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Top political scientist joins ASU as Raul Yzaguirre Chair

March 9, 2017

Rodney Hero, the former president — and first Latino to hold the position — of the American Political Science Association, will be joining Arizona State University as the Raul Yzaguirre Chair in the School of Politics and Global Studies.

"We are thrilled professor Hero is joining the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the School of Politics and Global Studies," said Patrick Kenney, dean of the college. "ASU is gaining an invaluable leader in the field of racial and ethnic diversity in American politics. He is an admired undergraduate teacher and graduate mentor. It is altogether fitting that he will hold the Raul Yzaguirre Chair given his extensive and influential service to his profession over the last 30 years.”  

 will join ASU as the Raul Yzaguirre Chair

Rodney Hero

Hero’s research and teaching focuses on American democracy and politics, especially as viewed through the analytical lenses of Latino/a and racial/ethnic politics as well as state politics.

“I’ve been grappling with questions about ethnic and racial relations in the U.S. They’ve developed in new and unforeseen ways since the election. I’ll be trying to understand and make sense of it with specific respect to Latinos in the U.S,” Hero said. “It’s a real intellectual challenge that’s always been there, but it’s taken on a greater magnitude and different shape in the last year or so.”

In the last couple years, Hero’s research has focused on the role of interest groups and advocacy groups in Latino/a politics — an understudied area of research resonating with the work pioneered by Raul Yzaguirre.

“I’m extremely grateful my lifelong mission to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans will continue to flourish with the chair postion established in my name at ASU,” Yzaguirre said. “I’m confident Hero’s innovative thinking will help stimulate social embeddedness and Latino/a political empowerment.”

Yzaguirre is considered one of the most widely recognized national leaders in the Hispanic community. As the former president and chief executive officer of the National Council of La Raza, Yzaguirre spearheaded the council’s growth into the largest, most influential, national constituency-based Latino organization in the U.S. He also served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

In addition, Yzaguirre is a presidential professor of practice in community and civil rights at ASU. He was instrumental in launching ASU’s American Dream Academy, a program designed to give families the tools and confidence needed to make sure their children have successful academic careers and prepare for a university experience.

“I’m very pleased and honored to hold the Raul Yzaguirre Chair, named after someone who was the leader of a very prominent and significant Latino/a organization. It’s very flattering,” Hero said. “The nature of the position is a wonderful opportunity to expand on my research and join an outstanding political science faculty whose work I’ve long admired and respected.” 

Hero will establish a new research center focusing on the study of Latino/a politics. As director, he plans to use the center as a vehicle to create an ongoing discussion with students, faculty and the community at large through a speaker series, large-scale conferences and collaborative research.

“I want to develop deeper and stronger connections to and networks with other scholars around the country,” Hero said. “I would anticipate these conferences be open to undergraduate and graduate students, the larger ASU community and others in the area who might be interested.”

Hero's research, teaching expertise and commitment to shaping the national conversation about politics makes him one of the top political scientists in the world, according to Mark Searle, executive vice president and provost of the university.

“ASU is dedicated to bringing top-tier scholars and professional leaders to the university so they are accessible to students from across the state, nation and globe,” Searle said. “Professor Hero will be a dynamic addition to our faculty and we look forward to his scholarship and mentoring.”

Hero was the president of the American Political Science Association, the Midwest Political Science Association and the Western Political Science Association. He also served on the editorial board of a number of major political science journals. Hero has authored and co-authored nine books, several capturing prestigious awards, and dozens of articles in scholarly journals about American democracy and politics. He currently holds the Haas Chair in Diversity and Democracy at the University of California, Berkeley.

“I’m very honored to be able to hold this position and join some really outstanding faculty in the School of Politics and Global Studies,” Hero said.

Amanda Stoneman

Senior Marketing Content Specialist , EdPlus


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ASU research applies Darwinian medicine to bird guts

Evolutionary medicine applies evolutionary theory to health and disease.
Studying bird health might uncover solutions for human health.
March 9, 2017

School of Life Sciences doctoral candidate Pierce Hutton says study of microbes could lead to solutions in human health

The stomach of a house finch might hold secrets to how humans absorb nutrients, age and deal with the omniprescence of nighttime light pollution.

