Asa Gray Statue

Asa Gray Seminar Series

Born in nearby Sauquoit, New York in November 1810, Asa Gray was an M.D. as well as the most important American botanist of the 19th century.
 

Asa Gray 1870s

The Asa Gray Seminar Series is sponsored by the Asa Gray Biological Society and is the longest-running seminar series at Utica College. Scientists are invited from throughout the region to present seminars on their ongoing research.

Asa Gray Seminars are held Mondays 4:00-5:00 pm in Donahue Auditorium (167) in the Gordon Science Center. Speakers join students for dinner thereafter.

 

 

 

 

Fall 2019 Seminars

September 9th

Angela Freeman, Ph.D.
, Postdoctoral Fellow, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.  Richardson's ground squirrel communication: neural mechanism and function.


September 30th

Jesus Madrid, Ph.D.
, Postdoctoral Fellow, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.  Variation in the social behavior, perception, and neuropeptide biology of the rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta).


October 7th

Kaitlin Stack Whitney, Ph.D.
, Assistant Professor, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY.  Life on the edge: pollinating insect conservation in highway roadsides.


October 21st

Julian Damashek, Ph.D.
, Assistant Professor of Biology, Utica College, Utica, NY.  Using publicly-available 'omics data to unravel the ecology of freshwater archaea, from the Amazon River to Central New York lakes.


November 4th

Maryam Hashemian, M.D., Ph.D.
, Assistant Professor of Biology, Utica College, Utica, NY.  What is the best dietary pattern to decrease mortality?

 

Spring 2019 Seminars

February 25th, 2019

Sarah Keesom, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology, Utica College, Utica, NY.


March 25th, 2019

Joshua Garrett, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology, Hartwick College, Oneonta, NY.


April 8th, 2019

John Janczy, Ph.D.,  
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, CO.

​"Dr. Janczy has over 6 years of experience in inflammation and immunology research. His work has focused primarily on pathogen recognition and the modulation of innate and adaptive immune responses. Two of his most recent publications are: “Immune complexes inhibit IL-1 secretion and inflammasome activation” (Journal of Immunology) and “Mitochondrial cardiolipin is required for Nlrp3 inflammasome activation” (Immunity)."- http://www.nanoly.info/leadership-team.html

Fall 2018 Asa Gray Seminars

September 10th, 2018

Brandee Rockefeller, Ph. D., Associate Professor of Biology, Utica College,  Utica, NY.

The Role of PI3K/mTOR in Vascular Morphogenesis

Angiogenesis, the formation of blood vessels from preexisting vasculature, is a highly coordinated and tightly regulated physiological process requiring endothelial cells to respond to environmental cues proliferate, migrate, and differentiate. The PI3K signaling cascade is essential to proper formation and function of these vascular networks, controlling several key aspects of angiogenesis. Dysfunctional angiogenesis, such as that seen in vascular malformations is directly linked to genetic aberrations in several genes along the PI3K pathway. Characteristics unique to vascular malformations are also associated with the vasculature in numerous other pathologies including cardiovascular disease, cancer, retinopathy, chronic wounds, and diabetes all of which cause significant morbidity and mortality. Therefore, understanding the mechanistic basis governing the formation and maintenance of vascular malformations may provide insight for therapeutic inventions across a wide range of diseases. Interestingly, small case studies of vascular malformations treated with rapamycin, an mTORc1 inhibitor, have shown clinical improvement, however the rationale and mechanism were not well understood. In vitro, ex vivo, and in vivo models of vascular malformations across two complementary genetic drivers, all show rapamycin sensitivity. Additionally, utilizing these models we have found mTORc1 signaling is a critical regulator of ENOS activation, endothelial fate decisions, and a driver for vascular malformations by disrupting normal tip/stalk selection and inducing metabolic reprogramming. Collectively, this data supports the use of rapamycin as a therapeutic intervention for PI3K driven vascular malformations and provides insight that metabolic targets may also be useful.


September 24th, 2018

Lucas J. Tucker, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Director of the Siena College Green Chemistry Institute, Siena College, Albany, New York. 

Green Chemistry: If we don’t make the change, who will?

Methods for developing sustainable practice within chemistry will have a large impact on the future of the field. Reaching students that will study all fields and take jobs in all sectors during their secondary education can result in not only progressive scientists, but also executives to hire them and fund their work. As such, in collaboration with dozens of New York state high school teachers a series of green laboratory experiments have been developed and made available. A discussion of green chemistry, research at Siena, consulting for companies both large and small, and pedagogical work will paint a picture of the scientific life of one chemist from a small town in upstate NY.


October 22nd, 2018

James L. Hougland, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor of Chemistry, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY

Ghrelin acylation by ghrelin O-acyltransferase: Unique chemistry leading to unique biological function

Ghrelin is a peptide hormone involved in appetite stimulation, energy balance regulation, glucose homeostasis, and a range of other physiological and neurological pathways. Ghrelin requires octanoylation of a serine side chain, a unique posttranslational modification within the human proteome, to bind its cognate receptor and activate signaling. The enzyme that catalyzes this acylation, ghrelin O-acyltransferase (GOAT), was identified in 2008 as a member of the membrane-bound O-acyltransferase (MBOAT) enzyme superfamily. Ghrelin is the only predicted substrate for GOAT, suggesting that blocking ghrelin acylation using GOAT inhibitors potentially offers a specific and targeted therapeutic avenue to treat conditions impacted by ghrelin signaling.

We are applying chemical, biochemical, and computational approaches to investigate ghrelin acylation by human GOAT (hGOAT). Using structure-activity analysis of substrates and inhibitors, we’ve identified multiple functional groups within ghrelin recognized by hGOAT. Small molecule hGOAT inhibitors have revealed hGOAT contains a functionally essential cysteine residue, providing a chemical avenue for locating domains within hGOAT required for enzyme activity. Defining the hGOAT active site and substrate binding sites through computational and biochemical analyses offers insight into the structure of this integral membrane acyltransferase and related enzymes while providing guidance for designing and optimizing hGOAT inhibitors.


November 12th, 2018

Dan Kurtz, Ph.D., Professor of Biology, Utica College, Utica, New York.

Perireceptor events in olfaction

 

Spring 2018 Asa Gray Seminars


February 19th, 2018

Heather Kropp, Ph. D., Environmental Life Sciences, B.S., Ecology, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Colgate University, Hamilton, New York.

Permafrost and post-fire stand density influence plant water relations and hydraulic traits in a Siberian boreal forest.

Boreal forests may experience increased water stress under global climate change as rising air temperatures increase evaporative demand and decrease soil moisture. Increases in plant water stress can decrease stomatal conductance, and ultimately, decrease primary productivity. A better understanding of variability in transpiration and the drivers of plant water use can help elucidate the implications of climate change on boreal forest productivity and demographics. A large portion of boreal forests are located in Siberia. Plant water stress may be heightened in high latitude Siberian boreal forests, since the forests are underlain by permafrost, characterized by short growing seasons, and receive low amounts of precipitation (< 300 mm per year). This presentation focuses on a study of plant water relations and hydraulic traits in northeastern Siberia across two different stand densities that arose from differing fire severity.


March 5th, 2018

Lucas J. Tucker, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Director of the Siena College Green Chemistry Institute, Siena College, Albany, New York. 

Green Chemistry: If we don’t make the change, who will?

The Siena College Green Chemistry Summer Institute explores methods for teaching the state curriculum using green laboratory experiments in collaboration with dozens of New York state high school teachers. A discussion of green chemistry, research at Siena, consulting for companies both large and small, and pedagogical work will paint a picture of the scientific life of one chemist from a small town in upstate NY.


April 2nd, 2018

David E. Blask, Ph.D., M.D.,
Professor of Structural and Cellular Biology, Associate Director of the Tulane Center for Circadian Biology and Tulane Circadian Cancer Group, Tulane University School of Medicine and Tulane Cancer Center, New Orleans, LA

The impact of light on the nighttime circadian melatonin signal and cancer: the ugly, the bad and the good

The daily (circadian) control of normal rhythms of physiology and metabolism by environmental light is a double-edged sword. Bright, natural and/or artificial light exposure during the day, particularly short wavelengths (i.e., blue), appears to reinforce the optimal functioning of the central circadian pacemaker in the brain. In contrast, these same light levels and wavelengths delivered artificially during the night (light pollution) produce the opposite effects (circadian disruption) that can be detrimental to our health and wellbeing. Light-mediated circadian regulation/disruption, via alterations in the nighttime, circadian melatonin signal from the pineal gland has a significant impact on oncogenesis. Light-at-night (LAN)-induced circadian disruption/suppression of the melatonin anti-cancer signal in nude rats and mice results in the dysregulation of melatonin-driven tumor circadian rhythms of metabolism, signaling and cell proliferation leading to increased growth progression and invasion/metastasis of human cancer xenografts. This results in the development of intrinsic resistance to both standard endocrine therapy and chemotherapy that is prevented by the physiological replacement of the nocturnal circadian melatonin signal. In contrast, exposure of cancer xenograft-bearing animals to blue light (460–480 nm) at daytime (bLAD), including blue-enriched LED lights, markedly increases the circadian amplitude and duration of the nighttime melatonin signal. The bLAD-induced amplification of the nocturnal melatonin signal reinforces melatonin-driven tumor circadian rhythms that markedly slow tumor growth progression and metastasis and increase tumor sensitivity to cancer therapy. Therefore, depending on the time of day or night, exposure to light may have either detrimental or beneficial effects on the development and progression of diseases, such as cancer, and their response to therapy by altering melatonin-driven host/cancer circadian dynamics. Supported by PHS Grants R01CA85408, R21CA129875 and R56CA193518 from the NIH/NCI



April 16th, 2018

Sharon Wise, Ph.D., Dean of School of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Biology, Utica College, Utica, New York.

Illuminating the effects of artificial light at night on the behavior of nocturnal salamanders

As human development expands, wildlife is increasingly exposed to artificial light at night (light pollution). This light pollution can be lethal to some organisms, such as insects and sea turtles, but for many other organisms, artificial night lighting has more subtle effects as a result of chronic exposure. Nocturnal animals, including many species of salamanders, have sensory systems that allow them to forage and interact with other individuals under low-illumination conditions. Light pollution can disrupt these normal nocturnal activities. We tested the hypothesis that activity of nocturnal salamanders is disrupted by artificial light in the following experiments: (1) the potential for light penetration into leaf litter habitats at different levels of light pollution; (2) the impact of light pollution on nocturnal activity of salamanders under controlled laboratory conditions; and (3) the short-term impact of low levels of light on activity of salamanders in a forested habitat. We found that light is able to penetrate into the leaf litter habitat and that salamanders respond to low levels of light at night by changing the timing of their nocturnal activity. Thus, artificial light at night may disruption foraging and social interactions in salamanders.


April 23rd, 2018

Megan G. Loyd, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Associate in Microbiology and Immunology, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, New York.

Targeting the alternative sigma factor RpoN to combat Pseudomonas aeruginosa virulence

We evaluate inhibition of virulence in P. aeruginosa by a designed peptide (RpoN molecular roadblock, RpoN*), which binds specifically to the -24 site of RpoN consensus promoters. We expected RpoN* binding to its consensus promoter sites would reduce gene transcription, virulence, and antibiotic resistance by blocking RpoN and/or other transcription factors. We evaluated RpoN* in laboratory strains and cystic fibrosis patient isolates using microarray analysis, in vitro phenotyping assays, antibiotic susceptibility testing, and a P. aeruginosa – C. elegans infection model.

 

Fall 2017 Asa Gray Seminars

September 4th, 2017
Cynthia Downs, Ph. D., Assistant Professor of Biology, Hamilton College, Clinton, New York.

Linking mechanism and function to understand variation in immune defenses

An individual’s unique immunological phenotype is the consequence of its genotype,
environment, and development. I seek to understand how physiological networks and energetic trade-offs are shaped by an individual’s ecology and evolutionary history and how those interactions shape an individual’s immunological phenotype. In recent work, I explored trade- offs among ecologically important traits using mice artificially selected for high maximal metabolic rates (MMR). I found that selection for high MMR, but not corresponding evolved changes in basal metabolic rate suppressed innate immune. These findings revealed connections among physiological systems with consequences for individual variation in life-history traits. I am also interested in understanding how environmental variation affects immune defenses. To test the hypothesis that the strength of immune function correlates with resource availability, I experimentally manipulated the population density of free-ranging North American elk and found that levels of constitutive immunity are inversely related to nutritional state. Similarly, my recent correlative study of golden eagle nestlings found that nestlings in better condition had lower constitutive immunity. These unexpected results reveal a complex relationship between nutrient condition and immune defenses that has implications for disease dynamics. As a whole, these experiments demonstrate the connectivity of physiological systems and the need for a systems approach to fully understand an organism's immune defenses.


September 18th, 2017
Jessica G. Redmond, MS, RD, FAND, Assistant Professor of Biology, Utica College, Utica, New York.

Lifelong Effects of Fetal Programming

The intrauterine environment plays a key role in the health status of newborn babies. When less than optimal conditions exist, individuals are "programmed" in a negative way, causing them to have a higher risk of developing certain conditions throughout the rest of their life, from increased prevalence of diabetes to lower muscle strength. This presentation will explain what types of maternal factors can lead to fetal programming, and will highlight recent research demonstrating the consequences of fetal programming.


October 2nd, 2017
David J. Wilson, Project Associate, O’Brien & Gere, Lindenhurst, New York.

A discussion about careers.


October 30th, 2017
Gary Aistrup, Ph.D., Principal Research Scientist, Masonic Medical Research Laboratory, Utica, New York.



November 13th, 2017
Jeff Lombardo, Ph.D., Department of Biology, Utica College, Utica, New York.

Climate change and the thermal ecology of forest insect pests

For terrestrial ectotherms such as insects, extrinsic factors exhibit important influence on individual and population level processes. Temperature for example, can impact the survival, fecundity, and growth rate of individuals. Consequently, factors such as climate change can alter important population parameters. Understanding these links amongst the thermal environment, physiological growth, and population dynamics is an important component to determining the drivers of pest outbreaks, and the response of species to changes in the climate. Here I present some of my recent research on these topics, involving important native and invasive insect species.

 

Spring 2017 Asa Gray Seminar Series

January 30th

Jodi Dowthwaite, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, SUNY Upstate Medical University Research, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY.

Assessment of Exercise Benefits for Bone Growth

Osteoporosis is a growing public health concern, affecting increasing numbers of older Americans as we move further into the 21st century. Among senior citizens, osteoporotic fracture is a major cause of sickness and death, with dire economic consequences and reduced quality of life for affected individuals and their family members. Osteoporosis is considered to be a pediatric disease with adult onset. Unhealthy bone growth during childhood establishes a poor foundation for adult bone strength, leading to high fracture risk across the life span. Adoption of appropriate exercise and diet behavior during childhood is an attractive strategy to reduce lifetime fracture risk without drugs. Current research is using innovative research tools to evaluate how youth exercise may affect development of bone mass, structure, density and theoretical strength to build a strong base for adult bone health.

 

February 20th

Michael Losinger, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology, Utica College, Utica, NY.

Eavesdropping, masking and male-male competition in vibrational communicating insects.

Unintended receivers of acoustic and vibrational signals often benefit from eavesdropping on signal interactions. In substrate-borne vibrational systems, signals travel less distance, although they remain open to exploitation from conspecifics and heterospecifics alike. In many species of vibrationally communicating insects, conspecific male eavesdroppers may benefit from alternative signaling tactics, such as signal jamming or interference. These specialized signals have evolved to increase the amount of competing noise in the environment in order to disrupt competitor’s communication with potential mates. My talk will discuss a number of species (particularly in the insect suborder Auchenorryncha) that utilize masking and jamming signals, focusing on the understudied field of substrate-borne vibrational communication.

 

February 27th

Bradley Constantino, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY.

Effects of global change on trait variation in a woodland salamander.

It is widely known that global environmental change can have negatively ecological effects on wildlife populations, but species can also exhibit evolutionary responses to global change. I will discuss how landscape modification and climate change have shaped behavioral and morphological variation among populations of red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus).

 

March 27th

Susan Jenks, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology and Biology, The Sage Colleges, Albany, NY.

Does maternal ingestion of Mycobacterium vaccae epigenetically effect offspring anxiety in mice?

Previous research (Matthews and Jenks, 2013) indicated that ingesting nonpathogenic Mycobacterium vaccae reduced anxiety behavior and facilitated maze learning in mice, likely due to neuroimmune activation of serotonergic pathways in the brain. These results give support to the “Old Friends Hypothesis” of neuroimmune development. We are examining two additional questions: 1) Can M. vaccae epigenetically influence behavioral development and 2) Will M. vaccae influence anxiety-related behavior and facilitate learning in an autism model mouse strain (BTBR)? We hypothesize that exposure of pre-pregnant, pregnant and lactating mice to M. vaccae will reduce anxiety-related behaviors in offspring during open field and complex maze testing. We hypothesize that M. vaccae will reduce anxiety-related behavior in BTBR mice. For the epigenetic study we bred mice in house and treatment females were exposed, by ingestion, to M. vaccae before conception, and during mating, pregnancy, and lactation.. Immediately after weaning (22 days old), mothers and offspring were tested in the Open Field to examine anxiety and exploratory behavior. At days 52, 54, 56, 58, and 60 mature offspring were tested in the Complex Maze to investigate anxiety and maze learning. For the autism model mouse study we followed the previously published protocol of M. vaccae administration and investigated behavior in the complex maze, zero maze, burying test, and social interaction test, as well as analyzing fear vocalizations. Our preliminary findings reveal that M. vaccae differentially effects anxiety-related behavior in BTBR mice depending on test context and reveals the complexities of potential epigenetic effects interacting with sex and age.

