of $110,000. But with rising salaries, not all single mothers are high-wage earners. Some have middle-class backgrounds and may even have more than one child.

What’s puzzling about this picture? Are we witnessing men being thrown away? I pray not. To paraphrase “South Pacific,” there is nothing like a man.

It’s understandable that single mothers may be single because they never found the right person to marry. Or they may be divorced or separated. Or widowed. Or they may have chosen not to marry. All of those reasons have to do with themselves. But according to Hertz, “there has been a notable increase in the number of women opting for this family structure in the 13 years” since she wrote her book. Since it takes both sexes to make a child, does a woman in good conscience have the right to knowingly deprive a child of a father because of an overwhelming maternal desire? Is it selfish or unselfish to procreate without a mate? Does boundless and unconditional love compensate?

There is a support group that deals with such issues. Called Single Mothers by Choice, it considers the emotional, financial, psychological and practical aspects of becoming a single mother. It also provides others in the same situation to talk with. To choose single motherhood is a hard and, incidentally, an expensive route. That was the thrust of the WSJ article. Right from the first step, there is no one with whom to share costs. Initial costs can range from several thousand dollars to six figures, and insurance is spotty.

It is certainly true that life does not always work out the way one would like. In fact, it almost never does. Too many bends to see around, too many roads not taken, too many disappointments. But I would just like to add a last thought from “The King and I”: Most men “can be wonderful.” 

The Mulford Farmhouse. Photo from East Hampton Historical Society

By Nomi Dayan

Nomi Dayan

Before George Washington, Paul Revere and Alexander Hamilton, the first – and feistiest! – patriots were none other than Long Island whalers. The first Colonists were English Puritans who arrived to the east end of Long Island in 1640. At the time, the area was considered an extension of Connecticut and New England – seen as remote and separate from the Dutch-ruled western end of Lange Eylant. 

These pioneers were initially farmers, but they quickly became seasonal entrepreneurs after they noticed their enormous marine neighbors spouting by their shores: blubber-rich right whales.

Whaling companies were launched during the winter months, hunting whales in rowboats on frigid beaches with the labor of local Native Americans. In large iron trypots on the sand, whaling crews stewed blubber until it melted into liquid gold – whale oil. Whale oil was used chiefly for illumination, and later in time, for a variety of manufacturing purposes. Oil even served as a currency (local schoolteachers were paid in whale oil). 

For the next 20 years, Colonists worked to perfect this trade. Whaling quickly became part of community life, with required whale-spotting shifts from able-bodied men. School even let out from December to April so children could help spot and process whales. Oil was shipped to New England rather than New Amsterdam to avoid Dutch taxes.

This trade route was suddenly halted when new commerce rules were set in place by England. The entire Long Island was now a part of New York. All goods were to be exported through New York City. The whale was a “royal fish,” from which the crown demanded a 20 to 50 percent tax. Eastenders were horrified.   

The battle between whalers and England began. Whalers were outraged at taxation without representation – foreshadowing the defiant Boston Tea Party a century later. They rebelled by turning Long Island into a smuggler’s haven, avoiding taxes by continuing to ship their oil to Boston or New London.  

The Mulford Farmhouse is one of the oldest in Suffolk County

A string of upset New York governors tried to enforce the tax – generally unsuccessfully. When the Duke of York investigated how many whales were caught in the past 6 years – and what his share was – he found no records had been kept. Lord Cornbury, a later New York governor, whined that “the illegal trade” was still carrying on between Long Island and New England. 

With Colonists’ protests falling on deaf ears, the towns of East Hampton, Southampton and Southold bypassed the governor of New York and submitted a petition to the court of England to be made a free corporation or continue under Connecticut rule. Their detailed list of complaints is similar to the tune of complaints in the Declaration of Independence. Their plea was denied. Their solution? Ignore the whale tax anyway. 

Colonists continued to smuggle the majority of oil to New England. New York merchants themselves were also flouting the law, which required all international trade to go through England. Instead, they traded directly with the West Indies, exchanging whale oil for rum, sugar and cocoa. 

