Bamboo? Don't mind if I do. Why pandas are vegetarian
A recent study by Professor Jianzhi Zhang and his colleagues explains, in part, how the giant panda lost its taste for meat. The answer may be found in the gene that codes for the umami taste receptor. The study was published in Molecular Biology and Evolution in June 2010 and was covered in New Scientist, Dec. 5, 2010.
The Tas1r1 gene that allows us to taste umami is inactive in pandas, said Zhang. Umami is one of the five basic tastes, made possible by the detection of a naturally occurring amino acid common in meat. Giant pandas are strict vegetarians, whose diet is 99 percent bamboo.
The researchers found that Tas1r1 became inactive about 4.2 million years ago. According to fossil records, ancestors of giant pandas traded meat for bamboo between seven and two million years ago. At some point, the team thinks that environmental changes wiped out much of the bears' prey. As a result, pandas changed their diet, making the Tas1r1 gene obsolete. Later, even if meat became abundant again, pandas were probably not interested.
But because of error bars in dating, it's uncertain what went first, the meat or the panda's taste for meat. There are more factors at play, however, because other herbivores, such as the cow and horse, have an intact Tas1r1 gene. Co-authors are U-M EEB postdoctoral fellows Huabin Zhao, Jian-Rong Yang, and Huailiang Xu, a visiting research investigator in the Zhang Lab.
Liere quoted in Detroit Free Press about U-M grad student benefits
The University of Michigan is one of an increasing number of schools nationwide adopting the family friendly policy of giving graduate students who become parents six weeks of leave from classes, teaching and research. Students who work as graduate student instructors continue to receive their salaries.
Because of U-M's plan, Heidi Liere, an EEB Ph.D student, was able to take time off when her daughter, Sybelle, who is now one, was born. "I cannot even imagine what it would have been like without this benefit," said Liere. "I wouldn't have been able to register for classes or teach. To be able to take six weeks off with pay was great." Her husband, Christian Kroll, who is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Romance Languages and Literature, also took advantage of the family leave. Liere was able to stay on track to present her dissertation in February 2011.
Chris Psujek, who was part of the Biology Department and EEB and MCDB since 1982, died in mid-November, following a long struggle with lymphoma. Chris had run the undergraduate programs for the Department of Biology since 1987, and then the interdepartmental Program in Biology after Biology split into the departments of MCDB and EEB in 2001. She was responsible for the remarkably smooth operation of all aspects of our large and diverse undergraduate programs. Chris helped over 15,000 students during her time in biology with her knowledge, compassion, and patience; a truly incredible legacy. Undergraduates will remember her from her ability to answer just about any question that was thrown at her and graduate students will remember her from the fair and organized way she managed GSI assignments. The faculty relied on her extensively in their role as concentration advisors and in all aspects of their undergraduate teaching. In 2008, she was honored by LSA with the second annual Kay Beattie Distinguished Service Award.
"We will miss Chris hugely, for her amazing breadth of knowledge and organizational skills, and even more for her wonderful calm and sense of humor,"
said Professor and EEB Chair Deborah Goldberg.
In memory of Chris, the Program in Biology has established a gift fund, the Christine Psujek Memorial Undergraduate Award. An award will be presented annually to the graduating senior who submits the best honors thesis in any of the biology concentrations. Donations can be made by filling out a gift/pledge card and returning the card to the Program in Biology office.
Congratulations to our new Honorary Photographer at Large, Professor Catherine Badgley, who came in first place with "Galloping zebras, Amboseli National Park, Kenya."
We have a tie for second place between Susanna Messinger for "Stormy Lake Michigan" and Dan Katz, SNRE Ph.D. student, for "Everyone likes a fish".
Third place goes to Leslie McGinnis for "Ranthambhore National Park tigress." Kudos to all of our winning photographers and thank you to everyone who submitted a photo and/or voted in the contest. There were so many really stunning photos that voting was difficult. There is a lot of talent out there. And now you can start snapping photos for next year's contest.
Zhang paper highlighted in Nature Reviews Genetics
A study done by Professor Jianzhi Zhang and colleagues using RNA-sequencing data overturns a widely-held belief about gene expression on the X chromosome. The researchers showed that, in mice and humans, genes on the X chromosome are expressed at the same level as those on autosomes. In other words, there is no dosage compensation. "In this work, we showed that a 43-year-old hypothesis of Susumu Ohno that formed the foundation of the prevailing model of sex chromosome evolution is incorrect," said Zhang.
According to an online highlight in Nature Reviews Genetics, Nov. 30, 2010, "For over 40 years it has been assumed that genes on the X chromosome of mammals double their expression to make up for there being only one active copy (a single X in males and a single active X in females)." The paper, "RNA sequencing shows no dosage compensation of the active X-chromosome," is in the December 2010 issue of the journal Nature Genetics.
"After RNA-seq data become available for additional species, it will be interesting to look at how other dosage compensation mechanisms - such as those of flies and birds - stand up to scrutiny," the review states.
Also see Science Editor's Choice.
Kondrashov wins $5 million international grant from Russia
Professor Alexey Kondrashov is one of three U-M researchers who are winners of an international grant competition from the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation. The grants are designed to attract leading scientists from around the world to Russian educational institutions. Kondrashov's grant is for $5 million, to be spent mostly in 2011 and 2012.
The grant awards, announced in November 2010, partner the winning scientists with specific Russian educational institutions and are meant to build Russian capacity as well as facilitate international research partnerships.
Kondrashov's project on phylogenetic analysis of complex selection in molecular evolution is affiliated with the Lomonosov Moscow Federal University's College of Bioengineering and Bioinformatics. He will assemble a laboratory of 12 people. "We plan to compare related genome segments from different species and from different individuals from the same species in order to ascertain the kinds and strengths of natural selection which acted in the course of relatively recent evolutionary history of these genomes." As a condition of the award, Kondrashov must be physically present there for four months in 2011 and 2012.
David Marvin, EEB Ph.D. student, and colleagues at Princeton University created a new online mapping system to allow experts in the southeast U.S. to contribute their knowledge about the presence and abundance of non-native invasive plants in the region. They reached out to federal, state, and local invasive plant managers and conservation professional from across the southeast. Almost 200 individuals contributed data covering 30 percent of the region. "Regional abundance and distribution data are critical for both early detection and rapid response to invasive species, as well as modeling the risk and impacts of future invasions," said Marvin. Data and maps are available for download.
Conservation Maven published an article about their project online. Marvin, Bethany Bradley and David Wilcove published a paper about their online mapping tool in Natural Areas Journal, Vol 29 (3) 281-292.
EEB REU opportunities
First and second year undergraduates interested in participating in a research program during the summer of 2011 can choose from a variety of research projects and spend the summer either on campus or at field sites around the world! You'll work with a faculty or graduate student mentor.
The program is fully funded by the NSF - meaning that travel, housing, food, and research expenses will be covered. It's a great way to get research experience and spend the summer doing something interesting. The deadline for applying is Dec. 15, 2010.
Paper-mounted collections still mainstay of University Herbarium
Go behind the scenes at the U-M Herbarium in a recent University Record cover story. The article begins, "Mounted on acid-free paper, and filed away in the climate-controlled storage area of the University Herbarium, are plants dating back to the 1820s and '30s."
Ranked as the third-largest university herbarium in North America, behind Harvard University and the University of California-Berkeley, the U-M Herbarium holds about 1.7 million specimens.
Staff Spotlight on Sullivan
Read about our graduate program coordinator, Jane Sullivan, in a recent edition of the University Record! "Assisting students with working through the complex decisions that define their graduate careers is often the most rewarding aspect of my role as graduate coordinator," Sullivan says. She also talks about her love of horses, especially her horse, Jimmy, and what a great gig it is to work at her alma mater.
Hunter on WEMU Wednesday morning
Professor Mark Hunter was interviewed Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 8:20 a.m. on "Issues of the Environment" on WEMU (89.1 FM). He discussed his research on monarch butterflies using medicinal plants to treat their offspring for disease.
New program: EEB seeking undergraduate teaching assistants
Hey undergraduates, are you interested in gaining teaching experience at the college level? Consider becoming a UTA for EEB beginning with the winter 2011 term. Apply by Nov. 30, 2010. Contact Dr. Lynn Carpenter. (more)
Contact among age groups key to understanding whooping cough spread and control Read more on the U-M Gateway. The findings by Professors Aaron King, Pej Rohani, and Xue Zhong, former postdoctoral fellow, were published in Science Nov. 12, 2010. An EEB research feature will be coming soon. Their findings are getting a lot of media attention. Previously on the U-M Gateway.
