Science & Technology

Robinson, Hellberg ’16, Russell ’17 Coauthor Paper on the Interactions between Gambling, Anxiety, Substance Abuse

Assistant Professor of Psychology Mike Robinson, Samantha Hellberg ’16, and Trinity Russell ’17 are coauthors of a study published in the Journal of Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, October 2018.

In the paper titled “Cued for risk: Evidence for an incentive sensitization framework to explain the interplay between stress and anxiety, substance abuse, and reward uncertainty in disordered gambling behavior,” the coauthors propose a theoretical framework about how cross-sensitization of reward systems in the brain, in part due to uncertainty, leads to high levels of comorbidity between gambling, substance use, and anxiety disorder.

In particular, the coauthors review the literature on how cue attraction and reward uncertainty may underlie gambling pathology, and examine how this framework may advance our understanding of comorbidity with anxiety disorders, and substance use disorders, such as alcohol and nicotine, which are both frequently consumed in gambling settings.

COE Celebrates Schumann Institute with Gathering, Keynote Alumni Speakers

On Oct. 26, members of the campus community celebrated the Robert F. Schumann Institute of the College of the Environment (COE) with a reception, remarks, and keynote speakers.

On Oct. 26, members of the campus community celebrated the Robert F. Schumann Institute of the College of the Environment (COE) with a reception, remarks, and keynote speakers. The event was held at the Fries Center for Global Studies in Fisk Hall.

The Robert F. Schumann Institute was established in July 2017 with a $2.5M gift from The Robert F. Schumann [’44] Foundation. Pictured, from left is Timothy Crowley, a foundation trustee, and Robert F. Schumann’s sons and foundation advisors, David and Ford Schumann.

Redfield Speaks at California Academy of Sciences

Seth Redfield

Seth Redfield

On Oct. 15, Seth Redfield, associate professor and chair of astronomy, gave a lecture at the Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences. He was invited to speak as part of the Benjamin Dean Astronomy Lecture series. The title of his talk was, “Exploring Our Galactic Neighborhood.” The talk will be posted to the Academy’s iTunes University site.

Redfield is also associate professor, integrative sciences, and co-coordinator, planetary science.

 

Case, Hingorani Coauthor Study on DNA Repair

Molecular biology and biochemistry graduate student Brandon Case and Manju Hingorani, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, are coauthors on a study published in Nucleic Acids Research in October 2018.

The paper, titled “Coordinated protein and DNA conformational changes govern mismatch repair initiation by MutS,” reports new findings on how the Mutator S (MutS) protein repairs mistakes in the DNA sequence, which is essential for maintaining the accuracy of the genetic code.

The collaborative effort from researchers at Wesleyan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University employed single molecule and ensemble kinetic methods to study the mechanism of action of MutS. The outcome is a unified model of coordinated changes in MutS and DNA conformation that enable the protein to recognize errors in DNA and initiate their repair.

The research at Wesleyan was supported by NIH grant R15 GM114743 awarded to Manju Hingorani.

19th Annual Biophysics Retreat Includes Speakers, Poster Sessions

Wesleyan faculty, students, alumni and guests participated in the 19th annual Molecular Biophysics Retreat Sept. 27 at Wadsworth Mansion.

Wesleyan faculty, students, alumni, and guests attended the 19th annual Molecular Biophysics Retreat Sept. 27 at Wadsworth Mansion. The event included a series of speakers, two poster sessions, and a keynote address.

Alison O’Neil, assistant professor of chemistry, spoke on "Investigating the toxicity of SOD1 aggregates in a stem cell-derived model of ALS." Research in the O'Neil lab is focused on understanding the structure-function relationship of proteins involved in neurodegenerative diseases, specifically ALS.  Utilizing human stem cells allows us to study the unique cell types associated with disease. 

Alison O’Neil, assistant professor of chemistry, spoke on “Investigating the toxicity of SOD1 aggregates in a stem cell-derived model of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).” ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Research in the O’Neil lab is focused on understanding the structure-function relationship of proteins involved in neurodegenerative diseases, specifically ALS.

