Tag Archive for Biology

Sultan’s Book Nominated for Royal Society of Biology Award

Sonia Sultan

Sonia Sultan

A book titled Organism and Environment (Oxford University Press, 2015) by evolutionary ecologist Sonia Sultan, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies, has been shortlisted for the Royal Society of Biology Award for Best Post-graduate Textbook.The winner will be announced later this month.

In addition, Organism and Environment was named a “landmark volume” in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, and reviews are forthcoming in BioScience, Ecology, Evolution and Biology and Philosophy.

In November, Sultan will speak about her research on developmental plasticity at the New Trends in Evolutionary Biology: Philosophical and Social Science Implications symposium held jointly by the Royal Society and the British Academy. Sultan is one of 22 invited scientists and humanists from Europe, North America and Israel.

At Wesleyan, Sultan’s research group studies plant ecological development or how individual plants develop and function differently in response to different environmental conditions, in particular to factors that vary in nature such as light and shade, soil moisture and key nutrients. To examine these responses, Sultan determines developmental patterns (or norms of reaction) expressed by genetic individuals collected from field populations. These experiments reveal the interplay of genotypic and environmental factors in shaping the functional and reproductive outcomes of individual development.

Sultan has long been a major contributor to the empirical and conceptual literatures on individual plasticity and its relation to ecological breadth and adaptive evolution.

She teaches Plant Form and Diversity, Principles of Biology II, Evolution Journal Club, Evolution in Human-Altered Environments and Nature/Nurture: The Interplay of Genes and Environment.

NSF Supports Singer’s Research on Habitat Fragmentation in Connecticut

Mike Singer.

Mike Singer.

Mike Singer, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies, received a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation this month to support a study on habitat fragmentation. Fragmentation occurs when contiguous habitats become separated into smaller, isolated areas often caused by human activities (new roads, housing developments) or natural processes (flooding, drought).

Singer and his colleagues will study the effect of anthropogenic forest fragmentation on the food web of plants, herbivores, and carnivores (tri-trophic interactions) in Connecticut. The project will focus on relationships among deer, trees, caterpillars, and songbirds.

The grant, which will be awarded over three years, is shared with Robert Bagchi, David Wagner, and Christopher Elphick in the University of Connecticut’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Wesleyan’s part of the award totals $258,933 and UConn’s part totals approximately $573,000.

As part of the grant, Singer will recruit a new PhD student to work on the study.

The research team will test several possible reasons for the loss of caterpillars, which are important food for songbirds, in highly fragmented forests. For example, some of their preliminary evidence suggests that forest fragmentation creates better habitat for deer, which browse out some of the best food plant species for caterpillars.

The PhD student will be tasked with testing the hypothesis that caterpillars grow more poorly on the plants in highly fragmented versus large forest tracts.

At Wesleyan, Singer teaches courses on conservation biology, ecology, plant-animal interactions and evolutionary biology.

Cohan Presents Research at Microbial Ecology Symposium

cohanposter
Frederick Cohan, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies, presented his research poster, “Genetic Sweeps by Whisk Brooms and Garage Brooms — the Role of Ecology” at the 16th annual International Symposium on Microbial Ecology, held Aug. 21-26 in Montreal. Cohan presented his models on the origins of bacterial species, in particular that the rate a bacterial group forms new species is determined by the foods it consumes.

Microbial ecology is the study of microbes in the environment and their interactions with each other.

The International Society for Microbial Ecology is the principle non-profit scientific society for the burgeoning field of microbial ecology and its related disciplines. ISME fosters the exchange of scientific information by organizing international symposia as well as specific workshops, sponsoring publications, and promoting education/research. The society offers financial and travel awards during its symposia and provides services to the scientific as well as the wider community.

Wesleyan Students Recognized for Scientific Images

This summer, Stephen Devoto, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, launched the inaugural Wesleyan Scientific Imaging Contest. The contest, which recognizes student-submitted images from experiments or simulations done with a Wesleyan faculty member that are scientifically intriguing as well as aesthetically pleasing, drew 35 submissions from the fields of physics, biology, molecular biology and biochemistry, psychology, earth and environmental science, chemistry and astronomy.

