Guatemalan students visit OU to learn more about freshwater ecology, sustainability

Guatemalan students visit OU to learn more about freshwater ecology, sustainability

A group of students from Guatemala recently visited Oakland University to learn more about freshwater ecology and sustainability in Michigan as part of a collaborative program with OU’s Office of International Education and the Department of Biological Sciences.

“OU students actually visited Guatemala in May as part of a Tropical Field Ecology course, during which they met the students who came to OU this month,” said Scott Tiegs, a professor of biological sciences at OU.

The exchange was sponsored by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas program, which is meant to increase student mobility in the Western Hemisphere. The $25,000 grant was awarded to OU in 2019 based on a proposal submitted by Tiegs and Alex Zimmerman, director of International Education.

“We had to delay the project until now due to the pandemic, so it was very gratifying to finally be able to bring the students here,” Zimmerman said.

As part of their research, the Guatemalan students visited Paint Creek in Orion Township to collect samples of macroinvertebrates — animals that lack a backbone and are large enough to be seen with the naked eye, including aquatic insects, crayfish, snails, clams, and worms — in order to assess the creek’s water quality.

“By looking at the different species that are present in Paint Creek, we can infer a lot about how healthy an ecosystem it is,” Tiegs said. “Some invertebrates are very sensitive to pollution, so when it is present they will disappear from that stream. Other invertebrates are very tolerant of pollution, so they thrive under those conditions. By looking at the abundance of tolerant versus intolerant invertebrates, we’re able to infer a lot about the health of that stream.”

For many of the Guatemalan students, using macroinvertebrates to assess the quality of the water in the creek was a technique they weren’t familiar with.

“It was a great opportunity for them to learn a new technique,” Tiegs said.

It was also a unique experience for the students because many of the insects and animals they found in Paint Creek aren’t found in Guatemala.

“It was very interesting to see the different species there,” said Guatemalan student Jabel Gómez. “I’m very excited to compare these macroinvertebrates and apply what I learn to my future studies in Guatemala.”

Antonella Fuentes, also from Guatemala, agreed.

“It was very interesting,” she said. “Being there really expanded my knowledge about macroinvertebrates and their role in a healthy ecosystem.”

Elizabeth “Lizz” Parkinson, a doctoral student in Oakland University’s Aquatic Ecology Lab in the Department of Biological Sciences and head of the Freshwater Forum at Cranbrook Institute of Sciences, accompanied Tiegs and the students as the collected the samples from the creek.

“One of the things I hope the students get out of their experience is to see the different types of invertebrates that we have here in Michigan,” she said. “While a lot of these orders of invertebrates are unique to Michigan, some are also found in Guatemala, so there are similarities and differences between what they see here and what we see there, which is great because it connects the freshwater in the two places. Also, they’re able to get a taste of what we do with our students here and how we monitor water quality.”

In addition to collecting samples at Paint Creek, the students also went for a hike at Bald Mountain in Orion Township, and took a trip to Sutton’s Bay near Traverse City, where they went kayaking on Crystal River and climbed the Sleeping Bear Dunes. After returning from Sutton’s Bay, the students had an opportunity to tour a water treatment facility in Pontiac, visit the Cranbrook Institute of Science, and walk around Belle Isle and the Detroit Riverfront.

Study to examine effects of Zika infection in Guatemalan infants and children

Study to examine effects of Zika infection in Guatemalan infants and children

A large natural history study examining the neurologic, neurodevelopmental and other clinical outcomes of Zika virus infection in infants and young children has begun in rural Guatemala. It will focus on those infected with Zika virus after birth rather than those infected congenitally. The study is being conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, in partnership with FUNSALUD (Fundacion para la Salud Integral de los Guatemaltecos) Center for Human Development in Coatepeque, Guatemala, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to improving the health and human development of families and communities in the southwest region of Guatemala. Researchers in Guatemala and the United States, including NIAID scientists, designed the study; NIAID is funding the research.