Graduate Students, Faculty Attend Yeast Genetics Meeting

From the left is Anna Rogers and Lorencia Chigweshe, both graduate students in the Molecular biology and Biochemistry program.

Graduate students Anna Rogers and Lorencia Chigweshe presented their poster at the GSA meeting.

Two Wesleyan graduate students and two faculty members presented posters at the GSA Yeast Genetics and Molecular Biology Meeting held at Stanford University on Aug. 22–26. This meeting, which is held once every two years, is organized by the Genetics Society of America (GSA). The meeting brings together hundreds of scientists making groundbreaking discoveries in the field of genetics and gene regulation using the innovative power of yeast genetics.

Both students received a travel grant through Wesleyan’s Melnick Fund to support travel to the conference.

Lorencia Chigweshe presented a poster titled “Interactions between histone variant H2A.Z and linker histone H1 in Saccharomyces cerevisiae meiosis,” while Anna Rogers presented “The histone variant H2A.Z promotes chromosome condensation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.” Both students are mentored by Scott Holmes, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, whose lab investigates how the processes of chromosome segregation and gene expression are regulated in eukaryotes.

“We had the opportunity to engage with experts in the field of yeast genetics and learn from them and get insight on our own work,” Chigweshe said. “The conference was a great opportunity to appreciate yeast as a powerful tool for understanding genetics in addition to its industrial application in beer and bread-making.”

Amy MacQueen, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, associate editor for Genetics, cochaired a workshop on scientific publishing and also presented a poster titled “Synapsis and recombination unite at the Zip1’s N-terminal tip” while Mike McAlear, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, presented “Adjacent gene co-regulation (AGC) as a strategy for transcriptional control and coupling.” McAlear is also associate professor, integrative sciences, and Holmes is also professor, integrative sciences.

O’Connell in The Conversation: What Scientists Have Found by Drilling into the Ocean Floor

Suzanne O'Connell

Suzanne O’Connell

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair. In a new article,Suzanne O’Connell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, writes about the important findings that have resulted from 50 years of scientific drilling on the ocean floor—and how much is still unknown.

Scientists have been drilling into the ocean floor for 50 years – here’s what they’ve found so far

It’s stunning but true that we know more about the surface of the moon than about the Earth’s ocean floor. Much of what we do know has come from scientific ocean drilling – the systematic collection of core samples from the deep seabed. This revolutionary process began 50 years ago, when the drilling vessel Glomar Challenger sailed into the Gulf of Mexico on August 11, 1968 on the first expedition of the federally funded Deep Sea Drilling Project.

I went on my first scientific ocean drilling expedition in 1980, and since then have participated in six more expeditions to locations including the far North Atlantic and Antaractica’s Weddell Sea. In my lab, my students and I work with core samples from these expeditions. Each of these cores, which are cylinders 31 feet long and 3 inches wide, is like a book whose information is waiting to be translated into words. Holding a newly opened core, filled with rocks and sediment from the Earth’s ocean floor, is like opening a rare treasure chest that records the passage of time in Earth’s history.

Gilmore, Greenwood Recipients of NASA Grant to Map Venus’s Craters

Caption: Radar image of Venus. Alpha Regio tessera is partly covered by the dark parabola of the impact crater Stuart on the volcanic plains.

Professors Martha Gilmore and James Greenwood recently received a NASA grant to study crater parabolas on Venus using radar data. Pictured is a Magellan radar image of Venus. Alpha Regio tessera is partly covered by the dark parabola of the impact crater Stuart on the volcanic plains. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Like planet Earth, the geology of Venus is diverse; consisting of areas of flat plains and deformed, mountain-like terrains called tesserae. And like Earth, Mars, and the Moon, Venus is checkered with hundreds of craters.

“What’s odd about Venus’s craters, is that craters we do see are relatively young, indicating the surface of Venus has been covered by planet-wide volcanic flows,” says Martha “Marty” Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences. “The tesserae are the only terrains older than these volcanic flows and thus our only hope at accessing rocks from the first billion years of Venus’s history, when the planet may have had an ocean and may have been habitable.”