Participants submitted an image along with a brief description written for a broad, scientifically literate audience. The entries were judged based on the quality of the image and the explanation of the underlying science. The first-place prize went to Eliza Carter ’18 from the Earth and Environmental Science Department. Aidan Stone ’17 and Jeremy Auerbach ’17 tied for second places, while Riordan Abrams ’17 won third place. The images were judged by a panel of four faculty members: Devoto; Ruth Johnson, assistant professor of biology, assistant professor of integrative sciences; Brian Northrop, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of integrative sciences; and Candice Etson, assistant professor of physics.

The first-place winner receives a $200 prize; the second-place winner receives $100; and the third-place winner receives $50. Prizes were funded by the Office of Academic Affairs.

Devoto was inspired by a similar contest that his daughter won at Haverford College.

“Students at Wesleyan produce extraordinary scientific images, ranging from graphs and computer simulations to microscope and telescope images,” he said. “I wanted students to have fun, to think of their scientific images in an artistic sense. And I thought that the artistic presentations of student scientific images would be a striking testament to the quality and fun of student research here. I hope these will be displayed on campus to highlight the science and the creativity, which thrive at Wesleyan.”

The four winning images are shown below, along with scientific descriptions:

Eliza Carter '18 submitted a scanning electron microscope image of the shell of a radiolarian (a protozoa) found near the top of an Antarctic sediment core from ODP site 697. The radiolarian shell is around 2.7 million years old and is made from silica that was produced by the radiolarian. Studying the percent biogenic silica in a sediment sample is a proxy for primary productivity: the more biosilica you have, the more productive it was.

Eliza Carter ’18 submitted a scanning electron microscope image of the shell of a radiolarian (a protozoa) found near the top of an Antarctic sediment core from ODP site 697. The radiolarian shell is around 2.7 million years old and is made from silica that was produced by the radiolarian. Studying the percent biogenic silica in a sediment sample is a proxy for primary productivity: the more biosilica you have, the more productive it was.

Naegele Co-Authors New Paper in Nature Communications

Jan Naegele is one of 19 women faculty in the country to receive a Drexel Fellowship.

Jan Naegele

Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and development, is the co-author of a new paper titled, “Convulsive seizures from experimental focal cortical dysplasia occur independently of cell misplacement.” It was published in Nature Communications on June 1.

Brain malformations called focal cortical dysplasia are typically formed during human embryonic cortical development and are a common cause of drug-resistant epilepsy and cognitive impairments. One of the causes of cortical dysplasia is improper migration of developing cortical neurons. Failure to reach their correct destinations in the cerebral cortex and dysregulated growth leads to the formation of growths or tubers in regions of cerebral cortex. These abnormal growths don’t wire up properly with other cortical neurons and exhibit seizure activity. In this multi-lab collaborative study, the researchers show in mice with experimentally-generated cortical malformations that there is an increase in growth-associated signaling molecules in experimentally-generated cortical tubers associated with seizures. Blocking this signaling cascade with the molecule rapacycin from early stages can prevent the neuronal misplacement, tuber-like growths, and seizures, but once rapamycin is discontinued, the seizures return. Despite the adverse side-effects of taking rapamycin, these findings suggest that life-long treatment with rapamycin may be required in individuals with focal cortical dysplasia, in order to prevent the re-occurrence of seizures and tubers.

The paper is co-authored with Felicia Harrsch, Naegele’s former lab manager, and researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine.

7 Faculty Promoted, 4 Awarded Tenure

In its recent meeting, the Board of Trustees conferred tenure on four faculty members. They are Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, Professor of African American Studies Kali Gross, Associate Professor of English and American Studies Amy Tang, and Associate Professor of Chemistry Erika Taylor. They join eight other faculty members who were awarded tenure earlier this spring.

One faculty member, Louise Neary, was promoted to adjunct associate professor of Spanish.

In addition, six faculty members are being promoted to full professor:

J. Kehaulani Kauanui, professor of American Studies and anthropology
Matthew Kurtz, professor of psychology
Cecilia Miller, professor of history
Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento, professor of theater
Andrea Patalano, professor of psychology
Michael Singer, professor of biology

Brief descriptions of their research and teaching appear below:

Associate Professor Fowler specializes in political communication and directs the Wesleyan Media project, which tracks and analyzes all political ads aired on broadcast television in real-time during elections. Her work on local coverage of politics and policy has been published in political science, communication, law/policy, and medical journals. Most recently, she co-authored Political Advertising in the United States (Westview Press, 2016). Professor Fowler teaches courses on American Government and Politics; Media and Politics; Campaigns and Elections; and Polls, Politics and Public Opinion.

