Tag Archive for Biology

NSF, NIH Support Burke’s Development, Evolution Research

Ann

Ann Burke, associate professor of biology, received grants from the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health to study amphibian systems.

Ann Burke, associate professor of biology, recently received a three-year, $395,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the development and evolution of the shoulder girdle using transgenic mice, frog and salamander.

The mice will be generated in collaboration with a lab at the University of Michigan and will allow Burke and her associates to turn off Hox genes, which are specific patterning genes, in specific sub populations of the embryonic mesoderm that make the musculoskeletal tissues.

Pictured is a three dimensional reconstruction of a mouse and chicken scapula. Ann Burke, associate professor of biology, received two grants that fund her research on the scapula's development.

Pictured is a three dimensional reconstruction of a mouse and chicken scapula. Burke is studying the scapula's development.

“Comparing the dynamics of gene expression and cell interactions during the formation of the pectoral region in a variety of embryos will help us understand the evolution of these musculoskeletal structures and the dramatic variations among vertebrate lineages associated with adaptations for different locomotor strategies, like swimming, scurrying, crawling and flying,” Burke explains.

The frog and salamander experiments will use transplants of mesoderm between wild type embryos and embryos that have Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) expressed in all their cells, allowing Burke and her associates to fate map mesodermal cell populations.

Fate mapping is determining which cellular structures in the embryo give rise to which adult structures.

“We do this by transplanting the embryonic structure from a labeled embryo (GFP in this case) into the same spot in an unlabeled embryo, and tracing the ‘fate’ of the labeled cells, that is which adult structure they end up in,” Burke says.

Burke also received a two-year $100,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to use the same amphibian systems (salamander and frog) to develop a model system for understanding body wall defects in humans.

The grants will provide funds for a team of researchers at Wesleyan working with Professor Burke on these projects, including a postdoctoral fellow, graduate students and undergraduates.

“Receiving these two new federal grants, plus a grant from the Eppley foundation earlier this year, is a remarkable accomplishment in any year, but particularly this year as funding levels have dropped precipitously,” says Jan Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior.

Burke Awarded NSF, NIH Grants

Ann Burke, associate professor of biology, received a three-year, $395,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the development and evolution of the shoulder girdle using transgenic mice, frog and salamander. She also received a two-year $100,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to use the same amphibian systems (salamander and frog) to develop a model system for understanding body wall defects in humans.The grants will provide funds for a team of researchers at Wesleyan working with Burke on these projects, including a postdoctoral fellow, graduate students and undergraduates.

5th Graders Sample Wesleyan Sciences

Brian Stewart, associate professor pf physics, demonstrates how liquid nitrogen looks like water but evaporates rapidly at room temperature. Fifth grade students from Snow Elementary School toured the Wesleyan sciences June 19.

Brian Stewart, associate professor pf physics, demonstrates how liquid nitrogen looks like water but evaporates rapidly at room temperature. Fifth grade students from Snow Elementary School toured the Wesleyan sciences June 19.

Vacek Miglus, lab technician and curator of the Physics Department, shows the students how various lamps are lit by a Tesla coil without being attached to wires. Brian Stewart is on the right.

Vacek Miglus, lab technician and curator of the Physics Department, shows the students how various lamps are lit by a Tesla coil without being attached to wires. Brian Stewart is on the right.

Laurel Appel, adjunct associate professor of biology, senior research associate and director of the McNair Program, watches DNA fibers come out of a solution as ice-cold alcohol meets the warm, salty, DNA solution. One of the students described the reaction as looking like a spiderweb.

Laurel Appel, adjunct associate professor of biology, senior research associate and director of the McNair Program, watches DNA fibers come out of a solution as ice-cold alcohol meets the warm, salty, DNA solution. One of the students described the reaction as looking like a spiderweb.

McNair fellow Kelley Miller '10, at right, helps the Snow Elementary School students isolate DNA from wheat germ. The recipe for this, and other experiments is online at http://lappel.web.wesleyan.edu/expts.htm.

McNair fellow Kelley Miller '10, at right, helps the Snow Elementary School students isolate DNA from wheat germ. The recipe for this, and other experiments is online at http://lappel.web.wesleyan.edu/expts.htm.

