Tag Archive for Biology

Students, Alumni Attend Neuroscience Meeting, Reunion Dinner

A Wesleyan group gathered for a neuroscience/biology reunion dinner Nov. 19 in Washington, D.C.

A Wesleyan group gathered for a neuroscience/biology reunion dinner Nov. 15 in Washington, D.C.

Eighteen Wesleyan students, research assistants, alumni and one professor attended the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting, held Nov. 15-19 in Washington D.C.

The student group included Wesleyan lab technicians/research assistants Felicia Harrsch and Adam Lombroso and biology graduate students Kemal Asik, Jyoti Gupta, Swechhya Shrestha, Chris Chen, Nickesha Anderson, Meghan van Zandt, Chelsea Lassiter, Samantha Maisel, Julian Gal and Chris Suriano.

The alumni group included XiaoTing Zheng ’14, Eniola Yeates ’10, Efrain Ribiero ’10, Michaela Tolman ’13 and lab tech/research assistant Katharine Henderson. Most of these alumni are enrolled in Ph.D. or MD/Ph.D neuroscience programs at other universities.

Jan Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, director of the Center for Faculty Career Development, organized a reunion dinner that included 14 students and alumni.

The Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting is the premier venue for neuroscientists to present emerging science, learn from experts, forge collaborations with peers, explore new tools and technologies and advance careers. More than 31,000 people attended the SfN meeting.

BIology Students Learn about Summer Research Programs

On Nov. 17 and 19, Ruth Johnson, assistant professor of biology, spoke to sophomores and juniors about applying to summer research programs. During the two-session workshop, Johnson discussed ways to write successful applications for summer programs at U.S. research institutions.

On Nov. 17 and 19, Ruth Johnson, assistant professor of biology, spoke to sophomores and juniors about applying to summer research programs. During the two-session workshop, Johnson discussed ways to write successful applications for summer programs at U.S. research institutions.

Students were required to attend both sessions and complete a mock application. The workshop also provided guidance on locating appropriate summer research programs and requesting supporting letters of recommendation.

Students were required to attend both sessions and complete a mock application. The workshop also provided guidance on locating appropriate summer research programs and requesting supporting letters of recommendation. (Photos by Dat Vu ’15)

Naegele, Aaron, Student Researchers Published in Journal of Neuroscience

Jan Naegele, Gloster Aaron and several Wesleyan researchers are the co-authors of an article titled “Long-Term Seizure Suppression and Optogenetic Analyses of Synaptic Connectivity in Epileptic Mice with Hippocampal Grafts of GABAergic Interneurons,” published in the October 2014 edition of The Journal of Neuroscience, Issue 34(40): 13492-13504.

Naegele is professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, and director of the Center for Faculty Career Development. Aaron is associate professor of biology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior. The article is co-authored by Diana Lin ’15; graduate students Jyoti Gupta and Meghan Van Zandt; recent alumni Elizabeth Litvina BA/MA ’11, XiaoTing Zheng ’14, Nicholas Woods ’13 and Ethan Grund ’13; and former research assistants/lab managers Sara Royston, Katharine Henderson and Stephanie Tagliatela.

Studies in rodent epilepsy models suggest that GABAergic interneuron progenitor grafts can reduce hyperexcitability and seizures in temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE). Although integration of the transplanted cells has been proposed as the underlying mechanism for these disease-modifying effects, prior studies have not explicitly examined cell types and synaptic mechanisms for long-term seizure suppression. To address this gap, the researchers transplanted medial ganglionic eminence (MGE) cells from embryos into adult mice two weeks after induction of TLE.

The researchers found that TLE mice with bilateral MGE cell grafts had significantly fewer and milder electrographic seizures. These findings suggest that fetal GABAergic interneuron grafts may suppress pharmacoresistant seizures.

