Research Professor of Biomedical Anthropology
PhD, Pennsylvania State University, 1973
Science 1, Room 113
Ralph Garruto is a human population biologist whose research focus is on natural experimental models of disease, using both field and laboratory approaches. His cross-disciplinary research and interests include studies of neurodegenerative disorders including Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease and Alzheimer's Disease, food chain disorders, health transition studies, obesity and bionutrition, malaria, Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, and prion diseases, especially Chronic Wasting Disease. Currently he has field research projects in Micronesia, Vanuatu, Ukraine, China, Siberia, and upstate New York. His wet laboratory focus is on cellular and molecular mechanisms of neuronal degeneration, host-pathogen interactions, experimental modeling, use of mitochondrial DNA in biomedical and evolutionary studies, and the study of gene-environment interactions in health and disease.
Current Field and laboratory Research Projects
Human Behavioral Risk of Lyme and Other Tick-Borne Diseases in Fragmented Ecospaces within Built Environments: Ecological factors such as climate change, increasing reservoir animal populations, fragmentation of ecological spaces, and expansion of suburban and peri-urban human populations is resulting in the overlap of significant numbers of people with tick populations carrying human pathogens. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease annually with 95% of cases in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, among the most densely populated regions within the United States. Geographically, urbanization has drastically altered human and physical landscapes. The rise of populated suburban, peri-urban and urban zones has resulted in extensive areas characterized by built environments. With numerous microecologies in parks, college campuses, playgrounds and neighborhoods there is likely significant transmission of vector-borne diseases. Our knowledge of the dynamic interaction between infectious tick populations and humans in fragmented ecospaces within built environments is minimal. The lack of such knowledge leaves public health professionals at a disadvantage when addressing the emerging problem of tick-borne disease transmission. We are determining the prevalence of the infected reservoir host (Peromyscus leucopus) and the density and infectivity of the tick vector (Ixodes scapularis) which transmits the Lyme infectious agent, Borrelia burgdorferi in a six county area of the Southern Tier and Upper Susquehanna River Valley. We also identify and quantify key demographic and behavioral factors that place humans at risk for contracting Lyme. Our research will contribute to understanding the ecological complexities governing the epidemiology and transmission of Lyme within built environments and may produce new knowledge that causes re-examination of the risk of acquiring vector-borne diseases within settings traditionally perceived as low risk.
Emerging Prion Diseases: Chronic Wasting Disease in Upstate New York: The emergence and continuing spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in cervids is now in 15 US states, 2 Canadian provinces, and South Korea, producing a potential for transmission of CWD prions to humans and other animals globally. In 2005, CWD spread for the first time from the Midwest to more densely populated regions of the East Coast. As a result, a large cohort of individuals attending a wild game feast in upstate New York were exposed to and ingested meat from a deer that was subsequently confirmed positive for CWD. We have been assessing this exposure yearly since 2005 to 1) determine if individuals exposed in a variety of ways to a CWD infected animal have generalized health issues or symptoms which may be related to the development of a prion-like diseases; and 2) determine if they have altered their general risk behaviors since the point-source exposure occurred. (Photo Credit: http://www.portsullivanranch.com/images/upload/whitetail-deer-hunting-in-dallas.jpg)
Health Transitions in Vanuatu: The overall goal of this project is to identify key behaviors that are associated with increased chronic disease risk. The South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu, like many developing countries, is currently experiencing a shift in disease burden from infectious to chronic disease, a component of a health transition. We are identifying behaviors associated with increased chronic disease risk in Vanuatu. We surveyed more than 3,000 children and adults on five islands in Vanuatu varying in degree of economic development. We measured height, weight, waist, hip and upper arm circumferences as well as triceps, subscapular and suprailiac skin folds and percent body fat (%BF) by bioelectrical impedence. We also assessed diet (through 24 hour dietary recall and a simplified food frequency questionnaire) and physical activity patterns using a survey instrument. We are comparing the anthropometric patterns among islands and are analyzing associations with diet and physical activity patterns in order to understand the risk of chronic disease as a result of modernization and migration and its interaction with endemic infectious disease.