Most people with Zika virus infection have no symptoms or only a mild illness. However, Zika virus infection during pregnancy can result in congenital Zika syndrome, which is a pattern of birth defects that includes severe microcephaly (in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected), decreased brain tissue, damage to the back of the eye, joints with limited range of motion, and excess muscle tone restricting body movement. There are also reports of infants born to Zika virus-infected mothers appearing healthy at birth but later experiencing slowed head growth during the first year and developing postnatal microcephaly. These observations indicate that Zika virus infection has the potential to affect early brain development, but the full spectrum of possible consequences is not yet known.

Zika virus transmission is ongoing in parts of Guatemala, according to the Pan American Health Organization. In addition, a continuing University of Colorado surveillance study characterizing the incidence and pattern of dengue virus in children in the study area (southwestern Guatemala) has confirmed active Zika virus transmission and high Zika virus infection rates in children with fever.

“This natural history study of Zika among Guatemalan children promises to yield valuable insights into acute and longer-term outcomes of infection,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “It is imperative that we understand the potential neurologic and neurodevelopmental outcomes of Zika virus infection in children infected in infancy and early childhood.”

Flor M. Munoz, M.D., an investigator with the NIAID-funded Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit (VTEU) at Baylor College of Medicine, and Edwin J. Asturias, M.D., of the University of Colorado Department of Pediatrics and Center for Global Health, will lead the trial, in collaboration with Antonio Bolaños, M.D., medical director at the FUNSALUD clinic, where the study will occur. The Emory VTEU Research Laboratory, under the direction of Mark Mulligan, M.D., will perform the laboratory testing for the study. Dr. Bolaños has noted that the study is important to families in Guatemala because “it will help provide access to the early diagnosis of Zika for families in this rural area of Guatemala, while helping us uncover whether this virus can interfere with the normal development of young children.”

“For many impoverished children in our country, any Zika effect on their neurodevelopment will add burden to their futures,” Bolaños added.

In addition to Dr. Bolaños, other FUNSALUD investigators, nurses and laboratory technicians will participate in the study, which will also help enhance future Guatemalan medical research capacity.

The trial was reviewed and approved by the Guatemalan Ministry of Health, National Ethics Committee and will be implemented in full compliance with Guatemalan and U.S. regulations that govern clinical research. It will enroll approximately 1,200 infants and children under five years of age. This will include a cohort of 300 children who have postnatally acquired Zika and/or dengue virus infection and were included in the recent University of Colorado surveillance study conducted at FUNSALUD. The trial will also enroll a new cohort of approximately 500 newborns who have not had Zika virus infection, along with their mothers and siblings. The sibling cohort will include approximately 400 children under age five.

Study investigators will monitor the infants, children and mothers for at least one year during home visits, phone calls and clinic appointments. Participants will regularly provide body fluid samples and undergo screenings for potential new Zika, dengue and chikungunya virus infections. They will also undergo regular physical, neurologic, neurodevelopmental, hearing, and eye examinations. Study clinicians will counsel families that choose to enroll their children as participants in the study on how to best prevent Zika infection, as well as other mosquito-borne illnesses. This counseling will include explaining how to remove standing water in and around the home and how to properly use mosquito nets, insect repellents and protective clothing to prevent as many mosquito-borne diseases as possible.

Researchers hope to compare the neurodevelopmental, neurologic, and clinical outcomes of Zika virus-infected children with those who remain uninfected. Participants will be screened for microcephaly, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), Guillain-Barré syndrome (a rare nervous system disorder), seizures, neurodevelopmental delays, hearing loss, eye problems, and other neurologic issues.

The study aims to classify these outcomes among children with or without symptoms of Zika virus infection and compare them to the outcomes of other viral infections, such as dengue or chikungunya. Investigators also will examine levels of Zika virus nucleic acid and neutralizing antibodies in participants to see if certain thresholds correlate with specific clinical, neurologic or neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Secondary goals of the study are to characterize the effect of prior maternal dengue virus infection in Zika virus-infected infants and to evaluate if maternal infection (or children’s own previous dengue virus infections) could result in more severe Zika virus disease in children via antibody-dependent enhancement, or ADE. ADE occurs when antibodies developed in response to a previous viral infection bind to, but do not neutralize, a new infecting virus. Investigators also will determine how long Zika virus RNA persists in body fluids in infants and young children and in maternal breast milk. Their goals are to learn whether lingering virus affects clinical and neurologic outcomes and to determine any potential for virus transmission.