 

Grad Student Herman, Sultan Published in Evolution, Faculty 1000

Jacob Herman

Jacob Herman

Biology Ph.D. candidate Jacob Herman and Sonia Sultan, chair and professor of biology, professor of environmental studies, are the co-authors of an article titled “How stable ‘should’ epigenetic modifications be? Insights from adaptive plasticity and bet hedging,” published in Evolution, Issue 68(3), pages 632-43. Herman was the Private Investigator on the paper.

The article also was selected by Faculty 1000, a platform for life scientists that helps scientists to discover, discuss and publish research.

Sonia Sultan

Sonia Sultan

Epigenetics is the study of ways chemical reactions change the way an organism grows and develops, and the factors that influence them. Epigenetic modifications can be stable across the individual’s lifespan and in some species even persist across generations, or they can be reversible, but it is currently unclear how the persistence of epigenetic modifications may evolve. In this paper, Herman and Sultan provide insights from the theoretical advances in adaptive phenotypic plasticity to predict the conditions that would favor the evolution of stable versus reversible epigenetic modification as an adaptive environmental response both within and across generations.

At Wesleyan, Herman is interested in the evolutionary implications of developmental plasticity. In particular, he has been studying transgenerational plasticity, a phenomenon that occurs when environments experienced by parents (or even more remote generations) influence the phenotypes of offspring, without changing the DNA sequence.

“There is a growing body of research in both plants and animals that suggests that transgenerational plasticity can have important ecological and evolutionary impacts, including influences on response to selection and population persistence in stressful environments,” he said.

Polygonum persicaria

Polygonum persicaria

Herman’s doctoral research focused on adaptive seedling responses to grandparental and parental drought stress in the widespread, introduced plant Polygonum persicaria.

“We found that functionally appropriate responses to drought stress persist across at least two generations in this species. These adaptive effects enhanced the growth and survival of ‘grandchild’ seedling offspring grown in drought conditions,” he said.

Herman’s research is one part of the larger effort in the Sultan lab to understand how individual plants respond to key environmental stresses, such as drought, and how those responses influence species’ ecology and evolution.

Learn more about ongoing research in the Sultan Lab here.

Singer’s Study Reveals that Finicky Feeders Avoid Bird Predation

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

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

Grandmothers used to warn youngsters against being “a jack of all trades, and a master of none,” and with good reason, at least in the animal kingdom, according to research by Mike Singer, associate professor of biology, associate professor of environmental studies.

Singer’s decade of research in the ecosystems of Connecticut forests reveals that caterpillars with finicky feeding habits avoid predation from birds, whereas those that feed generally on many plants become meals for baby birds. The “specialist” bugs are much better at survival.

Singer and five collaborators published these findings in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences June 16.

Mike Singer studies the Papilio glaucus, one of the most bird-resistant caterpillars. (Photo by Mike Singer)

Mike Singer studies the Papilio glaucus, one of the most bird-resistant caterpillars. (Photo by Mike Singer)

“Dietary specialization of herbivores drives the dynamics of this food chain,” Singer explained. Caterpillars with generalized diets are less likely than specialists to be camouflaged or to display warning colors or features to avian predators.

A familiar example of a dietary specialist is the caterpillar of the Monarch butterfly, which feeds exclusively on milkweed plants. This caterpillar accumulates toxins from its food-plants, rendering it unpalatable to birds and other predators. The toxic caterpillar is distinctively striped and colored as a warning to its enemies.

Goodstein ’14 to Deliver WESeminar on Mental Illness and Stigma

Taylor Goodstein '14 wrote her senior thesis on the human experience of mental illness. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Taylor Goodstein ’14 wrote her senior thesis on the human experience of mental illness. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we speak with Taylor Goodstein from the Class of 2014. She is delivering a WESeminar at Reunion & Commencement on the topic of her capstone project: “Looking Inward: Examining the Broken Brain and Reducing Stigma.”

Q: Taylor, what is your major, and how did you settle on this topic for your thesis?