Genetic Diversity within and among Trans-New Guinea Language speakers of Highland
Papua New Guinea: The main objectives of the proposed study are to: 1) characterize the genetic diversity
within and among Trans-New Guinea Language speaking populations of Highland Papua
New Guinea through DNA isolation of 1000 individuals for whole mitochondrial and nuclear
genome sequencing, 2) correlate and contrast the genetic, linguistic, and geographic
distances between these population groups. Although all of the Eastern Highland languages
are spoken by neighboring villages within a contiguous 75 km diameter region, the
linguistic diversity is extreme compared to other regions or continents. For example,
Fore and Gimi villages are within walking distance yet the languages share only 46%
of their cognates, exceeding that of the Indic languages (50%) and similar to Greek
and Italian (45%) while the sharing between Goroka and Kainantu (19-20%) or between
them and Southern Highland language families (19%) are nearly twice as divergent as
the Indo-European language family (35%) that extends Northwestward from India to Scotland
Correlations among genetic, linguistic, and geographic distances: The highland populations of New Guinea therefore are among the most isolated and linguistically diverse populations in the world. Comparisons of populations within and among these regions will allow us to determine if genetic similarity decay asymptotes over short distances like cognates or continues to decrease with greater geographic distances. (Photo Credit: http://www.indopacificimages.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/PNG-Map_750.jpg)
Effects of Long-term Chronic Low-Dose Radiation Exposure thru the Human Food Chain in the Polissia-Chornobyl Region of Ukraine and its Effects on Birth Outcomes: Chornobyl represents the greatest nuclear disaster in human history and its consequences continue to be debated. The health effects of chronic low-dose radiation exposure remains a controversial question. Monitoring after the Chornobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine suggested that chronic low-dose radiation exposure was not linked to cancer mortality among the general population. However, elevated rates of birth defects in contaminated compared to uncontaminated regions suggest that chronic exposure to low-dose radiation in utero might impact development and represent and underestimated risk to human health. The overall goal of this study is to determine if continuing exposure to chronic low dose radiation in the Polissia region of the Ukraine though the food chain and from inhalation of burning debris is having an impact on the health of newborns, on child health and as a contributor to the development of chronic disease risk in both children and adults. (Photo Credit: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/newsgraphics/2014/04/02/chernobyl/assets/images/reactor-640.jpg)
Biology of High Altitude Han and Tibetan Populations in Western China: Qinghai Province has a total population of slightly over 4 million and a land area of 721 million km2, of which 54% lies between 4000m and 5000m. Among the most important theoretical questions in evolutionary biology are whether human populations with distinct gene pools adapt similarly to a given unmodifiable environmental stress (hypoxia), and whether such adaptations are short-term, developmental or generational. The Qinghai inhabitants include several linguistically and genetically different populations that are indigenous to these high altitude regions, Tibetan and Hui, as well as first generation Han migrants of low altitude ancestry and their second generation children born at high altitude. An opportunity to answer these questions and to examine gene-environment interactions occurred as early as 1985 when we developed a collaborative high altitude research program in Western China to look at the physiological and morphological adaptation of human populations in Qinghai to major environmental stressors.
Exome Sequencing of DNA in Neurodegenerative Diseases of Guam: Guam Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinsonism Dementia (PD) are chronic, progressive and fatal disorders that occur in the same kindred, sibship, and even in the same individuals. The etiology is unknown, but both genetic and environmental factors have consistently appeared to be important. This collaborative project brings together genomic DNA from brain tissues from a large sample of patients with ALS and PD of Guam that are being sequenced for all protein-coding regions of "exomes" in Guam ALS and PD and Guam neurologically normal controls to detect and annotate DNA variants. Our primary focus is on genes that have rare variants that would affect the proteins that are shared only by the affected members of a family. Potentially interesting variants will be flagged for genetic validation through Sanger sequencing. We expect to identify and validate a number of genes causing or conferring susceptibility to ALS and PD. Elucidation of the genetic basis of these diseases will improve our understanding of related neurodegenerative disorders, including sporadic ALS, Parkinsonism and Alzheimer's disease (AD) globally and possibly frontotemporal dementia as well. It may also provide information on the origin of the Chamorros and peopling of the Pacific.
Weitz CA, Garruto RM, Chin CT. Larger Lung Volumes among Tibetans Compared to Han Born and Raised at High Altitude. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. SUBMITTED.