Enrollments will continue until the target number of participants has been reached; the study is expected to take three years to complete but preliminary results could be available in one year. It is anticipated that the study findings will help inform global public health practices and assist Guatemalan health officials as they seek to understand the risks associated with early childhood Zika infection and design health care programs that will provide Zika-related health care of benefit to Guatemalan children and families.


NIAID conducts and supports research — at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide — to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses.

Fast approval and cost-effective logistics- The path to 'filling' the world with Guatemalan flowers and plants

Fast approval and cost-effective logistics: The path to ‘filling’ the world with Guatemalan flowers and plants

“National producers of flowers and ornamental plants in Guatemala project closing 2023 with $142 million in sales, but the volume could increase with a more aggressive international lobby from elected authorities and fewer procedures.

Increasing the volume of exported products and streamlining the requirements for approving new varieties are two challenges facing the sector of ornamental plants (for pots), foliage, and cut flowers in Guatemala. The country could increase its sales in this sector to two or three times the current $100 million annually, but it requires the agility of incoming authorities to access new markets and maximize existing ones.

According to Lorena de Luna, president of the Ornamental Plants Committee of Agexport, despite the sector’s wealth due to the country’s rich diversity, there are still “some barriers in terms of agility to approve new varieties, too many procedures. For example, a Plant Risk Analysis, a study to certify that the plant does not pose a risk to the country, takes months, if not years, to admit a new species.”

While the Ministry of Agriculture has accelerated some processes this year, according to De Luna, it has not been with the agility needed to bring in necessary seeds and plants. She emphasizes the need for the ministry to have a larger budget and personnel to meet the demand the sector aspires to scale.

A factory for specialized nurseries Both Guatemalan plants and foliage have been valued in the United States for many years.

Species exported to the U.S., such as Antirrhinum (snapdragons), adapt to cultivation cycles to produce colors according to the season. Roses, gerberas, bird of paradise, and other exotic cut flowers and foliage for arrangements, such as leatherleaf and tree fern, are also part of the portfolio.

Guatemala is also becoming a major exporter of cut flowers for large companies, garden plants like chrysanthemums, which are planted in U.S. nurseries and then marketed as ornamental plants. De Luna sees the country as “a product maquiladora for very specialized nurseries.”

However, the sector now feels ready to seek acceptability in other regions, such as South American markets. With the support of the Ministry of Agriculture (Maga), they have pushed for the reduction and facilitation of requirements for importing vegetative material, achieving new products such as dianthus, mini callas, and solanaceae, for which acceptability is being processed in the U.S. and Europe.

However, the speed challenge for acceptability is joined by a significant logistical limitation in the country. “Costa Rica and El Salvador are more agile in exporting a plant and sending it to another country—even though they are farther than Guatemala. If we project doubling the volume, we necessarily have to go to the United States, the European Union, and South America, the latter having a high population, and the economy is not suffering as much as other countries,” says De Luna.

She emphasizes that, due to insufficient volume, “we are not competitive to enjoy good maritime and air rates. Costa Rica pays up to $500 or $1,000 less per container, but due to their volume, they can negotiate better rates.”

A message from the sector to the elected authorities is to have a real lobby between governments, opening the market not only individually on the private side but also with Maga authorities and their bilateral counterparts.

“The migration to the United States has also affected the availability of labor,” De Luna continues, as “the sector employs women for greenhouse work (up to 80% of the staff), and personnel are also needed for precision agriculture.”

Good practices Brigitte Obrock, coordinator of the Ornamental Plants Commission of Agexport, adds that there is potential in pony and rose producers to increase volume and quality to reach international markets. However, it requires applying technologies, access to bank credits, training, and technical assistance to enable them to become exporters, she said.

It is a challenge for people to be trained in good agricultural practices to meet Maga’s verifications regarding phytosanitary issues, Obrock said.