As the recipient of a three-year $430,801 grant from NASA’s Solar System Workings Program, Gilmore and James Greenwood, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, will use Magellan radar data to create the first map of crater ejecta on Venus classified by origin on plains or tessera terrain. Their project is titled “Radar Emissivity and Dielectric Permittivity of the Venus Surface Beneath Crater Parabolas.” Crater parabolas refer to the shape of the ejecta deposits as they are carried westward by the high-altitude Venus winds.

New Assistant Professor May ’05 Researches Suicide Risk and Prevention

Assistant Professor of Psychology Alexis May

Alexis May ’05

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we speak with Assistant Professor of Psychology Alexis May ’05, who joined the Department of Psychology this fall. May will be among the speakers at the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns on Sept. 14–15.

Q: Welcome (back) to Wesleyan, Professor May! You earned your BA from Wesleyan in psychology and neuroscience and behavior in 2005. Please tell us about your journey since then.

A: After gaining substantial clinical research experience in the psychology department as a project coordinator for [Walter Crowell University Professor of Social Sciences, Emerita] Ruth Striegel Weismann, I was sure of my passion for clinical science but wasn’t sure how I wanted to pursue that professionally. I took the opportunity presented by this uncertainty to move cross-country to Santa Cruz, Calif., and work some “random” jobs. I landed in a position coordinating a suicide prevention crisis line. I loved the work but was frustrated by how little empirical knowledge there was about suicide prevention. This prompted my decision to return to school to pursue a degree in clinical psychology with a focus on suicide research. I completed my PhD in clinical psychology at the University of British Columbia, my clinical internship at Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and my postdoctoral fellowship at the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah. Throughout my positions I’ve maintained my focus on understanding the phenomena of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in the service of improving prevention and intervention efforts. Suicide is a devastating, complex, and unsolved problem. I feel very fortunate I get to spend my time working towards better solutions.

Q: How is it being back as a faculty member? Has Wesleyan changed much since your time as a student?

A: I was excited to see how much the psychology department has grown and diversified. I was also thrilled to learn about the addition of the Quantitative Analysis Center—it is a huge resource to both students and faculty. Overall, the students seem as skilled, passionate, and creative as ever!

Sultan, Baker ’18, Berg ’16 Coauthor Paper on Plant Development

Sonia Sultan, professor of biology and professor, environmental studies, and her former students Brennan Baker BA/MA ’18 and Lars Berg ’16 are the coauthors of a paper published in the August 2018 issue of Frontiers in Plant Science.

The study, “Context-Dependent Developmental Effects of Parental Shade Versus Sun Are Mediated by DNA Methylation,” presents work that Baker completed as a BA/MA student in 2017–18. The article is part of a special Frontiers theme on the emerging area of ecological epigenetics.

In this study, the coauthors compared the development of individual plants when their parents were grown in shade or in full sun. The results show that genetically identical seedlings developed very differently just as a result of this difference in parental conditions.

Baker followed up this finding in several ways, including showing that this ‘neo-Lamarckian’ effect on development was conveyed from parents to offspring through epigenetic regulatory changes to DNA expression rather than changes in the genes themselves.

“Learning how environmental effects in the parent generation can influence offspring via these epigenetic mechanisms is one of the most astonishing and important new areas in biology since it challenges the long-held view that only DNA sequence information could be inherited,” Sultan explained.

Baker will be pursuing his work on transgenerational environmental effects in a different biological context. This fall, he is starting an environmental health PhD program at Columbia University, where he plans to study inherited effects of environmental contaminants on human health. Since graduating from Wesleyan, Berg has held a competitive NIH research internship and is planning to go on to medical school.

In addition, a paper by Baker, Sultan, Maya Lopez-Ichikawa ’18, and Robin Waterman ’19 was an invited submission for a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society that is dedicated to adaptive responses to rapid environmental change. The paper is currently under review for publication.