A: I am a neuroscience and behavior and biology double major, and I am also obtaining a certificate in creative writing. I was never planning on writing a thesis because I don’t conduct research in a neuroscience or biology laboratory, but then one day the idea just sort of came to me. I realized how neuroscience classes at Wesleyan focus so much on the hard science, and it becomes easy to forget that the illnesses and disorders that are discussed at a physiological level have real-world social and personal implications. I wanted to explore the human side of neuroscience, and I was inspired by writers who have done the same thing, such as Oliver Sacks. Combining narrative and current neuroscience research is an excellent tool for increasing understanding and reducing the stigma of mental illness, and I wanted to try it out.

Q: Please tell us about the people you interviewed for your project.

A: I interviewed six people, including one Wesleyan student with multiple sclerosis—whose story illustrates how living with an invisible, inconsistent disability can be hard to explain and thus causes lots of misunderstanding—as well as another Wes student who talked about living with an anxiety disorder that perpetuated an eating disorder. Her story was very valuable to me because she has since made a full recovery, and I really went in to detail discussing the aspects of her environment that made it easy for her to seek help and get treatment. Hopefully, such environments can be replicated more and more so people don’t remain silent about mental illness.

Kopac, Herbst, Martinez MA ’13 Attend Space Telescope Science Institute Symposium

Biology Ph.D candidate Sarah Kopac was invited to speak at the 2014 Spring Symposium of the Space Telescope Science Institute on the campus of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, M.D. on April 29. Kopac spoke on “Specialization of Bacillus in the Geochemcially Challenged Environment of Death Valley.” Watch a video of her 20 minute presentation online here.

Kopac’s talk was part of a four-day interdisciplinary meeting titled “Habitable Worlds Across Time and Space” featuring speakers from around the world working in such diverse fields as biology, geology and astronomy. The focus of the seminar was on identifying places within our Solar System and Galaxy where we can most profitably search for life beyond the Earth.

Astronomy major Raquel Martinez, MA ’13 and William Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, director of graduate studies, also attended the conference.

Both Kopac and Martinez were active active participants in Wesleyan’s Planetary Science Group seminars and activities. Kopac’s advisor is Fred Cohan, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies. Martinez’s advisor was Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy.

Biology Ph.D candidate Sarah Kopac speaks at the the Space Telescope Science Institute's Spring Symposium.

Biology Ph.D candidate Sarah Kopac speaks at the the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Spring Symposium.

Raquel Martiniz MA '13 poses with her research poster and conference organizer John Debes. Raquel is currently working in NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center and has been accepted to the Ph.D. program at the University of Texas where she will begin studies in the fall.

Raquel Martiniz MA ’13 poses with her research poster and conference organizer John Debes. Raquel is currently working in NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center and has been accepted to the Ph.D. program at the University of Texas where she will begin studies in the fall.

Oliver Honored with NIH Award for Protein Translocation Research

Don Oliver

Don Oliver

Professor Don Oliver received a three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) (R15) for his research titled “Mechanism of SecA-dependent protein translocation.” The grant, worth $374,148, was awarded on April 15.

Oliver is the Daniel Ayres Professor of Biology and professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.

Oliver studies how proteins are targeted to and transported across biological membranes utilizing bacteria as a simple model system.”The current genetic and biochemical studies are designed to elucidate a molecular motor protein, SecA ATPase, that drives proteins through a universally conserved protein-conducting channel by a largely unknown molecular mechanism,” he said.  “Clarification of the transport mechanism by this motor and its interplay with the channel is essential for understanding comparable protein transport systems in higher cells.”

In addition, such studies should allow for the development of novel antibacterial agents against SecA in order to combat the spread of multi-drug resistant bacterial pathogens.

The grant funds will be utilized to support two Ph.D. Students, a BA/MA fifth-year student, and four undergraduate research students that comprise of Oliver’s research group.

After Studying Abroad, Mummini ’14 Hired as Health Programs Assistant in Denmark

Swetha Mummini ’14

Swetha Mummini ’14 is a biology and neuroscience and behavior double major.