 

April 10th

Robert Greene, Ph. D. Utica College Alum, Chair and Professor of Molecular Cellular and Craniofacial Biology, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY.

Birth Defects: Causes, Risk Factors and Prevention

Those of us lucky enough to call ourselves developmental biologists, for the past several decades have occupied front row seats at one of the most fascinating performances ever seen… a performance entitled ”Embryonic Development.” We have witnessed scenes and plots wherein genes, molecules and proteins are the actors, interacting — in ways that we increasing understand — to create, by the final scene, a healthy newborn baby. However, despite the fact that most infants are born normal, in the United States, which can boast of the best health care system in the world, every three minutes there is a baby born with a birth defect. Each year, over 3 million children die before the age of five as a result of complications due to congenital anomalies.


April 24th

Amanda Butler, Ph. D.
 Postdoctoral Associate. University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine.

Revolutionizing Human Reproduction: Insights from the Developing Xenopus Embryo
 

Fall 2016 Asa Gray Seminar Series

September 12th, 2016

Adam T. McLain, Ph. D., Assistant Professor of Biology, Department of Mathematics and Sciences, SUNY Polytechnic Institute, Utica, New York.

Lemur Conservation and Cryptic Species Identification in Madagascar

The island of Madagascar is home to over 100 lemur species, the majority of which are endangered by human activity. Slash-and-burn agriculture has reduced the level of forest cover on the island significantly since human settlement, with a corresponding impact on the animals that call those forests home. Even so, new lemur species are still being described each year. Fieldwork and genetic analyses are providing greater insight into the rich diversity of Malagasy primate species, even as remaining wild areas of the island shrink under human pressure. The subject of this talk will be the identification and description of two new lemur species in the genus Cheirogaleus (dwarf lemurs) in the context of the precarious ecological situation in Madagascar.

 

October 3rd, 2016

Engada Hagos, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biology, Colgate University, Hamilton, New York.

Mouse Embryonic Fibroblasts Null for the Krüppel-Like Factor 4 are Genetically Unstable

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one of the most prevalent forms of cancer worldwide. Studies indicate that CRC is the consequence of stepwise mutation in key genes with important cellular functions including tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes. We have recently identified links between the function of Kruppel-like factor 4 (KLF4) and changes in the activity of the mTOR and DNMT oncogenes, as well as the tumor suppressors MGMT and GST. We have also observed that KLF4 is important for regulating autophagy and reactive oxygen species. KLF4 is a zinc-finger transcription factor known to be a tumor suppressor in colorectal cancer. However, the molecular mechanisms by which KLF4 maintains genomic stability are not fully understood.

 

October 24th, 2016

David J. Wilson, CIH (1979-2012), Project Associate, O’Brien & Gere

Love Canal

This presentation will consist of the history and my personal observations at the Love Canal site in Niagara Falls, New York. The presentation contains eight sections that will cover the site history from the 1890s to today. Presentation components will consist of site remedial activities, habitability studies, health studies, repopulation, concerns and community actions associated with new residents, and my personal site investigation activities in 1978.

 

November 7th, 2016

Rebecca Rundell, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Head Curator, Roosevelt Wild Life Collections, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, Syracuse, New York.

Evolution and Conservation in Land Snails: Pacific Islands to New York State

Land snails represent unparalleled opportunities to understand evolution, particularly on Pacific islands such as the western Pacific archipelago of Belau (Republic of Palau, Oceania). Low vagility likely contributes to snails' enormous species diversity, even on tiny islands. Unfortunately, we are losing species nearly as rapidly as we discover them. Molluscs are among the most endangered animals on Earth, comprising 42% of recorded animal extinctions since the year 1500. Almost all of these species are non-marine. Land snails from Pacific islands have been particularly hard hit by human encroachment (e.g. agriculture, development, introduced predators), in part due to issues related to their small geographic ranges. These issues are not restricted to faraway tropical places. One of New York State's most endangered species is also a land snail. Conservation and training new experts are inextricable parts of understanding the natural history and diversification of these little-known species.

 

November 14th, 2016

Lyndsay Avery, Ph. D. Student at University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Defining the Role of Tim-3 in T cells

T cell immunoglobulin and mucin-domain containing protein-3 (Tim-3) is found on the surface of multiple cell types, but is most widely studied as a marker of functionally exhausted T cells in settings of chronic TCR stimulation. Persistent T cell activation, leading to exhaustion is evident in humans with chronic viral infections such as HIV or HCV as well as in the murine LCMV clone13 (cl13) infection. Exhausted T cells are also found in tumor infiltrating lymphocytes of humans with various types of cancers. Exhaustion is characterized by reduced cytokine production, proliferative capability, and cytotoxic activity, with a corresponding expression of inhibitory receptors, including PD-1, CTLA-4, LAG-3, and Tim-3. While other inhibitory receptors have known mechanisms for reducing T cell effector function, the intrinsic effects of Tim-3 on T cell activation are largely unknown. Much of the existing literature associates Tim-3 expression with diminished effector function. However, recent evidence reveals divergent effects of Tim-3 in various infectious models. Data from our lab indicate that Tim-3 is able to enhance acute TCR signaling. Therefore, we hypothesize that induced Tim-3 expression may eventually cause T cells to become dysfunctional by enhancing the initial response to stimulation. Current approaches to study Tim-3 require persistent antigen exposure or ectopic expression. We have developed a novel mouse model where the expression of Tim-3 is induced in vivo using Cre-mediated recombination of a floxed stop cassette. We have bred the Flox-Stop-Flox Tim-3 (FSF-Tim3) mice to CD4-Cre mice to study the intrinsic effects of Tim-3 on primary T cell activation. We have used short term in vitro stimulation, to show that induction of Tim-3 enhances downstream activation readouts. In addition, we have used the murine LCMV infection model system to test the ability of Tim-3 to drive T cell exhaustion. Results from the proposed study will address knowledge gaps about the effects of Tim-3 on T cells and may have practical applications in both chronic viral infection and cancer immunotherapy.

 

November 28th, 2016

Dan Hu, M.D., Ph.D., Research Scientist, Masonic Medical Research Laboratory, Utica, New York.
 

Spring 2016 Asa Gray Seminar Series

February 8th, 2016

Andrea K. Townsend, Ph. D., Assistant Professor of Biology, Hamilton College, Clinton, New York.

How do features of human-dominated landscapes affect disease prevalence and survival probability of corvids?

Currently, I am examining how urbanization is altering (and, perhaps, elevating) inbreeding depression in two urban-commensal species: the American Crow and the Yellow-billed Magpie. In collaboration with Walter Boyce (UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Wildlife Health Center), Sarah Wheeler, and Bill Reisen (both from the UC Davis Center for Vectorborne Diseases), and others, we are looking at how the nature and prevalence of disease varies across and urban to rural/ agricultural gradient.

 

February 22nd, 2016

Hector Barajas-Martinez, Ph.D., Research Scientist and Clinical Laboratory Director, Masonic Medical Research Laboratory, Utica, New York.

New Generation in Molecular Genetic Screening in Inherited Cardiac Arrhythmias Linked with Functional/Structural Genes Associated to Sudden Infant Death Syndromes

Dr. Barajas-Martinez is working to establish long term collaboration between Latinos countries (such as; Mexico, Spain, Argentine, Brazil, Chile, etc.) in our Molecular Genetics Department at the Masonic Medical Research Laboratory (MMRL) in Utica, New York USA and the Hospital Infantil De Mexico Federico Gomez, Ciudad De Mexico, Mexico. (Children Hospital of Mexico) to provide genetic testing services in U.S.A., taking advantage of the complementarities and synergies among them to save lives and give a better diagnosis, prevention and/or cures. We envision an international bilateral collaboration in 2 dimensions: State of the Art in the New Generation Molecular and Clinical genetic screening, plus scientific and academic collaboration. Our wonderful and intelligent molecular genetics team is formed by Research Scientists; Drs. Hector Barajas-Martinez (Clinical Laboratory Director) and Dan Hu (Clinical Laboratory Consultant) both principal investigators experts in molecular and genomics in cardiology arena and Fellows from Heart Rhythm Society, Research Assistants; Ryan Pfeiffer (Molecular Genetics Supervisor), and Yuesheng Wu working together with the new generation of genetic screening techniques, and Susan Bartkowiak as a Quality Systems Manager. We are working and looking for funds, revenues and grants between Mexico-USA (and others Latino countries) to keep doing this innovative Next Generation genetic sequencing approach to identify “Genetic Markers in Sudden Infant Death Syndromes’. This high throughput sequencing (HTS) approach will give us the capability to target and sequence functional and structural candidate genes to include all spectrum of congenital and structural cardiomyopathies.

 

March 7th, 2016

Jesse Crandall, Ph.D., Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Utica College, Utica, New York.

Sun and Symbionts: Translocation in Caribbean Corals

Coral reefs are in decline because of pollution, over fishing, disease, and climate change. The relationship between corals and their symbionts forms the base of tropical reef ecosystems that provide habitat to marine life, protect shorelines from damaging storms, provide food to people, and attract tourists to tropical locales. Coral symbionts, Symbiodinium spp., provide photosynthetic nutrients to the coral host animal by translocation. The coral animal also feeds on particles that it captures from the water column. I used a variety of chemical and biochemical techniques to investigate the balance of nutrient acquisition between translocation and feeding. I used stable isotope techniques, analysis of biomarker lipids, and developed metabolomics methods to better describe the nutrient acquisition strategies of hard and soft corals in the Caribbean. Coral symbiosis is critical to marine ecosystems and I targeted abundant coral species for analysis to improve understanding of nutrient acquisition in these species that will be important to healthy, productive reefs in the future.

 

March 28th, 2016

Andrea S. Viczian Ph.D., Assistant Professor of: Ophthalmology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Cell and Developmental Biology, Neuroscience and Physiology, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, New York.

What the frog can teach us about making eyes

The eye is a complex organ with the unique ability to transform light into an electrical signal detected by our brain as sight. The cells at the heart of this transformation are called photoreceptors. What are the proteins that direct pluripotent cells, like stem cells, toward photoreceptors? How are these genes controlled? We use the simple frog eye as a model to understand how genes direct eye formation and generate fully functional eyes. I will also talk about how our work on the frog eye has revealed a unique way to efficiently generate photoreceptor cells.

 

April 11th, 2016

Alex Rohacek, Ph. D. Candidate at Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Mutations in Esrp1 lead to defects in inner ear development associated with congenital hearing loss

Hearing loss is the most common congenital birth defect affecting an estimated 35 million children worldwide. To date, nearly 100 genes have been identified that, when mutated, may cause deafness in humans. However, many cases remain in which the causative mutation has not been found. In an effort to discover novel deafness causing loci we sequenced the coding genome (exome) of families with profound hearing loss. These studies uncovered mutations in Epithelial Splicing Regulatory Protein 1 (ESRP1), a critical regulator of alternative mRNA splicing. To investigate how the loss of ESRP1 function results in deafness we characterized a mouse knockout model for Esrp1. Esrp1 mutants display morphological defects in several inner ear structures, including the cochlear duct, which is both shortened and widened compared to control littermates. To gain additional insights to the mutant phenotype we compared the cochlear mRNA expression profiles between control and Esrp1-/- mutants by RNA-seq analysis. We observed a significant downregulation in the expression of genes associated with auditory hair cell development, the sound sensing cells within the cochlea. Upon further investigation, we noticed a significant delay in the timing of hair cell differentiation in Esrp1 mutants, resulting in fewer and less mature hair cells. Our RNA-seq dataset also revealed a profound reduction in mRNA transcripts expressed in the stria vascularis (SV) of Esrp1 mutants. The SV is a nonsensory structure of the cochlea responsible for generating the large endocochlear potential needed for hair cell mechanotransduction. The disruption of the SV in Esrp1 mutants manifests from a cell fate switch with the adjacent Reissner’s membrane, likely due to aberrant splicing of the Fibroblast growth factor receptor 2 (Fgfr2) gene. Together these results show that Esrp1 is a critical regulator of inner ear development and that ESRP1 mutations are a novel cause of deafness in humans.

 

Fall 2015 Asa Gray Seminar Series

September 28th, 2015

Julia C. van Kessel, Ph.D., Assistant Research Scientist, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.

Title: Quorum-Sensing Gene Regulation in Vibrios

Abstract: Quorum sensing is a method of cell-cell communication that allows bacteria to sense and respond to changes in the population density of their environment. Bacteria use quorum sensing to control processes that are more beneficial when performed by a group acting together, such as virulence factor production, biofilm formation, antibiotic production, competence, and bioluminescence. In vibrios, quorum-sensing gene expression is controlled by the master transcription factor LuxR, which controls >600 genes, including those that produce bioluminescence. LuxR proteins are classified as members of the TetR superfamily of transcription factors but are unique because they both activate and repress transcription. Our lab is interested in the mechanism by which LuxR controls the quorum-sensing regulon. We chose to examine the promoter that drives expression of the bioluminescence genes (luxCDABE). LuxR-mediated transcription activation of the luxC promoter is dependent on nucleoid binding proteins, including the integration host factor (IHF) complex. IHF binding bends DNA and facilitates transcription activation, likely by driving interactions between LuxR and RNA polymerase. IHF appears to be involved in LuxR regulation at other activated promoters. Our findings suggest a general mechanism for quorum-sensing gene regulation coordinated through the concerted activities of the quorum-sensing regulator LuxR and global nucleoid binding complexes.

 

October 19th, 2015

Ryan Taylor, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biology, Salisbury University, Salisbury, MD and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Frogs, Bats, and Genes: When Selection Worlds Collide

Male frogs produce vocal advertisement calls in groups called choruses. Females evaluate these calls and select mates based on specific properties of the calls. The group communication, however, results in overlapping male calls and generates high levels of noise that make it difficult for females to evaluate potential mates. One strategy that females could employ to counter this problem is the use of a visual cue - the expansion of a male’s vocal sac. This likely improves females’ ability to discriminate among males in the chorus, much like human lip reading at noisy parties. In a series of two-choice behavioral tests in the túngara frog, we demonstrated this, but then show that at high levels of background noise, this system may break down. An additional problem faced by male túngara frogs is predation from bats. The fringe-lipped bat uses both passive listening and echolocation to find and capture frogs, thus eavesdropping on the males’ sexual signals. In a series of choice experiments, we demonstrated that like the frog, bats also use the movement of male vocal sacs to improve their ability to locate males within the chorus. Male frogs are therefore faced with conflicting evolutionary demands of finding mates and avoiding predators.

 

November 2nd, 2015

Priscilla Van Wynsberghe, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY.

Title: Suppression of Exploding Worms: The regulation and role of lin-42 in C. elegans development

Abstract: Small RNAs, called microRNAs, regulate development in multiple organisms by inhibiting gene expression. Mis-expression of the highly conserved let-7 microRNA causes death by explosion in C. elegans and has been associated with several human cancers. My lab studies how small RNAs and the proteins that control their expression regulate development. We have recently shown that the period protein homolog LIN-42 regulates the expression of many microRNAs including let-7 to ultimately suppress the lethal phenotype of let-7 mutant worms. Current work in my lab is investigating how LIN-42 expression is controlled and how LIN-42 impacts germ line development.

 

November 16th, 2015

Frank E. Visco, O.D., M.S., Practicing Optometrist, Syracuse, NY.

Title: The Eye, The Brain, the Pulfrich Effect

Abstract: The Pulfrich effect is a visual illusion that causes a laterally-moving, two-dimensional image, such as a swinging pendulum, to appear take on an elliptical orbit in three-dimensions. This lecture will explore the neural components of the eye, their connections to the brain and how we can fool the brain into seeing something that isn't really there.

 

November 30th, 2015

Stephen J. Glatt, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Physiology, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY.

Title: Biomarkers for Neuropsychiatric Disorders

Abstract: Neuropsychiatric disorders are among the most complex and disabling disorders known to man. Unlike for other medical disorders such as cancer or cardiovascular disease, we do not yet have a solid grasp on the fundamental pathobiology of most neuropsychiatric disorders, and thus we also lack laboratory-based methods for detecting and diagnosing them; this in turn delays treatment and hinders recovery. In this seminar, Dr. Glatt will discuss his most recent research in pursuit of blood-based genomic biomarkers for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other neuropsychiatric disorders.

 

Spring 2015 Asa Gray Seminars

March 2nd, 2015

Jay W. Wason, Doctoral Candidate at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, NY

Title: The Deliberation of the Ents: Tree Community Response Lags Recent Environmental Change in Northeastern Mountain forests.

