Tag Archive for Biology

Firshein Remembered for being a Founding Member of the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department

William "Bill" Firshein

William “Bill” Firshein

William “Bill” Firshein, the Daniel Ayres Professor of Biology, emeritus, died Dec. 7 at the age of 85.

Firshein arrived at Wesleyan in 1958 after receiving his BS from Brooklyn College and his MS and PhD from Rutgers University. He taught at Wesleyan for 47 years before retiring in 2005.

Firshein was an active scholar who was awarded research grants totaling more than $2 million over his career. He investigated the molecular biology of DNA replication cell division in Bacillus subtilis and Escherichia coli and their plasmids. In his most recent book, The Infectious Microbe, published by Oxford University Press in January 2014, he discussed the relationship between humans and viruses and illustrated how pathogens are spread. This book was based on a very popular general education course that he taught for decades.

Firshein was a founding member of the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department, and served as chair of MB&B for seven years, and as chair of the Biology Department for three years. He was instrumental in the establishment of the PhD programs in biology and MB&B.

The Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department annually awards the William Firshein Prize in his honor to the graduating student who has contributed the most to the interests and character of the department each year.

William "Bill" Firshein. (Photos courtesy of Wesleyan University Special Collections & Archives)

William “Bill” Firshein. (Photos courtesy of Wesleyan University Special Collections & Archives)

“Bill was a true friend to his colleagues and always available for effective useful advice and guidance to the young faculty,” said Anthony Infante, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, emeritus.

Firshein is survived by his wife, Anna, and his children, Kyrill, Alex, David, Alan and Eva. His family requests that memorial contributions be made in his name to the Wesleyan Memorial Fund and sent to the care of Marcy Herlihy, University Relations, 318 High Street, Middletown, CT 06459.

A memorial will take place at 4:15 p.m. Jan. 25 in Memorial Chapel. A reception will follow in Zelnick Pavillon.

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Naegele Honored by Society for Neuroscience

Janice Naegele accepting the award at the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting.

Janice Naegele accepting the award at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting.

During the Society for Neuroscience‘s (SfN) annual meeting Oct. 17-21, Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, received the Louise Hansen Marshall Special Recognition Award.

The Louise Hanson Marshall Special Recognition Award honors individuals who have significantly promoted the professional development of women in neuroscience through teaching, organizational leadership, public advocacy and more. Naegele shares the 2015 Louise Hansen Marshall award with Paul Greengard P’77, P’79, GP ’08, the Vincent Astor Professor at The Rockefeller University in New York.

Naegele began her career studying the characteristics of cortical neurons and more recently has performed pioneering studies of transplantation of inhibitory neurons in the brain as a potential treatment for severe epilepsy.

While Studying Abroad, Nash ’16 Works with Rare Turtles in Australia

Chloe Nash ‘16 studied the rare Flatback sea turtle while studying abroad in Australia. (Photo by Matt Curnock) 

During her spring semester abroad in Australia, Chloe Nash ‘16 studied the rare Flatback sea turtle. This fall, she’s co-teaching a student forum on marine biology. (Photo by Matt Curnock)

#THISISWHY

Chloe Nash ‘16, a double major in biology and environmental studies, contributed to groundbreaking research on the mysterious Flatback sea turtle — a species with only two photographs in the wild, both of the same individual turtle. While studying abroad in Australia last spring, Nash volunteered at James Cook University for a project that involved raising 30 flatbacks from hatchlings and attaching GPS devices to their shells.

The turtles were released in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and seven are being tracked by satellite. This research is the first time Flatbacks, only found in Australia, have been monitored underwater.

The turtles were released in the Great Barrier Reef once they were deemed strong enough to survive on their own.

The turtles were released in the Great Barrier Reef once they were deemed strong enough to survive on their own.

“I was with them everyday essentially for four months, so they became like my children,” Nash said.

Nash worked as a volunteer, feeding them and cleaning their tanks. Over time, she learned to give them medication and teach them how to dive, which involved luring the turtles down with a food-carrying stick. Once the turtles reached 300 grams, they were strong enough to hold the satellite tags. The research sought to learn more about the Flatbacks’ lives in between hatching and nesting adults— a blank space in the marine biology field.

“One of my favorites named Ali got ill, and we thought he was going to pass away,” Nash said. “But we persevered and he persevered and I ended up getting to release him, which was really great. It was really crazy, just watching him grow.”

