Tag Archive for Biology

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

#THISISWHY

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.

eve_atr_2015-0415230622

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

#THISISWHY

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.

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.