Abstract: Recent environmental changes are expected to alter vegetation distributions and productivity, yet it is still unclear how and when these changes will take place in forested ecosystems. Due to their long life-spans the effects of climate change on tree species may lag behind optimal tracking of ideal climate-space. To address these questions we studied changes in range limits, abundance, and growth rates of spruce-fir forest tree species. We used historic mountain vegetation plots from the 1960s and 1980s on Whiteface Mountain, New York, and combined them with a new region wide vegetation survey from 11 additional mountains in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. We found that recent environmental change has altered growth-climate relations of red spruce (Picea rubens) and balsam fir (Abies balsamea) trees along the elevational gradient. However, we did not find clear evidence of a synchronous spruce-fir tree community range shift upslope. Instead, species specific distribution changes, while linked to climate, were often a result of stand level disturbance dynamics. We conclude that while growth is already responding to recent environmental change, impacts on distributions and demographics of forest tree species may be lagged due to their long-lived nature.


March 23rd, 2015

Jeffrey Amack, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY

Title: Cilia and the Asymmetric Vertebrate Body Plan.

Abstract: In contrast to the external bilateral symmetry of the vertebrate body plan, the cardiovascular system and gastrointestinal tract develop asymmetries along the left-right (LR) body axis. Defects in establishing LR asymmetry during embryonic development are known to cause a broad spectrum of congenital malformations, but the genes and mechanisms involved in this process are only poorly understood. In humans and model vertebrates, conserved motile cilia play an important role in LR development. These cilia generate an asymmetric fluid flow in a transient epithelial ?organ of asymmetry? to initiate a signaling cascade that ultimately guides asymmetric morphogenesis of the heart and gut. We are using zebrafish as a model vertebrate to understand how cilia generate LR signals. A unique combination of high-resolution live imaging, fluorescent transgenic reporter lines and targeted gene modulation strategies has been developed to analyze cilia in the zebrafish organ of asymmetry, called Kupffer?s vesicle (KV). Our goal is to characterize genes and mechanisms that control LR development in zebrafish and then apply these insights to understand human birth defects.


March 30, 2015

Brian Panama, Ph.D., Research Scientist of Experimental Cardiology, Masonic Medical Research Laboratory, Utica, NY

Title: Role of the IRX5 Transcription Factor Gene in Sudden Cardiac Death.

Abstract: Sudden cardiac death (SCD) caused by arrhythmia accounts for more than 300,000 deaths annually in the United States. Ion channels underlie cardiac electrical events and SCD has been linked to mutations in multiple ion channel genes, leading to a loss of function in cardiac sodium and calcium channel activity as well as increased activity of the transient outward potassium current (Ito). The transcription factor Iroquois homeobox-gene-5 (IRX5) is a particular attractive candidate for inherited SCD syndromes due to its transcriptional regulation of Ito.


April 6th, 2015

Joshua J. Schwartz, Ph.D., Professor of Biology, Pace University, Pleasantville, NY

Title: Nifty Shades of Gray: Communication and Mate Choice in the Treefrog Hyla versicolor.

Abstract: In my talk I will discuss male advertisement and female choice in the dynamic sound environment of choruses of the gray treefrog, Hyla versicolor with particular focus on the problem of communication in noise. As in many species of frogs, males of this species often advertise for mates in dense assemblages characterized by high levels of noise and acoustic clutter. If a male is to be reproductively successful, he must effectively communicate those attributes of his signals or signaling behavior that are relevant to decision making by females in a less than ideal acoustic milieu. Moreover, he must also be aware of the calling behavior of his neighbors so that he can respond to changes in their vocal performance to maintain his relative attractiveness in a very competitive situation. For example, females find longer calls more attractive and male gray treefrogs lengthen their calls in response to the calls of others as well as increasing levels of chorus-generated noise. In pairwise interactions, males alternate vocalizations and so reduce call overlap to levels below that expected by chance. However, in choruses consisting of more males, acoustic interference increases dramatically and males do not seem to exhibit selective attention in a way that reduces call interference among nearest neighbors - although females discriminate strongly against overlapped calls. Moreover, changes made in call duration and rate that occur with increasing noise levels do not aid in signal detection by females and auditory induction, by which the auditory system might perceptually restore masked or missing elements of pulsatile calls, does not occur. Although, under some circumstances, differences in call frequency may help females distinguish among neighboring males, naturalistic spectral differences do not seem to help females perceptually separate the overlapping calls of such males. There is evidence, however, that spatial separation of males can contribute to signal segregation by listening females during acoustic interference.

April 20th, 2015

Stephen DeVito, Doctoral Candidate in the Tumor Biology Training Program at Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC

Title: Novel Relationships Between BER Glycosylases and Mutagenic DNA Adducts

Abstract: Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in base excision repair (BER) enzymes (glycosylases) can lead to faulty repair of DNA adducts. These adducts can cause DNA and RNA polymerases to stall, or cause single and double strand breaks. In addition, if these lesions are not repaired properly, they may have mutagenic consequences for the cell. Glycosylases have target adducts that they are responsible for fixing, e.g., 3-methyladenine glycosylase (MPG) with hypoxanthine (Hx), and 8-oxoguanine (OGG1) with 8-oxoG. However, there is also a degree of back-up activity associated with glycosylases. The extent to which they back one another however, is not well characterized. Here we examine the back-up activity of 3-methyladenine DNA glycosylase (MPG) with Hx. Pervious work has shown that MPG is the only enzyme capable of excising Hx from the DNA base stack. However, we have found though glycosylase activity assays, that Hx is also repaired by OGG1. OGG1 is a bifunctional glycosylase that is shown only to excise oxidative adducts, and not deamination products like Hx . We hypothesize that repair of Hx is initiated by both MPG and OGG1 in cells, which inhibits Hx-induced mutagenesis.

 

Fall 2014 Asa Gray Seminars

September 15, 2014

Donna Vogler, Ph.D., Associate Professor & Chair, Dept. of Biology, SUNY Oneonta, Oneonta, NY

Title: Planes, Plains and Food Chains—Bottom Up Management of Airport Ecosystems

Abstract: Airport properties encompass grassland, wetland, and managed turf habitat—all potentially attractive to wildlife.  The goal of this FAA supported project was to evaluate several native plants against a conventional turf mix for degree of wildlife attraction or deterrence.  Vegetation cover, insect sweeps, bird counts and fecal pellet counts were conducted at three sites in central NY including Griffiss (Utica-Rome) Airport. Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium produced good cover (up to 60%) approaching that of contractor’s mix (91%) and well above native grasses Poverty Oats (Danthonia spicata), Crinkled Hairgrass (Deschampsia flexuosa) and Thyme (Thymus pulegiodes) in the first season. Motion detecting infared cameras demonstrated that the contractor’s mix attracted significantly more feeding deer than an established plot of Indian Grass over a 2-month period (2 = 44, P<0.001).   These studies suggest that management of airport vegetation, particularly the grass, is paramount in minimizing the threat that wildlife poses to aviation.

 

October 6, 2014

Timothy S. McCay, Ph.D.,Associate Professor, Dept. of Biology and Environmental Studies, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY

Title: Extent, Causes, and Consequences of Earthworm Colonization in Forests of the Northeast

Abstract: Earthworms can cause dramatic and adverse ecological changes when they colonize forested habitats previously free of earthworms. Earthworm communities of the Northeast consist of a dynamic combination of native species, exotic species from Europe, and exotic species from Asia. Forests of upstate New York are inhabited primarily by European species, but with several interesting native and Asian invasive earthworms. There are many earthworm-free forests in upstate New York, and these forests may be earthworm-free because earthworms have not yet dispersed to the forest or because the forest is somehow uninhabitable. Our studies suggest a role for both of these explanations in upstate New York. The colonization of forests by earthworms can lead to many changes in the composition and function of forest ecosystems. Abundance and diversity of invertebrate animals living in the litter layer is negatively related to high earthworm populations in upstate New York. Our studies in New York are currently being expanded to include sites across eastern North America with a network of research teams at primarily-undergraduate colleges and universities.

 

October 27, 2014

Wenyi Feng, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Dept. of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY

Title: Untimely Encounter: Chromosome Fragility as a Result of Unscheduled Conflict Between DNA Replication and Transcription

Abstract: We are interested in understanding the mechanism of chromosome fragility in eukaryotic cells.  Chromosome fragile sites are non-random locations in the genome that are more susceptible to DNA strand breaks, either spontaneously or under mild DNA replication stress.  Increasing evidence suggests that chromosome fragile site formation is the underlying cause of genome instability, which can lead to a multitude of human disorders ranging from neurological diseases to cancer.  My laboratory uses a powerful model organism, the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, to study the mechanism of chromosome breakage.  We propose that replication inhibitor drugs, such as hydroxyurea, cause chromosomal breakage when DNA replication clashes with unscheduled gene transcription induced by the drug.  Our work was facilitated by a novel method called Break-Seq that combines an in-gel DNA double strand breaks labeling technique with NextGen sequencing.  We have also applied Break-Seq to map chromosome fragile sites in the human genome.  Our preliminary findings provided support for our model as well as insights into the mechanism of chromosome fragility and its impact on human diseases such as the Fragile X syndrome.

 

November 17, 2014

Gary C. Chan, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Dept. of Microbiology and Immunology, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY

Title: Human Cytomegalovirus Dissemination: Powering the “Trojan Horse” Monocyte

Abstract: Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is endemic throughout the world with seropositivity reaching 50 to 80% in the United States.  Although HCMV infection is generally asymptomatic in immunocompetent individuals, HCMV is a primary viral candidate in the etiology of several diseases, including atherosclerosis and glioblastoma multiforme.  In immunocompromised individuals, such as neonates, AID patients, and transplant recipients, HCMV infection can lead to multi-organ failure resulting in significant morbidity and mortality.  The myriad of organ diseases associated with HCMV infection is a direct consequence of the systemic viral spread to and infection of multiple organ sites that occur during either asymptomatic or symptomatic infections. Peripheral blood monocytes are responsible for disseminating the virus throughout the body of an infected host and play a central role in the pathogenic state of infected organs.  We have shown HCMV infection stimulates both the survival and differentiation of normally short-lived monocytes into long-lived inflammatory macrophages.  However, because viral proteins are not expressed within monocytes during the early stages of infection, how HCMV simultaneously promotes the survival and differentiation of these cells has remained elusive.  We now have data demonstrating that the HCMV entry process directly stimulates a unique cellular signaling network specifically designed to drive the viability and differentiation of infected monocytes.

 

December 1, 2014

Michael Xavier Doss Jesudoss, Ph.D., Director of the Stem Cell Center, Masonic Medical Research Laboratory, Utica, NY

Title: Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells: A Powerful Tool for Regenerative Therapy and Personalized Medicine

Abstract: The recent technology called “Cellular Reprogramming” enables creation of a versatile type of stem cells called “induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSC)” from anyone’s somatic tissues such as skin, blood, adipose tissue from liposuction and hair follicles irrespective of age and gender. These stem cells  have the potential to give rise to any type of our body tissues such as heart cells, brain cells, insulin secreting beta cells and liver cells, just to name a few, and therefore these cells have greater potential for cell based regenerative  therapy of a number of degenerative diseases such as ischemic heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, blindness and  diabetes mellitus. In vitro human models of inherited diseases that had not been possible earlier due to ethical and technical problems have been established recently by using these iPSCs from the respective patients’ own somatic cells, paving the way for the treatments to be tailored “specifically” to individual patients toward the establishment of “personalized medicine”. My work focuses on 1) obtaining clinical grade cardiomyocytes from skin cells-derived iPSCs using genetic engineering and pharmocolgical approaches for cell based regenerative therapy of heart failure and 2) decoding novel pathophysiological mechanisms underlying different life threatening arrhythmic cardiac diseases using patient-specific iPSC based human in vitro models. My talk will be summarizing the latest developments on the iPSC based regenerative therapy and the potential insurmountable impact of iPSC on Personalized Medicine and drug discovery.

 

Spring 2014 Asa Gray Seminar Series

February 10, 2014
Thomas R. Horton, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Dept. of Environmental and Forest Biology, SUNY ESF
Title: Ectomycorrhizal Ecology Under Primary Succession on Coastal Sand Dunes: Interactions Involving Pinus contorta, Mycorrhizal Fungi and Deer

Abstract: The species of ectomycorrhizal fungi (EMF) supporting primary successional pine seedlings and mechanisms for their establishment were investigated. When seedlings germinate near mature trees they are colonized by mycelial networks from a diverse group of EMF supported by the trees. However, seedlings germinating in new areas such as those associated with primary succession do not have this benefit. Are seedlings colonized by the same EMF observed on mature trees or a subset of EMF observed on mature trees? If it is a subset, is it a random selection of those associated with the trees or a specific group? To find out, we collected field seedlings growing among trees in forested zones and away from trees in nonforested zones at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area near Eugene Oregon. We compare the list of EMF on seedlings collected from the different areas and as fruiting bodies in the surrounding forests. Laboratory bioassays were used to capture EMF species capable of colonizing pine seedlings in soils collected from the area. Seedlings were also grown in bioassays using sterile soil inoculated with deer fecal pellets collected from the area. A diverse group of fungi were found on field seedlings growing in amongst trees. However, field seedlings from nonforested zones and all laboratory bioassay seedlings were dominated by EMF species in just two related genera, Suillus and Rhizopogon. We conclude that Suillus and Rhizopogon spp., the so-called suilloid fungi, are the principle EMF species supporting seedlings on the sand dunes, are dispersed from forested areas across the dunes by deer, and can lay dormant in soils as a resistant spore bank analogous to resistant seed banks.


March 3, 2014
Rebecca A. Pinder, Ph.D.,
Adjunct Instructor, Science Department, Columbia-Greene Community College, Hudson, NY
Title: Earthworm Ecology In The Riparian Zone

Abstract: My research established the presence of native and exotic earthworms along forested headwater stream banks in New York State, and focused on four aspects of earthworm ecology in riparian zones: species composition and distributions; community structure of earthworm assemblages; food web interactions; and their influence on nutrient cycling.

Earthworm species abundance at 14 headwater streamside sites in the Catskill State Park and the Helderberg Plateau, were tested for patterns among earthworm species assemblages, including correlations with habitat variables often cited as predictors of earthworm community structure. Over 2250 individuals of 19 species were collected over six sampling periods, including the native species Eisenoides lonnbergi. Habitat variables, primarily associated with soil pH, were correlated with distributions of a few species; but the majority were organized in assemblages with distinct but unexplained regional variation, indicating possible differences in dispersal histories or other unexplained variables.


March 24, 2014
Ewa Szymanska Mroczek, Ph.D.,
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Title: Graduate School, Basic Immunology, and Antibody Deficiencies

Abstract: Depressed serum immunoglobulin levels (sIgs) and recurrent sinopulmonary infections mark Common Variable Immune Deficiency (CVID). Many family members of CVID patients also suffer recurrent sinopulmonary infection (RESPI) but have normal sIg. We identified HLAB44 positive identical female twins who suffer sinopulmonary infections and are discordant for CVID and RESPI. Flow cytometry subsets showed equivalent numbers of immature B cells (BC) in both twins, but lower numbers of transitional and mature BC in the CVID twin. Deep sequencing of the immunoglobulin (Ig) repertoires expressed by the transitional and mature BC showed a significant divergence in the utilization of VH1 and VH4 family gene segments, with CVID favoring VH4 and RESPI VH1. RESPI twin used JH6 more frequently, whereas CVID twin used JH3. The amino acid composition of CDR-H3 repertoire was compared with a control; the twin and control tyrosine usage in transitional BC was similar (~15%) but greatly diverged in mature BC (control 15%, RESPI 25%, CVID < 10%). Whole genome sequencing revealed homozygosity for a rare CD21 S639N polymorphism and heterozygosity for CD19 L174V. These findings suggest that in addition to an acquired block in BC development at the transitional stage, the CVID twin produces an Ig repertoire that is markedly depleted of tyrosine. This may explain why the function of the Ig repertoire in CVID is more impaired than what might be expected by sIgs levels.


April 7, 2014
Mira Krendel, Ph.D.,
Assistant Professor, Dept. Cell and Developmental Biology, SUNY Upstate Medical University
Title: Lessons From Four-Legged Patients: What Mouse Models Can Tell Us About Human Genetic Diseases

Abstract: Mouse models can be used to test whether the loss of function of a specific gene results in disease. Using a knockout mouse model, we discovered that the loss of a cytoskeletal protein, myosin 1e (myo1e), leads to kidney disease in mice, which led us to predict that mutations in the MYO1E gene in humans may cause familial kidney disorders. As predicted, several families with mutations in MYO1E and associated kidney disease have been identified in clinical genetic studies. Myo1e is a component of cell-cell junctions between epithelial cells in the glomerulus, a portion of the nephron that plays a key role in selective filtration of proteins. Mutations in the human MYO1E gene disrupt domains important for Myo1e functions in cells, leading to defects in protein filtration and subsequent kidney failure. Our lab is investigating the role of myo1e in the assembly and maintenance of the renal filtration barrier and the effects that disease-associated mutations have on myo1e activity.


April 21, 2014

David L. Moore, Ph.D., Asa Gray Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Biology, Utica College

Title: Asa Gray, Dean of American Botany
Abstract: Of humble origin, Asa Gray was born on a farm in Sauquoit, New York. He spent his early years in central New York, developing an interest in botany even as he completed preparatory work at Fairfield Academy and then a medical degree at Fairfield Medical School. Through his mentor John Torrey of New York City, Asa Gray began a botanical journey that would first introduce him to the foremost American botanists and, eventually, interaction with the greatest European botanists. Gray’s interest in phytogeography and the evolution of plants would influence Charles Darwin, with whom Gray maintained frequent correspondence, and help shape Darwin’s thoughts on evolution. Gray’s impact on plant exploration, classification and the popularization of botany would make him the most important American botanist of the nineteenth century. Asa Gray was the first individual to occupy Harvard University’s Fisher Professorship of Natural History, the first full-time professorship in North America dedicated to Botany. He also established the Gray Herbarium at Harvard University as one of the preeminent botanical and scientific collections in the world.

