100 fellowships for Rackham centennial: Chang and Injaian awarded spring/summer fellowships
Friday, April 13, 2012
EEB graduate students Dan Chang and Alli Injaian have been awarded two of the 100 Rackham Centennial Spring/Summer 2012 Fellowships of $6,000.
Chang studies molecular ecology and genetics with her advisor, Professor Tom Duda. “Ecology plays an important role in organismal evolution, but it is always challenging to understand the ramifications of these ecological forces on molecular evolutionary processes associated with the origins of adaptations and the species interaction,” said Chang. “In particular, it is extremely difficult to identify the genetic variables that work at the interface of predator-prey interactions, especially genes that are directly involved with predation. Predatory marine snails of the genus Conus represent an ideal system for study because they employ venoms composed of a cocktail of neurotoxins (termed “conotoxins”) that are direct gene products of known genes to capture prey. In my dissertation entitled 'Evolutionary ecology of Conus: evolution and expression of conotoxin genes and their association with prey' I investigated the adaptive diversification of venom genes at both inter- and intra-specific levels. In the last chapter of my dissertation, I specifically plan to test the hypothesis that Conus exhibit distinct conotoxin gene expression patterns during non-larval life history stages (larvae feed on phytoplankton and do not use venom) and that shifts in venom composition correspond to shifts in diet. This study provides new perspectives on the relationships between venom evolution and prey diversification, and reveals to us the role of ecologically-relevant genes in predator-prey interactions. I have studied the diets of Conus ebraeus in Guam and found at least two dietary shifts after settlement. This spring/summer I will finish the analysis of conotoxin gene expression in different developmental stages. The Rackham Centennial Fellowship allows me to complete my dissertation research and prepare for my defense in the fall."
Injaian researches sexual selection and animal behavior with her advisor, Professor Elizabeth Tibbetts. “In humans, individual face recognition is associated with cognitive specialization for faces: humans learn and remember faces better than any other visual stimuli,” said Injaian. “Remarkably, new research shows similar specialization in Polistes fuscatus (paper wasp), providing the opportunity to study face specialization in a way which was previously not possible. To test whether specialized face learning is an innate ability or if this expertise is accrued with exposure to faces over time, I will manipulate early life experience of P. fuscatus and test if wasp age is correlated with cognitive specialization for face-learning and if social experience is necessary for cognitive specialization for face-learning.”
In celebration of the Rackham Graduate School’s 100th anniversary, Rackham designed the fellowship to enable graduate students enrolled in a Rackham program to work on research, scholarly, or creative projects in collaboration with faculty mentors during the spring/summer 2012 term to advance progress towards the degree and their future impact as “Michigan graduate students in the world.”
The $6,000 fellowship is to cover living expenses for the term. An interdisciplinary faculty panel reviewed applications based on the clarity and coherence of the research, scholarship, or creative work proposed; how the proposed work directly relates to and helps achieve progress towards the degree; and the commitment of the faculty advisor to provide mentoring to the student during the summer.
Pictured above: Dan Chang and Alli Injaian
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