Weitz CA, Garruto RM, Chin CT. Stunting and Lung Volumes among Tibetan Children and Adolescents at High Altitude. High Altitude Medicine & Biology. ACCEPTED.
Olszowy KM, Pomer A, Dancause KN, Sun C, Silverman H, Lee G, Chan CW, Tarivonda L, Regenvanu R, Kaneko A, Weitz CA, Lum JK, Garruto RM. Impact of Modernization on Adult Body Composition on Five Islands of Varying Economic Development in Vanuatu. American Journal of Human Biology. IN PRESS.
Roome A, McAuliffe M, Hill L, Al-Feghali V, Monroe N, Buffa G, Bower K, Li I, Tyurin S, Pabafikos C, Leighton A, Syed U, Doulouris C, Rios D, Maliga A, Alam S, Patel P, Cicchetti N, Nichter A, Lupo K, Malone C, Spathis R, Garruto RM. 2015. Seasonality and risk of infection of Lyme disease. Fortieth annual meeting of the Human Biology Association, St. Louis, Missouri, March 25-26. American Journal of Human Biology 27(2): 284. Also in: Abstracts from the 8th Annual Binghamton Biomedical Research Conference, April 18, p. 2; Abstracts from the 2014 Binghamton University Research Days, April 24.
Bongermino-Rose M, Olszowy KM, Roome A, Peckham K, Murnock C, Caldarelli K, Echard J, Lavelle J, Rachfall K, Hempstead S, Drouin K, Dary JM II, Reiber C, Garruto RM. 2015. Six-year follow-up of a point-source exposure to CWD contaminated venison, in an upstate New York community: Risk behaviors and health outcomes 2005-2011. Fortieth annual meeting of the Human Biology Association, St. Louis, Missouri, March 25- 26. American Journal of Human Biology 27(2): 262.
Bower K, Pomer A, Olszowy KM, Sun C, Lee G, Chan CW, Silverman H, Dancause KN, Tarivonda L, Taleo G, Abong M, Rgenvanu R, Kaneko A, Weitz C, Lum JK, Garruto RM. 2015. Maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) and its relationship with muscle and fat composition in Vanuatu. Fortieth annual meeting of the Human Biology Association, St. Louis, Missouri, March 25- 26. American Journal of Human Biology 27(2): 262. Also in: Abstracts from the 8th Annual Binghamton Biomedical Research Conference, April 18, p. 13; Abstracts from the 2014 Binghamton University Research Days, April 24.
Darcy JM II, Davis S, Hao Y, Garruto RM. 2015. Emergence of a persistent symptomatology in a cohort of patients reporting previous diagnosis and treatment for Lyme disease. Buffa G, Olszowy KM, Sun C, Silverman H, Pomer A, Dancause KN, Lee G, Chan DW, Tarivonda L, Taleo G, Abong M, Regenvanu R, Kaneko A, Weitz C, Lum JK, Garruto RM. 2015. Changes in adult blood pressure associated with modernization in the Republic of Vanuatu: 2007-2011. Fortieth annual meeting of the Human Biology Association, St. Louis, Missouri, March 25- 26. American Journal of Human Biology 27(2): 265. Also in: Abstracts from the 8th Annual Binghamton Biomedical Research Conference, April 18, p. 19.
McAuliffe M, Roome A, Li I, Al-Feghali V, Malone C, Hammond A, Barone P, Christophel J, Bermeo J, Blumberg G, Bower K, Buffa G, Chiu L, Kaur N, Koulouris C, Leighton A, Lupo K, Maliga A, Monroe N, Pabafikos C, Rios D, Syed U, Tyurin S, Alam S, Cicchetti N, Jones K, Nichter A, Patel P, Hill L, Ong A, Spathis R, Shepherd J, Garruto RM. 2015. Rodent Reservoir Species Populations are Affected by Human Behaviors, Which Proliferate the Spread of Borrelia Burgdorferi. Abstracts from the 8th Annual Binghamton Biomedical Research Conference, April 18, p. 30. Also in: Abstracts from the 2014 Binghamton University Research Days, April 24.
Olszowy KM, Lavelle J, Rachfal K, Hempstead S, Drouin K, Darcy II JM, Reiber C and Garruto RM. 2014. Six-year follow-up of a point-source exposure to CWD contaminated venison in an Upstate New York community: Risk behaviors and health outcomes 2005-2011. Public Health 128: 860-868.