Faculty Teach Local Girls about Science

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The Green Street Teaching and Learning Center hosted a Girls in Science Camp Aug. 3-7. Wesleyan faculty members Ruth Johnson, assistant professor of biology (pictured third from left); Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies (pictured at far right); Chris Othon, assistant professor of physics (pictured at left), along with three undergraduate students, worked with the campers on various experiments. Sara MacSorley, director of the GSTLC (second from left), coordinated the activities.

Johnson led the campers on a bug hunt through Wesleyan’s West College Courtyard garden. There, the girls observed insects while considering insect diets and insect life-cycles. The girls also learned about the life-cycle of the fruit fly and set up an experiment to test the effects of feeding flies a high-sugar diet (this negatively affects the fly life-cycle, and is akin to inducing Type II Diabetes). Johnson also taught the campers about genetic variations (mutations) that affected wing and bristle development.

“Learning about these phenotypes served as an intro to genetics, genes and proteins,” Johnson said.

Johnson also taught the girls about microscopy. After a short presentation on how a variety of biological objects appear when viewed with high magnification, the girls viewed and captured images of the fly pupal eye with a fluorescent microscope. The girls also viewed a variety of mutant adult fly eyes with dissecting microscopes and, to build their skills in observation, built 3D models of these with modeling clay.
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Mathew ’18 Participates in Summer Session’s Biology Institute

Christine "Cj" Mathew '18 is taking two intensive science classes this summer that equate to an entire year's worth of credits.

Christine “Cj” Mathew ’18 is taking two intensive science classes this summer that equate to an entire year’s worth of credits. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

In this News @ Wesleyan story, we speak with Christine “Cj” Mathew from the Class of 2018.

Q: Cj, have you chosen a major?

A: I’m a prospective neuroscience and behavior major.

Mathew's second Summer Session class began June 29.

Mathew’s second Summer Session class, Principles of Biology II, began June 29.

Q: This summer, you are enrolled in the new Biology Institute, which is held as part of the Wesleyan Summer Session, and includes intensive Principles of Biology I and II Lecture and Lab. Why did you decide to participate in the institute?

A: For my major requirements and pre-med requirements, there are tons of science classes that I have to take, and I didn’t want to feel too overwhelmed by taking more than one science class in a year.

Q: How many students were in your Bio I class? Do you enjoy the more intimate learning atmosphere?

A: There were 11 people in the class, and I absolutely love having a small class. This class is pretty fast paced, so it’s really helpful to have more individual attention. We spend a lot of time together between class and labs; by the second week of class, it was like we’d all known each other for a long time!

Q: When are you in class? Also, have you done any interesting lab experiments?

A: We’re in class every day from 9-10:40 a.m. and the lab meets Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1:30-4:20 p.m., but most of the labs don’t take that long so we’re let out earlier. In Bio I, we’ve done some pretty cool labs including genetic engineering, where we transformed bacteria. One of my personal favorites was when we looked at what proteins are found in milk and how much protein is found in milk. This one was particularly interesting because so many people are lactose intolerant because of these proteins.

Q: The Biology II course began June 29. How do you feel about jumping right into another class?

A: Luckily, there was a small, five-day break in between the two sessions. But, it’s not too bad. Since we’re only taking one class, not all of our time is consumed with class, so it’s manageable.

Q: After Bio II, do you have any summer plans?

A: Maybe a little traveling!

Q: Where are you from and why did you choose Wesleyan?

A: I’m from Long Island, N.Y. I chose Wesleyan because I knew I wanted a small school, and I loved the fact that Wesleyan has a lot of flexibility when it comes to choosing classes.

Q: Are you involved in any extracurricular activities on campus? What do you like to do in your free time?

A: I’m part of Women in Science and I enjoy playing tennis.

Wesleyan Faculty Organize, Speak at StemCONN 2015

Gloster Aaron, associate professor of biology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, spoke at StemCONN 2015 in April.

Gloster Aaron, associate professor of biology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, spoke at StemCONN 2015 in April.

Wesleyan faculty members played key roles in StemCONN 2015, Connecticut’s stem cell and regenerative medicine conference, held April 27 in Hartford, Conn.

Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, director of the Center for Faculty Career Development, served on the conference’s organizing committee for the second time this year.