Astronomy graduate student Amy Langford, at right, teaches the students about Wesleyan's Alvan Clark 20-inch refractor telescope inside the observatory. (Photos by Olivia Bartlett)

Astronomy graduate student Amy Langford, at right, teaches the students about Wesleyan's Alvan Clark 20-inch refractor telescope inside the observatory. (Photos by Olivia Bartlett)

Marie Curie Fellowship Winner Studies Non-Native Plant at Wesleyan

The annual plant, Polygonum cespitosum, is becoming invasive in North America.

The annual plant, Polygonum cespitosum, is becoming invasive in North America.

For the next two years, researcher Silvia Matesanz of Segovia, Spain will be collaborating with Chair and Professor of Biology Sonia Sultan in her plant evolutionary ecology lab at Wesleyan. Matesanz was awarded the prestigious Marie Curie International Post-doctoral Fellowship from the European Commission. Matesanz, Sultan and biology BA/MA student Timothy Horgan-Kobelski ’09 will be studying an introduced annual plant called Polygonum cespitosum that is becoming invasive in North America.

The scientists are particularly interested in understanding the evolutionary dynamics of the plant’s spread. Sultan and her research group will provide Matesanz with evolutionary expertise, which will enhance her previous Ph.D. training in plant ecophysiology, or the physiological responses of plants to the environment.

A successful non-native plant such as Polygonum cespitosum can displace native species from areas into which it spreads, altering the functional properties of the local ecosystem and reducing biodiversity. A species with this kind of impact is considered to be invasive. Sultan and Matesanz wish to determine what characteristics of this species allow it to thrive in novel environments. Polygonum cespitosum was introduced to the United States from Asia at the beginning of the 20th century and has only recently become invasive.

Sonia Sultan

Sonia Sultan

“Many plants and animals are introduced into new regions but only a very small proportion of these become invasive,” Sultan said. “People are interested to know what it is about certain species that allow them to spread so successfully.”

Sultan said that most biologists agree that “individual plasticity” or flexibility is a common property among invasive species. For example, “a certain seed might develop into a functioning shade plant in the shade and a sun plant in the sun.” Sultan’s lab has been studying how New England Polygonum plants are rapidly evolving greater developmental plasticity for different habitats.

Matesanz stated that she was looking forward to focusing on the evolutionary aspects of plants, because she hadn’t explored that avenue of research as much during her PhD program at the Center of Environmental Sciences in Madrid.

“One purpose of these fellowships is for young scientists trained in Europe to increase their expertise by taking on project that use different approaches,” Sultan said.

Silvia Matesanz was awarded the prestigious Marie Curie International Post-doctoral Fellowship from the European Commission to conduct research at Wesleyan.

Silvia Matesanz was awarded the prestigious Marie Curie International Post-doctoral Fellowship from the European Commission to conduct research at Wesleyan.

Matesanz added, “I wanted to broaden my breadth of discipline. I wanted to come to a very top-notch lab and start doing different things. And, also, improve my English language.”

Sultan explained that the collaborative project is interdisciplinary because it uses Matesanz’s “expertise in understanding plant physiology combined with my expertise in thinking about the evolutionary process. So she brings a strength that I don’t have and we give her a strength that she doesn’t have yet,” she said.

The joint research project will involve greenhouse experiments, field studies, and microsatellite genetic analyses. The scientists will try to determine how the plants are evolving in New England by testing how plants from local populations of Polygonum develop and function in different controlled environments. By growing inbred plants of various genetic lines in contrasting conditions, Sultan and Matesanz can examine how plants with a given genetic makeup can respond to different environments.

“[Polygonum cespitosum’s] typical habitat in New England, which is similar to their habitat in their native Asian region, is shady paths and forests and also along shaded roadsides. Yet, we’re beginning to see them in open sites. They seem to be increasing their ecological range,” Sultan said.

Sultan and Matesanz expect to learn more about how the plants are evolving to tolerate sunny environments. In addition they will use molecular markers that reveal genetic differences at specific DNA sequences to track the spread and differentiation of the species in New England.