Taking international trade into their own hands, New Yorkers who felt particularly courageous loaded up their ships and sailed with their goods to Madagascar, where there was an anarchist colony of none other than – pirates! Doing business with pirates was highly profitable, since it was all tax free. An inspector noted that in 1695, Long Island “was a receptacle for pirates and the people generally a lawless and unruly set.”

Whalers continued to protest. One of the pluckiest whalers who objected to the whale tax was Samuel Mulford of East Hampton, who lived from 1644 to 1725. He was a bold and somewhat quirky fellow. He championed the cause of the whalers, himself a financially successful owner of a whaling company of 24 men. 

Elected as a representative to New York Assembly in 1683, Mulford was expelled from the assembly twice for his outspoken demands; Colonists simply re-elected him and sent him back. When he sailed to London to protest the whale oil tax, he sewed fishhooks in his pockets to deter pickpockets during his long wait outside Buckingham Palace. 

Ultimately, the crown eased taxation. Mulford didn’t get to see this victory, as this announcement came five years after his death. Encouragingly, various acts were passed by the British Parliament to support the lucrative whaling industry, but Colonists’ frustrations toward their relationship with England never really went away. During the Revolutionary War, which brought whaling to a standstill, locals repurposed whaleboats for guerilla warfare against British efforts.

After America won its independence, a new era opened for whaling. In 1785, The Lucy left Sag Harbor to whale offshore Brazil; she returned with an unprecedented 360 barrels of whale oil. Americans took notice. To encourage trade, George Washington then authorized the first lighthouse in New York State to be built, the Montauk Lighthouse. The hundreds of whaleships that followed The Lucy would have sailed home from their global voyages directed by this lighthouse – illuminated by none other than whale oil.

Nomi Dayan is the executive director at The Whaling Museum & Education Center.

Farfalle Salad with Salmon, Asparagus and Peas. Stock photo

By Barbara Beltrami

When it’s time for a backyard barbecue or pool party, neighborhood get-together or family celebration, it seems that in the past few years the traditional salads have given up some of their popularity to pasta salads, one of my favorite things to put together. I cook up a nice big pot of some weird-shaped pasta and then put my imagination to work. The last three times I did that I came up with some real doozies that turned out to be big hits. 

The first was farfalle with poached salmon, peas, asparagus, dill, yogurt and mayonnaise. Another one was penne with chick peas, black olives, cherry tomatoes, grilled eggplant and goat cheese, and the most recent one was basically an antipasto salad: fusilli tossed with julienned Genoa salami,, provolone, roasted red peppers, pepperoncini, marinated artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella and anchovies in a simple olive oil, wine vinegar and herb dressing. Try one or all of them or boil up a pot of pasta and see what happens next.

Farfalle Salad with Salmon, Asparagus and Peas

YIELD: Makes 8 to 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

1 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup capers, rinsed and drained

Freshly squeezed juice of one small lemon

2 teaspoons prepared mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 

1 pound farfalle pasta, cooked and at room temperature 

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 package frozen peas, thawed

1 pound fresh asparagus, cooked and sliced into 1-inch pieces

3 to 4 scallions, thinly sliced

1 pound fresh salmon, poached and torn into bite-size pieces

1/3 cup chopped fresh dill

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium bowl, using a wire whisk thoroughly combine yogurt, mayonnaise, capers, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper. In a large bowl toss the pasta with the olive oil to coat thoroughly. Add peas, asparagus, scallions  and yogurt mixture; toss again; scatter salmon and dill over top of salad. Serve at room temperature or chilled with cucumber salad.

Penne Salad Provencale

YIELD: Makes 8 to 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound cooked penne, at room temperature

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup white or red wine vinegar

2 garlic cloves, bruised

1 tablespoon fresh marjoram or 1 tsp. dried

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp. dried

Coarse salt and black pepper to taste

Nonstick cooking spray

1 medium eggplant, washed and diced

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

One 14-ounce can chick peas, rinsed/drained

3 medium fresh tomatoes, diced

1 cup oil-packed black olives, pitted and sliced

6 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 F. In small bowl combine oil, vinegar, garlic, marjoram and thyme. Let sit at room temperature one hour; remove and discard garlic. Coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray; spread eggplant evenly and bake, until soft, about 10 minutes. In medium bowl, toss eggplant with ¼ cup olive oil. In large bowl, combine pasta, eggplant, chick peas, tomatoes, olives, goat cheese and oil and vinegar mixture; season with salt and pepper; toss thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate up to one hour; let sit 30 minutes before serving with a green salad, and meat, fowl or fish.

