Fall 2012 Asa Gray Seminars
Major in Biology
Asa Gray Biological Seminar Series Fall 2012

September 10, 2012

Sara C. Johnston, Ph.D.

Research Microbiologist, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Virology Division

Title: Monkeypox virus: From emergence and evolution to the development of anti-viral strategies

Abstract: The Orthopoxvirus genus of family Poxviridae contains numerous virus species that are capable of causing severe disease in humans, including variola virus (the etiological agent of smallpox) and monkeypox virus. Monkeypox is endemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and is characterized by systemic lesion development and prominent lymphadenopathy. Monkeypox prevalence in the DRC has increased dramatically since the cessation of active smallpox vaccination. Like variola virus, it is a high priority pathogen due to its potential to cause serious disease with significant health impacts following zoonotic, accidental, or deliberate introduction into a naïve population. Although a vaccine exists, it is highly reactogenic and contraindicated for a growing number of people. Current efforts have focused on the development of safer alternatives and therapeutics to treat active infections. Recently, we showed the in vitro efficacy of IFN-β against monkeypox virus. In addition, we found that IFN-β was effective when administered up to 12 hours post infection, demonstrating its therapeutic potential. Collectively, the data support the continued development of IFN-β as a treatment for monkeypox virus as well as other Orthopoxviruses including variola virus.

October 1, 2012

Jonathan M. Cordeiro, Ph.D

Research Scientist, Masonic Medical Research Laboratory

Title: Excitation-contraction coupling in normal and failing hearts

Abstract: Heart failure (HF) is one of the most common causes of death and disability in United States, affecting about 2.5 million in this country alone. HF is associated with extensive structural, functional and electrophysiological remodeling that ultimately results in a reduced cardiac output. Associated with HF are a number of other problems such as cardiac arrhythmias. Altered intracellular Ca2+ handling appears to play a central role during the progression of heart failure as well as in the development of cardiac arrhythmias. I will present data showing the extent to which electrical and mechanical differences in ventricle are altered in the failing myocardium. I will also show recent experiments demonstrating how a class of ion channel activators may prove beneficial in the failing myocardium. The results provide a proof of principal that some aspects of the electrical remodelling encountered during the development of heart failure can be pharmacologically reversed.

October 22, 2012

Lee A. Newman, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Biotechnology and Phytoremediation, Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Title: Environmental phytotechnologies

Abstract: When we think of plants, we think food, housing, and paper. But plants can play many other roles in our lives, sometimes without our even knowing about it. They can remediate toxic waste, they can play multiple roles in reducing carbon dioxide levels due to fossil fuel uses, and can help us to understand potential environmental toxicity issues. In this talk, we will explore some of these novel areas. Phytoremediation, or the use of plants to degrade or sequester environmental toxins, is a major part of the work that will be presented. We will also discuss plant microbe interactions, and how understanding these can help us in a variety of areas, and we will also learn how plants can play a vital role in our new energy economy. Finally, we will discuss how plants can help us to learn about potential toxicological risks related to the emerging field of nanotechnology.

November 12, 2012

Margaret C. Wright

Graduate Student, Maricich Lab, Case Western Reserve University, Department of Neuroscience,

Title: Identification of Merkel cell progenitors in developing and adult mice

Abstract: Merkel cells are specialized epidermal cells that are intimately associated with large, slowly-adapting peripheral nerve fibers. These Merkel cell-neurite complexes are important for the detection of certain light touch stimuli. Merkel cells are derived from the skin lineage and constantly turn over throughout life. However, the immediate precursor of these cells and the processes that govern their genesis and maintenance are unknown. The transcription factor Atoh1 is required for Merkel cell production and its expression is maintained in mature Merkel cells. We found that a small fraction of Atoh1GFP+ cells express the proliferative marker Ki67 at embryonic and adult ages and that these cells are found within the most superficial regions of whisker and guard hair follicles. In addition, fate-mapping of Atoh1-lineal cells in adulthood using an inducible Atoh1CreER;ROSALacZ reporter resulted in persistent reporter gene expression exclusively in Merkel cells up to nine months after tamoxifen treatment. These experiments demonstrate that the immediate Merkel cell progenitor expresses Atoh1, and that these progenitors are committed solely to the Merkel cell lineage. Furthermore, we found that perturbations of Notch signaling during embryonic development resulted in increased numbers of Merkel cells within whisker follicles, suggesting a critical role for Notch-dependent pathways in controlling precursor specification. Our results provide new insights into the origins and genetic pathways that control Merkel cell development.

December 3, 2012

William A. Powell, Ph.D.

Director, Council on Biotechnology in Forestry, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Title: Chestnut blight, an old problem with new solutions

Abstract: The American chestnut (Castanea dentate) was once a keystone species in the forests of the eastern United States, accounting for approximately 25% of the mature trees. A healthy American chestnut tree could grow up to 100 feet tall and measure up to 10 feet in diameter. It was super at producing nuts for wildlife; important for agriculture for human consumption of the nuts; very important for the lumber industry, making a rot-resistant, fast-growing wood product; and it was also important part of our history. The mission of the American Chestnut Research and Restoration Center at the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry is to conduct basic and applied research that will lead to the development of a blight-resistant American chestnut tree. Our ultimate goal is to reintroduce a population of these resistant trees back into forest ecosystems of New York and then the rest of the eastern United States. The project has evolved from basic research into a multifaceted endeavor which includes such areas as the identification of plant pathogen resistance-enhancing genes, the development of American chestnut tissue culture, field testing chestnut trees from tissue culture, public participation through the identification of rare remnant survival chestnut trees, collection and exchange of viable nuts and the establishment of large restoration plantations throughout New York State. This presentation will provide a brief history of the chestnut blight and current status of the efforts to develop a blight resistant tree that would lead to restoration of this important tree species.


Dr. Daniel Kurtz
Chair of Biology

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