 

Fall 2013 Asa Gray Seminars

September 23, 2013

Amanda Butler, Graduate Student, Mayo Clinic Jacksonville – Department of Cancer Research

Title: Therapeutically targeting the atypical Protein Kinase C isozymes in Pancreatic Cancer

Abstract: Pancreatic cancer (PC) is a very aggressive disease with few therapeutic options. PKCiota is required for the transformed growth of pancreatic, ovarian, lung, and intestinal cancers; however, the role of the other atypical PKC, PKCzeta (PKCz), in cancer is controversial. In this study, we investigate the role of PKCz and the therapeutic potential of the aPKCs in PC. We find that PKCz expression is either maintained or elevated in primary human pancreatic tumors. Genetic inhibition of PKCz reduced the transformed phenotype of human PC cells in vitro, and orthotopic tumor size and metastasis in vivo. STAT3 plays an important role in PC cell survival and metastasis. Inhibition of PKCz significantly reduced constitutive STAT3 activation in PC cells in vitro and in vivo, and expression of a constitutively active STAT3 construct rescued the transformed phenotype in PKCz-deficient cells. These data suggest that STAT3 is an important downstream mediator of the pro-carcinogenic effects of PKCz in PC cells. Furthermore, a high throughput screen identified the gold-containing drugs, aurothiomalate (ATM) and auranofin (AFN), as potent inhibitors of aPKC signaling. Pharmacologic inhibition of the aPKCs using ATM or AFN mimicked the phenotype of genetic inhibition of the aPKCs in PC. Treatment with ATM or AFN reduced activation of downstream targets of aPKCs, and PC cell transformed growth and invasion in vitro and tumorigenesis and metastasis in vivo. These data suggest a tumor promotive role for PKCζ in PC and indicate that therapeutically targeting the aPKCs may be an effective treatment option for PC patients.

 


October 7, 2013

Greta A. Van Slyke, M.S., Research Scientist, New York State Department of Health, Wadsworth Center, Division of Infectious Disease, Arthropod-borne virus laboratory

Title: West Nile virus: Looking Beyond the Consensus

Abstract:In 1999 West Nile virus (WNV) was first detected in North America in the New York City area and within a decade had spread throughout North America and the Caribbean, causing annual seasonal outbreaks after introduction; this is in stark contrast to other Flaviviruses and arthropod-borne viruses which exist largely in endemic regions and exhibit sporadic outbreaks. Extensive examination of genomic diversity at the consensus level has reviled that WNV has remained highly homogeneous throughout its geographical spread over time. However, in 2002 there emerged a new consensus WNV genotype (WNV02) which displaced the introduced strain; thus far the phenotypic advantages of the WNV02 consensus genotype have been elusive. In vivo, RNA virus polymerases (RdRps) are highly processive but lack the ability to proofread, high error rate results in genetically diverse intrahost infections referred to as mutant swarms; this combination of characteristics increases the RNA viruses capacity for rapid adaptation and evolution in disparate host environments. Non-consensus genotypes play a significant role in host range, viral fitness, adaptability, immune evasion, replicative fitness, viral pathogenesis, and vector competence, there is also correlation between mutant swarm breadth and both phenotypic plasticity and viral fitness in vivo. Breadth of a mutant swarm depends not just on error rate, but selection; our studies focus on the contribution of the WNV mutant swarm to overall viral fitness, specifically in the mosquito vector, and the complex genomic and adaptive mechanisms that render WNV a unique RNA virus possessing a superior ability to infect and replicate in almost any host it encounters regardless of environmental factors.

 

October 21, 2013

Kristen Brubaker, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Title: Estimating canopy height and site productivity of deciduous forests at a regional scale with leaf off, low density LiDAR

Abstract: LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is increasingly being used to improve our understanding of forested ecosystems on a broad spatial scale. Using freely available low density, leaf off LiDAR and software, we established methodology to create an accurate state-wide tree height model for State Forests in Pennsylvania and validated it using a ground truthed inventory dataset with over 3000 sample points. Our canopy height model was accurate to about 10% of the tree height, with a RMSE of approximately 2 m. Using these tree height data, ecologists and foresters will be able to model important ecosystem metrics including productivity, total biomass, total carbon storage, and site index, which are difficult and time-intensive to measure in the field. With LiDAR-derived height data, in addition to the accurate bare earth model, we should be able to understand relationships between soil, topography, and terrain and their relationship to forest communities. Many states and counties, including many counties in New York, are currently flying low density, leaf off LiDAR with the purpose of generating high resolution bare earth models for FEMA flood plain mapping, which could make this technique much more widespread.     

 

November 4th 2013

Christopher R. Collins, Ph. D., Assistant Professor, St. John Fisher College

Title: "The short, dangerous lives of mammals: a study of causes of mortality in the wild"

Abstract: The proportion of different causes of death (cause specific mortality) is an important indicator of local ecology and local selective forces shaping behavioral and morphological adaptations, and can be easily compared between species. These mortality causes are best measured by remotely monitoring individuals with radio transmitter tags to detect their eventual demise and conducting post-mortem examinations to determine the exact cause of death. In an attempt to understand broad patterns in mammal mortality I compiled data from over 80 studies, and analyzed it to determine what factors influence the likelihood of dying from different causes, ranging from disease to roadkill. I found that humans are the largest cause of mortality for North American mammals, especially in larger mammal species. I also found that there was little or no data on small mammal mortality, so I radio collared white footed mice, and studied their behavior and survival. Our data showed that parasites and weather influenced behavior and activity, and that predators were the primary cause of death in this common rodent species.


November 18, 2013

Matthew Betzenhauser, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Masonic Medical Research Laboratory

Title: Regulation of intracellular Ca2+ release channels in physiology and disease

Abstract: A regulated rise in intracellular Ca2+ represents a ubiquitous signaling paradigm utilized by cells to control a wide range of physiological processes. Cytosolic Ca2+ can be increased by promoting Ca2+ entry across the plasma membrane or by mobilizing Ca2+ release from intracellular stores. The endoplasmic/sarcoplasmic reticulum (ER/SR) is the major intracellular Ca2+ storage organelle in mammalian cells. Specialized ER/SR resident Ca2+ permeable channels named the inositol (1,4,5)-trisphosphate receptors (IP3R) and the ryanodine receptors (RyR) allow for rapid, highly controlled release of this stored Ca2+ in response to cell stimulation. Given the central importance of these channels to physiological systems, it is not surprising that they are subject to multiple modes of regulation. Furthermore, alterations in IP3R and RyR are thought to underlie numerous pathologies, especially in cardiovascular systems. The goal of my research is to understand the molecular bases and physiological consequences of IP3R and RyR regulation and to probe how these channels are disrupted in cardiovascular diseases and aging.

 

Spring 2013 Asa Gray Seminar Series

*Please note that our 25 March (Kirchman) and 22 April (Aaronson) presentations have switched dates relative to the dates originally printed in the UC Cultural Events Calendar.

 

February 4, 2013

Sean Robinson, Ph.D., Lecturer, Department of Biology, Botany and General Biology, State University of New York-Oneonta

Title: Experimental and Molecular Studies of Bryophyte Dispersal on Alpine Summits

Abstract: In bryophytes, spores are considered to be the primary agents of long-distance dispersal, whereas asexual propagules, such as shoot fragments, are thought to have shorter dispersal distances.  Many bryophytes, however, rarely or never produce spores, especially in environmentally harsh habitats such as alpine summits.  A review of bryophyte dispersal studies over the last sixty years revealed that the role of gametophytic fragments in bryophyte population dynamics has not been adequately addressed. Sphagnum pylaesii reproduces primarily by fragmentation, yet it maintains large populations on several of the Adirondack alpine summits.  The importance of vegetative fragments in the dispersal of this species was evaluated in parallel comparative studies of Sphagnum tenellum using direct and indirect methods.  S. tenellum occupies similar habitats but differs in sexual condition and amount of spore production.  To determine dispersal ability experimentally on alpine summits, branch fragments were coated with ultraviolet fluorescent dye and released from specific locations on two alpine summits. Distances traveled by fragments were measured after being located during evening surveys using ultraviolet LED light sources 24 h after initial release. These data fit a leptokurtic distribution, with a maximum dispersal distance of 54 m, the longest distance measured for wind dispersed bryophyte fragments.  Dispersal ability of S. pylaesii fragments was assessed further by releasing fragments in a wind tunnel at varying wind speeds.  These experiments support the field experiments, showing maximum fragment dispersal at wind speeds below mean wind speeds measured on the summit of Mt. Marcy. As an indirect measure of dispersal between the Adirondack summits, population differentiation (FST), and estimated gene flow (Nm) were calculated from genetic variation at fifteen microsatellite loci.  Molecular data support the hypothesis that Sphagnum pylaesii has dispersed successfully among summits through fragmentation, given a lack of genetic variability (P = 0, A = 0), and consequently no differentiation (FST = 0) and high gene flow (Nm = ∞) between the summits.

 

February 18, 2013

Laura Prestia, Ph.D, PhD Candidate,Neuroscience Graduate Program, Department of Psychiatry, SUNY Upstate Medical University

Title: Molecular Mechanisms Underlying the Chemosensory-mediated Enhanced Acceptance of Ethanol as a Consequence of Prenatal Exposure

Abstract: Human and animal studies demonstrate multiple negative effects of prenatal ethanol exposure on postnatal development. Among these include the increased probability of postnatal ethanol preference that can lead to drug addiction. Previously, we demonstrated that prenatal exposure increased adolescent ethanol intake and this effect was mediated, in part, by enhanced olfactory behavior tuned to ethanol, and increased oral acceptability of ethanol’s specific aversive flavor attributes, bitter and oral irritation. Without further ethanol exposure, these behavioral alterations normalized by adulthood. We are currently investigating the underlying molecular basis for increased ethanol avidity and oral acceptability stemming from prior fetal ethanol exposure.

 

March 4, 2013

Steven Fletcher, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy

Title: Antagonism of the Oncogenic Bak–Bcl-xL and Bak–Mcl-1 Protein–Protein Interactions with Synthetic-Helix Mimetics

Abstract: Bcl-xL and Mcl-1 are anti-apoptotic proteins that are tightly regulated by pro-apoptotic proteins, which include Bak and Bim. The protein–protein interaction is mediated by an amphipathic -helix referred to as the BH3 “death” domain, which is located on the pro-apoptotic proteins and is engaged by a hydrophobic crevice on the anti-apototic proteins. We have designed synthetic mimetics of the hydrophobic face of the Bak-BH3 -helix and identified potent inhibitors of Bcl-xL and Mcl-1 in vitro (for example, JY-1-106: Kd = 196 nM (Bcl-xL), 10 M (Mcl-1)). Furthermore, our compounds disrupt the Bak–Mcl-1 interaction in cells, and, through freeing up of the pro-apoptotic proteins, induce intrinsic apoptosis of Bcl-xL and Mcl-1 overexpressing cancer cell lines. Preliminary animal studies indicate our lead compound JY-1-106 exhibits good anti-tumor activity. Mcl-1 has recently emerged as a “hot” anti-cancer target since its overexpression results in resistance to conventional chemotherapeutic drugs. Current work involves developing more potent and more selective Mcl-1 inhibitors through mimicry of both the polar and hydrophobic faces of the BH3 -helix, which will represent the first-ever functional, synthetic, amphipathic-helix mimetics.

 

March 25, 2013

Jeremy J. Kirchman, Ph.D., Curator of Birds, New York State Museum

Title: Specimen-based Ornithology at the New York State Museum

Abstract: New York State Museum Curator of Birds Dr. Jeremy J. Kirchman will provide an overview of the NYSM ornithology collection, comprising nearly 20,000 specimens, and will highlight some of the ways the collection is used in his own research and by researchers and educators across the country. In the second half of the talk Kirchman will present preliminary analyses from an ongoing study he is conducting on the evolution of species ranges in the face of climate change. This example of specimen-based ornithology examines the range dynamics and morphological evolution of Red-bellied Woodpeckers over the last 150 years.

 

April 1, 2013

Terry D. Schwaner, Ph.D., Dean, Center for Life and Health Sciences, Mohawk Valley Community College

Title: The Evolution of Body Size and Shape in Insular Tiger Snakes:  Hypotheses and the Evidence

Abstract: Body size is an important life history trait whose evolution may be related to energy budgets for prey and prey handling, predation and/or competition, or socio-sexual factors.  On offshore islands of southern Australia mean adult body sizes among populations of tiger snakes (Notechis scutatus/ater complex: Elapidae) exhibit a six-fold difference in length and weight.  Molecular evidence supports a relatively recent change within the time of isolation of these continental islands (5000-8000 ybp).  Predation does not seem to have been a factor in these changes, and conclusive evidence of socio-sexual interactions (i.e., male-male combat) perhaps cannot explain all cases, whereas prey differences among islands correlate well with average body sizes. Tests show that growth is both ecophenotypic and ecotypic, however the precise genetic mechanism is unknown.  In this discussion, I will summarize the arguments and evidence gathered thus far and offer a new hypothesis with limited supporting data to explain how body sizes and shapes evolved in these snakes.

 

April 22, 2013

Lawrence R. Aaronson, Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology, Biology Department, Utica College

Title: Slip Sliding Away and Getting a Tan: A Tale of Two Bacteria and How They Respond to Physical Changes in Their Environment

Abstract: Bacteria live in complex communities where chemical and physical factors and the microbial census can change rapidly.  As a result, bacteria often need to adapt quickly to environmental change.   Over the past several years, our lab group has been investigating how two different species of bacteria respond to biochemical and physical alterations in their environment.  Bacillus cereus is a common soil-dwelling bacterium that may cause gastrointestinal disease when consumed in unpasteurized dairy products. When grown on solidified nutrient-rich media, these bacteria exhibit swarming, a type of high-energy motility facilitated by the hyperproduction of flagella. On media containing cow’s milk, however, B. cereus exhibits sliding motility, characterized by elaborate dendritic outgrowths from the central mass of the colony. Recent work in our laboratory has shown that the major milk protein casein alone can induce B. cereus sliding.  Casein is a hydrophobic protein, so we hypothesized that other agents that alter the hydrophobicity or surface tension of the agar would have a similar effect.  When grown on media containing the nonionic detergent NP-40, B. cereus also exhibited sliding.  This suggests that the bacteria are sensing a physical change in their environment leading to a switch in their mode of motility.  We have recently isolated a collection of mutants that do not slide on milk or NP-40, and are using molecular genetic techniques to clone and sequence the affected genes.  The second microbe we study is a novel bacterium isolated by students in our lab, which we have named Pseudomonas uticensis.  Among the interesting attributes of this bacterium is that it produces the brown pigment melanin.  Studies in our lab revealed that melanin production is regulated by light; bacteria grown in the dark are unpigmented but turn brown within hours of exposure to white light.  Exposure to increasing light intensity enhances melanin production, suggesting that the bacteria have a photosensory mechanism that regulates pigment production.  Recently, we have also discovered that melanin production increases proportionately with increased cell density in culture.  This suggests that quorum sensing signaling pathways also regulate melanin production in P. uticensis.  We have isolated several mutant strains of the bacterium that are defective in melanogenesis, as well as one mutant strain that overproduces melanin, and are working to identify the genes involved in light- and quorum-regulation of melanin production in P. uticensis.

 

Fall 2012 Asa Gray Seminar Series

September 10, 2012

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

Sara C. Johnston, Ph.D., Research Microbiologist, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Virology Division

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

Excitation-contraction coupling in normal and failing hearts

Jonathan M. Cordeiro, Ph.D, Research Scientist, Masonic Medical Research Laboratory

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

Environmental phytotechnologies

Lee A. Newman, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Biotechnology and Phytoremediation, Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

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

Identification of Merkel cell progenitors in developing and adult mice

Margaret C. Wright, Graduate Student, Maricich Lab, Case Western Reserve University, Department of Neuroscience,

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

Chestnut blight, an old problem with new solutions

William A. Powell, Ph.D., Director, Council on Biotechnology in Forestry, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

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.