Fusilli Salad with Antipasto

YIELD: Makes 8 to 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup red wine vinegar

2 garlic cloves, bruised

¼ cup chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano 

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 pound cooked fusilli pasta

½ cup pepperoncini, drained

½ pound sliced Genoa salami, julienned

¼ pound sliced provolone cheese, julienned

½ pound mozzarella cheese, diced

¾ cup roasted red peppers, diced

1 cup marinated artichoke hearts, drained and sliced or chopped

½ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and diced

10 anchovy fillets, minced

1 cup thinly sliced celery

DIRECTIONS:

In small bowl combine oil, vinegar, garlic, basil, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper; whisk vigorously; let sit at room temperature one hour; remove garlic and discard; whisk mixture again. In large bowl, combine remaining ingredients; toss, add oil and vinegar mixture, toss again. 

Refrigerate until ready to serve, let sit 30 minutes at room temperature. Serve with wine, beer, or soft drinks.

Above, Tom Cassidy as a 17-year-old lifeguard at Rockaway Beach in Queens. Photo from T. Cassidy

By Thomas M. Cassidy

Recently I visited West Meadow Beach in Stony Brook with a friend who’s assigned to the Coast Guard base at Montauk. It was high tide and Long Island Sound was very calm as I pointed to Bridgeport on the Connecticut side and the smokestacks in Northport on the Long Island side. As we got closer to the shoreline, I was jolted back 50 years to a memory of a young boy who almost drowned on a perfect beach day.

I was sitting on a lifeguard chair watching a few bathers playing in the calm water at West Meadow Beach. All of a sudden a young girl ran toward me screaming that her brother was drowning. I immediately scanned the beach and focused on every bather in my area and pleaded with her to tell me where he was. She pointed toward her mother who was standing a hundred yards passed the lifeguard-protected beach and pointing toward the water. Then I saw a little boy on an inflatable toy raft and the offshore breeze pushing him further out in Long Island Sound.

I stood; blew my whistle and ran as fast as I could on the beach toward the raft. When I got closer, I dove in the water and swam as fast as I could, hoping and praying that the boy wouldn’t fall off the raft. When I reached the raft, the boy was still on it. I told him everything’s okay and I was going to bring him back to his mom. Two other lifeguards arrived seconds after me and we safely brought the boy back to the beach.

Before I went back to my lifeguard stand, the frightened mother thanked me for saving her son’s life. She said that her son was floating right in front of her as she stood in knee deep water. She was momentarily distracted as she checked on her daughter who was sitting on the shoreline. When she turned around, the toy raft had drifted out to sea and she couldn’t catch up to it. She told her son to stay calm and she sent her daughter to ask the lifeguards for help. She kept saying that it happened so fast and her son never made a sound.

Summer vacation is a great time for people of all ages to enjoy a refreshing dip in the pool, lake or Long Island Sound. Just be aware that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are about 10 drownings every day in the United States. 

So stay alert when you, a friend or a family member is in the water and always swim at lifeguard-protected beaches and pools when possible. Sadly, this can be a life or death decision.

Thomas M. Cassidy is a resident of Setauket and author of several books including his latest, “Damage Control.”

CALLING IT A DAY

Tom Caruso of Smithtown captured this quintessential Long Island scene at Sunken Meadow State Park with a Nikon D850 on June 9 just before sunset.  He writes, ‘This fisherman had waded a good distance out into the water at the base of the Kings Park Bluffs and was casting for a long time.  As night fell around him, he threw his last cast, reeled in his line and returned to shore empty handed but was bathed in the beautiful colors of sunset.’

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com

Ela Elyada. Photo by Giulia Biffi

By Daniel Dunaief

They have the ability to call the body’s armed forces. They may interact with the immunological foot soldiers and, then, somehow, inactivate them, allowing the destructive cancer they may aid and abet to continue causing havoc.

