Tag Archive for environmental studies

Yohe: Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change ‘Quite Likely a Game-Changer’

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, wrote in The Hartford Courant about Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change–“a very valuable and much needed injection of morality into the scientific and economic discussions on climate change — it is quite likely a game-changer.”

While scientists, economists and other professionals have long made a case for taking action to reduce emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change, Yohe writes, “The pope’s encyclical adds a moral dimension to this case with nearly 200 pages of inspiring text about man’s pollution and the immorality of emissions. He notes that the Bible tells humans, as early as the first chapter of Genesis, that they have a stewardship obligation to the planet. The Bible also commands us to protect the least among us — the poorest who lack the means to provide for themselves. These are the people, the world over, who will be most heavily impacted by climate change — the poor, the very young, the elderly and infirm — especially if they live near a coastline. Working from there, as the leader of a billion Catholics, the pope provides theological justification that we are behaving immorally by continuing to avoid reducing emissions.”

Yohe concludes:

I must admit, at this point, that declaring something a sin is way above my pay grade. What I can say from my scientific and faith perspective is this: Putting human beings, their societies and communities, and aspects of nature unnecessarily at risk by ignoring science on the basis of ideology, business interest, or ill-informed and unyielding denial is morally irresponsible — especially for elected officials.

I believe that the pope’s encyclical confirms this perspective not only for more than 1 billion Catholics around the world and across this country, but also for the billions of others from multiple faiths who take seriously their stewardship obligations to the planet and its inhabitants.

Yohe is also professor and chair of economics, professor of environmental studies.

Environmental Studies Class Presents Artist’s Books, Projects

Students enrolled in the Introduction to Environmental Studies course presented their artist’s books, children’s stories, documentaries and story maps during the class’s annual Project Showcase on May 14 in Exley Science Center. The class is taught by Kim Diver, visiting assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences. Suzy Taraba, director of Wesleyan’s Special Collections and Archives attended the event and spoke to the students about artist books.

Photos of the event are below: (Photos by Aviva Hirsch)


Taylor’s Papers Published in Molecular Biosciences, Biochemistry Journals

Erika Taylor

Erika Taylor

Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, has co-authored a paper published in FEBS Letters, an international journal established for the rapid publication of final short reports in the fields of molecular biosciences.

The paper, which is an expansion of her lab’s work on the enzyme Heptosyltransferase I, is titled “Cloning and Characterization of the Escherichia coli Heptosyltransferase III: Exploring Substrate Specificity in Lipopolysaccharide Core Biosynthesis,” The paper is co-authored by her former graduate student Jagadesh Mudapaka. FEBS Letters is published by Elsevier on behalf of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies.

Taylor also is the co-author of “Improving Alternate Lignin Catabolite Utilization of LigAB from Sphingobium sp. strain SYK-6 through Site Directed Mutagenesis,” published in Process Biochemistry, June 2015. The work in this paper describes molecular engineering of the enzyme LigAB to be better able to metabolize compounds derived from Lignin. Co-authors include Kevin Barry, PhD ’15; Erin Cohn ’15 and Abraham Ngu ’13.

Taylor presented her research “Thoughts about Adenosine: Efforts in Drug Discovery of Nucleoside Utilizing Enzymes” at the Gordon Research Conference: Nucleosides, Nucleotides and Oligonucleotides in July. Her talk described the work she is performing to help in drug discovery for two enzymes from E. coli, Heptosyltransferase I and the TrmD tRNA methyltransferase, and one human enzyme, p300 histone acetyl transferase.

“Our work in these systems involves computational modeling of interactions between small molecules and the enzymes, to help design new compounds with medical applications,” Taylor explained.

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.

Gruen Discusses Her New Book Entangled Empathy

Lori Gruen

Lori Gruen is chair and professor of philosophy, professor of environmental studies, and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Lori Gruen, professor and chair of philosophy, discussed her new book, Entangled Empathy: An Alternative Ethic for Our Relationships with Animalswith University of Colorado Professor Emeritus Mark Bekoff in The Huffington Post. Bekoff calls the book “a wonderful addition to a growing literature in the transdisciplinary field called anthrozoology, the study of human-animal relationships.”

Gruen defines “entangled empathy” as “a process whereby we first acknowledge that we are already in relationships with all sorts of other animals (humans and non-humans) and these relationships are, for the most part, not very good ones. We then work to figure out how to make them better and that almost always means trying to promote well-being and flourishing.”

She adds, “One thing I think is crucial in our process of thinking differently about our relationships is to recognize that making those relationships better requires practice. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution. We need to continually learn more about ourselves and others to improve the lives of everyone. We will make mistakes, so we should always engage with a fair dose of humility, but also be hopeful that we can fix our mistakes and hone our empathetic skills.”