 

Fall 2011 Asa Gray Seminars

September 12, 2011

Restoration of Solvay waste sites using threatened and endangered plant communities

Tony Eallonardo, Ph.D., Scientist at O'Brien & Gere

Lime waste sites are areas that have received alkaline refuse from industrial processes using limestone and basic reagents. These sites are typified by alkaline soils with high concentrations of base cations and extremely low concentrations of available nitrogen and phosphorus. They often re-vegetate naturally—to at least 50% cover within 10 years following dumping, and they often support a mix of native and non-native early successional species as well as rare species from calcareous, infertile or otherwise stressful habitats. The goal of this study was to restore a seasonally flooded lime waste (i.e., Solvay waste) site near Syracuse, NY that had remained largely barren for over 30 years. Native plant communities from infertile, stressful and calcareous settings (i.e., alvar grassland, inland salt marsh, Great Lakes dune, and marl fen) were targeted for the restoration as well as a collection of stress tolerant emergent species from fresh to salt marsh communities. Species were mainly introduced to the 2.1 ha site by planting: from 2008 to 2010 approximately 55,000 plants were installed. Over this time period 8.96 metric tons of pelletized 5-10-5 fertilizer was applied, and invasive species were controlled by a variety of means. As of 2010, 172 vascular plant species have been observed on site, 85 of which were planted or sown and eight of which are classified as threatened or endangered in New York. Since 2008, the following variables have been on a positive trajectory over time: total cover (%), cover of target species (%), and species richness per square meter

Relative cover of the highly invasive Phragmites australis and Lythrum salicaria are on negative trajectories. Analysis of soils and species traits shows that the weathering of magnesium oxide (a key constituent in Solvay waste) drives a soil process that suppresses competitive exclusion and favors species with traits associated with stress tolerance and efficient nutrient use. Historic flooding of the project site in 2011 has modified the initial trajectory of vegetation development with robust emergent vegetation increasing, perhaps temporarily, in importance. This project demonstrates that stressful growing conditions provided by Solvay waste simulate stresses provided by saline or alkaline groundwater discharge, enabling the restoration of marl fen and inland salt marsh plant communities. Lessons learned from this project will be discussed in the context of restoring other post industrial and stressful urban sites.

  

October 3, 2011

“Girdling, Splitting and Rearing to Know: Insights into New York Invasive Forest Insects”

Melissa K. Fierke, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Forest Entomology - Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Research in my lab centers around two invasive wood-borers in New York State, emerald ash borer and Sirex noctilio, the European woodwasp. With emerald ash borer, we are investigating different management techniques in order to slow ash mortality as new infestations are identified in NY. We are looking at parasitism of the woodwasp by native hymenopterans as well as interactions with our native woodwasps. This presentation will give an overview of these insects as well as some of the insights we’ve gained over the past couple of years.

 

 

October 24, 2011

“Improving Bifunctional Intrabodies Against the Huntingtin Protein”

David Butler, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow, Wadsworth Center, NYS Department of Health

Single-chain antibodies (scFvs) that bind Huntingtin (HTT) protein show promise as possible immunotherapeutics for Huntington's Disease (HD).   Intrabodies directed at the N-17 domain of HTT are capable of minimizing the toxic effects of protein misfolding in cell culture, ex vivo cultures, and Drosophilamelanogaster models of HD.  Additionally, intrastriatal delivery of scFv-C4 has been shown to significantly reduce the size and number of aggregates in HD transgenic mice; however, this protective effect diminished with age and time after injection. Additional optimization of scFv-C4 is required for this intrabody to be of future use in clinical applications.

Proteins that contain enriched regions of amino acids Proline (P), Glutamic Acid (E) or Aspartic Acid (D), Serine (S), and Threonine (T), otherwise known as PEST regions, are targeted for proteasomal degradation and generally have a short half life. This talk will summarize the data which suggest that fusion of the C-terminal PEST region to scFv-C4, a bifunctional intrabody, reduces soluble and insoluble httex1-72Q fragments in vitro.

 

November 7, 2011

"Use of Model Organisms to Study Gene Regulation"

Steven D. Hanes, Ph.D., Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, SUNY-Upstate Medical University

Gene Regulation in Development and Disease:  My laboratory is interested in how cells control the activity of genes during early development of the embryo and during the cell cycle.  One key point of regulation is the synthesis of an RNA copy of individual genes.  This process is carried out by RNA polymerase II (RNA pol II).  We study RNA pol II in two distinct contexts.  Each project uses a different model organism to its best advantage, where we can apply sophisticated genetic, molecular, and biochemical tools to discover important mechanisms of gene regulation. Our findings are relevant to understanding similar mechanisms that occur in human cells, and whose disruption is often associated with disease.

Homeobox genes:  In the first project we study homebox transcription regulators in Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly). For example, we study a homeobox gene called bicoid, which encodes a protein (Bicoid) that directs development of the head and thorax in early embryos.  Bicoid works by recruiting RNA pol II to selected target genes, and how exactly it does this is the subject of our work. Our results have been important for understanding how homeobox genes function in normal cells and how their disruption causes certain human cancers (e.g. childhood leukemias).  We also discovered proteins that interact with Bicoid (Sap18 and Bin3). These proteins have human counterparts and we are trying to understand how they function. 

Prolyl isomerases: In a second project, we study a called ESS1 in Saccharomyces cerevisiae (yeast) which encodes an enzyme known as a prolyl cis/trans isomerase. ESS1 is essential for growth in yeast and cells that lack ESS1 arrest in mitosis. A counterpart of ESS1 is found in humans and is called PIN1. We are learning how yeast ESS1 and human PIN1 control cell growth.  We discovered that Ess1 works by controlling the conformation of RNA pol II.  This understanding might lead to the development of antifungal drugs against ESS1 (or anticancer drugs against PIN1).

 

November 28, 2011

“Exposure to Polychlorinated Biphenyls Causes Alterations in Brain Serotonin Concentrations in Swiss-Webster Mice”

Dr. Terri Provost, Ph.D.Biology Department, Utica College and Megan Peppenelli, Graduate Student, SUNY Upstate Medical University

 

Spring 2011 Asa Gray Seminars

January 31, 2011

How cells control pH

Dr. Patricia Kane, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biol., SUNY Upstate Medical University

My laboratory works on a proton-pumping ATPase, the V-ATPase, that is found in lysosomes, endosomes, and Golgi apparatus of all eukaryotic cells. This enzyme is responsible for using the energy from ATP hydrolysis to acidify these compartments, which are maintained at pH 4.5-6.5 in a cytosol that is at near-neutral pH. We use yeast cells to better understand how V-ATPase activity is controlled, since V-ATPases in human and yeast cells are very similar. We are able to measure cytosolic and organelle pH in living yeast cells with fluorescent pH sensors, and to test how the pH of these compartments responds to conditions outside the cell. We have also found that V-ATPases inside the cell change their activity in response to pH changes outside the cell, and that V-ATPases actively collaborate with other proton pumps to ensure proper cellular pH regulation. This raises the interesting question of how cells "measure" pH in different compartments and respond appropriately to altered conditions. Perturbed V-ATPase activity is implicated in numerous diseases, including neurodegeneration, cancer, and osteoporosis, so understanding V-ATPase regulation is highly significant.
 

February 28, 2011

Microclimate benefits for Monarch Butterflies overwintering in Mexico

Dr. Ernest H. Williams, Jr. and Christian A. Johnson, Department of Biology, Hamilton College

The extraordinary migration of monarch butterflies from eastern North America to the mountains of central Mexico protects them from freezing during wintertime. The microclimate varies within these mountain-top forests, however, so monarchs cluster in specific locations under the forest canopy. Recent studies I've done with collaborators show how the microclimate varies and how the butterflies take advantage of the least hazardous places to cluster. I'll describe temperature patterns within the forest and show photos of dense over-wintering aggregations of monarchs.


 

March 28, 2011

Trophic control of a temperate grassland ecosystem: Elk, bison, and wolves in Yellowstone National Park

Dr. Douglas A. Frank, Department of Biology, Syracuse University

Climate is the primary factor controlling terrestrial ecosystems. However, when abundant, large herbivores also can play a central role. During this talk I will summarize research that colleagues and I have conducted over a 22 year span in Yellowstone National Park that documents important effects that large migratory herds of elk and bison have on grassland production and soil carbon and nitrogen processes. I will then describe how the re-introduction of the gray wolf in 1995 has altered the influence of ungulates on ecosystem dynamics and has resulted in profound and wide-spread changes in the ecology of Yellowstone National Park.


 

April 11, 2011

Forest management changes plant community composition, diversity, and stability in the Pacific Northwest

Dr. Martin Dovciak, Department of Environmental & Forest Biology, SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry

Global changes in land-use are the leading threat to biological diversity world-wide. Forests provide a unique habitat for many species, but they also serve as a source of wood and other materials used in a multitude of products important for humans, and they compete with other land-uses such as agriculture and human settlement. Consequently, the spatial extent of forests has dramatically decreased in modern times and most forests are now directly managed by humans. Forest management, and especially timber harvest, can negatively affect many forest species and lead to changes in the character of biological communities, loss of biological diversity, and decline in ecosystem services and ecosystem stability. Dr. Dov?iak will discuss how forest ecosystem management affects the composition, diversity and stability of forest understory plant communities in the Pacific Northwest, using analyses of long-term datasets from the Andrews Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site in Oregon and U.S. Forest Service long-term plots in the Cascade Mts. in Washington. Work to date suggests that while forest timber harvest decreases the abundance and richness of sensitive forest interior herbs and bryophytes, it can increase the abundance and richness of non-forest species, including invasive species. The stability of forest understory plant communities was positively related to community richness, and negatively to the proportion of colonizing non-forest species. Consequently, forest timber harvest appears to dramatically change the character and temporal stability of forest understory plant communities. Applications of these findings to the management of Pacific Northwest forests are discussed, including alternative strategies for green-tree retention harvests that have been adopted or are currently under investigation as a part of the Demonstration of Ecosystem Management Options (DEMO) study funded by the U.S. Forest Service.

 

Fall 2011 Asa Gray Seminars

September 12, 2011

Restoration of Solvay waste sites using threatened and endangered plant communities

Tony Eallonardo, Ph.D., Scientist at O'Brien & Gere

Lime waste sites are areas that have received alkaline refuse from industrial processes using limestone and basic reagents. These sites are typified by alkaline soils with high concentrations of base cations and extremely low concentrations of available nitrogen and phosphorus. They often re-vegetate naturally—to at least 50% cover within 10 years following dumping, and they often support a mix of native and non-native early successional species as well as rare species from calcareous, infertile or otherwise stressful habitats. The goal of this study was to restore a seasonally flooded lime waste (i.e., Solvay waste) site near Syracuse, NY that had remained largely barren for over 30 years. Native plant communities from infertile, stressful and calcareous settings (i.e., alvar grassland, inland salt marsh, Great Lakes dune, and marl fen) were targeted for the restoration as well as a collection of stress tolerant emergent species from fresh to salt marsh communities. Species were mainly introduced to the 2.1 ha site by planting: from 2008 to 2010 approximately 55,000 plants were installed. Over this time period 8.96 metric tons of pelletized 5-10-5 fertilizer was applied, and invasive species were controlled by a variety of means. As of 2010, 172 vascular plant species have been observed on site, 85 of which were planted or sown and eight of which are classified as threatened or endangered in New York. Since 2008, the following variables have been on a positive trajectory over time: total cover (%), cover of target species (%), and species richness per square meter

Relative cover of the highly invasive Phragmites australis and Lythrum salicaria are on negative trajectories. Analysis of soils and species traits shows that the weathering of magnesium oxide (a key constituent in Solvay waste) drives a soil process that suppresses competitive exclusion and favors species with traits associated with stress tolerance and efficient nutrient use. Historic flooding of the project site in 2011 has modified the initial trajectory of vegetation development with robust emergent vegetation increasing, perhaps temporarily, in importance. This project demonstrates that stressful growing conditions provided by Solvay waste simulate stresses provided by saline or alkaline groundwater discharge, enabling the restoration of marl fen and inland salt marsh plant communities. Lessons learned from this project will be discussed in the context of restoring other post industrial and stressful urban sites.

  

October 3, 2011

“Girdling, Splitting and Rearing to Know: Insights into New York Invasive Forest Insects”

Melissa K. Fierke, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Forest Entomology - Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Research in my lab centers around two invasive wood-borers in New York State, emerald ash borer and Sirex noctilio, the European woodwasp. With emerald ash borer, we are investigating different management techniques in order to slow ash mortality as new infestations are identified in NY. We are looking at parasitism of the woodwasp by native hymenopterans as well as interactions with our native woodwasps. This presentation will give an overview of these insects as well as some of the insights we’ve gained over the past couple of years.

 

 

October 24, 2011

“Improving Bifunctional Intrabodies Against the Huntingtin Protein”

David Butler, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow, Wadsworth Center, NYS Department of Health

Single-chain antibodies (scFvs) that bind Huntingtin (HTT) protein show promise as possible immunotherapeutics for Huntington's Disease (HD).   Intrabodies directed at the N-17 domain of HTT are capable of minimizing the toxic effects of protein misfolding in cell culture, ex vivo cultures, and Drosophilamelanogaster models of HD.  Additionally, intrastriatal delivery of scFv-C4 has been shown to significantly reduce the size and number of aggregates in HD transgenic mice; however, this protective effect diminished with age and time after injection. Additional optimization of scFv-C4 is required for this intrabody to be of future use in clinical applications.

Proteins that contain enriched regions of amino acids Proline (P), Glutamic Acid (E) or Aspartic Acid (D), Serine (S), and Threonine (T), otherwise known as PEST regions, are targeted for proteasomal degradation and generally have a short half life. This talk will summarize the data which suggest that fusion of the C-terminal PEST region to scFv-C4, a bifunctional intrabody, reduces soluble and insoluble httex1-72Q fragments in vitro.

 

 

November 7, 2011

"Use of Model Organisms to Study Gene Regulation"

Steven D. Hanes, Ph.D., Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, SUNY-Upstate Medical University

Gene Regulation in Development and Disease:  My laboratory is interested in how cells control the activity of genes during early development of the embryo and during the cell cycle.  One key point of regulation is the synthesis of an RNA copy of individual genes.  This process is carried out by RNA polymerase II (RNA pol II).  We study RNA pol II in two distinct contexts.  Each project uses a different model organism to its best advantage, where we can apply sophisticated genetic, molecular, and biochemical tools to discover important mechanisms of gene regulation. Our findings are relevant to understanding similar mechanisms that occur in human cells, and whose disruption is often associated with disease.

Homeobox genes:  In the first project we study homebox transcription regulators in Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly). For example, we study a homeobox gene called bicoid, which encodes a protein (Bicoid) that directs development of the head and thorax in early embryos.  Bicoid works by recruiting RNA pol II to selected target genes, and how exactly it does this is the subject of our work. Our results have been important for understanding how homeobox genes function in normal cells and how their disruption causes certain human cancers (e.g. childhood leukemias).  We also discovered proteins that interact with Bicoid (Sap18 and Bin3). These proteins have human counterparts and we are trying to understand how they function. 

Prolyl isomerases: In a second project, we study a called ESS1 in Saccharomyces cerevisiae (yeast) which encodes an enzyme known as a prolyl cis/trans isomerase. ESS1 is essential for growth in yeast and cells that lack ESS1 arrest in mitosis. A counterpart of ESS1 is found in humans and is called PIN1. We are learning how yeast ESS1 and human PIN1 control cell growth.  We discovered that Ess1 works by controlling the conformation of RNA pol II.  This understanding might lead to the development of antifungal drugs against ESS1 (or anticancer drugs against PIN1).

 

November 28, 2011

“Exposure to Polychlorinated Biphenyls Causes Alterations in Brain Serotonin Concentrations in Swiss-Webster Mice”

Dr. Terri Provost, Ph.D. Biology Department, Utica College and Megan Peppenelli, Graduate Student, SUNY Upstate Medical University

 

Spring 2011 Asa Gray Seminars

January 31, 2011

How cells control pH

Dr. Patricia Kane, Dept. of Biochemistry and Molecular Biol., SUNY Upstate Medical Univ.

My laboratory works on a proton-pumping ATPase, the V-ATPase, that is found in lysosomes, endosomes, and Golgi apparatus of all eukaryotic cells. This enzyme is responsible for using the energy from ATP hydrolysis to acidify these compartments, which are maintained at pH 4.5-6.5 in a cytosol that is at near-neutral pH. We use yeast cells to better understand how V-ATPase activity is controlled, since V-ATPases in human and yeast cells are very similar. We are able to measure cytosolic and organelle pH in living yeast cells with fluorescent pH sensors, and to test how the pH of these compartments responds to conditions outside the cell. We have also found that V-ATPases inside the cell change their activity in response to pH changes outside the cell, and that V-ATPases actively collaborate with other proton pumps to ensure proper cellular pH regulation. This raises the interesting question of how cells "measure" pH in different compartments and respond appropriately to altered conditions. Perturbed V-ATPase activity is implicated in numerous diseases, including neurodegeneration, cancer, and osteoporosis, so understanding V-ATPase regulation is highly significant.


 

February 28, 2011

Microclimate benefits for Monarch Butterflies overwintering in Mexico

Dr. Ernest H. Williams,Jr. and Christian A. Johnson, Department of Biology, Hamilton College

The extraordinary migration of monarch butterflies from eastern North America to the mountains of central Mexico protects them from freezing during wintertime. The microclimate varies within these mountain-top forests, however, so monarchs cluster in specific locations under the forest canopy. Recent studies I've done with collaborators show how the microclimate varies and how the butterflies take advantage of the least hazardous places to cluster. I'll describe temperature patterns within the forest and show photos of dense over-wintering aggregations of monarchs.
 

 

March 28, 2011

Trophic control of a temperate grassland ecosystem: Elk, bison, and wolves in Yellowstone National Park

Dr. Douglas A. Frank, Department of Biology, Syracuse University

Climate is the primary factor controlling terrestrial ecosystems. However, when abundant, large herbivores also can play a central role. During this talk I will summarize research that colleagues and I have conducted over a 22 year span in Yellowstone National Park that documents important effects that large migratory herds of elk and bison have on grassland production and soil carbon and nitrogen processes. I will then describe how the re-introduction of the gray wolf in 1995 has altered the influence of ungulates on ecosystem dynamics and has resulted in profound and wide-spread changes in the ecology of Yellowstone National Park.