Artists for Conservation Exhibit
A painting by John Megahan, scientific illustrator and graphic artist for EEB and the Museum of Zoology, was selected for the Artists for Conservation Annual Exhibit. The painting is titled "Huron River Swans" and was inspired by a walk Megahan took along the Huron River one cold, January morning.
"The Art of Conservation has become one of the most highly anticipated events among the nature-inspired art genres uniting the talents and passions of the world's most gifted nature artists," according to the AFC website. "This year's inaugural Virtual Exhibit promises to break new ground in providing global access via the World Wide Web to some of the best works the nature-inspired art genre has to offer." Over a hundred AFC artist members from around the world contributed to this exhibit to support wildlife and habitat conservation.
Nature's backbone at risk
One-fifth of the world's vertebrate species are threatened with extinction, but the situation would be worse if not for current global conservation efforts, a new study finds. Professor Ronald Nussbaum, curator of the Museum of Zoology, is one of 174 researchers from 115 institutions and 38 countries who authored the study published this week in Science Express.
The study used data for 25,000 species from the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species to investigate the status of the world's vertebrates (mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fishes) and how this status has changed over time. The results show that, on average, 50 species of mammal, bird and amphibian move closer to extinction each year due to the impacts of agricultural expansion, logging, over-exploitation, and invasive alien species.
While the study confirms previous reports of continued losses in biodiversity, it is the first to present clear evidence of the positive impact of conservation efforts around the globe. Results show that the status of biodiversity would have declined by at least an additional 20 percent if conservation action had not been taken.
"Our results clearly demonstrate that conservation efforts are having a positive effect on maintaining global biodiversity," said Nussbaum, whose research focuses on amphibians and reptiles. "This is encouraging, but we must not become complacent. Hopefully these results will persuade governments, research institutions, corporations, and individual donors to step up their conservation efforts."
Scary chupacabras monster is as much victim as villain
As Halloween approaches, tales of monsters and creepy crawlies abound. Among the most fearsome is the legendary beast known as the chupacabras.
But the real fiend is not the hairless, fanged animal purported to attack and drink the blood of livestock; it's a tiny, eight-legged creature that turns a healthy, wild animal into a chupacabras, says Professor Barry OConnor.
The existence of the chupacabras, also known as the goatsucker, was first surmised from livestock attacks in Puerto Rico, where dead sheep were discovered with puncture wounds, completely drained of blood. Similar reports began accumulating from other locations in Latin America and the U.S. Then came sightings of evil-looking animals, variously described as dog-like, rodent-like or reptile-like, with long snouts, large fangs, leathery or scaly greenish-gray skin and a nasty odor. Locals put two and two together and assumed the ugly varmints were responsible for the killings.
Scientists studied some of the chupacabras carcasses and concluded that the dreaded monsters actually were coyotes with extreme cases of mange—a skin condition caused by mites burrowing under the skin. OConnor, who studies the mites that cause mange, concurs and has an idea why the tiny assailants affect wild coyotes so severely, turning them into atrocities.
Read the full story: Previously on the U-M Gateway. Listen to the podcast of OConnor on NPR's Science Friday here, Oct. 29, 2010. Watch CBS news coverage on KPHO Phoenix and KRQE Albuquerque.
Ostling receives NSF grant
Professor Annette Ostling has been awarded a three-year grant of over $478,000 from the National Science Foundation for her project "Niche versus neutral structure in populations and communities."
Ostling, Rosalyn Rael, postdoctoral fellow, and Rafael D'Andrea, master's student, will explore a novel idea for testing the neutral theory, using patterns of diversity, relative abundance, and phylogeny along trait axes. Neutral theory describes populations or communities in which genotype or species coexistence is due to similar fitness and chance events govern relative abundance. Neutral theory can provide a null model whose failure can indicate the presence of stable coexistence mechanisms that give each genotype or species an advantage when they are rare.
However, as of yet no methods for testing neutral theory have been developed that clearly identify trait differences that could allow for stable coexistence and deal with uncertainty about historical and other factors governing the population or community. "In this project we will attempt to verify a new method that would do both," according to Ostling.
"The research could set the stage for a great deal of future work aimed at gaining an understanding of the mechanisms maintaining diversity in specific systems, knowledge that is vital to our ability to manage, conserve, and restore our biological resources," Ostling said.
In addition, the investigators will encourage the participation of women in mathematical biology by running a focus group on topics related to the research at a summer camp for girls organized by the Women in Science and Engineering program at U-M. Finally, Ostling will integrate the research into general ecology and population and community ecology courses, and make teaching materials developed available online.
Project advisors include Professor Mercedes Pascual, Michigan Fellow Evan Economo, and Trevor Bedford, postdoctoral fellow. The award is effective September 15, 2010 - August 31, 2013.
Butterfly "doctors" treat offspring
Monarch butterflies appear to use medicinal plants to treat their offspring for disease, research by Professor Mark Hunter and co-authors from Emory University shows. Their findings, one of the first clear demonstrations of self-medication in an animal, were published online Oct. 6, 2010 in the journal Ecology Letters.
"We have shown that some species of milkweed—the larva's food plants—can reduce parasite infection in the monarchs," said Jaap de Roode, the Emory evolutionary biologist who led the study. "And we have also found that infected female butterflies prefer to lay their eggs on plants that will make their offspring less sick, suggesting that monarchs have evolved the ability to medicate their offspring."
"It's the first example of trans-generational medication, with the mother's behavior benefiting her offspring," said Hunter. "The findings also may have implications for human health. When I walk around outside, I think of the plants I see as a great, green pharmacy. But what also strikes me is how little we actually know about what that pharmacy has to offer," he said. "Studying organisms engaged in self-medication gives us a clue as to what compounds might be worth investigating for their potential as human medicines. Researchers have studied the kinds of leaves that primates eat in forests, but this work with butterflies stresses the point that even insects in our own back yard can be useful indicators of what might be medicinally active."
The Rackham Graduate School was awarded a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to support programs that act as bridges to doctoral programs at U-M. The grant includes support for the Frontiers Master's Program in EEB and will cover about 80 percent of program costs, beginning September 1, 2010. The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and EEB will continue to support the master's program as well.
Abby Stewart, Sandra Schwartz Tangri Distinguished University Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies, and Associate Dean of the Rackham Graduate School, wrote and submitted the grant to NSF. "Our successful students, as they complete master's degrees and doctorates, and become mentors in their own right, will generate 'positive feedback' in the education system, moving the scientific workforce toward equitable representation by underrepresented minority groups," states the project summary for the U-M NSF Grant for Innovation through Institutional Integration. The grant is titled "Building Bridges, Creating Community and Wise Mentoring: Building Institutional Capacity to Enhance Diversity in STEM Disciplines.
"Frontiers is the first program like this at the University of Michigan; as such we are very proud of it, and used its early success to make the case for the value of this approach to recruiting new underrepresented minority students into science and engineering fields," said Stewart. "We are encouraging the development of more programs like Frontiers, and are thrilled to have a successful nearby model to offer other programs. We are very grateful to Mark Hunter, and EEB, for leading the way in this area!"
Complexity not so costly after all, analysis shows
The more complex a plant or animal, the more difficulty it should have adapting to changes in the environment. That's been a maxim of evolutionary theory since biologist Ronald Fisher put forth the idea in 1930.
But if that tenet is true, how do you explain all the well-adapted, complex organisms--from orchids to bower birds to humans--in this world?
This "cost of complexity" conundrum puzzles biologists and offers ammunition to proponents of intelligent design, who hold that such intricacy could arise only through the efforts of a divine designer, not through natural selection.
A new analysis by Jianzhi Zhang and EEB alumni Zhi Wang and Ben-Yang Liao reveals flaws in the models from which the cost of complexity idea arose and shows that complexity can, indeed, develop through evolutionary processes. In fact, a moderate amount of complexity best equips organisms to adapt to environmental change, the research suggests. The findings will be published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during the week of Sept. 27.
Averting natural disaster in Cameroon: Kling quoted in Nature
Professor George Kling was quoted in a recent Nature article about the efforts being taken to extract deadly, explosive carbon dioxide from Lake Nyos in Cameroon, in order to avert a natural disaster in the region. The project, which is nearing an end, "is a big success story," said Kling, who has studied the lake for decades, but he warned that other area lakes could pose threats now or in the future.