The team aim to publish several papers about their experiments and attend the Ecological Society of America conference to present their results.

Matesanz’s work in Sultan’s lab is part of the two-year outgoing phase of her fellowship. For the third year of her fellowship, she will return to Spain to complete the project in collaboration with her former PhD advisor, Fernando Valladares, at the Terrestrial Ecology group in Spain’s Institute of Natural Resources in Madrid.

Sultan said that another advantage of the Marie Curie International Post-doctoral Fellowship is that it encourages collaboration between labs in other countries.

Wolfe Honored at Retirement Reception

About 80 colleagues, friends and family gathered in the Daniel Family Commons April 26 to honor Jason Wolfe, professor of biology, emeritus, for his retirement from Wesleyan. Wolfe 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 to honor Jason Wolfe, professor of biology, emeritus, for his retirement from Wesleyan. Wolfe 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.

Wolfe earned a bachelor of arts degree from Rutgers University, a master of arts ad eundem gradum from Wesleyan and a Ph.D from the University of California, Berkeley. He's taught cell biology, human biology, biology of aging and the elderly and structural biology. Wolfe is pictured above with Linda Strausbaugh Ph.D. '77.

Wolfe earned a bachelor of arts degree from Rutgers University, a master of arts ad eundem gradum from Wesleyan and a Ph.D from the University of California, Berkeley. He's taught cell biology, human biology, biology of aging and the elderly and structural biology. Wolfe is pictured above with Linda Strausbaugh Ph.D. '77.

Wolfe's retirement reception guests included Professor Nancy Schwartz, professor of government; Victor Gourevitch, the William Griffin Professor of Philosophy, emeritus; and Allan Berlind, professor of biology, emeritus.

Wolfe's retirement reception guests included Professor Nancy Schwartz, professor of government; Victor Gourevitch, the William Griffin Professor of Philosophy, emeritus; and Allan Berlind, professor of biology, emeritus.

From left, Vera Schwartz, the Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies, director of the Freeman Center for East Asian Studies, professor and chair of the East Asian Studies Program, mingles with Susan Wasch P'84 and Bill Wasch '52, P'84.

From left, Vera Schwartz, the Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies, director of the Freeman Center for East Asian Studies, professor and chair of the East Asian Studies Program, mingles with Susan Wasch P'84 and Bill Wasch '52, P'84.

Lew Lukens, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, emeritus;  Ellen Lukens; Jan Naegele, chair and professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior; and Fred Cohan, professor of biology, attended the reception to congratulate Wolfe on his retirement. (Photos by Blanche Meslin)

From left, Lew Lukens, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, emeritus; Ellen Lukens; Jan Naegele, chair and professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior; and Fred Cohan, professor of biology, attended the reception to congratulate Wolfe on his retirement. (Photos by Blanche Meslin)

Hingorani, Biro ’09 Co-Author Article on Metal Toxin

Manju Hingorani, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, is the co-author of “Mechanism of Cadmium-mediated Inhibition of Msh2-Msh6 Function in DNA Mismatch Repair,” published in Biochemistry, March 25, 2009. Three undergraduates from three countries worked on the project in the Hingorani Lab at Wesleyan. They include Francis Noah Biro ’09; Markus Wieland, an exchange student from University of Konstanz; and Karan Hingorani, Manju Hingorani’s nephew from St. Xaviers College in Mumbai who did volunteer work in the lab. The project focused on how the heavy metal toxin Cadmium (found in cigarette smoke, industrial pollution, batteries, etc.) causes DNA damage and blocks DNA repair, which promotes development of cancer.

Hingorani also co-authored the article “Mechanism of ATP-Driven PCNA Clamp Loading by S. cerevisiae RFC,” published in the Journal of Molecular Biology, March 13, 2009.

Faculty Teach Elementary Students DNA, Natural History

Michael Singer, assistant professor of biology, taught a workshop on "Biodiversity in Connecticut and Beyond" during the Middletown Minds in Motion program March 21 at Snow Elementary School.