 

April 11, 2011

Forest management changes plant community composition, diversity, and stability in the Pacific Northwest

Dr. Martin Dovciak, Department of Environmental & Forest Biology, SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry

Global changes in land-use are the leading threat to biological diversity world-wide. Forests provide a unique habitat for many species, but they also serve as a source of wood and other materials used in a multitude of products important for humans, and they compete with other land-uses such as agriculture and human settlement. Consequently, the spatial extent of forests has dramatically decreased in modern times and most forests are now directly managed by humans. Forest management, and especially timber harvest, can negatively affect many forest species and lead to changes in the character of biological communities, loss of biological diversity, and decline in ecosystem services and ecosystem stability. Dr. Dov?iak will discuss how forest ecosystem management affects the composition, diversity and stability of forest understory plant communities in the Pacific Northwest, using analyses of long-term datasets from the Andrews Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site in Oregon and U.S. Forest Service long-term plots in the Cascade Mts. in Washington. Work to date suggests that while forest timber harvest decreases the abundance and richness of sensitive forest interior herbs and bryophytes, it can increase the abundance and richness of non-forest species, including invasive species. The stability of forest understory plant communities was positively related to community richness, and negatively to the proportion of colonizing non-forest species. Consequently, forest timber harvest appears to dramatically change the character and temporal stability of forest understory plant communities. Applications of these findings to the management of Pacific Northwest forests are discussed, including alternative strategies for green-tree retention harvests that have been adopted or are currently under investigation as a part of the Demonstration of Ecosystem Management Options (DEMO) study funded by the U.S. Forest Service.

 

Fall 2010 Asa Gray Seminars

September 13th, 2010

“Estrogen Signaling and Regulation of Primordial Follicle Formation”


Melissa Pepling, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Biology, Syracuse University

In mammals, the pool of primordial follicles present at birth represents the total population of germ cells available to a female during her entire reproductive life. Oocytes develop as clusters of interconnected cells called germ cell cysts in embryonic mouse ovaries. During the perinatal period, oocyte cysts break apart and granulosa cells surround individual oocytes to form primordial follicles. As the cysts break down, some oocytes in each cyst die with only a third of the initial number surviving. Mechanisms regulating cyst breakdown and follicle assembly to establish the pool of primordial follicles are not well understood. In addition, it is unclear why some oocytes die during cyst breakdown. Recent work from several groups suggests that estrogens may inhibit cyst breakdown. Treatment of neonatal mice with natural or synthetic estrogens results in abnormal multiple oocyte follicles in adult ovaries. Neonatal estrogen treatment inhibits cyst breakdown suggesting multiple oocyte follicles are cysts that did not break apart. Estrogen works through nuclear hormone receptors, estrogen receptor (ER) α and ERβ. To understand how estrogen signals in neonatal ovaries, three approaches were taken. First, we examined the expression of ERs in neonatal mouse ovaries and detected ERα in granulosa cells and ERβ in oocyte nuclei. Second, ovaries in organ culture were treated with ER selective agonists. We found that ERα and ERβ agonists inhibited cyst breakdown, suggesting that estrogen can signal through either receptor in the developing ovary. Third, we examined oocyte development in mice lacking either ERα or ERβ. Surprisingly, cyst breakdown and follicle assembly was normal in both mutant strains suggesting that one receptor could compensate for the other. Cyst breakdown was only slightly altered ER mutants lacking both receptors implying that another receptor may be involved. Supporting this, estradiol modified so that it can only exert effects at the membrane, was able to inhibit cyst breakdown, implying that estrogen can also function through a novel membrane bound estrogen receptor. Understanding how oocytes develop will give insight into premature ovarian failure, reproductive lifespan, menopause and ovarian cancer and contribute to potential treatments of female infertility.


October 25, 2010

“Many variations on a few themes: A broad look at structure and development of insect scales and bristles.”


H. Ghiradella, Ph.D., Professor of Biology, The University at Albany

The arthropod integument is noted for its outgrowths, in particular, its hairs, bristles and scales. These start as hollow cuticular projections templated on projections (microvilli or filopodia for hairs and larger projections for scales and bristles) from parent epidermal cells. Bristles and scales in particular are usually noted for their complex architecture, study of whose development yields insights into more general mechanisms of cellular pattern formation.
We will consider what is known of these developmental mechanisms, in particular those that appear to be guided by two cellular systems, the actin cytoskeleton and the smooth endoplasmic reticulum (SER), which appear multitalented to the extreme in their ability to orchestrate very different structures and functions in what would seem to be otherwise unremarkable cells.


November 8, 2010

“Polysaccharide-Based Strategies for Improving the Therapeutic Efficacy of Disease-Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs”


Rebecca A. Bader, Ph.D., Assistant Professor Biomedical & Chemical Engineering, Syracuse Biomaterials Institute, Syracuse University

Historically, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has been treated with gold salts that have anti-rheumatic properties, such as auranofin, immunosuppressants that are typically used following organ transplantation, including cyclosporine A, or with cytotoxic cancer therapeutics that have immunosuppressive side effects, particularly methotrexate. These so called disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) have severe, potentially life threatening, consequences due to non-specific targeting and impaired immune function. In recent years, paradigms have shifted towards combining toxic drugs with molecular vehicles intended to promote delivery exclusively to the diseased region, thereby increasing efficacy and reducing side effects. To further enhance this specificity, the carrier systems are often combined with targeting moieties such as antibodies, small peptides, and natural ligands. This talk will describe our approaches towards improving the delivery of both hydrophilic and hydrophobic DMARDs to the inflamed joint tissue. We use polysaccharide-based materials for direct conjugation or encapsulation of common drugs used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Recent studies have focused on the use of polysialic acid and hyaluronic acid to improve circulatory stability and/or actively target cells within the diseased region. This talk will also highlight in vitro methods used to assess the efficacy of drug delivery systems. In sum, the work described provides insight into how drug delivery technology can be used to improve the lives of those that suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.


November 22, 2010

“Secondary Bacterial Infections as the Cause of Death from Influenza”


Dennis Metzger, Ph.D., Professor and Theobald Smith Alumni Chair, Director Center for Immunology and Microbial Disease, Albany Medical College

Dr. Metzger's research program concentrates on examining new approaches for immune protection in the respiratory tract. The mechanisms responsible for viral-bacterial synergy in the lung are of particular interest. It is well known that secondary bacterial infection often follows pulmonary virus infection and is a major cause of severe disease, especially during influenza pandemics in humans, including the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed over 50 million people worldwide. Combined infection with a highly virulent influenza virus and a bacterial strain such as pneumococcus can create a “perfect storm” that leads to very high rates of mortality. However, the reasons for this are only poorly understood. Dr. Metzger's laboratory has now demonstrated that pulmonary interferon (IFN)-gamma produced during T cell responses to influenza infection inhibits scavenger receptor expression by alveolar macrophages and hence, bacterial clearance from the lung. This suppression of phagocytosis then leads to enhanced susceptibility to secondary bacterial infection, which can be prevented by IFN-gamma neutralization following influenza infection Thus, the hypothesis of the work is that induction of an adaptive immune response against an intracellular pathogen in the lung (virus) results in significant impairment of innate alveolar macrophage-mediated protection against extracellular pathogens (bacteria). Current work is focused on characterizing functional changes in alveolar macrophages induced by influenza virus infection and determining the mechanisms responsible for the inhibition of alveolar macrophage-mediated bacterial clearance. The ultimate goal is to develop novel, safe and efficacious strategies for biodefense against potential pandemic threats.



December 6, 2010

“Smart material substrates for cell culture”


James Henderson, Ph.D., Department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering, Syracuse University

Living cells are remarkably complex, dynamic, and versatile systems, but the material substrates currently used to culture them are not. Although properties of the material substrate, such as surface geometry and stiffness, can direct cell lineage specification, cell growth kinetics, cell orientation, cell migration, and cell traction, the polymeric materials commonly used in cell culture, such as polystyrene, offer attached cells only a 2D surface of unchanging properties. This physical stasis of current cell culture materials severely limits our ability to control cell-material interactions during cell culture and, therefore, our ability to advance understanding of fundamental cell processes. This seminar will present current work in which we are developing “active” cell culture technologies that allow dynamic control of cell-material interactions. The potential for these approaches to control cell-material interactions during 2D cell culture for biological and bioengineering research and applications will be discussed.
 

Spring 2010 Asa Gray Seminar Series

February 8, 2010

Interactions between Complementary Sex Determination and Wolbachia in Parasitoid Wasps

Laura Anne Weiser Erlandson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology, Department of Biology, SUNYIT

As in many other hymenopterans, sex in Habrobracon hebetor (Say) (Hymenoptera: Braconidae) is determined by single-locus complementary sex determination. Thus, unfertilized eggs become haploid males and fertilized eggs that are homozygous and heterozygous at the sex locus develop into diploid males and females, respectively. We investigated the effects of Wolbachia on the production of diploid males.

 

March 8, 2010

Correlation of Documented Historical Long-Term Changes in the Macrophyte Community at Put-in-Bay, Ohio in western Lake Erie with Dated Sediment Core Pollen Analysis

David Moore, Ph.D., Professor of Biology, Department of Biology, Utica College

The first comprehensive survey and baseline comparison for future interpretations of the aquatic macrophyte communities of western Lake Erie was completed in 1898, by Adrian J. Pieters as part of the first US comprehensive lake survey. Those observations were supplemented by a series of collections and documented observations from Pieters’ time into the 21th century by a succession of scientists including my work over the last 40 years. From that long-term data base we have a detailed history of the aquatic macrophyte community of the Lake Erie Island Flora. My research over the last four years has examined the pollen records of that same area, confirming historical records and providing a glimpse into the nature of and diversity of the western Lake Erie macrophyte communities extending back approximately 5,400 years, when western Lake Erie exhibited somewhat different plant distribution.

 

March 29, 2010

The Tell-tale Heart: Innate Immune Responses to Mammalian Orthoreovirus Infection

Geoffrey H. Holm, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology, Department of Biology, Colgate University

Mammalian orthoreoviruses (reovirus) are non-enveloped viruses characterized by a genome composed of multiple segments of double-stranded RNA. Reoviruses infect multiple mammalian species, including humans, though disease is limited to the very young. In newborn mice, reovirus infection causes myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart. Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is a pathologic hallmark of reovirus-induced myocarditis. Additionally, reovirus-induced myocarditis is greatly influenced by functions of the innate immune system, cellular mechanisms that detect and respond to pathogens prior to the induction of pathogen-specific adaptive immune responses. My laboratory examines the relationships between innate immune responses to reovirus infection and the induction of programmed cell death. Our data indicate that in cell-culture models, the innate immune transcription factors IRF-3 and NF-κB enhance reovirus-induced apoptosis. However, this function appears to be distinct from the role of these transcription factors in inducing expression of the antiviral cytokine, IFN-β. In vivo, these pathways function to limit reovirus-induced myocarditis and facilitate viral clearance. These results suggest that the interface between innate immune responses and cell death pathways is a critical nexus of viral pathogenesis.

 

April 26, 2010

Neptune’s Nematodes: Searching for the Root of the Nematode Phylogeny in the Sea

Ashleigh Smythe, Ph.D., Visting Assistant Professor of Biology, Department of Biology, Hamilton College

Nematodes, commonly called roundworms, are among the most diverse metazoans on the planet. Only 25,000 species have been described, but estimates of the true number of species range from 500,000 into the millions. Molecular phylogenies over the past decade have suggested that there are three major lineages of nematodes: Chromadoria, Dorylaimia, and Enoplia. The order of appearance in evolutionary time of these lineages remains unclear, however. Morphological and developmental evidence suggest that Enoplia may have emerged first. Members of Enoplia are found in marine and estuarine sediments worldwide and may represent the root of the nematode phylogeny. In this talk I will discuss my work constructing a phylogeny of the Enoplia using 18S and 28 rDNA and its implications for the evolution of Nematoda.

 

Fall 2009 Asa Gray Seminars

September 28, 2009

Lake Sediment and Biological Response to both Intrabasinal and Extrabasinal Changes over the Past 350 Years, Fulton Chain of Lakes, South-Central Adirondack Mountains

Sharon L. Kanfoush, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Geology, Utica College

Many lakes in the Adirondacks have been impacted by nutrient influx associated with land development and recreation. Studies from other regions have shown that lakes are affected also by changes in climate. Global temperature has increased since the end of the Little Ice Age (mid-to-late 1800s) due to both natural and human factors, and instrumental data suggests the Adirondack region has experienced similar warming as well as a decline in precipitation over the past century. Sediments from Fourth Lake near Old Forge, New York were examined to ascertain if and how the lake has been impacted by climate change. Changes in organic carbon, abundance of total diatoms, and relative abundance of individual diatom taxa in Fourth Lake are observed that correlate with large-scale conditions outside of the lake basin such as northern hemisphere temperature, atmospheric carbon dioxide, and solar irradiance. Such relationships have implications for watershed and lake management as policies intended to lessen the effects of human-induced nutrient loading may need to be made increasingly stringent to compensate for ongoing upward trends in these variables.

 

October 5, 2009

Discovery of New Bacterial Species from Clinical Specimens

Bill Wolfgang, Ph.D., Division of Infectious Disease, New York State Department of Health, Wadsworth Center

Every month some 50 new species of bacteria are discovered. Most are from an environmental source such as air, soil, and even permafrost; only about 3% are from patients. In our role as a reference laboratory, the Bacteriology Laboratory at the Wadsworth Center receives hundreds of bacterial cultures each month, isolated from patients that hospitals and clinics are unable to identify. Using classical culture methodology and molecular DNA sequencing we are able to identify most of these bacteria. None-the-less and despite our best efforts, about 5% remain unidentified. It is within this group we have begun the hunt for new species.

 

October 19, 2009

Army ants - Studies in Molecular Ecology and Evolution

Daniel Kronauer, Ph.D., Junior Fellow at Harvard Society of Fellows, Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology Labs

Army ants are dominant social hunters of invertebrates and thereby play an integral role in tropical ecosystems. They are defined by a suite of evolutionarily interrelated physiological, behavioural and morphological traits, the army ant adaptive syndrome: they are obligate group predators, they frequently relocate their nests, and their permanently wingless queens found new colonies accompanied by workers. Furthermore, army ants typically have extremely male-biased numerical sex-ratios, and queens are inseminated by many males. In this talk I will discuss recent advances in understanding the evolutionary causes and consequences of this unusual life-history.

 

October 26, 2009

Variation within a summer season in bacteria resistant to antibiotics in the upper Susquehanna River

Mary E. Allen, Ph.D., Chair and Associate Professor of Biology, Department of Biology, Hartwick College

Increasingly bacteria are acquiring resistance to antibiotics, making these compounds ineffective for treatment of disease. Antibiotics enter natural environments from agricultural and municipal water sources. Some bacteria in soils have also been shown to consume antibiotics and use them for growth. These bacteria could help us to clean-up environments polluted with antibiotics, or serve as mechanisms for antibiotic-resistance to spread to bacteria that cause diseases in humans. In either case, knowledge of these microbes in natural settings is important. This presentation will describe efforts to investigate the incidence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the upper Susquehanna River over the course of a summer season. Two groups of bacteria were investigated: microbes that commonly inhabit the human intestine and serve as indicators of pollution and naturally occurring microbes that use antibiotics for growth.

 

 

November 9, 2009

The Evolution of Bird Eggs and Songs

David C. Lahti, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Biology, Morrill Science Center, University of Massachusetts

Birds are valuable study organisms for understanding the evolution of complex traits, especially those that involve learning.  They have relatively short generation times for a vertebrate, and are easily studied both in the wild and (for some species) in the laboratory.  I describe two studies that show how complex traits that involve learning can evolve by natural selection.  First, the village weaverbird (Ploceus cucullatus) has distinctive eggs in Africa, in order to tell when a parasitic cuckoo lays eggs in its nest.  After the weaver was introduced to islands without cuckoos, however, they lost some of the distinctiveness of their eggs, and became less able to discriminate against foreign eggs.  In the other case study, male swamp sparrows (Melospiza georgiana) sing songs of repeated notes (trills).  Faster songs are harder to sing, and females like them better.  These birds learn their songs during a narrow time window as juveniles.  We brought nestlings into the laboratory and trained them on songs that we experimentally slowed relative to their natural (wild-recorded) rate, in order to see how well birds would learn these lower performance training models.  Swamp sparrows memorized the training models regardless of their speed, but they demonstrate two kinds of unlearned and adaptive biases during development:  they speed up slower songs, and they reproduce faster songs more accurately.  Both of these studies show how inheritance and learning interact to produce the final form of a behavior.

 

November 16, 2009

“Deceptive Imprinting”-the next major decade in Systems Immunobiology

Peter L. Nara, M.Sc., DVM, Ph.D., W. Eugene Lloyd Endowed Chair, Director for the Center of Advanced Host Defenses, Immunobiotics and Translational Comparative Medicine, Iowa State University, Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, and President and CEO, Biological Mimetics, Inc.