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we speak with Swetha Mummini ’14 who studied abroad last spring through the Danish Institute for Study Abroad Program. Her study abroad program hires two graduating past participants to be paid interns for the year after graduation and Mummini received the internship for the science and health programs assistant. 

Q: What prompted you to study abroad in Copenhagen?

A: Macaroni and cheese. I know that sounds a bit ridiculous, but the first time I seriously considered going abroad was at the very beginning of junior year when my friend Catherine invited her friends over for baked macaroni and cheese. Over the course of the meal, her friends talked about their plans to go abroad during spring semester of junior year, and that moment served as my personal eureka moment. I realized what a unique opportunity studying abroad was and how I should take the opportunity to pursue it. That night, I was up until 4 a.m. researching programs and trying to find the perfect fit. Denmark has always fascinated me, especially because of its status as the happiest country in the world and its welfare state. The program that I chose, the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS), also offered a wide variety of health science and public health classes that appealed to me.

Q: What did you like about the DIS program in particular?

A: For premedical students, DIS has a unique program called Medical Practice and Policy. It’s a very hands-on program that exposes students to the fundamentals of clinical medicine and the European healthcare system. By participating in the program, I was able to get clinical exposure that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to experience in the U.S. I learned how to take a patient’s case history and formulate a diagnosis. I also learned how to perform basic medical procedures, such as taking an ultrasound and drawing blood. To give students a broader understanding of healthcare policy, our class also took a weeklong trip to Vienna and Budapest where we heard from physicians and other medical specialists about the challenges in their healthcare systems.

Firshein’s Book Addresses Ways Viruses, Bacteria Spread

Book by Bill Firshein.

Book by Bill Firshein.

Bill Firshein, the Daniel Ayers Professor of Biology, emeritus, is the author of the book, The Infectious Microbe, published by Oxford University Press in January 2014. Firshein is the founding faculty member of the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department.

In The Infectious Microbe, Firshein uses six different critical diseases to illustrate how viruses and bacteria are spread. He discusses the relationship between man and virus, and how to defeat viruses.

The book will help non-scientific readers better understand the issues surrounding the spread of disease.

Thomas Broker ’66, professor of biochemistry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, described the book as an “engaging journey into the world of pathogens” and a “must-read for everyone concerned with their personal, family and community health and with national and global health policies, or who has simply wondered about the nature of the infectious diseases to which we are all susceptible.”

Order the book online here.

On March 5, the Wasch Center hosted a book-signing party for Firshein, pictured at right.

On March 5, the Wasch Center hosted a book-signing party for Firshein, pictured at right.

Wesleyan Students Teach Local Children about Science

On Nov. 9, Wesleyan’s informal science education class in conjunction with the Wesleyan Science Outreach Club presented Science Saturday, a semi-annual fun afternoon of hands-on science for the whole family. Activities took place inside the Exley Science Center.

Wesleyan students taught science lessons that they have been working on this semester, with experiments involving dissections of biological specimens, roller coaster models, and an explosions demo. More than 50 local children and their parents attended.

Andrea Roberts, visiting assistant professor of chemistry; Manju Hingorani, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry; and students from the CHEM 241 Informal Science Education course coordinated the event.

Photos of the event are below:

sciencesat9

Naegele Awarded Grant from CURE Epilepsy.org

Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, director of the Center for Faculty Career Development, was awarded a $250,000 grant in September from CURE Epilepsy.org. The grant, which will be given over a period of three years, will fund research examining synaptic function in GABAergic stem cell transplants using optogenics. This technique provides a way to modulate and control the activity of individual neurons in living tissue using discrete delivery of light into the brain or tissue slice. It will be used to investigate how GABAergic stem cell transplants suppress seizures in mice with temporal lobe epilepsy.

The new research effort is a collaboration with Laura Grabel, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of biology; Gloster Aaron, associate professor of biology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior; as well as neuroscientists at Yale and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.