Tag Archive for Biology

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.

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.