Mohammad A, Kazim SF, Grundke-Iqbal I, Garruto RM, Iqbal K. 2014. Tau pathology involves protein phosphatase 2A in Parkinsonism-dementia of Guam. PNAS. 111(3): 1144-1149.
Olszowy KM, Roome A, Bower K, Ngwele D, Tarivonda L, Lum JK, Dancause KN, Garruto RM. 2014. Understanding the impact of maternal obesity on childhood nutritional status in an urban Ni-Vanuatu community. Thirty-ninth annual meeting of the Human Biology Association, Calgary, Canada, April 9-10. American Journal of Human Biology. 26(2): 276.
Roome A, Bower K, Murnock CG, Hill L, Ho B, Tyurin S, Al-Feghali V, Zeitz, H, Rios, D, Parwez R, Li I, Leighton A, Lupo K, Hao Y, Pabafikos C, Goodsell J, Scher N, Daivs S, Lamendola T, Singh R, Ma J, DeLeon N, Darcy II JM, Spathis R, Garruto RM. 2014. Prevalence of tick-borne pathogens and human behavioral risk factors in built environments of upstate New York suggest a necessity for the development of risk management models. Thirty-ninth annual meeting of the Human Biology Association, Calgary, Canada, April 9-10. American Journal of Human Biology. 26(2): 279.
Cruz T, Keppler H, Thomas J, Kommareddy D, Hempstead S, Valentine E, Spathis R, Darcy II JM, Garruto RM. 2013. Assessing prevalence of tick-borne infectious agents on a university campus. Thirty-eighth annual meeting of the Human Biology Association, Knoxville, Tennessee, April 10-11. American Journal of Human Biology 25:254-255. (March/April) American Journal of Human Biology 25:255. (March/April).
Darcy II JM, Spathis R, Schmidt J, Keppler H, Hempstead S, Cruz T, Kommareddy D, Thomas J, Riddle M, Sayama H and Garruto RM. 2013. Emergence, transmission, and risk of Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections: a community based natural experimental model. Thirty-eighth annual meeting of the Human Biology Association, Knoxville, Tennessee, April 10-11. American Journal of Human Biology 25:255. (March/April).
Kommareddy D, Schmidt J, Darcy II JM, Garruto RM, Sayama H. 2013. Modeling Lyme disease risk using a biobehavioral and ecological approach. Thirty-eighth annual meeting of the Human Biology Association, Knoxville, Tennessee, April 10-11. American Journal of Human Biology 25:263. (March/April).
Weitz CA, Liu JC, He X, Chin CT, Garruto RM. 2013. Responses of Han migrants compared to Tibetans at high altitude. American Journal of Human Biology 25:169-178. (March/April)
Dancause KN, Vilar M, Wilson M, Soloway L, DeHuff C, Chan CW, Tarivonda L, Reganvanu R, Kaneko A, Lum JK, Garruto RM. 2013. Behavioral risk factors for obesity during health transition in Vanuatu, South Pacific. Obesity 21:E98-E104. (January)
Vilar MG, Chan CW, Santos DR, Lynch D, Spathis R, Garruto RM, Lum JK. 2013. The origins and genetic distinctiveness of the chamorros of the Marianas Islands: An mtDNA perspective. American Journal of Human Biology 25:116-122. (Jan/Feb)
Dancause KN, Vilar M, Chan CW, DeHuff C, Wilson M, Soloway LE, Tarivonda L, Regenvanu R, Kaneko A, Garruto RM, Lum JK. 2012. Patterns of childhood and adolescent overweight and obesity during health transition in Vanuatu. Public Health Nutrition. 15:158-166.
Chan CW, Spathis R, Reiff DM, McGrath SE, Garruto RM, Lum JK. 2012. Diversity of Plasmodium falciparum Chloroquine Resistance Transporter (pfcrt) Exon 2 Haplotypes in the Pacific from 1959 to 1979. PLoS ONE 7: e30213.
Reiff DM, Spathis R, Chan CW, Vilar MG, Sankaranarayanan K, Lynch D, Ehrlich E, Kerath S, Chowdhury R, Robinowitz L, Lum JK, Garruto RM. 2011. Inherited and somatic mitochondrial DNA in Guam amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and parkinsonism-dementia. Neurological Sciences 32(5):883-892.