Congressional Visits Day in D.C. brings legislators to BioStation
For the second consecutive year, U-M Biological Station Director Knute Nadelhoffer participated in the joint Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition and American Institute of Biological Sciences Congressional Visits Day in Washington DC.
As a result of these meetings, Chris Adamo, Stabenow's legislative aid for energy and environment, and Brandon Fewins of Stabenow's Traverse City regional office visited the U-M Biological Station August 20 as part of the AIBS-Organization of Biological Field Stations Reverse Congressional Visits event to learn more about biodiversity and climate change research. The U-M BioStation was a co-sponsor of this national event, which involved visits by congressional staffers to biological field stations across the country.
This year's Congressional Visits Day aptly took place on April 22, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Nadelhoffer met with Trevor Clark of Sen. Debbie Stabenow's (D-MI) Washington office, Kim Trezciak of Rep. John Dingell's (D-MI 15th District), and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI 1st District). Conversations centered on the importance of biological and ecological research for informing federal climate, energy and environmental legislation.
Hunter named Collegiate Professor
Mark Hunter has been named the Henry A. Gleason Collegiate Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with the endorsement of the Executive Committee of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts for a five-year renewable term, Sept. 1, 2010 – Aug. 31, 2015.
Gleason, for whom LSA the distinguished professorship was named, was a faculty member at the University of Michigan from 1910 to 1919. He began his studies in botany at the age of 13 and published in The American Naturalist while still in high school. While at U-M, he served as director of the Biological Station and of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. In 1919, Gleason accepted a position at the New York Botanical Garden, where he remained for 30 years. He was responsible for over 235 contributions to the field of vascular botany. One of the first ecologists, he is identified with the individualistic concept of plant association, which has had a strong influence on both ecological and geographical studies of vegetation.
Hunter, who came to U-M in 2006, is an ecologist whose research focuses on the consequences of insect consumption of plants for insect population dynamics and the food webs and ecosystems in which they are embedded. He has been extraordinarily productive throughout his 21-year professional career with over 100 scientific articles and book chapters, and four edited or written books. He has also been very successful in obtaining grant funding to support his research.
According to the letter of nomination, Hunter has made significant contributions in teaching and service. He is a brilliant instructor who has won teaching awards throughout his career. He is also a dedicated research mentor to both undergraduate and graduate students. Hunter is the inaugural director of the Frontiers Master's Program. This degree program is focused on increasing diversity in the disciplines of ecology and evolutionary biology.
Chupacabra legend solved?
Professor Barry OConnor identified photographs of the "chupacabra," monsters of Latin American folklore, as coyotes or dogs with severe sarcoptic mange. He was recently interviewed for the podcast "Monster Talk" presented by Skeptic magazine, which aired Wednesday, Sept. 15. The interview focused on mange-causing mites in animals and human scabies. Listen to the program, "Just Scratching the Surface."
On organic coffee farm, complex interactions keep pests under control Read about ecologists John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto's research on the U-M Gateway, which was published in the July/August issue of the journal BioScience.
Proponents of organic farming often speak of nature's balance in ways that sound almost spiritual, prompting criticism that their views are unscientific and naïve. At the other end of the spectrum are those who see farms as battlefields where insect pests and plant diseases must be vanquished with the magic bullets of modern agriculture: pesticides, fungicides and the like.
Which view is more accurate? A 10-year study of an organic coffee farm in Mexico suggests that, far from being romanticized hooey, the "balance and harmony" view is on the mark. Vandermeer and Perfecto of the University of Michigan and Stacy Philpott of the University of Toledo have uncovered a web of intricate interactions that buffers the farm against extreme outbreaks of pests and diseases, making magic bullets unnecessary. Their research is described in the July/August issue of the journal BioScience. Watch a slideshow.
Goldberg to chair EEB three more years
Elzada U. Clover Collegiate Professor Deborah Goldberg has accepted another three-year term as chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Effective July 1, 2010, Goldberg took the EEB reins for her final term. She will be on sabbatical during the winter 2012 term and is still thinking about where--perhaps Arizona or the Czech Republic!
"Deborah has provided the department not only with expert administrative service, but, unlike some other administrators I have seen in my 40 years at this university, she remains a vitally engaged scholar in her research area," said Professor John Vandermeer.
"I wouldn't be able to keep doing this job without such a supportive and collegial department", said Goldberg. "Thank you for being wonderful colleagues, students and staff!"
Now in print
A new book "Estimating Species Trees," edited by Professor L. Lacey Knowles and Laura S. Kubatko of Ohio State University, examines recent computational and modeling advances that have produced methods for estimating species trees directly, avoiding the problems and limitations of the traditional phylogenetic paradigm where an estimated gene tree is equated with the history of species divergence.
According to the publisher, Wiley-Blackwell, the goal of the volume is to increase the visibility and use of these new methods by the entire phylogenetic community. As such, this volume will not only be poised to become the quintessential guide to training the next generation of researchers, but it will also be instrumental in ushering in a new phylogenetic paradigm for the 21st century. Read more.
Over $2 million in NIH and NSF grants for Wittkopp
Professor Patricia Wittkopp has been awarded more than $1.3 million over five years from the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health for her project titled, "Evolutionary genetics: contribution of tan to Drosophila pigmentation divergence." The long-term goal of this project is to improve the general understanding of the genetic changes and molecular mechanisms underlying phenotypic differences in complex traits, her project summary states.
"This includes discovering the genes responsible for phenotypic divergence, identifying which changes within these genes affect the phenotype, and determining how these changes alter molecular, cellular, and developmental processes. Preliminary studies using a combination of genetic mapping and transgenic analysis show that pigmentation differences between two closely related Drosophila species, D. americana and D. novamexicana, are caused (in part) by divergence within the tan gene."
Postdoctoral fellow Arielle Cooley, EEB graduate student Brian Metzger, and MCDB graduate students Gizem Kalay, Lisa Arnold and David Yuan, and are currently contributing to studies of pigmentation evolution in Wittkopp's lab.
Wittkopp will also receive a three-year grant of over $733,000 for her project, "The evolution of gene expression: molecular mechanisms and inheritance patterns revealed on a genomic scale with next-generation sequencing" from the National Science Foundation over three years.
According to the project summary, "this project aims to understand the molecular mechanisms by which gene expression evolves. Gene expression is an essential step in converting genotypes into phenotypes, and mutations affecting gene expression may often contribute to phenotypic differences within and between species. For a given gene, mutations in either its cis-regulatory DNA sequences or in the genes encoding trans-regulatory factors that interact with these cis-regulatory sequences can alter its expression. Prior studies suggest that cis-regulatory divergence may accumulate faster than trans-regulatory divergence over evolutionary time, and the primary research objective of this proposal is to test this hypothesis. The project will improve the understanding of evolutionary processes operating at the molecular level.
Postdoctoral fellows Joseph Coolon and Jonathan Gruber, Graduate students Brian Metzger, EEB, and Kraig Stevenson, bioinformatics, are currently contributing to studies of regulatory evolution in Wittkopp's lab.
Move to 21st century teaching laboratories
This summer the biology and EEB teaching labs from the 1908-built section of the Chemistry Building have been moved over to the modern Undergraduate Science Building, which was built in 2006 – a forward move through time of nearly 100 years!
The new laboratories are more spacious with better space utilization, better equipped for the students and instructors, have improved layouts without large pillars obstructing views, moveable tables and chairs, wireless and hard-wired Internet, integrated DVD/VHS/Internet/computer/sound system, whiteboards, computer drawing tablets, improved climate control and lighting, and key code entry allowing students expanded access to work on projects. The newfangled labs are located on the second floor of USB.
"These modern labs allow instructors to use more advanced teaching methods than in the past," said Dennis Drobeck, biology lab/classroom services supervisor, the mastermind behind the move. All of his educational lab services staff are now together in USB and the majority of EEB's undergraduate labs are consolidated in USB.
"When students realize how nice a facility the labs are in, biology will become more popular than ever," predicted Drobeck.
Sedio wins ATBC Best Student Oral Presentation
The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation awarded EEB Ph.D. student Brian Sedio the Al Gentry Award for Best Student Oral Presentation for his talk "Divergence in anti-herbivore defense among sympatric Psychotria shrubs and implications for plant-insect interactions in phylogenetically-clustered assemblages."