Professor Gross is a scholar of African American history whose research concentrates on black women’s experiences in the United States criminal justice system between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her book, Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America (Oxford University Press, 2016), explores a crime and trial in 1887 against broader evidence of biased police treatment of black suspects as well as violence within the black community. Professor Gross will offer courses on race, gender and justice and Black Women’s Studies.

Professor Kauanui’s research lies in the fields of comparative colonialisms, indigenous politics, critical racial studies, and anarchist studies. Her book, The Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty (Duke University Press, due in 2017), explores the cultural and legal politics of the contemporary Hawaiian nationalist movement in relation to land, gender, and sexuality. Professor Kauanui teaches courses on Colonialism and Its Consequences; Race and Citizenship; United States in the Pacific Islands; Hawai’i: Myths and Realities; Decolonizing Indigenous Middletown; and Anarchy in America: From Haymarket to Occupy Wall Street.

Professor Kurtz’s research seeks to clarify the cognitive and social impairments associated with schizophrenia, to develop and assess behavioral treatments for these impairments, and to critically evaluate the history and current status of ideas regarding treatment of the severely mentally ill. He has received significant grant support from the NIH, and has received a Fulbright-Nehru U.S. Scholar Award for Academic and Professional Excellence. He offers courses on Schizophrenia and Its Treatment, Clinical Neuropsychology, Statistics, and Behavioral Neurobiology.

Professor Miller is a European intellectual historian with a focus on the long eighteenth century. Her recent book, Enlightenment and Political Fiction: The Everyday Intellectual (Routledge, 2016), examines five works of fiction to argue that the accessibility of political fiction in the eighteenth century made it possible for any reader to enter into the intellectual debates of the time and that ideas attributed to philosophers and political and economic theorists of the Enlightenment actually appeared first in works of fiction. She offers courses on European Intellectual History, Political Fiction, Theories of Society, and Contemporary Europe.

Professor Tatinge Nascimento is a theater artist and scholar with a special interest in experimental performance and Brazilian contemporary theater. She has performed and published internationally, and most recently is the author of a book manuscript, The Contemporary Performances of Brazil’s Post-Dictatorship Generation, under review with Palgrave Macmillan for the series Contemporary Performance InterActions. At Wesleyan she directs main stage productions and teaches courses on acting, theory, and performance studies.

Adjunct Associate Professor Neary teaches beginning and intermediate Spanish. She is currently collaborating with a colleague on an online Spanish course for the general public, titled Wespañol, and with McGraw Hill on a test bank project for an elementary Spanish language textbook. She has served as head of Spanish, has chaired the Romance Languages and Literatures Honors Committee, and has served on the Language Resources Center Faculty Committee.

Professor Patalano is a cognitive scientist whose research focuses on mental and neural processes involved in human reasoning, judgment, and decision making. Her lines of research address indecisiveness and decision deferral, clinical and neural correlates of discounting, numeracy and choice behavior, and the role of categories in thought. She teaches courses on Cognitive Psychology, Psychological Statistics, Decision Making, and Concepts and Categories.

Professor Singer is an evolutionary ecologist whose research focuses on the plant-feeding habits of caterpillars in the context of threats from predators and parasites of caterpillars. He uses this research focus to inform issues of broad biological interest, such as animal medication, dietary specialization, dynamics of ecological networks, and evolutionary diversification. He teaches courses on Ecology, Conservation Biology, Evolutionary Biology, and Plant-Animal Interactions.

Professor Tang’s research focuses on the relationship between aesthetic form and politics in Asian American literature and theory. Her first book, Repetition and Race: Asian American Literature After Multiculturalism (Oxford University Press, 2016), explores how Asian American writers use structures of repetition to register, and creatively inhabit, the impasses generated by multiculturalism’s politics of identity and recognition. She teaches courses on Asian American Literature, Afro-Asian Intersections, and Literary and Cultural Theory.