Read the full interview here.

Gruen also recently penned an op-ed titled, “Ban Greyhound Racing Now,” published on Al Jazeera America’s website. She relates her personal experience adopting a rescued greyhound who was a former racing dog, and more generally describes the “grotesque cruelty in the racing industry.”

Gruen also is professor of environmental studies, and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Choice Names Eisner’s Book a “Outstanding Academic Title”

A book by Marc Eisner, the Henry Merritt Wriston Chair of Public Policy, was selected as a winner of the Outstanding Academic Titles by Choice in 2014.

Eisner’s book, The American Political Economy was published in 2014. In this innovative text, he portrays the state and the market as inextricably linked, exploring the variety of institutions subsumed by the market and the role that the state plays in creating the institutional foundations of economic activity. Through a historical approach, Eisner situates the study of American political economy within a larger evolutionary-institutional framework that integrates perspectives in American political development and economic sociology.

Eisner also is chair and professor of government, professor of environmental studies.

Paper by Taylor, Students Show How Enzymes Break down Lignin

Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, is the author of a paper “Exploring Allosteric Activation of LigAB from Sphingobium sp. strain SYK-6 through Kinetics, Mutagenesis and Computational Studies,” published in Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Vol, 567, pages 35-45, February 2015.

Co-authors include graduate students Kevin Barry and Joy Cote; Erin Cohn ’15, Abraham Ngu ’13 and former graduate student Jason Gerbino.

Development of renewable alternatives for petroleum derived fuels and chemicals is of increasing importance because of limits on the amount of fossil fuels that are available on the planet. In an effort to improve the utilization of lingo-cellulosic biomass sources (which includes switchgrasses, trees and other terrestrial plants) for the production of these chemicals, Taylor and her students have been working to enhance the understanding of how Lignin is broken down in nature (by environmental fungi and bacteria). As part of this work, they study an enzyme called LigAB from Sphingobium sp. strain SYK-6.

In a recent study, Taylor’s group showed that this enzyme works faster in the presence of vanillin, a molecule that is produced in large quantities as Lignin is depolymerized (which also is the primary ingredient in vanilla extract).

“The activation of LigAB is exciting because the enzymes that break down vanillin show that an organism can more efficiently metabolize all of the compounds — or get energy from the abundant molecule more quickly. This is the first time that an enzyme like LigAB has been shown to be responsive to other metabolically linked molecules, and it suggests that the flux of compounds through this pathway may be more complicated and interesting that initially predicted,” Taylor said.

Now, the group is interested in figuring out exactly how this activation works and also if there are any relatives of LigAB that exhibit similar behavior.

Taylor, Hingorani, Students Co-Author Paper in Biochemistry Journal

Two faculty members and two graduate students co-authored a paper published in the July 18 edition of the academic journal, Biochemistry.

Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies; Manju Hingorani, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry; chemistry graduate student Daniel Czyzyk; and molecular biology and biochemistry graduate student Shreya Sawant wrote the paper, “Escherichia coli Heptosyltransferase I: Investigation of Protein Dynamics of a GT-B Structural Enzyme.”

It appears online here.

Biochemistry is a publication of the American Chemical Society.

Cohan Published in Encyclopedia of Genetics, Genomics Publication

Fred Cohan, chair and professor of biology, professor of environmental studies, is the co-author of “Species,” published in the Encyclopedia of Genetics, Amsterdam, Elsevier, 2013; “Accuracy and efficiency of algorithms for demarcating bacterial ecotypes from DNA sequence data,” published in BMC Genomics, 2013; and “Speedy speciation in a bacterial microcosm: New species can arise as frequently as adaptations within a species,” published in the ISME Journal’s Advance Online Publication, 2013.

Varekamp Elected President of CFE’s Board

Joop Varekamp

Johan “Joop” Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, professor of environmental studies, was elected as president of the Board of Trustees of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment (CFE).

The CFE is an organization of environmental advocacy, habitat restoration and outreach with about 20 staff members. Its mission is to protect and improve the land, air and water of Connecticut and Long Island Sound by using legal and scientific expertise and by bringing people together to achieve results that benefit the environment for current and future generations.


NSF Supports Varekamp’s X-Ray Fluorescence Research

Johan “Joop” Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, professor of environmental studies, received a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation in January. He will use the funds to build a new X-Ray Fluorescence lab in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department.

The lab will be used for analyzing rocks, soils and waters.

Stark Awarded Grant from American Sociological Association

Laura Stark, assistant professor of sociology, assistant professor of science in society, assistant professor of environmental studies, received a grant worth $6,900 from the American Sociological Association for her study titled “How do research subjects affect biomedical studies?” The grant was awarded Oct. 21.