Sedio's research helps illuminate the role of insects in maintaining the tree diversity of tropical rainforests, one of Earth's most diverse ecosystems. The ATBC annual international meeting was held in Bali, Indonesia July 19 – 23, 2010. The theme was "Tropical biodiversity: surviving the food, energy and climate crisis." Sedio was awarded $100, a one-year subscription to Biotropica, which will feature his photo and abstract, and $100 in books from the University of Chicago Press. Read more about the award.
NPR's "All Things Considered"
Listen to EEB alumna Shalene Jha on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," which aired Saturday, Sept. 11. Jha discussed how shade-coffee farms support native bees that keep biodiverse tropical forests healthy.
National Geographic highlights Gingerich's whale research
See the August issue of National Geographic for a feature story on Professor Philip Gingerich's 30 plus years of groundbreaking research on the origin and evolution of whales from land to sea in Pakistan and Egypt. The writer and photographers accompanied Gingerich, EEB graduate student Ryan Bebej and colleagues during their fieldwork in Wadi Al Hitan, Egypt, which translates to Valley of Whales.
Shade-coffee farms support native bees that keep biodiverse tropical forests healthy
A study by EEB alumna Shalene Jha and Professor Chris Dick was previously on the U-M Gateway and watch for a future EEB research feature. The paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online July 26 and is being widely covered by online media. U-M News Service press release.
Outstanding award for Izzo
Congratulations to Amanda Izzo who won the W.D. Hamilton Award for Outstanding Student Presentation at the Evolution 2010 conference at Portland State University. Izzo's presentation about her wasp research was titled "Females gain direct benefits through mate choice in a non-economic mating system." She received $1,000 and a one year membership to the Society for the Study of Evolution.
Li wins best student presentation
Kudos to Jingchun Li, who won the Constance Boone Award for the Best Student Presentation at the 2010 annual meeting of the American Malacological Society at San Diego State University. Her presentation was titled "Host races or ecomorphs? Testing host-mediated speciation in two marine commensal bivalve species." Li was awarded $500.
U-M News Service video on EEB/BioKIDS field trip is on U-M Gateway
Once it's off the Gateway, you can view the five-minute video on the U-M News Service website.
Welcome Frontiers master's students!
The Frontiers Master's Program incoming 2010 cohort has arrived at the U-M Biological Station for their first summer of classes and research. A warm EEB welcome to: Cindy Bick, San Jose State University, who is interested in tropical ecology and conservation biology; Sahar Haghighat, Monmouth College, who is interested in plant ecology; Iman Sylvain, Howard University, who is interested in plant ecology and agriculture; and William Webb, Howard University, whose interests are in vertebrate ecology and herpetology.
New EEB executive secretary
Sonja Botes is already familiar to most of you as the friendly face at the front desk in the administrative offices. You can now find her just around the corner as EEB's new executive secretary!
She will be supporting Professor and Chair Deborah Goldberg, working on faculty promotions, awards, minutes and searches, among other responsibilities. She officially started her new role June 1, 2010. Botes began as a temporary EEB senior secretary in September 2008 and was hired in February 2009. She is a graduate of Walsh College, where she earned her bachelor's of business administration degree in marketing. Botes is enjoying the challenge of learning many new things as executive secretary. Stop by to say congratulations!
Duda gets promotion
Thomas Duda has been promoted to associate professor with tenure and to associate curator in the Museum of Zoology effective Sept. 1, 2010.
Duda integrates field ecological studies and complex molecular phylogenetic studies. He has turned a fascinating, hyper-diverse group of marine organisms (cone snails) that have been well studied ecologically on one hand and pharmacologically (their venoms) on the other hand into a model system to understand the integrative functional pathways that link genotypes to phenotypes over evolutionary time.
He will be developing an upper division/graduate level course on molecular systematic and phylogenetics, a course that is expected to be in high demand for life sciences students, who increasingly use phylogenetic methods for comparative genomic research.
Duda's curatorial role has resulted in a large expansion of the alcohol-preserved specimens of Pacific cone snails, making the Museum of Zoology one of the core repositories for anyone studying this group. He is deeply involved in planning and supervising the move of the alcohol collections off-site and will be heavily engaged in the next steps toward getting data from the entire mollusk collection online.
EEB/BioKIDS field trip delights and inspires
Here's a surefire recipe for an educational day sprinkled liberally with fun: Mix together 75 sixth graders out in the natural environment, a bunch of biologists, several teachers and other volunteers, toss in some educational stations and let simmer for a few hours. (Oh, and don't forget the bug repellent and water!)
After rescheduling twice due to bad weather, the EEB/BioKids field trip to the U-M Dearborn Environmental Interpretive Center took place Thursday, June 10 under sunny blue skies and highs in the mid-70s. The trip is an outgrowth of BioKIDS, a U-M School of Education and Museum of Zoology program that uses technology and hands-on-learning methods to help middle school students ask questions the way scientists do. Some 3,000 Detroit Public School students participate in the BioKIDS program each year, charting wildlife in their own school yards and preparing reports on local ecosystems, such as the Detroit River. Watch a U-M News Service video on the field trip.
Badgley discusses benefits of organic farming on "Out of the Blue"
Professor Catherine Badgley's research on the benefits of organic farming will be the topic of an upcoming episode of "Out of the Blue" premiering Friday, June 25 at noon on the Big Ten Network and the following morning at 3 a.m. The program will also be available on the OOTB website by June 25. It's Episode 212 Organic Farming. Out of the Blue is presented by the Office of the Vice President for Communications, and produced by Michigan Productions.
The eight-minute feature program will explore the benefits of organic farming for reducing environmental impacts, for feeding the world, and what changes need to occur to encourage more farming to become organic. For future broadcasts, see the Big Ten Network's schedule and look for "Michigan Campus Programming: Out of the blue 212."
New REU grant aims to increase student diversity
The EEB Diversity Committee was awarded $265,000 for two years from the National Science Foundation to develop a different kind of Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program to help to funnel a greater diversity of students into the EEB pipeline.
The Diversity Committee (Professors John Vandermeer and Patricia Wittkopp, Joe Kurdziel, lecturer and research scientist, and graduate students Jasmine Crumsey and Senay Yitbarek) believes that students interested in the sciences are diverted into medical school early, by high school counselors for example, and so they never get an introduction to EEB and aren't even considering it when they apply to college. The goal of the new REU program is to encourage more African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and other underserved populations, into the field. The program will concentrate on historically black colleges, Hispanic and Native Americans colleges in the U.S. as well as underprivileged white students.
EEB will begin to advertise the program in fall 2010, with a goal of having its first cohort of 10 students by winter 2011. The students, who will likely be scattered around the country, will initially connect with each other and their faculty or graduate student mentors using social media. Students will spend two weeks in Ann Arbor in early summer to attend a series of workshops and develop an action plan for their research with their mentors. Depending on the project, they could spend their summer working as nearby as a lab at U-M to as far as overseas. Upon project completion, students return to Ann Arbor for a week in August to write about their results and present their findings at a symposium.
On NPR's Morning Edition: dispersants compounded oil spill
U-M alumni Prosanta Chakrabarty (Ph.D. EEB 2006) and other scientists are interviewed about the unknown effects of enormous plumes of oily water thousands of feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. The evidence raises fears about the fate of creatures that live in the dark, mysterious environment near the gushing well, including the bizarre, pancake batfish, a new species that Chakrabarty helped discover. There is currently not a strategy for cleaning the oil beneath the surface. Chakrabarty is an assistant professor and curator of ichthyology at Louisiana State University's Museum of Natural Science. Listen to the NPR podcast.
Chakrabarty has been interviewed extensively since the oil spill disaster. Read, "Not Just Pelicans in Peril, But Pancake Batfish, Too" in Science, part of the journal's continuing coverage of The Science of the Oil Spill.
Sheehan, Tibbetts get turn on the "Daily Planet"
The Discovery Channel Canada spent a day in May 2010 filming a spot for the "Daily Planet" with EEB graduate student Mike Sheehan and Professor Liz Tibbetts. Sheehan marked and photographed wasps at the U-M Botanical Gardens, using a population that he has been monitoring for a few years. The research is to determine whether or not the highly variable facial patterns of the wasps are controlled by genetics or environment.
Discovery also filmed in Tibbetts' lab in the Natural Science Building where Sheehan painted wasp faces to mimic the experiment that was published in the October 2009 journal Evolution showing that it's beneficial for wasps to look unique.