The list of disease-causing microbial pathogens is significantly longer than the list of microbes currently controlled or eliminated by vaccine development. It appears that current research and development directed at antigen delivery, vectors, presentation, expression systems and cytokine steering approaches although important, have not fully addressed the problem.  As such, it stands that selected genetic instability of the pathogen leading to antigenic variation, coupled with non-protective immunodominance stands as one of the major obstacles in vaccine design today. The immune defense system of the host operates by surveying the “antigenic space” through shapes and linear sequences of chemical information. It appears that microbial pathogens have continued the evolution of selecting for and presenting chemical shapes and sequences on their surfaces (epitopes), which are more immunogenic relative to other biochemically conserved structures on the microbes and structurally dissociated in such a way as to tolerate significant sequence modifications (immunodominant non-protective epitopes-IDNPs). These IDNPs may be deeper in our B and T cell repertoire and act to decoy, misdirect and dysregulate the host’s immune system (Deceptive Imprinting). The technology of Immune Dampening/Refocusing maps, identifies and through site-directed mutagenesis techniques selectively immune dampens the IDNP T and B cell epitopes. New vaccines and therapeutic monoclonal antibodies made by this technology are purposely lacking IDNPs which when used as immunogens induce a new type of antibody with different specificity which convey new immunological and biological properties often conveying broader cross-strain neutralizing antibodies and cell-mediated immune responses and protection.

 

Spring 2009 Asa Gray Seminars

March 2, 2009

Circadian Photoreception: More than meets the eye

Steven W. Lockley, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School;Associate Neuroscientist, Division of Sleep Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Many aspects of human physiology and behavior are dominated by 24-hour rhythms that have a major impact on our health and well-being, including the sleep-wake cycle, alertness and performance patterns, and the production of hormones such as melatonin and cortisol. These rhythms are generated by an endogenous near-24-hour oscillator in the suprachiasmatic nuclei of the hypothalamus and are reset each by the 24-hour light-dark cycle. Failure to detect light, due to total blindness or loss of eyes, results in the circadian pacemaker ‘free-running’ on its own internal time and becoming desynchronized with the 24-hour world, inducing a chronic cyclic sleep disorder.

Recently, major advances have been made in understanding how light is detected by the eye to reset circadian rhythms. A novel photoreceptor system has been discovered in the mammalian eye, including humans, that is anatomically and functionally distinct from the visual system. A novel photopigment, melanopsin, primarily mediates these responses to light via a small number of intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells. These cells, and therefore our ‘non-visual’ responses to light, are most sensitive to short-wavelength blue light.

This lecture will review the organization of the human circadian system, how light and lack of light affects our physiology and behavior and the evidence for a novel photoreceptor system in the mammalian eye. Potential clinical and occupational applications of these discoveries will also be discussed.

 

WOLFGANG SEMINAR CANCELLED - Will Present in Fall 2009

Discovery of New Bacterial Species from Clinical Specimens.

Bill Wolfgang Ph.D, Division of Infectious Disease, New York State Dept. of Health, Wadsworth Center

Every month some 50 new species of bacteria are discovered. Most are from an environmental source such as air, soil, and even permafrost; only about 3% are from patients. In our role as a reference laboratory, the Bacteriology Laboratory at the Wadsworth Center receives hundreds of bacterial cultures each month, isolated from patients that hospitals and clinics are unable to identify. Using classical culture methodology and molecular DNA sequencing we are able to identify most of these bacteria. None-the-less and despite our best efforts, about 5% remain unidentified. It is within this group we have begun the hunt for new species.

 

April 6, 2009

Are There Gender Differences in the Human Axillary Secretions Produced in Response to Visual Stimuli?

David Hornung, St. Lawrence University

The overall objective of this study was to test the hypothesis that axillary responses produced when viewing pornographic videos are gender specific. This test was accomplished by evaluating the differences in the axillary secretions produced when humans watched pornographic, romantic, action or documentary videos. For this evaluation, a golden-retriever (Canis familiaris) was trained to recognize a target gauze pad worn while human subjects viewed the pornographic video. After sampling three test boxes, the dog exhibited a sit/stay response in front of the box containing the target. The dog first learned to correctly identify the target from unscented pads. Then distracters, the gauze pads worn while the same subject watched the other genres of videos, were introduced as possible choices. An error analysis was used to judge the commonality between the various distracters and the target smell. In other words, the more often the dog confused a particular distracter for the target, the more similar that distracter was assumed to be to the target. For male subjects, the smell produced while watching the action video was more often confused with the pornographic target than was the smell produced from the other distracters (p < 0.05). However, for females, the smell produced while watching the romantic video was more often confused with the pornographic target (p < 0.05). These observations are consistent with the hypothesis that the axillary response produced when viewing pornographic videos are gender specific. An analysis of heart rate changes recorded while subjects watched these videos suggests the effect does not simply reflect cardiac acceleration. Likewise an exercise distracter was not confused with the target from either men or women. Data from menopausal women suggests some of the smells females produce while watching videos are estrogen dependent.

 

April 20, 2009

Tales from Siberia: Climate Change and the World's Greatest Lake

Marianne Moore, Associate Professor, Dept Biological Sciences at Wellesley College

Lake Baikal in subarctic Siberia is the world’s largest, oldest, deepest, and most biodiverse lake in the world; yet, this aquatic version of the Galapagos Islands is poorly known to Western scientists. Analyses of an extraordinary data set collected by 3 generations of a Russian scientific family show that this lake is responding strongly to contemporary climate change despite its enormous volume and thermal inertia. Surface waters have warmed significantly to a depth of 25 m and the rate of warming exceeds that of regional air temperatures. In addition, biological changes consistent with this warming have occurred. By mid-century, changes in ice dynamics will likely elicit greater ecological change than warmer water temperatures in this remarkable ecosystem, harboring more than 1500 endemic species and the world's only freshwater seal.

 

Fall 2008 Asa Gray Seminars

October 6, 2008

Paul Kent, Associate Professor Neurology, SUNY Upstate Medical University

TBA

 

October 27, 2008

The role of prediction in prey interception by dragonflies

Andrea Worthington, Professor of Biology, Department of Biology, Siena College.

In an act of elegant precision, a dragonfly swoops up to pluck a flying insect from the air. The entire event, from takeoff to capture, often takes only one or two tenths of a second. It’s over so quickly that the flying insect usually takes no evasive maneuvers. By the time we humans can register that we saw something happen, it’s over. How does the dragonfly recognize its prey? How does it so quickly send the necessary information from eyes to brain to wings to guide the behavior? How does it so accurately plot its deadly course? These questions and more have occupied our interest for much of our professional lives as we have sought to understand the neural basis of this deadly accurate behavior. Our attempts to answer these questions has led us from inserting tiny electrodes into the dragonfly brain, to videotaping the natural behavior in the field, and finally to dissecting the behavior in a flight cage with high speed video.

 

November 10, 2008

The Behavioral and Evolutionary Responses of Native Tadpoles to Introduced Predators

Martin Schlaepfer, Assistant Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology, SUNY-ESF, Syracuse

Tadpoles can generally increase their probability of survival in the presence of known predators by reducing their foraging activities or modifying their tail shape to increase swimming speed or lure attacks away from the head. It is unknown, however, to what extent tadpoles can induce such behavioral and morphological plasticity in response to evolutionarily unfamiliar predators. Lowland Leopard Frogs (Rana yavapaiensis) are native to Arizona and are currently declining due to various introduced predators. Here I present results from mesocosm experiments in which I test whether tadpoles have evolved in response to the novel selective pressures of non-native predators.  mschlaepfer@esf.edu

 

November 24, 2008

Position Preferences within Swarms and Flocks

Dr. W.L. Romey, Associate Professor of Biology, SUNY Potsdam

Large groups of birds, fish, or insects appear to be randomly mixed. But how might individual differences in gender, hunger, size, and defenses influence position preferences? And, do animals respond to only one of these state variables at a time? For example, it has been found that hungry fish go to the outside of schools where the edge represents a trade-off between feeding opportunity and predation risk. Dr. Romey presents evidence from controlled experiments with whirligig beetles and simulation models showing that animals appear to take a variety of these factors into account when choosing positions within a group. Males tend to go to the outside in many species because of increased food needs. However, if they are bucking a current, they position themselves in the back where it is easier to swim. He also shows how simulation models suggest a proximate explanation for the above behaviors; a simple rule such as “defend a larger interpersonal space” can lead individuals to optimal positions. These experiments suggest some principles which may apply generally to flocks, schools, and other swarms.romeywl@potsdam.edu

 

Spring 2008 Asa Gray Seminar Series

February 11, 2008

Using 'Designer Mice' to Study Human Viruses

Jennifer F. Moffat, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, SUNYUpstateMedicalUniversity

Some viruses only infect humans, such as AIDS (HIV), chicken pox (VZV), and certain lymphomas (HTLV-1).  It has been difficult to study these diseases without a small animal model for biomedical research.  To address this problem, models were created that graft human tissues into mice that lack an immune system.  Using these "designer mice", much progress has been made in understanding how human viruses cause disease, and new antiviral drugs have been tested.  Technology has been developed to measured virus infection in living mice using bioluminescent imaging.  These tools are important for developing better treatments and vaccines.    

 

March 3, 2008

DOES MOTHER NATURE ALWAYS KNOW BEST? The contribution of fetal ethanol experience to adolescent alcohol abuse

Steven Youngentob, Ph.D, Professor and Vice-Chair, Department of Neuroscience and Physiology, SUNY Upstate Medical University

A substantial literature has documented the extensive negative consequences associated with prenatal exposure to ethanol in terms of the drugs toxic effects on the developing nervous system. For example, prenatal exposure to ethanol can cause behavioral changes such as hyperactivity, and learning and memory deficits.  Further, gestational exposure is a leading known cause of mental retardation.  These observations notwithstanding, there are subtler, yet potentially just as detrimental long-term consequences.   Clinical and epidemiological studies provide strong evidence for a relationship between prenatal ethanol exposure and the risk for ethanol abuse in adolescent and young adults.  In fact, gestational exposure in humans is considered, perhaps, the best predictor of later ethanol abuse during adolescence.  Thus far, there is little evidence regarding the underlying factors contributing to these long-term ingestive consequences. In this respect, there is extensive data demonstrating the general finding that olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste) experiences influences sensory function, that postnatal behaviors controlled by chemical stimuli can be influenced by fetal experiences with the odorant or tastant, and these early experiences can later modulate intake and preferences for the substance.  We have begun testing the theory that altered olfactory and gustatory system responsiveness to ethanol, as a consequence fetal exposure, acts as a potential contributing risk factor for postnatal preference.  To accomplish this, we have been applying behavioral and neurophysiological methods to examine the response of early postnatal, adolescent and adult animals to ethanol.  The developing data from these studies provide evidence that fetal ethanol experience induces developmental changes in the chemosensory systems involved in the preference for ethanol odor and the perception of ethanol’s flavor: thereby contributing to the risk of initial ethanol ingestion and continued abuse in adolescence.

 

March 10, 2008

Autism and Alcohol. What's the Connection?

Sandra M. Mooney, Ph.D, Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience and Physiology, SUNY Upstate Medical University
 
Autism is a developmental disorder that is diagnosed based on abnormal social behaviors.  The underlying cause of autism is unknown.  Based on family histories, there is a clear genetic component to autism; however, it is also likely that there is an environmental contribution.  One example is that prenatal exposure to compounds (such as drugs or alcohol) alter fetal development and also cause autistic-like changes in social behaviors.  We have been examining how timing of the exposure to alcohol affects social behaviors.  Pregnant rats were given a single exposure to alcohol either at a time equivalent to the fourth week of pregnancy (i.e., before may women know they are pregnant) or a time equivalent to the tenth week of pregnancy in humans.  We examined the behavior of the offspring and found that not only did both groups of rats exhibit abnormal social behaviors compared to controls, but that the two alcohol groups were different from each other. This suggests that (1) even a short exposure to alcohol can have long-term (possibly permanent) effects on social behavior, (2) the time when the alcohol is given can dictate the behavioral change(s), and (3) exposure to environmental toxins, such as alcohol, may be one of the many causes of autism.

 

April 14, 2008

Little brown bats (Myotis lucifigus) recognize individual identity of conspecifics using sonar cells

Tammy Kenny, MS, Merck Division of Science and Technology, Southern Vermont College

Bats use sonar calls to locate prey and orient in their environment but they may also be used by conspecifics to obtain information about a caller.  Statistical analysis of sonar calls provides evidence that variation carries social information about a caller, including individual identity.  We hypothesized that little brown bats (Myotis lucifigus) would be able to recognize individuals given the potential fitness benefits of doing so.  We performed playback trials using a habituation-discrimination design to determine whether little brown bats are able to recognize the individual identity of a caller based on variation in their sonar calls.  Each subject bat was played the calls of Bat A until they habituated (defined as a 50% decrease from the initial call rate) then the calls of Bat B or a new call sequence of Bat A (a control, referred to as Bat A’) was played.  Each subject received a unique pair of playback recordings (Bat A and B) from adult female bats from the same colony (but a different colony than the subject) and the order of trials was randomized.  The response measures were habituation time (s) and call rate (call/s).  Within a trial, subjects habituated to calls of Bat A and transferred this habituation to the Bat A’ sequence, in addition, they increased their call rates when played calls of Bat B.  Comparing between trials, subjects increased their call rate to the calls of Bat B to a greater relative extent than to the calls of Bat A’.  These results provide the first evidence that bats recognize individual identity of conspecifics (as opposed to discrimination of groups) which has implications for the social interactions of bats.

Kazial, K.A., Kenny, T.L., & Burnett, S.C. Little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) recognize individual identity of conspecifics using sonar calls. In review, Ethology.

 

Fall 2007 Asa Gray Seminars

September 17, 2007

“Bioengineering Approaches to Nerve Regeneration after Spinal Cord Injury”

Julie M. Hasenwinkel, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering, Syracuse University

There are approximately 250,000 spinal cord injured people living in the United States today, with nearly 12,000 new injuries occurring each year. Spinal cord injury (SCI), and the resulting paralysis, is not only physically and emotionally devastating for these patients and their families; the lifetime costs associated with caring for these individuals is significant as well. Nerve regeneration, to the point of functional recovery, fails in the spinal cord and central nervous system after injury. This is primarily due to the formation of the glial scar, which inhibits neuronal outgrowth due to the presence of a number of inhibitory molecules, including chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPGs). The glial scar has been cited as a biochemical and mechanical barrier to regeneration; however, the mechanism by which CSPGs inhibit neuronal outgrowth is unclear.


Our laboratory is exploring many aspects of this complex injury and our work is currently guided by the following questions:


1. How does the mechanical environment change in spinal cord tissue following injury, and does this correlate with biochemical changes at the site of the glial scar?
2. Can we modulate the environment, both from a biochemical and mechanical standpoint?
3. Can we promote regeneration by further optimizing the environment through the use of biomaterials-based substrates?

We are using a combination of microindentation techniques, nanosphere-based drug delivery, and mechanically-tuned, micropatterned hydrogels to explore these questions, in order to better understand spinal cord injury and develop therapies to treat it.

 

September 24, 2007

“Fetal Programming and the Etiology of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome”

Michael W. Miller, Ph.D., Professor and Chair

Department of Neuroscience and Physiology,
Upstate Medical University


The salient features of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) are a diagnostic set of craniofacial malformations, intrauterine growth retardation, and mentaldysfun ction. Indeed, FAS is the most common cause of mental retardation in the United States and the rest of the Western world. FAS-associated problems result from disruptions of early development. The brain, because it develops over such an extended period of time, is particularly vulnerable to alcohol toxicity. Our studies have focused on mechanisms by which alcohol can interrupt early brain development. In particular, we have focused on processes of cell production, migration, and survival, processes that determine the number of neurons in the brain. Each process depends
upon genetic regulation as well as environmental agents such as growth factors. Alcohol can affect any and all processes of brain development. The effect is defined by the ongoing ontogenetic events and the effect of alcohol on the normally balanced contributions of nature and nurture in sculpting the developing brain.


October 15, 2007

“The Ecological and Evolutionary Effects of Hayfield Management on Grassland Songbirds”

Noah Perlut, Ph.D., Professor of Biology

The Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources,
University of Vermont

Over the last 40 years North American grassland bird populations have declined more than any other bird guild. This trend is especially evident in Vermont, where species experiencing precipitous declines include the Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) and Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus). These declines are linked to habitat loss due to reforestation and suburbanization as well as the intensification of grassland management.

Modern grassland management includes earlier first-haying dates (late-May) and shorter intervals between haying events (35 days). These management practices have severe repercussions for songbird populations because 1) early-haying results in complete nest failure (99% Savannah Sparrow and 100% Bobolink nests), 2) the interval between the first and second haying is too short for birds to renest, and 3) intensively managed fields comprise a significant portion of the total available habitat (as much as 40%).

In 2002-2007, I examined how hayfield and pasture management affected grassland songbird ecological and evolutionary behavior in the agricultural landscape of the Champlain Valley, Vermont and New York. I studied songbirds in four grassland management types: early-hayed fields harvested in late-May or early-June and again in mid-July; middle-hayed fields harvested in late-June or early-July; late-hayed fields harvested after 1 August; rotationally-grazed pastures, a matrix of small paddocks where cows are moved after the grass in a paddock is eaten to a low point. I addressed the following objectives:

1. Determined the annual productivity, survival, and recruitment of Bobolinks and Savannah Sparrows in the four treatment types.
2. Identified the effects of early-haying on the social and genetic mating systems of Savannah Sparrows.