Gloster Aaron, associate professor of biology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, spoke at the conference on “Investigating how transplants reduce seizures: brain slice electrophysiology and ontogenetic stimulation of transplanted cells.” He discussed the collaborative work being done by his lab and those of Naegele and Laura Grabel, the Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of biology, which aims to heal damaged areas of the brain that are the source of seizures in temporal lobe epilepsy by providing newborn neurons to those areas. The goal is for the newborn neurons to replace dead neurons and repair broken neuronal circuits that are thought to be a cause of temporal lobe epilepsy.

Nearly 500 scientists, business leaders and students attended the event, which is held every two years. The event was also attended by many Connecticut officials, including Gov. Dannel Malloy, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut State Rep. Lonnie Reed, and Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra. The conference was sponsored by Wesleyan, as well as Yale University, the University of Connecticut, the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering, Yale-New Haven Hospital, the City of Hartford, and other companies and non-profit organizations.

Grant Supports Kirn’s Research on Adult Neurogenesis

John Kirn

Professor John Kirn recently received a three-year $225,000 grant from the Whitehall Foundation to look at the activity patterns of vocal control neurons formed in adult zebra finches. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

#THISISWHY

It may not be the most beautiful, or the most complex, or the most well known, but the simple song of the zebra finch is helping Professor John Kirn learn more about how new information is acquired and old information preserved during adult neurogenesis.

Faculty, Staff Share Service- and Project-Based Learning Stories

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On April 15, faculty and staff met to share their service- and project-based learning stories during an Academic (Technology) Roundtable lunch at the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life. A(T)R lunches are designed to promote conversation, cooperation and the sharing of information, ideas and resources among faculty members, librarians, graduate students and staff.

Barbara Juhasz, director of service-learning, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, led the session, providing an overview of service-learning at Wesleyan as well as the variety of ways that service can be used as a pedagogical tool. Other speakers included Rob Rosenthal, director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology; Peggy Carey-Best, Health Professions Partnership Initiative advisor; Cathy Lechowicz, director of the Center for Community Partnerships; Sara MacSorley, director of the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center; Janet Burge, associate professor of computer science; Jim Donady, professor of biology, director of Health Professions Partnership Initiative; Anna Shusterman, associate professor of psychology; and Katja Kolcio, associate professor of dance.

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Jim Donady discusses his ongoing service-learning work at Connecticut Valley Hospital. Left to right: Donady; Sara MacSorley, who shared how service-learning courses can interface with programs at Green Street; Janet Burge, who spoke about how project-based activities are incorporated into her service-learning course, Software Engineering; and Director of Service Learning Barbara Juhasz.

 

3 Students Receive Goldwater Honorable Mentions

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Wesleyan students Selin Kutlu ’16, Jacob “Jack” Lashner ’16 and Aaron Young ’16 have been chosen for honorable mention by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program for the 2015-2016 academic year. The award is presented annually to U.S. sophomores and juniors for excellence in mathematics, science and engineering. This year’s recipients were selected from a field of more than 1,200 students nominated by faculty from more than 420 colleges and universities nationwide. Less than half the students nominated each year are selected as a scholar or for honorable mention.

Kutlu

Selin Kutlu ’16

Kutlu, a molecular biology and biochemistry and neuroscience and behavior double major, is interested in understanding not only biological mechanisms at the cellular and molecular level, but also how these mechanisms can alter human health and behavior. Working with Manju Hingorani, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, Kutlu combines her interest in both biochemistry and neuroscience through research on DNA mismatch repair, a process that corrects errors made during DNA replication. “These errors can cause mutations that can have deleterious effects on an organism’s health, including carcinogenesis and neurological disorders such as Huntington’s disease,” said Kutlu. Her career goal is to obtain an MA and PhD in molecular biology in order to teach at the university level and conduct biomedical research.

Petit Foundation Awards Grant to Green Street

Green Street

Green Street Director Sara MacSorley accepts a $12,500 grant from Dr. William Petit.

Wesleyan’s Green Street Teaching and Learning Center has received a $12,500 grant from the Petit Family Foundation to support the center’s Girls in Science Summer Camp. Green Street Director Sara MacSorley accepted the gift from Dr. William Petit.

The Green Street Girls in Science Summer Camp will take place August 3 – 7 and will be open to girls entering grades 4, 5, and 6. Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, Ruth Johnson, assistant professor of biology, and Christina Othon, assistant professor of physics, will participate in the five-day program, covering topics from biochemistry to physics and culminating in a science showcase to share projects with family and friends. The camp will be held at Green Street, but students will also spend time in teaching labs on Wesleyan’s campus.