Wang begins biomedical research postdoc
Zhi Wang, a recent EEB graduate, began his postdoctoral research at Sage Bionetworks in May 2010. Located on the campus of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Sage Bionetworks is a new nonprofit biomedical research organization created to conduct systems analysis of complex genomic data for the purpose of curing human disease. Wang will be involved in biomedical research. While at U-M, Wang worked in the lab of Professor Jianzhi Zhang.
Sedio snags Smithsonian Fellowship
EEB graduate student Brian Sedio has been awarded a Smithsonian Predoctoral Fellowship, which will allow him to spend six months collecting insect herbivores of Psychotria plants and conducting Psychotria community censuses on Barro Colorado Island, Panama.
"My objective is to measure the influence of variation in Psychotria chemical defense on host-use and host-specificity of their herbivores, and in turn measure the influence that herbivores exert on the community structure of the plants," said Sedio. Because of a timing conflict with his National Science Foundation Fellowship, Sedio had to forgo the salary portion but was able to accept the research and travel funds of $5,750.
Join us on facebook!
EEB has a new facebook page to help keep us connected, share news, events, photos and more. Our page will provide an interactive forum for incoming and prospective students for their questions and comments. Join us today and help spread the word!
Peek inside the Natural Science greenhouse
Ray Barbehenn, a research scientist in EEB and MCDB, discusses his research in the greenhouse of the Kraus Natural Science Building in a video produced by The Michigan Daily. Funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, his research is aimed at understanding how plants defend themselves from caterpillars. His research will provide insights on how to help improve the resistance of crops and trees in the future from pests without spraying pesticides. Watch.
EEB graduate student Michael Sheehan won the 2010 EEB Outstanding Student Paper Award for "Evolution of identity signals: Frequency-dependent benefits of distinct phenotypes used for individual recognition," co-authored by Professor Elizabeth Tibbetts. It was described as "an elegant experiment to address an interesting question," as well as "well-written and accessible to people from other fields." The paper was published in the October 2009 journal Evolution.
While there was close competition among applicants, the review committee believed that Sheehan's paper stood out as the best overall. Every year one graduate student paper is selected based on approach of study, scope of findings, and insights into questions of broad scientific interest using multiple lines of evidence. The prize is $500. Read the U-M News Service press release.
Coolon wins NRSA Award
EEB postdoctoral fellow Joseph Coolon has won the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health. He will receive $98,080 for a two-year postdoctoral research fellowship entitled "Using next-generation sequencing to understand the evolution of gene regulation."
Coolon will investigate different types of gene expression changes and how they evolve over time, using different pairs Drosophila species with his fellowship co-sponsors Professors Patricia Wittkopp and Jianzhi Zhang in Wittkopp's lab.
"My research project aims to address questions such as: What are the relative contributions of cis- and trans-regulatory changes* to divergent gene expression? Do the relative contributions of cis- and trans-regulatory changes vary with divergence time? Are different functional classes affected more often by changes in cis- or trans-regulatory elements? To address these questions, we will take advantage of recent advances in next-generation sequencing technologies in order to not only sequence genomes but to also quantify levels of gene expression for all the genes in the genome at the same time."
This research can enhance our understanding of how gene expression evolves and has implications for human health as proper gene regulation can mean the difference between healthy and disease states. Determining the contributions that different regulatory variants make to differences in gene expression is an important step towards understanding the relationship between genotypes and phenotypes. The conclusions drawn from our study of Drosophila regulatory variation could serve as a model for human variation in gene expression regulation.
[*A cis-regulatory element is a region of DNA or RNA that regulates the expression of genes located on that same molecule of DNA (often a chromosome). In Latin cis means "on the same side as." In contrast, trans-regulatory elements are diffusible factors, usually proteins that may modify the expression of genes distant from the gene that was originally transcribed to create them. The Latin root trans means "across from."]
Excellence in Education Award
Congratulations to Professor Mark Hunter who will receive a 2010 Excellence in Education Award from the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts for his special contributions to LSA's educational mission. This award recognizes special efforts in the areas of classroom teaching, curricular innovation, and the supervision of student research, as well as other significant contributions to the quality of LSA's teaching-learning environment.
"He is a brilliant teacher, as well as an outstanding scientist and wonderful colleague," Professor and Chair Deborah Goldberg wrote in her nomination. "Professor Hunter came to us in 2005 with an already stellar record in teaching from the University of Georgia, including a NSF Career Award, a Lilly Teaching Fellowship, and two internal teaching excellence awards (in 2003 and 2005). Hunter's performance in both introductory courses has been nothing short of astonishing for any large introductory course and particularly so for ecology and evolutionary biology, given the number of pre-meds in class and the fact that they don't normally get very excited about anything that is not going to be on the MCATS."
When Hunter taught the EEB part of Biology 162 and Biology 171 for the first time, the students gave him the highest known ranking of any instructor in the history of the class, a near perfect score, when asked to rate him on the statement, "overall, the instructor was an excellent teacher."
"Having watched Mark give a number of research talks, I know what at least part of it is," added Goldberg. "He is completely organized, crystal clear, extraordinarily interesting, and, in a very low key, dry way, very, very funny. Part of this is undoubtedly his extraordinary sense of responsibility to his students."
"It's great to be surrounded by people who care deeply about undergraduate education," Hunter said. "Barry (Oconnor), Jo (Kurdziel), Laura (Eidieitis) and Lynn (Carpenter) deserve a lot of credit for helping to make EEB a rewarding place to teach undergraduates." Details of the award ceremony will be announced at a later date. Recipients are presented with $3,500.
Brown's postdoc measuring tree of life
EEB graduate student Joseph Brown recently accepted a postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. Luke Harmon in the University of Idaho's Department of Biological Sciences.
The National Science Foundation-funded project, "Measuring the tree of life", uses data from various NSF tree of life projects to test macroevolutionary hypotheses about speciation, extinction, and trait evolution. Brown will develop and implement comparative statistical methods for measuring the tempo and mode of evolution using phylogenetic and trait data, beginning fall 2010.
Teaching for America
Recent master's graduate Ken Luzynski heads for Tulsa, Okla. to teach high school science, beginning this fall 2010, with the national organization Teach for America. Teach for America's mission is to build the movement to eliminate educational inequity by enlisting our nation's most promising future leaders in the effort.
"I really enjoyed my GSI experience, especially the challenge to explain complex ideas in several different ways, in order to accommodate the different learning style of my students," Luzynski said. "I received positive feedback from students on this, and because I think science is exciting, I try to teach in an exciting way as well, and to try to make the excitement of learning new things contagious so students will want to continue their knowledge."
At one time, Luzynski felt he had been at a disadvantage educationally, having gone to a small rural school district with a graduating class of 50 students, no AP courses, one foreign language option, and almost no diversity, compared to the educational experience of many of the students he met at U-M. So, he got involved with two groups on campus: the Michigan Education Reform Committee, and the Detroit Partnership. In MERC, a group of mostly School of Education students discussed the many facets of what makes an effective educator, and gave each other suggestions on how to improve their teaching. He volunteered three hours a week at a Detroit public elementary school with the Detroit Partnership, helping kids with technology and using interactive reading programs.
Luzynski felt his impact was making a difference and he realized how comparatively fortunate he was to have received the education he did. "And because that experience was challenging, rewarding, and fun all at the same time, I became more interested in the possibilities through Teach for America," he said.
Stream water study detects thawing permafrost
Among the worrisome environmental effects of global warming is the thawing of Arctic permafrost - soil that normally remains at or below the freezing point for at least a two-year period and often much longer. Monitoring changes in permafrost is difficult with current methods, but a study by geochemist Joel Blum, ecologist George Kling and former graduate student Katy Keller, offers a new approach to assessing the extent of the problem.
The new study approach, which relies on chemical tracers in stream water, is described in the journal Chemical Geology, April 30, 2010. U-M News Service press release.
Can organic farming feed the world? Yes!
Professor Catherine Badgley's research exploring how organic agriculture can feed the world and the backlash from industrial agriculture was recently featured in a Foreign Policy magazine article, April 29, 2010.
Co-authors of the cited paper, which was published July 2007 in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, were School of Natural Resources and Environment Professor Ivette Perfecto, EEB graduate alumnus M. Jahi Chappell, and several other current and former U-M graduate and undergraduate students.
