Tag Archive for Biology

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

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.