Singer’s Caterpillar Defense Studies Published in Ecology, Entomology Journals

In a recent study, Associate Professor Mike Singer compared 41 caterpillar species to show the link between dietary breadth and vulnerability to predators.

Mike Singer

Mike Singer, associate professor of biology, associate professor of environmental studies, is the co-author of several recently-published papers. They include:

Thee struggle for safety: effectiveness of caterpillar defenses against bird predation,” is in press and will appear in the April 2015 issue of Oikos. This article shows how the camouflaged or bold appearance of a caterpillar can protect it from predatory birds in Connecticut forests. Former BA/MA student, Isaac Lichter-Marck ’11, ’12, is the first author of this article.

Defensive mixology: Combining acquired chemicals toward defense,” is published in Functional Ecology, 2015. This article proposes a conceptual framework to study the use of natural drug cocktails by animals and plants. Peri Mason Ph.D. ’12 is the first author of this article.

The global distribution of diet breadth in insect herbivores,” is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 2015. This article reports a common mathematical distribution that describes the range of dietary specificity of plant-feeding insects around the world. This research is an international collaboration among many ecologists.

Ecological immunology mediated by diet in herbivorous insects,” published in Integrative and Comparative Biology 54, pages 913-921, 2015. This article proposes a conceptual framework to study how diet influences the immune system in plant-feeding insects, such as caterpillars. Peri Mason Ph.D. ’12 co-authored this article.

Enemy-free space for parasitoids,” published in Environmental Entomology 43, pages 1,465-74, 2014. This article uses three case studies to argue that parasitic insects show a signature of adaptation to predation pressure, which has been an overlooked agent of evolution for parasites.

And “A mixed diet of toxic plants enables increased feeding and anti-predator defense by an insect herbivore,” published in Oecologia 176, pages 477-486, 2014. This article shows evidence that woolly bear caterpillars benefit in two ways from a diet that includes multiple toxic plant species. First, the caterpillars eat more food overall so they grow larger. Second, they become more deterrent to their predators. Peri Mason Ph.D. ’12 is the first author of this article.

Professor Emeritus Jason Wolfe Remembered for Mentoring, Cell Biology Research

Jason Wolfe

Jason Wolfe

Jason Wolfe, professor of biology emeritus, died Dec. 23 at the age of 73.

Wolfe joined the Wesleyan faculty in 1969 after receiving his BA from Rutgers University and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, and completing two post-doctoral fellowships at Kings College, University of London, and Johns Hopkins University. He taught cell biology, human biology, biology of aging and the elderly, and structural biology at Wesleyan for 39 years.

In his research, Wolfe asked big questions about how reproduction and aging are regulated. With funding from NIH and NSF, he produced a consistent and enviable body of work published in the major cell biology journals – always mentoring undergraduates and graduate students with great compassion and insight. He led the effort that resulted in Wesleyan’s first Howard Hughes Medical Institute Grant for Undergraduate Life Science Education, establishing a program that has provided decades of support for hundreds of undergraduates. In retirement, he twice offered his popular general education course in Human Biology and published his last Biology Open research paper in 2014 with four former Wesleyan undergraduate co-authors.

About 80 colleagues, friends and family gathered in the Daniel Family Commons April 26, 2009 celebrate Jason Wolfe's retirement. He taught biology at Wesleyan for 39 years. Pictured are former and current members of the Wolfe Lab. Front row, from left, are Emily Lu '00 and Vey Hadinoto '99. Back row, from left, are Aditi Khatri '11, Joan Bosco '09, Hyo Yang '12, Professor Wolfe, Carlo Balane '06 and Ivy Chen '09.

About 80 colleagues, friends and family gathered in the Daniel Family Commons April 26, 2009 celebrate Jason Wolfe’s retirement. He taught biology at Wesleyan for 39 years.

He brought his keen intellect and passion to the study and practice of Judaism. The scope of his activities extended from giving public lectures at the Center for the Humanities to service on the Wesleyan University Press Editorial Board to working with the Sierra Club in Arizona and New Mexico.

Jason is survived by his wife, Vera Schwarcz, the Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies, professor of history, as well as three children and five grandchildren. Memorial contributions in his name may be made to Young Israel of West Hartford, 2240 Albany Avenue, West Hartford, CT, 06117.

A memorial will be held at 4 p.m. Feb. 23 in Memorial Chapel. A reception will follow in Zelnick Pavilion.