Associate Professor Taylor’s multidisciplinary research investigates problems at the intersection of biology and chemistry. Her work strives to advance medicine and environmental sustainability with two long-term goals – developing bacterial enzyme inhibitors and other small molecules with medicinal applications, and engineering microorganisms to improve the efficiency of biomass to biofuel conversion. Professor Taylor has received significant grant support from both the NIH and the Department of Energy, enabling numerous impactful publications in her field. She offers courses in Organic Chemistry, Environmental Chemistry, Biological Chemistry, and Biomedicinal Chemistry.

Support Wesleyan Researchers in Crowdfunding Pilot

Four Wesleyan academic departments, from psychology to dance to chemistry to biology, are competing for grant funds through a new crowdfunding site specifically designed for research project fundraising.

experimentExperiment.com’s Challenge Grant for Liberal Arts Colleges asked scientists to define a scientific research question for the crowd with a prize for the project with the most backers. The pilot launched on Feb. 24 and concludes March 25.During this 31-day period, the goal is to reach $4,000 in funding. If so, the team is granted the money. If not, they receive nothing and no one’s pledges are charged. By backing a project, participants will receive updates, results and data from project creators.

Wesleyan research include how the brain prevents risky-decision making/addiction; the effects of using artificial sweeteners; controlling seizures with light; and the effectiveness of somatic mind-body practices on victims of the war.

On Wednesday, March 16 at 11:59 p.m., Experiment will award the project with the most backers $2,000 directly through their project page.

Wesleyan’s projects include:

High School Student, Mentored by Wesleyan Neuroscience Program, Finalist for Research Prize

Jan Naegele is one of 19 women faculty in the country to receive a Drexel Fellowship.

Jan Naegele

A high school student from New York, who is mentored by a faculty member and a graduate student in Wesleyan’s Neuroscience and Behavior Program, is one of the top four finalists for the Neuroscience Research Prize, awarded by the American Academy of Neurology and the Child Neurology Society.

As a recipient of the prize, Armonk, N.Y. resident Ryan Infante will receive a $1,000 cash prize and per diem for expenses at the 45th Annual Meeting of the Child Neurology Society in Vancouver, B.C. in October 2016. He will present his stem cell transplantation research during the Child Neurology Society meeting.

Infante, currently a senior at Byram Hills High school in Armonk, N.Y., completed this research last summer while working with Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, and graduate student Dan Lawrence, a BA/MA who majored in neuroscience and behavior in 2015.

Infante was initially guided by his high school science teacher to carry out extensive reading and research about neuroscience.

“When he first contacted me, as a sophomore in high school, he had already read 12 journal articles and had written a review paper that he presented to his science class,” Naegele said. “He became fascinated by work on stem cell transplantation to repair the hippocampus in rodent models of epilepsy and he wanted to learn more about the types of neurons that we study, which utilize the neurotransmitter GABA.”

Throughout his junior year of high school, Infante and Naegele corresponded over email and held frequent Skype discussions. And last summer, Naegele welcomed him to Wesleyan to conduct research in her lab. Infante, at that time, had read many papers on a method called CLARITY—a new way to make brains transparent—to allow scientists to peer into the center of the brain.

Infante worked with Naegele and Lawrence to collect a large number of embryonic and postnatal brains from transgenic mice expressing fluorescent proteins that light up developing and migrating GABAergic interneurons in the embryonic brain.

“When Ryan came to my lab, he and Dan made careful observations of the gradual clearing of the tissue and the process of making opaque brains transparent,” Naegele said.

Infante learned how to use a 3-D printer to make special chamber slides to hold the embryonic brains for microscopy.

“This was a clever modification of the protocol and with this modification, Dan and Ryan examined the brains and also modified protocols for doing additional fluorescent stains in the intact brain tissue,” she said.

Over the past 25 years as a faculty member at Wesleyan, Naegle has welcomed 10 high school students for a summer research project. Most of them are still in science–either attending graduate school, medical school or combined programs. Among them is Elizabeth “Lizzie” Paquette ’16, who ended up matriculating to Wesleyan and is currently a triple major in computer science, mathematics and neuroscience.

“I am so impressed by the capacity for high school students to carry out innovative research with our own Wesleyan students and I’m very proud of both Ryan and Dan,” said Naegele.