Hat trick! NSF Graduate Research Fellowships
Three cheers for EEB graduate students Micaela Martinez-Bakker, Leslie McGinnis, and Lucy Tran on their NSF Graduate Research Fellowships, which have a long history of recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers.
Martinez-Bakker enters the EEB Ph.D. program for fall 2010 in the lab of Professor Pejman Rohani. Her research project is titled, "The ecological link between climate change and disease in an Arctic predator-prey system." Martinez-Bakker will be genetically tracking the spatial disease transmission of the emerging zoonotic pathogen Echinococcus multilocularis as it moves through a multi-host system of Arctic fox, red fox, and rodents. She will also be mathematically modeling host and transmission dynamics in this system to provide a mechanistic link between climate change and increased disease dissemination.
"This research will further our understanding of how climate and host demographics influence the dynamics of wildlife pathogens. With the Arctic experiencing accelerated environmental changes, it acts as a sentinel for assessing the cascading effects of ecological perturbations on disease transmission. Further, this project will inform future studies in spatial epidemiology and disease ecology in Polar, temperate, and tropical environments."
Leslie McGinnis, who works with Professors Robyn Burnham and John Vandermeer, is studying whether climate change affects ant-plant protective associations.
Lucy Tran's research title is "Integrating geography, population genetics, and phylogenetics in primate conservation." She works in the lab of Professor L. Lacey Knowles. Tran will be evaluating the relative effects of climate change, geologic history, and demography (particularly gene flow) on species- and population-level divergence in a group of endangered Southeast Asian colobine monkeys, the douc langurs (genus Pygathrix). Tran hopes to apply her findings to strengthen existing conservation and management plans for these monkeys.
The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees in the U.S. and abroad. As the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the reputation of the GRFP follows recipients and often helps them become life-long leaders that contribute significantly to both scientific innovation and teaching. Past fellows include numerous Nobel Prize winners.
Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $30,000, beginning in the fall 2010. In addition, they receive a $10,500 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees, a one-time $1,000 international travel allowance.
Martinez-Bakker awarded Rackham Merit Fellowship
Micaela Martinez-Bakker has been awarded the Rackham Merit Fellowship, one of the largest and most prestigious awards for incoming students. The fellowship will fund three years of her doctoral work genetically tracking the spatial disease transmission of an emerging pathogen as it moves through a multi-host system of Arctic fox, red fox, and rodents.
As part of a two-month 2010 Merit Fellow Summer Institute to help prepare for her doctoral studies, Martinez-Bakker will continue working on a project studying historical polio epidemics in the United States in Professor Pejman Rohani's lab. They anticipate submitting the results of this research to the journal Science in July. For the final two weeks of the summer, she will assist Daniel Streicker with a project in the rainforest of Amazonas Peru. Streicker is a Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia's Odum School of Ecology. They will capture vampire bats for a rabies study for the Centers for Disease Control.
"These research opportunities, funded through the Rackham Summer Institute, will teach me about disease ecology study design, the practicalities of sample collection, preservation, and ultimately, analysis, which are all skills I will be using for my own dissertation research and future scientific career."
The Rackham Merit Fellowship Program helps sustain the academic excellence and inclusiveness of the Michigan graduate community, one that embraces students with diverse experiences and goals, and who come from many educational, cultural, geographic, and familial backgrounds. The RMFP is competitive and recognizes entering students who have outstanding academic qualifications, show exceptional potential for scholarly success in their graduate program, and demonstrate promise for contributing to wider academic, professional, or civic communities. The doctoral fellowship provides up to a five-year funding package that includes tuition, required fees, stipend, health and dental coverage, during each fall and winter term, with select summer stipend and benefits.
Brown awarded Tinkle Scholarship
EEB graduate student Joseph Brown will receive the Donald W. Tinkle Scholarship from U-M Museum of Zoology. This $5,000 award is a special recognition of his research excellence. Brown's research involves developing statistical methods for identifying optimal models for use in phylogenetic reconstruction. The scholarship was endowed by the family and friends of Tinkle, former curator of herpetology and director of the Museum of Zoology.
Farrer begins new postdoc
Recent graduate Emily Farrer began a postdoctoral fellowship in April at the University of California at Berkeley in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. She is studying the effects of increased levels of nitrogen deposition on plant-microbe-resource feedbacks and how this may lead to vegetation change in the alpine community in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, Colo., with Dr. Katharine Suding.
Dig this: Two NSF DDIG awards
Hats off to Brian Sedio and Rachel Vannette who each won a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation. The $15,000 awards are for two years.
Sedio will be working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in the rainforests of Panama collecting several thousand insect species. His research addresses the question of how large numbers of ecologically similar tree species manage to coexist in tropical forests despite intense competition for light, water, space, and nutrients. According to Sedio, one popular idea proposes that insects may give an advantage to rare plant species by attacking successful plants when and where they become abundant. Yet this mechanism could only work if insects have highly specialized diets. In order to identify the plants that a particular insect has eaten, DNA will be taken from the insect's stomach and the plant from which it came using "DNA barcodes" unique to each species of plant. Results will be used to examine whether plant chemistry influences insect feeding, and whether insects are specialized enough to maintain the plant diversity of tropical forests by eating the most abundant plant species.
Vannette is exploring one of the most common mutualisms on earth, which occurs between the roots of plants and certain fungi that live in soil. The fungi provide essential nutrients to plants, while plants provide the fungi with sugars in return, Vannette explained. As these resources are traded, it can influence other organisms in the environment, such as the insects that feed on plants. The proposed work will manipulate the identity and abundance of the partners in plant-fungus mutualisms and measure how resources are traded between them. By studying how well the partners perform, the project will help scientists understand how partnerships form and dissolve in nature. Results gained from this study can be used in a wide variety of human endeavors including agricultural and forest production, the restoration of degraded environments, the prediction and management of environmental change, and the management of invasive species.
Study explores sources of mercury to ocean fish
A new study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology (March 1, 2010 issue) uses chemical signatures of nitrogen, carbon and mercury to discover where mercury is coming from and how it's getting into open-ocean fish species. Professor Joel Blum is a co-author of the study.
With concern over mercury contamination of tuna on the rise and growing information about the health effects of eating contaminated fish, scientists are increasingly interested in the topic. The work also paves the way to new means of tracking sources of mercury poisoning in people. U-M News Service press release.
Belo Horizonte Food Security Program receives the first Future Policy Award
The Food Security Program in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, whose innovative policies on food security M. Jahi Chappell (Ph.D. EEB 2009) studied for his doctoral work, was awarded the first Future Policy Award 2009. The award was given by the World Future Council, a group including eminent scholars and activists such as Frankie Lappé and Vandana Shiva. The Food Security Program is recognized as the world's most comprehensive policy that tackles hunger immediately and secures a healthy and affordable food supply for all.
Chappell was interviewed during the consideration process for this award and Frances Moore Lappé, who is on the World Future Council, read his dissertation and wrote an article on Belo Horizonte prior to the award. Chappell helped connect the council with people on the ground in Belo Horizonte, including the video host who is the niece of Rodrigo Matta Machado, Chappell's mentor in Brazil and a member of his Ph.D. committee.
Based in Hamburg, Germany, the World Future Council "aims to be an ethical voice for the needs and rights of future life." It proposes to provide decision-makers with effective policy solutions to some of the most pressing environmental, social, and economic global challenges of today.
The Future Policy Award celebrates policies that have proven to have a positive effect on the rights of future generations and that can be applied in other countries or regions around the world. The aim of the award is to raise global awareness for these exemplary policies and speed up policy action towards just, sustainable and peaceful societies. The Future Policy Award is the first award that celebrates policies rather than people on an international level. Future Policy Award YouTube video: Belo Horizonte / Award ceremony video
In other news, Chappell and an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) student re-wrote his paper "Food security and biodiversity: can we have both? An agroecological analysis." Originally Chappell's preliminary paper, it became the first chapter of his dissertation. The paper has been published in Agriculture and Human Values.
And the very latest news is that Chappell has accepted a tenure-track position as assistant professor of Environmental Science and Justice, in the School of Earth and Environmental Science, at Washington State University, Vancouver, beginning July 1, 2010. He will be working with John Bishop (B.S., Biology, 1986) and another of his other new colleagues attended Bowdoin College with Shannon McCauley (Ph.D. EEB 2005) and has worked with Stacy Philpott (Ph.D. EEB 2004). Small world!