Dancause KN, DeHuff C, Soloway LE, Vilar M, Chan CW, Wilson M, Tarivonda L, Regenvanu R, Kaneko A, Garruto RM, Lum JK. 2011. Behavioral Changes Associated with Economic Development in the South Pacific: Health Transition in Vanuatu. Thirty-sixth annual meeting of the Human Biology Association, Minneapolis, Minnesota, April 13-14. American Journal of Human Biology 23:366-376.
Dancause KN, Yevtushok L, Lapchenko S, Shumlyansky I, Shevchenko G, Wertelecki W, Garruto RM. 2010. Chronic Radiation Exposure in the Rivne-Polissia Region of Ukraine: Implications for Birth Defects. American Journal of Human Biology 22:667–674.
Dancause KN, Vilar M, DeHuff C, Wilson M, Soloway LE, Chan CW, Lum JK, Garruto RM. 2010. Relationships between body size and percent body fat among Melanesians in Vanuatu. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 19:421-425.
Garruto RM, Weitz CA. 2010. Chapter 16 Impact of Natural Environmental Stressors on Physiological and Morphological Processes: Methodological Approaches in the Field and the Laboratory. In: Human Variation - From the Laboratory to the Field, ed. by CGN Mascie-Taylor, SJ Ulijaszek, and A Yasukouchi. Taylor and Francis Group, London, pp. 269-289.
Lee HS, Zhdanova SN, Vladimirtsev VA, Platonov FA, Osakovskiy VL, Subbotina EL, Broytman O, Danilova AP, Nikitina RS, Chepurnov AA, Krivoshapkin VG, Gajdusek DC, Savilov YD, Garruto RM, Goldfarb LG. 2010. Epidemiology of Viliuisk encephalomyelitis in Eastern Siberia. Epidemiology 21:24-30.
Garruto RM, Yanagihara R. 2009. Contributions of isolated Pacific populations to understanding neurodegenerative diseases. Folia Neuropathologica 47: 149-170.
Garruto RM, Reiber C, Alfonso MP, Gastrich H, Needham K, Sunderman S, Walker S, Weeks J, DeRosa N, Faisst E, Dunn J Fanelli K, Shilkret K. 2008. Risk behaviors in a rural community with a known point-source exposure to chronic wasting disease. Environmental Health. 17:31. doi: 10.1186/1476-069X-7-31.
Hermosura MC and Garruto RM. 2007. TRPM7 and TRPM2 – Candidate susceptibility genes for western Pacific ALS and PD? Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1772: 822-835.
Lichtenfeld MJ, Worne H, Walker S, Tavares A, Lynch D, Chan C, Arber C, Gebo D, S, Soloway L, Needham K, Edwards CA, Delafield S, Little MA, and Garruto RM. 2007. Health transition in school children: Obesity and overweight in Broome County, New York. American Journal of Human Biology 19: 264-265.
Weitz CA and Garruto RM. 2007. A comparative analysis of arterial oxygen saturation among Tibetans and Han born and raised at high altitude. High Altitude Medicine and Biology 8: 13-26.
Chan CW, Garruto RM, Lum JK. 2006. Paleoparasite Populations from Archived Sera: Insights into Chloroquine Drug-Resistance in Papua New Guinea. Journal of Infectious Disease. 194: 1023-1024.
Plato CC, Garruto RM, Galasko D, Craig U-K, Plato M, Gamst A, Torres JM, and Wiederholt W. 2003. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and parkinsonism-dementia complex of Guam: changing incidence rates during the past sixty years. American Journal of Epidemiology 157: 149-157.
Garruto RM, Chin C-T, Weitz CA, Liu J-C, Liu R-L, and He X. 2003. Hematological differences during growth among Tibetan and Han Chinese born and raised at high altitude in Qinghai, China. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 122: 171-183.
Uspensky I, Garruto RM, and Goldfarb L. 2003. The taiga tick Ixodes persulcatus (Acari: Ixodidae) in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) of Russia: distributional and reproductive ranges. Journal of Medical Entomology 40: 119-122.
Garruto RM, Little MA, James GD, and Brown DE. 1999. Natural experimental models: the global search for biomedical paradigms among traditional, modernizing and modern populations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. 96: 10536-10543.