Infante was admitted early decision to the University of Pennsylvania, and Lawrence is working on his master’s thesis, and plans to apply to medical school next year.

Herman Receives Dropkin Postdoctoral Fellowship to Study Evolution of Plant-Pathogen Interactions

Jacob Herman

Jacob Herman

PhD candidate in biology Jacob Herman received a V. Dropkin Postdoctoral Fellowship to research the epigenetics of plant response to pathogen infection at the University of Chicago’s Department of Ecology and Evolution.

The V. Dropkin fellowship funds a postdoctoral researcher for up to four years to study the ecology and evolution of plant-pathogen interactions.

Herman will begin the post-doctoral position after completing his dissertation defense this April. His advisor at Wesleyan is Sonia Sultan, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies.

Sultan Authors Organism and Environment

Book by Sonia SultanSonia Sultan, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies, is the author of Organism and Environment: Ecological Development, Niche Construction, and Adaptationpublished by Oxford University Press (London and New York) in November 2015.

Organism and Environment is an authoritative graduate textbook of ecological development (‘eco-devo’) set in the context of diverse natural systems. The book explores how niche construction contributes to ecological interactions and evolutionary dynamics and includes detailed case studies showing how regulatory mechanisms lead to plastic eco-devo responses.

Sultan worked on the book for the past six years, including a year spent on a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin, Germany.

 

Johnson, Alumni Author New Paper in Developmental Biology

Ruth Johnson, assistant professor of biology, assistant professor of integrative sciences, is the co-author of a new paper titled “The adaptor protein Cindr regulates JNK activity to maintain epithelial sheet integrity” published in the journal Developmental Biology on Jan. 7. The paper was co-authored by Hannah Yasin ’15, Samuel van Rensburg MA ’15, and Christina Feiler, an exchange masters student who worked in Johnson’s lab during 2012-13. The publication represents Yasin’s honors thesis, and van Rensburg’s and Feiler’s masters theses.

According to the abstract:

Epithelia are essential barrier tissues that must be appropriately maintained for their correct function. To achieve this a plethora of protein interactions regulate epithelial cell number, structure and adhesion, and differentiation. Here we show that Cindr (the Drosophila Cin85 and Cd2ap ortholog) is required to maintain epithelial integrity. Reducing Cindr triggered cell delamination and movement. Most delaminating cells died. These behaviors were consistent with JNK activation previously associated with loss of epithelial integrity in response to ectopic oncogene activity. We confirmed a novel interaction between Cindr and Drosophila JNK (dJNK), which when perturbed caused inappropriate JNK signaling. Genetically reducing JNK signaling activity suppressed the effects of reducing Cindr. Furthermore, ectopic JNK signaling phenocopied loss of Cindr and was partially rescued by concomitant cindr over-expression. Thus, correct Cindr-dJNK stoichiometry is essential to maintain epithelial integrity and disturbing this balance may contribute to the pathogenesis of disease states, including cancer.

Biology PhD Student Bernardo Finds Parasitoids Alter Diets of Hosts

Parasitoid wasp larvae emerging from the carcass of a caterpillar host. (Photo by Melissa Bernardo)

Parasitoid wasp larvae emerging from the carcass of a caterpillar host. (Photo by Melissa Bernardo)

“As far as relationships go, parasitism may seem particularly selfish: one partner benefits at the expense of another. Many parasites even alter the behavior of their hosts to get what they need. Parasitoids are similar, but they usually spend a significant portion of their lives living inside or on their hosts’ bodies and controlling them from the inside-out, before ultimately killing and often consuming them.”

So begins an article in Science Daily featuring research by Melissa Bernardo, a PhD student in biology working with Michael Singer, associate professor of biology, associate professor of environmental studies. Bernardo has been studying how parasites and parasitoids influence feeding behavior of their hosts. Many scientists believe diet manipulation “could be reasonable because the parasite might need different types of nutrients than the host,” according to the article. But this phenomenon has been studied little in the past, and hasn’t been shown conclusively.

In a series of experiments, Bernardo found that when wooly bear caterpillars were allowed to choose between a protein- or carbohydrate-rich diet, those who were unparasitized chose a protein diet, while those parasitized by a type of wasp preferred a carbohydrate diet. In effect, Bernardo said, “The wasps are making their hosts carb-load.”

The article continues