This is one hypothesis about how a newly discovered class of fibroblasts may play a role in the progression of pancreatic cancer.

Ela Elyada, a postdoctoral fellow in David Tuveson’s lab at Cold Spring Harbor Lab, partnered up with Associate Professor Paul Robson at the Jackson Laboratory in Farmington, Connecticut, to find a new class of fibroblast in pancreatic cancer.

This cell, which they called antigen-presenting cancer-associated fibroblasts (or apCAFs) had the same kind of genes that are usually found in immune cells. Cells with these genes have signals on their surface that present antigens, or foreign parts of viruses and bacteria to helper T-cells. Elyada and Robson showed that the apCAFs can use their immune cell genes to present peptides to helper T-cells.

With the apCAFs, the researchers hypothesize that something about the immunological process goes awry, as the T-cells show up but don’t engage.

Elyada and Robson suspect that the activation process may be incomplete, which prevents the body’s own defense system from recognizing and attacking the unwelcome cancer cells.

While she was excited about the potential of finding a different type of cell, Elyada needed to convince herself, and the rest of the scientific community, that what she’d found was truly original, as opposed to a scientific mirage.

“We spent hours and hours trying to understand what is different in this type of cell,” Elyada said. “Like everything new you find, as a scientist, you really question yourself, ‘Is it real? Is it an artifact of the single cell?’ It was really important for me to do everything I could from every angle to make sure they were not macrophages that looked like fibroblasts or cancer cells that looked like fibroblasts.”

After considerable effort, Elyada was sure without a doubt that the group had found fibroblasts and that these specific cells, which typically are involved in connective tissue but which pancreatic cancer uses to form a shell around it, contained these immunological genes.

She sees these cells in different experiments from other people inside and outside the lab, which further supports her work and found the apCAFs in mice and human pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, which is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the world.

The fibroblasts, which are not cancerous, play an unclear role in pancreatic cancer. 

Elyada explained that single-cell sequencing enables scientists to look at individual cells, instead of at a whole population of cells. Scientists “have started to utilize this method to look at differences between cells we thought were the same,” she said. “It’s useful for looking at the fibroblast population. Scientists have appreciated that there’s probably a lot of heterogeneity,” but they hadn’t been able to describe or define it as well without this technique.

The results of this research, which was a collaboration between Elyada, Robson and others, were recently published in the journal Cancer Discovery. Robson said it was a “great example of how [single-cell RNA sequencing] can be very useful in revealing new biology, in this case, a new subtype of cancer-associated fibroblast.”

Earlier work in the labs of Robson and Tuveson, among others, have shown heterogeneity within cancer-associated fibroblast populations. These often carry a worse prognosis.

“We are very interested in continuing to explore this heterogeneity across tumor types and expect we will continue to find new subtypes and, although we have yet to confirm, would expect to see other solid tumor types to contain apCAFs,” Robson said.

“We still need to work hard to reveal their function in the full animal, but if they turn out to be tricking the immune cells, they could be a target for different immune-related inhibition methods,” explained Elyada.

The newly described fibroblast cells may be sending a signal to the T-cells and then either trapping or deactivating them. Elyada and Robson both said these results, which they developed after working together since 2016, have led to numerous other questions. They want to know how they work, what the mechanisms are that allow their formation, what signals they trigger in T-cells and many other questions.

Elyada is working with Pasquale Laise in Andrea Califano’s lab at Columbia University to gather additional information that uses this single-cell sequencing data.

Laise has “a unique way of analyzing [the information] to look at how the sequencing can predict if proteins are active or not active in a cell,” she said. Laise is able to predict the activity of transcription factors according to the expression level of their known target.

Elyada may be able to use this information to understand the source cell from which the fibroblasts are coming.

Originally from Israel, Elyada has been working as a postdoctoral researcher in Tuveson’s lab for about six years. She lives in Huntington Village with her husband Gal Nechooshtan, a postdoctoral researcher at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Woodbury complex. The couple has two daughters, Maayan, who is 10, and Yael, who is 8.

Elyada hopes to return to Israel next year, where she’d like to secure a job as a professor and build on the work she’s done at CSHL.“I definitely want to keep working on this. This would hopefully be a successful project in my future lab.”

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