Tag Archive for Biology

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:


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.

Burke Speaks on Turtles at Vertebrate Morphologist Symposium

Ann Burke

Ann Burke

Ann Burke, professor of biology, spoke on “The origin and evolution of Turtles” during the 10th International Congress of Vertebrate Morphologlogy in Barcelona, Spain July 7- 12.

The International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology (ICVM) has emerged as the premier conference for scientists researching the morphology of vertebrate animals at all levels of organization. The Congresses are held typically every three years with the broad goal of providing an opportunity for interaction, integration, and interfacing.

Through a mixture of symposia, workshops, and open platform and poster sessions, everyone from senior scholars to students share ideas in an informal and genial setting.

More than 400 morphologists and vertebrate experts from 27 countries attended the meeting.

Burke’s Paper on Lamprey Development Published in PNAS

A paper co-written by Professor of Biology Ann Burke, “Body wall development in lamprey and a new perspective on the origin of vertebrate paired fins,” was published in the July issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Burke and her colleagues investigated the sea lamprey and the Japanese lamprey, comparing “the embryonic development of both these jawless fish to jawed animals — a shark, the catshark, and a salamander, the axolotl.” The abstract of the paper states, “Classical hypotheses regarding the evolutionary origin of paired appendages propose transformation of precursor structures (gill arches and lateral fin folds) into paired fins. . . . We focus on the evolutionary history of the somatopleure to gain insight into the tissue context in which paired fins first appeared. Lampreys diverged from other vertebrates before the acquisition of paired fins and provide a model for investigating the preappendicular condition. We present vital dye fate maps that suggest the somatopleure is eliminated in lamprey as the LPM is separated from the ectoderm and sequestered to the coelomic linings during myotome extension. We also examine the distribution of postcranial mesoderm in catshark and axolotl. In contrast to lamprey, our findings support an LPM contribution to the trunk body wall of these taxa, which is similar to published data for amniotes. Collectively, these data lead us to hypothesize that a persistent somatopleure in the lateral body wall is a gnathostome synapomorphy, and the redistribution of LPM was a key step in generating the novel developmental module that ultimately produced paired fins. These embryological criteria can refocus arguments on paired fin origins and generate hypotheses testable by comparative studies on the source, sequence, and extent of genetic redeployment.”

Learn more:




Grant Will Support Epilepsy Therapy Study at Wesleyan

Gloster Aaron, Jan Naegele and Laura Grabel.

Gloster Aaron, Jan Naegele and Laura Grabel.

Three Wesleyan professors have been awarded a four-year, $1.49 million grant by the state of Connecticut’s Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee. The grant will help fund research on using human embryonic stem cell-derived GABAergic neurons for epilepsy therapy, which is being conducted by Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, Laura Grabel, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, Professor of Biology, and Gloster Aaron, associate professor of biology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior.

This grant was the largest single award to researchers in this year’s competition. Only 23 projects were selected to receive funds from a pool of 109 applicants.

“The potential to treat neurological disorders with human embryonic stem cell-derived neurons is enormous and relatively untested,” Naegele said. “The long-term goal of our research is to develop human stem cell-based cures for treating neurodegeneration, seizures and cognitive impairments in temporal lobe epilepsy.”

In patients who have an initial precipitating event, such as a head trauma, a severe seizure can cause a loss in inhibitory GABAergic interneurons. This, in turn, can dispose an otherwise normal brain to generate spontaneous seizures, a condition known as temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE). These spontaneous seizures can further damage the hippocampus and lead to memory loss and other cognitive and emotional disturbances. Because nearly one-third of TLE patients are unable to control their seizures with drugs, Naegele, Grabel and Aaron are seeking novel, stem cell-based treatments for the disease.

They have developed methods for producing GABAergic progenitors from mouse and human embryonic stem cells. In their proposal for their grant, they proposed three projects to thoroughly evaluate grafts of these neurons in mice with temporal lobe epilepsy. In addition to the collaboration between the three Wesleyan labs, the researchers have established collaborations with colleagues at the University of Connecticut Health Center and the Yale University School of Medicine to provide additional expertise for this project.

Local Elementary School Students Tour Wesleyan’s Science Departments

Wesleyan hosted a science tour for Snow Elementary School students on June 19. Faculty, staff and graduate students taught the fifth graders about astronomy, biology, scientific imaging, physics and chemistry through several hands-on activities. The students also visited the Joe Webb Peoples Museum in Exley Science Center. Photos of their science tour are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)

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