Shapiro Science Library covers display
The following EEB faculty have book and/or journal covers in this year's cover collection on display at the Shapiro Science Library: Paul E. Berry (Taxon, 2007), Paul V. Dunlap (Brock Biology of Microorganisms, 2009, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 2008) John Vandermeer (Nature's Matrix: Linking Agriculture 2009, Conservation and Food Sovereignty, The Ecology of Agroecosystems, 2010).
This display of journal and book covers features the work of faculty, research staff, and students in the natural science departments and the School of Natural Resources and Environment. The covers, which include many others from EEB faculty and students from previous years, are captioned to highlight the U-M author/scientist. They have been framed and mounted throughout the Shapiro Science Library, beginning with a wall in the Shien-Ming Wu Current Periodicals Reading Room. This third annual installation of science covers highlights articles and books published between 2002 and 2009.
This exhibit pays tribute to U-M's outstanding record of scientific achievement and will inspire current and future students to carry on the Michigan tradition of excellence.
U-M Library news: Celebrating scientific achievement
MASAL Annual Conference
The Michigan Academy of Science Arts and Letter's 114th Annual Conference will be held at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich., Friday, March 26, 2010. EEB graduate student Rachel Vannette is co-chair of the Botany and Plant Ecology section of MASAL.
Vannette first presented her research at a MASAL conference as an undergraduate. "I was happy to be involved with a local conference where many people from Michigan, including undergraduate students, graduate students, professors, and conservation managers (from the Nature Conservancy and elsewhere), could convene and present basic and applied research about botany and related areas. I found it to be a really useful venue to connect with local researchers who might not attend the same national meetings as I do, but have really valuable insights into Michigan flora."
As co-chair, Vannette attends a yearly chair's meeting, requests and culls abstracts from faculty, students and restoration managers throughout Michigan, and presides over the session during the annual meeting. The academy is an interdisciplinary scholarly organization established in 1894 to promote exchange among researchers at colleges, universities, government agencies, research and business organizations.
EEB Ph.D. student, Liz Wason, recently returned from a humanitarian trip to her home country of the Philippines, where she joined about 30 doctors, nurses and students. They visited rural areas to provide basic medical care to those in need. Wason helped distribute medications in their makeshift pharmacy, while other volunteers conducted physical exams and treated immediate needs. They provided general care, eye care, dental care, pediatric care, and even circumcisions.
"I went because I felt a need to do something tangible in the service of others, and because I wanted to 'give back' to the place of my heritage," Wason said. The trip was organized by the Global Medical Foundation. Read the article in annarbor.com.
EEB grads judge SE Mich Science Fair
EEB graduate students Jasmine Crumsey and Liz Wason and master's alumna Sarah Barbrow returned to the Southeast Michigan Science Fair as judges for their third year.
"The students at the annual SE Michigan Science Fair come up with some delightfully creative projects," said Barbrow. "This year I saw posters on which contact solutions slow bacterial growth the best, on the antibacterial properties of turmeric, and the bacterial cell counts of chicken prepared in different ways. It struck me as fascinating how technologies that just a few years ago seemed incredibly high-powered and inaccessible to students have permeated school systems and opened up research to middle school students that I didn't even do as an undergraduate!"
Students from grades six through 12 participated in the fair March 12 - 13, 2010 at Washtenaw Community College. The event is sponsored by U-M and WCC in cooperation with public and private schools in the five county regions.
EEB alumni in the news: climate change research in Thoreau's woods
Charles C. Davis, a former U-M EEB postdoctoral fellow and faculty member, and Brad Ruhfel, a U-M SNRE graduate who worked in the Biology Department in 1999-2000, recently published a paper in PLOS One titled "Favorable Climate Change Response Explains Non-Native Species' Success in Thoreau's Woods."
The researchers, along with their co-authors, analyzed data initiated by conservationist Henry David Thoreau that documents the long-term phenological response of native and non-native plant species over the last 150 years in Concord, Mass. Their results demonstrate that non-native species, particularly invasive species, respond much more favorably to recent climate change by adjusting flowering time. This shows that climate change has likely played, and may continue to play, an important role in facilitating non-native species naturalization and invasion at the community level. The research has been widely covered in the media including in Nature and Scientific American. Davis is an evolutionary biologist at Harvard and Ruhfel is a Ph.D. student at the Harvard University Herbaria.
Distinguished Graduate Mentoring Award
Professor Earl Werner has won the Rackham Graduate School's Distinguished Graduate Mentoring Award, which will be presented at 2 p.m., April 15, Rackham Amphitheatre. A reception follows in the Assembly Hall. The award goes to faculty with a demonstrated commitment to fostering the intellectual, creative, scholarly and professional growth of their graduate students as well as those who guide students throughout their professional training in a continuing, multifaceted partnership sustained by mutual respect and concern.
Werner is one of the most outstanding scholars in his field and has passed on his high standards and broad-ranging approach to ecology to several generations of scholars. Twenty-two of his Ph.D. students have graduated to date and four are currently in the Ph.D. program. He has also mentored 12 postdoctoral fellows. These former students and postdocs now hold faculty positions at a wide range of excellent institutions as well as research positions in government agencies and non-governmental organizations. Numerous students joined in his nomination. Werner has been one of the leaders of experimental community ecology for over 30 years. Through all of this work, he has remained a hands-on scientist, firmly grounded in the natural history of the organisms he works with, and working closely with his students and postdocs as they develop their own projects.
Meaningful interactions between gene networks can inform fields from human disease to speciation
Professor Jianzhi Zhang and his colleagues published "Prevalent positive epistasis in Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae metabolic networks," in the March 2010 journal Nature Genetics. The magnitude and direction of epistasis (the interaction between genes) and the functional consequences of these gene–gene interactions are fundamental to relating genotype to phenotype and thus for informing fields from human disease to speciation. Their findings were clear-cut and unexpected. Co-authors are EEB postdoctoral fellow Ying Li, and graduate students Xionglei He, Wenfeng Qian and Zhi Wang. Read the Nature Reviews Genetics article.
On public radio's Diane Rehm Show
Professor Emeritus Gerald Smith joined a discussion of fisheries with journalist and author Anders Halverson discussing his new book "An Entirely Synthetic Fish" on the Diane Rehm Show Tuesday, March 2. Listen.
Asian carp in Great Lakes called red herring Professor John Vandermeer and Professor Emeritus Gerry Smith co-published a letter to the editor in the Lansing State Journal, Feb. 22, 2010, outlining why we should not overreact to Asian carp in the Great Lakes and what the more pressing environmental issues are where our attention should be focused.
According to the letter, the majority of the Great Lakes are too cold and lack sufficient food for the growth of the carp. Meanwhile, scores of toxic chemical sites wait to be cleaned up. Pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and waste from agriculture and municipalities continue to pour into the lakes. And alien species in ships ballast are still not properly excluded.
Blum awarded Thurnau professorship
Professor Joel Blum is one of five recipients honored with this year's Arthur F. Thurnau professorships for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education. The appointments by the Board of Regents are retained throughout their careers at the university.
Blum, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Geological Sciences, professor of geological sciences and ecology and evolutionary biology, is described by a colleague as a professor who "truly believes that earth science education in our department should be a life-changing experience for undergraduate students."
As department chair and director of the university's field station, in Jackson, Wyo., Blum expanded the course offerings at Camp Davis to reflect a wider range of disciplines, developed new interdisciplinary courses, and designed group projects in which students proposed models for making the camp a self-sustaining energy system. Blum's generous mentoring of students also has had a profound impact on attracting, inspiring and retaining underrepresented populations in the sciences.
The professorships are named after alumnus Arthur F. Thurnau and supported by the Thurnau Charitable Trust, which was established through his will. Recipients receive $20,000 to support teaching activities, including travel, books, equipment and graduate student support.
In related news: Camp Davis gets 80th anniversary facelift As part of Camp Davis' 80th anniversary in 2009, the facility is undergoing its first major reconstruction. "Our housing renovation project is coming along very well," said Professor Joel Blum, director of the field station. "Last winter we built 16 beautiful new cabins. This winter we are building four more cabins, which finishes the first phase of our project. We are in the process of raising funds for Phase II of the housing renovation project."