Pierce Hutton, doctoral candidate in Arizona State University’s School of Life SciencesThe School of Life Sciences is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences., is studying the gut microbiome — the cocktail of microbes in the stomach that help digest food and promote health — of house finches to answer these questions.

His research is funded by ASU’s Center for Evolution and Medicine. Evolutionary medicine, also called Darwinian medicine, is the application of modern evolutionary theory to understanding health and disease. The goal is to understand why people and animals get sick, not simply how they get sick.

Human and animal common denominators can be used to diagnose, treat and heal all species. Human and veterinary medicine are the same, if examined from an evolutionary medicine standpoint.

Two years ago, the Center for Evolution and Medicine Venture Fund was launched to finance research projects that connect evolutionary biology and topics relevant to medicine or public health. The fund is open to all ASU, Mayo Clinic faculty and students.

Hutton had questions that arose from work in the behavioral ecology lab. Working along with postdoc Mathieu Giraudeau, he studied four questions relating to the gut biome of house finches: What do carotenoids tell us about overall health? What is the effect of light pollution? What role does the gut play in aging? What role does microbe diversity play in health?

The males have bright red breasts. Those plumage colors are made by chemicals called carotenoids, which they get from their diet. The intestine is a gatekeeper, so to speak.

“We think the males might vary in how well they absorb the carotenoids,” Hutton said. “One thing that might be helping them absorb them is the gut microbiome. It’s beneficial for them to absorb them, because the plumage colors they have are evaluated by females when they’re selecting mates. It could be some microbes in the gut are helping them become sexier. We wanted to manipulate their diet and see if certain microbes get more abundant. That would tell us which ones are beneficial for uptaking those carotenoids.”

Carotenoids are also linked to health. They have important health benefits in the forms of antioxidants and immune stimulants.

“You could make some extensions to human health and biology by saying, ‘Well, if we know these microbes are beneficial for taking in these key nutrients, then it might be the same case for humans as well,’” Hutton said. “There’s the medicine angle.”

Humans have carotenoids in their bodies, and it changes their appearance too. If Caucasians eat an excessive amount of carrots, they will take on an orange hue.

Hutton and Giraudeau added carotenoids to the birds’ diet. “We did find a major effect,” he said. “’We think these microbes might be related to the uptick of those.”

A second ongoing study is looking at how light pollution affects humans and wild animals. How does living with light in our homes and outside at night affect intestinal health?

“Light pollution is a global epidemic, so we were looking at how it affects the gut microbiome,” Hutton said.

They put birds in separate rooms, one with a blue light (blue light is more disruptive to sleep than any other wavelength) that switched on at night.

Hutton is also trying to manipulate the rate of aging in house finches by regulating their gut microbiome.

DNA has strands of non-coding DNA on the ends called telomeres. They protect DNA from damage.

“As you age and as your cells divide, those end caps shorten over time,” Hutton said. “It opens up DNA to becoming damaged more quickly. There are enzymes we can target to regrow these end caps. We can essentially slow or reverse biological aging in a way. We can do this by up-regulating this enzyme that does that. ... Intestinal health and the microbiome might change as people age. It might be helpful for medicine to know how it’s aging, if it does age, those sorts of things.”

The fourth experiment looked at how the cleanliness of bird feeders affects microbiome in birds. Many people neglect to clean their backyard bird feeders, and so birds are defecating on and eating from the same surface.

“This means that both pathogenic and beneficial microbes might have an easier time colonizing new hosts,” Hutton said.

They put up bird feeders in the wild. During some periods they allowed the feeders to accumulate dirt, and other periods they cleaned them daily.

“We are expecting to see a rise in the diversity of their gut microbe community when the feeder was dirty relative to when it was clean, which might also include more pathogenic bacteria,” Hutton said. “This might connect to humans because many human populations eat under less cleanly conditions, which could lead to similar effects. It also might help us understand how the process of urbanization, and feeding wildlife, affects their gastrointestinal health.”

Researchers are studying house finches because human and animal common denominators can be used to diagnose, treat and heal all species, according to evolutionary medicine. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons. 

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News