Michael Singer, assistant professor of biology, taught a workshop on "Biodiversity in Connecticut and Beyond" during the Middletown Minds in Motion program March 21 at Snow Elementary School. Singer taught participants about natural history and the biologically diverse animals that inhabit Connecticut ecosystems, focusing on insects, reptiles and amphibians.

Ishita Mukerji, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, taught a workshop titled "Who Done It? A DNA Investigation."

Ishita Mukerji, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, taught a workshop titled "Who Done It? A DNA Investigation."

During a “Who Done It? A DNA Investigation,” elementary school aged children sported white lab coats and became “detectives” hoping to solve a crime.

The students learned about DNA structure by isolating DNA from wheat germ and comparing DNA samples from a ‘crime scene’ with the DNA from five suspects. They learn how DNA forensics actually works – just like on the television show “CSI.”

Singer, Mace ’07 Research Published in Scientific Journals

When parasites attack woolly bear caterpillars, such as this <em> Grammia incorrupta</em>, the insects eat leaves loaded with chemicals called alkaloids, which seems to cure the infection. The discovery, by Michael Singer, represents the first clear demonstration of self-medication among bugs.

When parasites attack woolly bear caterpillars, such as this Grammia incorrupta, the insects eat leaves loaded with chemicals called alkaloids, which seems to cure the infection. The discovery, by Michael Singer, represents the first clear demonstration of self-medication among bugs.

Michael Singer, assistant professor of biology, is the author of “Self-Medication as Adaptive Plasticity: Increased Ingestion of Plant Toxins by Parasitized Caterpillars,” published in PLoS ONE, March 2009. PLoS ONE is an open access, online scientific journal from the Public Library of Science.

This new article rigorously demonstrates that caterpillars can self-medicate, following up on a previous publication in Nature in 2005. This is the first experimental demonstration of self-medication by an invertebrate animal.

This paper also represents the first publication to arise from research funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant awarded to Singer in December 2007. Kevi Mace BA ’07 MA ’08 assisted with the research.

The research also was featured in an article titled “Woolly Bear, Heal Thyself,” published in Discover Magazine online, and in an article titled “Woolly Bear Caterpillars Self-Medicate — A Bug First,” published in National Geographic News.  The caterpillars also were mentioned in the March 26, 2009 edition of nature-research-highlights-09.

Grabel Defends Embryonic Stem Cell Research to The Senate

Laura Grabel.

Laura Grabel, the Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, is the co-director of the University of Connecticut Human Embryonic Stem Cell Core Facility. (Photo by Alexandra Portis '09)

Sitting in front of the Senate panel, Laura Grabel was ready for the “when” and “why” questions. But she knew one of these questions held a lot more potential danger to her future than the other.

Grabel, the Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of biology, is a renowned stem cell researcher. She is also the co-director of the University of Connecticut Human Embryonic Stem Cell Core Facility, part of a $100 million human stem cell research initiative created by the State of Connecticut in 2006.

The stem cell initiative was the state’s response to a veto issued by then-President George W. Bush that restricted federally-funded research on human embryonic stem cell lines to cell lines derived before August 2001. The initiative included a collaboration of three state academic institutions with outstanding stem cell researchers: Yale University, The University of Connecticut and Wesleyan University. During the start-up round, Grabel was not only named co-director of the facility, she received an $878,348 grant for her research.

All of this led up to her sitting in front of the panel at the State Senate in Hartford in the last week of February.

Aaron Awarded $50,000 for Epilepsy Study

Gloster Aaron, assistant professor of biology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, received a $50,000 grant from The Epilepsy Foundation on Dec. 6 titled “STEP Regulation of Epileptogensis in the Hippocampus.”

Drugs prescribed to combat epilepsy can yield unwanted side effects. One reason that drugs have side effects is that they can affect almost every neuron in the brain, regardless of their roles in spreading seizures. Aaron will research ways target only the neurons that may be most important in stopping the spread of seizures. Previous work has shown that a certain protein, STEP, is found in select groups of neurons. One of those groups of neurons, the hilar interneurons of the hippocampus, is a crticial group with regards to epilepsy. By manipulating that protein, researchers can target that group of neurons, and hopefully gain traction in a selective therapy for preventing and curing epilepsy.