In addition to his responsibilities for the academic and financial management of the field station, he has become the "pitch hitter" filling in for faculty as needed. During the summer, Blum teaches three different courses and serves as the "mayor" of their small town in the Rockies, which houses and feeds over 100 people at any given time. Nestled in the mountains just south of Jackson Hole and tucked between the Hoback River and Bridger Teton National Forest, Camp Davis offers access to some of North America's most scenic and interesting geological, ecological and historic sites. Blum teaches Sustainable and Fossil Energy: Options and Consequences, Introductory Geology and Ecosystem Science in the Rockies along with Professor Don Zak.
Camp Davis was located at Douglas Lake in northern Michigan (before the U-M Biological Station was there) but was moved in 1929 when the trees in northern Michigan grew back in (following the turn of the century clear-cutting) making it difficult to teach surveying. Read more in this U-M News Service press release.
Climate science is no snow job
Professor Knute Nadelhoffer and colleagues published a letter to the editor in the Detroit News Feb. 15, 2010, that stated in part, "It's easy to point to an uncommonly abundant snowfall and say, 'Doesn't look like global warming to me.' But anecdotal evidence shouldn't be mistaken for fact. Fact: Warmer air holds more moisture; when warm air collides with a cold air mass, you get snow -- lots of snow." Nadelhoffer is director of the U-M Biological Station. Read the letter about the need to take action.
First U.S. exhibit: baby mammoth coming to Chicago's Field Museum
Professor Dan Fisher is the guest curator for a large, traveling exhibit called "Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age," which opens March 5, 2010 at The Field Museum in Chicago.
The exhibit's centerpiece is "Lyuba," a 40,000-year-old intact baby mammoth specimen that was discovered in Siberia in 2007 and featured in National Geographic magazine and a television special last year. The exhibition is the first U.S. display of this remarkably well-preserved baby mammoth.
Fisher is part of an international team that has been studying Lyuba since her discovery. The exhibit runs through September 6, 2010.
In related news, Fisher took the baby mammoth to the GE Healthcare headquarters in Wisconsin recently for CT and MRI scans. Read more in the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.
Professor Emeritus Richard Alexander recently published "Thumping on Trees," which tells about his boyhood adventures growing up on a farm along the Sangamon River in Piatt County, Ill. The heartwarming and amusing stories are accompanied by beautiful illustrations by John Megahan, scientific illustrator and graphic designer for the Museum of Zoology and EEB.
Read about chasing squirrels up trees, discovering a nest of baby owls, finding Indian arrowheads, playing hide-and-seek with a special crow, climbing trees, going barefoot and find out why the boy thumped on trees with his sassafras walking stick. Visit the Woodlane Farm Books Web site to order this autographed book or one of Alexander's many others.
2010 Geochemical Fellowship awarded
Joel Blum, John D. MacArthur Professor, professor of geological sciences, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, has been elected as a 2010 Geochemical Fellow by the Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemistry.
"I am deeply honored to be nominated to a group that includes such renowned scientists." The honorary lifetime title is bestowed upon outstanding scientists who have made a major contribution to the field of geochemistry over the years. Blum's major works can be grouped in six general areas: cosmochemistry of platinum group elements and mercury, geochemistry of meteorite impacts and impact glasses, applications of strontium and lead isotopes to chemical weathering in soils and watersheds, investigations of the relation between chemical and physical weathering processes, biogeochemistry of mercury in the atmosphere and in aquatic ecosystems, development of the methods, systematics, and applications of mass dependent and mass-independent mercury isotope geochemistry. He has published prolifically in 135 peer-reviewed journals including Science, Nature and Geology.
There is an honors ceremony at the Goldschmidt Conference in June 2010 (this year in Knoxville, Tenn.), which is the joint meeting of the GS and the EAG and the premier international meeting in geochemistry. Just a tenth of one percent of the joint GS and EAG membership are elected each year. Blum is the sixth person from the University of Michigan to receive this honor. "I am grateful to my colleagues who took it upon themselves to nominate me for this recognition."
The GS is a nonprofit scientific society founded to encourage the application of chemistry to the solution of geological and cosmological problems. The EAG was founded to promote geochemical research and study in Europe.
Echolocating bats and whales share molecular mechanism
Professor Jianzhi Zhang published his groundbreaking genetic research in the Jan. 26, 2010 issue of Current Biology. It was previously featured on the U-M Gateway and has been widely covered in the media.
Detroit students attend BioKIDS, EEB turnout is strong
A room buzzing with sixth graders, scientists, teachers and others made for a lively and exciting atmosphere of learning and interaction. Students from the Detroit Public Schools visited campus for the second BioKIDS Science Convention in the Michigan League Ballroom Wednesday, January 20, 2010. Many EEB faculty, postdocs, students and staff listened to the students' presentations on ecosystems, biodiversity and ecology in the Great Lakes region and asked questions.
Participants from EEB included the following graduate students: Jasmine Crumsey, Rachel Hessler, John Marino, Leslie McGinnis, Jessica Middlemis Maher, Elizabeth Wason; faculty: Evan Economo, Deborah Goldberg, Mark Hunter, Ines Ibañez, Tim James, Philip Myers and John Vandermeer; postdoctoral fellow: Tatiana Yuryevna Fedina; staff: Gail Kuhnlein, Micaela Martinez-Bakker, John Megahan.
Robert Bobb, emergency financial manager of the Detroit Public Schools, attended the event. He mentions BioKIDS in this Detroit Free Press article.
NIH grant award
Professor Jianzhi Zhang was awarded a $140,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health as a supplement to his existing grant "Functional genomic approaches to duplicate gene evolution." The supplement, which is from the stimulus package NIH received last year, will be used to conduct additional studies on how duplicate genes diverge in function during evolution.
$600K NSF STEM undergrad grant
Professor Deborah Goldberg and colleagues have been awarded a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to support "Michigan Biology Academy Scholars." The project is under the direction of Goldberg, chair of EEB, Cinda-Sue G. Davis, director of WISE (Women in Science and Engineering), Claire Sandler, director or the Science Learning Center, and Pamela A. Raymond, professor and chair of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology.
The NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) award will support up to 20 scholarship recipients per entering cohort, for a total of up to 80 students over a four-year period. This effort is part of the University of Michigan (M) STEM Academy which recently implemented a new integrated, holistic curricular and co-curricular support system for students with high ability and potential in STEM disciplines, but who, for reasons of socioeconomic status, first generation college status, racial or gender bias, or lack of rigor of high school background, might not be successful at a highly competitive elite research university. The STEM Academy provides academic support for first and second year undergraduates to increase the number, success, and diversity of STEM students.
A special aspect of this project is the extensive collaboration across U-M college boundaries. In particular, critical STEM departments in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts and the College of Engineering, have initiated curricular innovations and bring a myriad of academic support offices in order to provide comprehensive services to all M-STEM students.
New faculty book
"The Ecology of Agroecosystems" by Professor John H. Vandermeer was just published by Jones and Bartlett Publishers. Agroecology is the science of applying ecological concepts and principles to the design, development, and management of sustainable agricultural systems. The Ecology of Agroecosystems highlights a collection of alternative agricultural methodologies and philosophies and provides an interdisciplinary approach that bridges the sociopolitical and historical context of agriculture. It includes the technical issues in a serious and ecological fashion and captures the complex merging of ecology, agriculture, politics and economics in both a historical and contemporary context. Readers will learn not only about the ethical and moral elements related to producing food of questionable quality while possibly impairing the environment, but also about the soil chemistry involved. Amazon.com.
Morawetz awarded new postdoc
Jeffery Morawetz, former EEB postdoctoral fellow, was awarded the Fletcher Jones Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, Calif. He is working on the phylogeny of Orobanchaceae (a family of parasitic plants, commonly called the broomrape family), and anatomical studies of the haustorium (the organ of parasitism) across the family. RSABG is affiliated with the Claremont Consortium of Colleges, and the Botany Department of the Claremont Graduate University is housed at RSABG. While at U-M, Morawetz worked with Professor Paul E. Berry. Morawetz began his new position in January 2010.
Public radio spots
On Wednesday, Jan. 13, Professor Knute Nadelhoffer was the guest on WEMU's "All Things Considered" at 4:50 p.m. and 6:20 p.m. WEMU broadcasts locally at 89.1 FM and streams live. Listen.
On Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, Nadelhoffer was the guest on Interlochen Public Radio's Show "Points North." He discussed the new book, "The Changing Environment of Northern Michigan: A Century of Science and Nature at the University of Michigan Biological Station." (University of Michigan Press, 2009). Hear the broadcast.