For Lizzy Montero, Marketing and Sales Manager of Sunfresh Farms, a company that recently received the Exporter of the Year Award, authorities should focus on supporting producers to improve the quality of flowers and ensure they apply good practices. They should also promote their participation in international fairs with their products.

Farms work to maintain standards; Sunfresh Farms has Rainforest Alliance certification—covering good agricultural, environmental, and social practices—and others are in the process of certifying, Montero explained. While not a requirement to enter markets like the United States, some customers require it for purchase.

Every year, audits are conducted to maintain certification, representing significant challenges, Montero added.

Overview in numbers More than 55,000 hectares in seven Latin American countries, including Guatemala, are dedicated to the cultivation of flowers and ornamental plants, according to data from the specialized site MetroflorColombia, which recognizes the region’s advantages for developing this important business.

In Guatemala, the Ornamental Plants, Foliage, and Flowers Commission of the Guatemalan Exporters Association (Agexport) indicates that there are approximately 3,500 hectares of production, allowing for exports of over $100 million annually in both cut flowers and ornamental plants.

Last year, the Directorate of Policy and Economic Analysis of the Ministry of Economy reported that the sector exported 30,677 metric tons of flowers and foliage and 17,798.4 metric tons of roots, bulbs, seeds, and ornamental plants to destinations such as the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, El Salvador, Honduras, Japan, and Colombia. In total, these exports generated $142.3 million in foreign exchange.

The most demanded products in this sector include leather leaf, yucca, beaucarnea (Pony), dracaena, roses, chamadorea SP, asparagus SP, tillandsia, sansevieria, and croton plant.

Colombia and Ecuador stand out as rose exporters in the region and represented $975 million, 34% of the total global, according to a note from the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2020.

The quality and durability of the roses exported by Guatemala are comparable to the Colombian offer of these flowers, Montero explained.

The size of the flower and the length of the stem are characteristics that must be carefully maintained to meet the standards of exported roses.

Promising horizon The Ornamental Plants, Foliage, and Flowers Commission estimates closing with $142 million for this year and projects an 8.5% growth in 2024 with sales to European destinations, the United States, Canada, Hawaii, and Japan, among others.

In addition to strengthening the production chain of the sector and adding value to the exportable offer with bouquets and diversifying varieties to enter new markets, Montero said, “We seek to change the market; we are already positioned, but we need to increase production to meet demand.”

Guatemala participates in forums, international fairs, specialized magazines, and ventures into floral tourism with visits to botanical gardens and fields, flower festivals to attract travelers interested in these tours, and to stimulate the local market.

The sector aligns with the most important trends that involve producing plants that contribute to reducing air pollution; colors that mark a fashion trend, for example, the Pantone Color Institute designated Peach Fuzz as the color of the year for 2024—a pastel shade that combines with a wide range of colors from reds, fuchsias to blues and greens, providing great possibilities for design, decoration, and color varieties in trending flowers.

Guatemala supplies the demand of supermarkets and clients who are distributors and decorators, requiring good logistics to arrive on cargo flights, maritime containers, or land transportation with punctuality and quality.

The flower growth cycle is 16 weeks, and harvests occur year-round.

In the current season, demand is growing by 300%. However, market coverage depends on production. Over the past three years, the climate has been very cold between November and January, delaying production, Alvarez commented. About 40,000 stems are cut each week, and in peak seasons like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, the harvest doubles.”


The Guatemalan group Somni presents their first single

Dead Star is the name of Somni’s first single and video, a song that will be part of his new album material. The audiovisual was filmed in the facilities of the Railway Museum, directed by Juan Luis and David Arrivillaga.

On October 31, Somni officially presented Dead Star, material that received good reviews from Guatemalans. The production of the video included the collaboration of Daniel and Carlos Álvarez, Kelvin Pineda, Miriam Saraccinni, Pedro Gálvez and Marcela Prera.

Somni is a Guatemalan alternative rock group, it is made up of Juan Luis Arrivillaga -vocals and guitar-, Fernando Sierra -drums-, Pablo Aguilar -guitar, and Víctor Valenzuela -bass-. You can listen to more of them through Spotify and Deezer.