This study provides information on how agricultural management affects the ecology, evolution, and viability of grassland birds. It will help inform landowners, managers, and law-makers about management practices and habitat requirements needed to sustain populations.


October 22, 2007

“Bacterial multicellular behaviors as a target for new therapies”

Dr. Dacheng Ren
, Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering, Syracuse University

Bacteria have evolved complex multicellular behaviors, such as biofilm formation and quorum sensing, to initiate infections and to survive in competitive environments. These systems involve coordinated gene expression and lead to serious problems such as persistent infections and contamination of medical devices. In this presentation, we will discuss our progress in understanding the genetic basis of bacterial multicellular behaviors and drug resistance as well as the development of novel control strategies.


November 5, 2007

“The Water-Lilies of Australia”

C. Barre Hellquist, Ph.D., Professor of Biology, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

Until the last twenty years the native tropical water-lilies of Australia consisted of four species in three different subgenera. Today three subgenera are still recognized with Nymphaea pubescens in the subgenus Lotos, N. nouchali in the subgenus Brachycerus, and ten species in the truly Australia, New Guinea subgenus Anecphya. Extensive work in the past 20 years by Surrey Jacobs (Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney), Barre Hellquist, John Wiersema, Cornelia Lohne, and Thomas Borsch have brought about the greater understanding of the Anecphya. This subgenus consists of some of the most beautiful water-lilies in the world. They may be white, blue, lavender, dark purple, pink, and changeable. The blossoms may stand 18 inches above the water surface with leaves up to 30 inches in diameter. The Anecphya is divided into two main groups, the large-seeded (N. gigantea group)and the small-seeded (N. violacea group). Extensive fieldwork continues, as recent as the summer of 2007, on the subgenus Anecphya in tropical Queensland. Both the large-seeded and small-seeded groups still need extensive work with as many as five more possible species to be described.



November 19, 2007

“Wind turbines and birds: observations from a land-based wind turbine on Cape Cod”

Lucy Vlietstra, Ph.D., Assistant professor of Marine Safety & Environmental Protection, Department of Marine Safety and Environmental Protection, Massachusetts Maritime Academy

Wind power is the fastest growing energy industry in the world, a trend embraced by some scientists promoting clean and renewable energy. Others, however, challenge the benefits of wind development citing concern that wind turbines threaten avian populations. Their view is supported by the large number of birds killed by wind turbine rotors in some parts of the country. Conflicts surrounding these issues are a daily part of life on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where two large wind farms have been proposed for offshore waters that support numerous migratory and resident waterbirds. When Massachusetts Maritime Academy recently constructed a single, commercial-grade wind turbine on the shoreline of Cape Cod, we had an opportunity to assess its potential impact on the survivorship of local birds, including one endangered species, roseate terns. In this presentation, I discuss our findings in light of the issues surrounding wind turbines and avian conservation.

 

Spring 2007 Asa Gray Seminars

February 26, 2007

"Genome Organization in Spirotrichous Ciliates (Protozoa)"

Wei-Jen Chang, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Biology, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Hamilton College

Spirotrichous ciliates undergo massive DNA elimination and genome rearrangement to construct gene-sized chromosomes in their somatic nucleus (1). An example is the extensively scrambled DNA polymerase a gene, which is broken into 48 pieces and distributed between two unlinked loci in Stylonychia (2, 3). To understand the emergence of this complex phenomenon during evolution, we examined DNA polymerase a genes in several related species, representing evolutionary intermediates. Mapping these data onto an evolutionary tree suggests that this gene became fragmented and scrambled through a series of steps, each leading to greater complexity (4). I will also discuss our recent efforts to find new scrambled genes, in addition to the three cases that have been broadly studied in the past. We have so far found three additional scrambled genes, each with novel features (5, 6). Our data suggest that 20-30% of genes in some spirotrichous ciliates may be scrambled-similar to a previous estimation. While the molecular mechanisms that scramble and unscramble genes and the evolutionary advantages/disadvantages associated with this are still largely unknown, we are making progress toward understanding this unorthodox system.
1. D. M. Prescott,Microbiol Rev 58, 233 (Jun, 1994).
2. L. F. Landweber, T. C.Kuo, E. A. Curtis, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 97, 3298 (Mar28, 2000).
3. D. H. Ardell, C. A.Lozupone, L. F. Landweber, Genetics 165, 1761 (Dec,2003).
4. W. J. Chang, P. D.Bryson, H. Liang, M. K. Shin, L. F. Landweber, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci.USA 102, 15149.
5. S. Kuo, W. J. Chang,L. F. Landweber, Mol Biol Evol 23, 4 (Sep 14, 2005).
6. C. P. McFarland*, W.J. Chang*, S. Kuo, L. F. Landweber, Chromosoma 115,129.


March 26, 2007

"The Physiological Ecology of Avian Magnetoreception"

Mark Deutschlander, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Biology, Department of Biology, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

For almost 50 years, scientists have known that birds are able to sense the earth’s magnetic field for orientation and navigation. Research has focused on elucidating the sensory receptor(s) responsible for the magnetic sense and determining the functional aspects of magnetoreception for migration. Directional choices based on the geomagnetic field depend not only on season, but also on the age and condition of birds, as well as calibration of the magnetic field with other available compass cues. Evidence suggests that birds have two different sensory systems for detection of the magnetic field: a light-dependent sense implicating the eyes in magnetoreception and a magnetite-based magnetic sense transmitted via the trigeminal nerve. Although the suggestion for more than one magnetic sense may seem far-fetched, the functional properties of these two systems are consistent with two different age-dependent uses of the magnetic field in orientation: obtaining a compass bearing and determining geographic position. Although both juvenile and adult birds possess a functional magnetic compass sense, adult birds appear to be able determine geographic position based on subtle variations in magnetic intensity and inclination. In this presentation, I will provide an overview of magnetoreception in birds with a focus on age-dependent and condition-dependent factors that affect the expression of magnetic orientation.

 

April 2, 2007

"Engineering New Models of Human Retinal Degenerative Disease"

Gustav A. Engbretson, Ph.D. Professor and Chairman, Department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering, Syracuse University

Retinal degenerative diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration are crippling human disorders in which the photoreceptors responsible for vision degenerate relatively slowly. Typically, a mutation in one of several rod-specific genes leads to death of the rod photoreceptors and subsequent degeneration of the cones. The reasons for the cone degeneration are not well understood. The patient progresses through night-blindness to total blindness. Though mammalian models of these degenerative diseases do exist, they all suffer from one or another shortcoming. My laboratory has been using transgenesis to develop additional models in the amphibian, Xenopus laevis. We have used the restriction enzyme mediated insertion (REMI) method to insert a variety of genes with the intent to develop frogs with “rodless” retinas in which we hope to study the interactions of rods and cones that appear to underlie the degenerative condition.


April 9, 2007

"It's a Jungle Out There: Approaches to Enhance Axonal Regeneration After Spinal Cord Injury"

Dennis J. Stelzner, Ph.D. Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology and Medical Humanities, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, SUNY Upstate Medical University

Axonal regeneration does not occur in the central nervous system (CNS) after it is injured, although, in spite of many mistakes, regeneration does occur in the periphery. Axons of at least some neurons within the CNS are able to regenerate within peripheral nerve grafts, showing that factors in the PNS environment enhance and/or CNS environment inhibit axonal growth. These factors will be reviewed, and experiments described using two approaches attempting to promote axonal regeneration after spinal cord injury (olfactory ensheathing cell implants, and nanosphere injections of chondroitinase). It is likely that a combined approach using several therapeutic interventions will be needed to stimulate axonal regeneration leading to functional recovery.

 

Fall 2006 Asa Gray Seminars

September 18, 2006

"Population Structure and Conservation of Three Rare Butterflies"

Ernest H. Williams, Ph.D., Leonard C. Ferguson Professor and Chair, Department of Biology, Hamilton College

Rare butterflies often live in separate, small colonies, with limited interpopulation dispersal. To conserve such species, we must understand the factors that regulate growth of individual populations and limit the establishment of new colonies. Gillett's Checkerspot is found in the Rocky Mountains in meadow patches along streams (studied in Wyoming), while Frosted Elfin and Karner Blue butterflies occupy sandy patches in the East where wild blue lupine grows (studied in the Rome, NY, Sand Plains). Conservation of these species depends on a deeper understanding of their population dynamics. I'll describe the research underway on these insects and their habitats.


September 25, 2006

"The Relation between Cues and Perceived Stereo Depth in Relative Disparity Studies"

Yu-Chin Chai, Ph.D., Institute for Sensory Research, Department of Biomedical & Chemical Engineering, Syracuse University

Models of stereo vision are primary models of absolute disparity. It's usually assumed that the relative disparity between two stimuli is computed simply by differencing their absolute disparities, which are the only stimulus variables included in this computation. However, previous research in our lab (VSS 2003,
2004) has shown that thresholds for discriminating relative disparity vary greatly with the similarity of stimuli on other variables, such as orientation and spatial frequency, which are independent of absolute disparity. The ongoing research uses the stereo plaids made of superimposed sinusoids to measure how perceived depth depends on the relative orientation and disparity directions. Our studies show that component orientation matters for perceived depth, even for stimuli that are not themselves obviously oriented, indicating that disparity maps onto perceived depth within orientation channels. The parameters of the 2-D disparity vector metric for determining perceived depth will be discussed.


October 16, 2006

"Hormone Signaling in Mouse Oocyte Differentiation and Follicle Formation"

Melissa Pepling, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology, Biological Research Labs, Syracuse University

Early in ovarian differentiation, female mouse germ cells develop in clusters called oocyte nests or germ cell cysts. After birth, mouse germ cell cysts break down into individual oocytes that are surrounded by somatic pre-granulosa cells to form primordial follicles. At the same time, around two thirds of the oocytes die by apoptosis with only one third surviving. The factors responsible for cyst breakdown and selective oocyte survival are unknown. Treatment of neonatal mice with natural estrogens such as estradiol, or the phytoestrogen genistein or synthetic estrogens results in abnormal multiple oocyte follicles (MOFs). To determine if genistein treatment leads to MOFs by inhibiting breakdown of oocyte cysts, mice were treated neonatally with genistein for 5 days and the differentiation of the ovary compared with untreated controls. Mice treated with genistein had fewer single oocytes and a higher percentage of oocytes not enclosed in follicles. There was also an increase in the number of oocytes that survived during the cyst breakdown period. These data taken together suggest that genistein exposure during development alters ovarian differentiation by inhibiting oocyte nest breakdown and attenuating oocyte cell death. However, the major endogenous estrogen present in the maternal circulation is 17-?-estradiol (E2). To investigate the role of E2 in cyst breakdown and oocyte survival, a neonatal ovary organ culture system was used. Newborn mouse ovaries were cultured with E2 for seven days and analyzed by confocal microscopy. In untreated ovaries, the total oocyte number dropped while the percent of single oocytes increased similar to in vivo. The E2 treated ovaries showed a similar drop in oocyte number except at the highest concentration. However, E2 treated ovaries had a significantly reduced cyst breakdown rate, manifested by persistent large cysts at PND8. E2 treatment also inhibited primordial follicle assembly. Thus, treatment with the endogenous estrogen, estradiol, inhibits cyst breakdown and at the highest concentration tested, increases cell survival supporting the model that the dramatic drop at birth in the level of estrogen that the fetus is exposed to causes oocyte cysts to begin breaking down and follicles to assemble.


November 6, 2006

"Descriptive, Experimental, and Modeling Approaches for Studying Wildlife Biology: Case Histories from the Vermont Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit"

Therese Donovan, Ph.D., USGS Vermont Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, University of Vermont

Understanding the factors that influence distribution, survival, and reproduction of organisms is a central question in ecology. We use a variety of scientific approaches (descriptive, experimental, and modeling) to understand how landuse pattern and management activities affect a variety of wildlife species. Descriptive studies focus on bobcats, black bears, and fisher. Experimental studies focus 1) identifying the proximate cues used by forest-nesting songbirds in selecting breeding territories, and their fitness consequences; 2) understanding how wildlife management activities alter the population
dynamics of double-crested cormorant, and 3) determining the effects of hayfield management on grassland songbirds. Overviews of these studies will be presented.

 

Spring 2006 Asa Gray Seminars

February 6, 2006

“The Effects of Photoperiod on the Behavioral Patterns in Green Tree Frogs.”

Hannah Cleary, Jennifer Warner, and Dr. Mary S. Rea,Department of Biology, Russell Sage College

My students and I have been studying the circadian behavior of American green treefrogs, Hyla cinerea. We have found that treefrogs entrained to 12L:12D cycles exhibit crepuscular behavior with most activity occurring during the dawn and dusk transition times. This activity is significantly suppressed in continuous light and continuous dark with a loss of rhythmicity during the first 24 hours. When given a pulse of light during the dark phase of a 12L:12D cycle frog activity was phase-advanced. Our preliminary studies measuring spectral sensitivity indicate that light levels at or near 6 Lux are too low to phase-advance frog activity.

 

February 13, 2006

Bottom-up and top-down control of a grazing ecosystem: drought and wolves in Yellowstone National Park.

Dr. Douglas Frank, Syracuse University

Terrestrial ecosystems are regulated by (a) bottom-up effects that directly influence plants, then ascend up the food chain, and (b) top-down effects of predators that directly influence prey, then cascade down to lower trophic levels. In this talk I will review 17 years of research that has examined the effects of large herds of migratory ungulates, drought, and the introduction in 1995 of the gray wolf on grassland production and nutrient cycling in grasslands of Yellowstone National Park. Results indicate that all three factors have important and interacting effects on grassland processes.

 

March 6, 2006

“Age-related Patterns of Reproductive Success in House Sparrows.”

Dr. Margaret Hatch, Pennsylvania State University - Worthington Scranton

A common life history pattern in several taxa is that reproductive success increases with age. We found a similar pattern in house sparrows (Passer domesticus), and tested one hypothesis concerning the potential mechanisms underlying the observed increase in offspring production with age. For most measures of reproductive success, older individuals performed better than yearlings. Older males and females began breeding earlier in a given season and fledged more young than their yearling counterparts. Individual males also fledged more young at two years of age than they did at one year of age, but individual females did not show consistent improvement from year one to two. A path analysis indicated that the effect of age was primarily through the timing of breeding and number of nesting attempts. A path analysis indicated that earlier breeding within a season was associated with more young fledged. For both males and females, age was negatively related to the date the first egg was laid earlier by older individuals in the nest. Neither male nor female age was directly related to the number of young fledged. Path analysis indicated that the effect of age was primarily through the timing of breeding and not on other aspects of fledging success such as hatching or survival from hatching to fledging. Increased reproductive success with age may arise from high quality individuals surviving to be older (selection hypothesis). Contrary to this hypothesis we found survival from one year of age to two years of age was negatively related to reproductive success. Additionally, individuals that survived to breed as two-year-olds did not differ in reproductive performance in their first year from those that did not survive to breed as two-year-olds.


March 20,  2006

The Contributions of Bacteria and Biogenic Magnetite to Carbon Tetrachloride Degradation in a Model Iron-Reducing System

Dr. Michael L. McCormick, Assistant Professor of Biology, Hamilton College

It has long been recognized that both cell-mediated (biotic) and mineral-mediated (abiotic) reactions may participate in the reductive transformation of select contaminants in iron-reducing environments. Yet attempts to quantify the magnitude of these biotic and abiotic reactions are rare. For this reason, we often have little knowledge of the predominant agents responsible for contaminant degradation in these complex systems. In this work, the contributions of cell-mediated and mineral-mediated reactions to carbon tetrachloride (CT) transformation were studied in a model iron-reducing system. The results indicate that when cells and minerals are present together, CT transformation is due, almost entirely, to abiotic surface-mediated reactions. These findings suggest that reactive biogenic minerals could play a significant role in the natural attenuation of chlorinated solvents in iron-reducing environments. The research also suggests that a novel approach for remediating alkyl halides, and other groundwater contaminants, may be to engineer the formation of reactive biogenic minerals in-situ.

 

April 3, 2006

"Exploring implications of the risk allocation hypothesis: sex and death"

Dr. Tom McCarthy, Assistant Professor of Biology, Utica College

This talk will examine how both mating and predator-prey interactions are influenced by variations in the temporal patterns of exposure to chemical cues that indicate the occurrence of previous predation events. Hundreds of studies have examined factors that influence the mating systems of many different types of organisms. Likewise, many studies have examined factors that influence predator-prey interactions. Furthermore, there are numerous studies that have integrated these fields and considered how predation risk influences the mating systems of prey species. A set of recent theory (the ‘risk allocation hypothesis’) predicts that animals always at risk of being killed (e.g. high predator density) will behave differently than animals that are rarely in danger (low predator density) when under similar conditions. For example, animals accustomed to predators should have less intense avoidance behaviors than naive animals when they perceive predation risk; conversely, animals accustomed to predators should have higher activity rates when no risk is perceived. Thus, current prey behavior should be influenced by the temporal patterns of predation risk that prey have experienced in the past. Several experimental studies have tested the predictions of this theory and found that prey behaviors can be influenced by temporal patterns of predation risk. I will discuss several experiments that are, directly or indirectly, relevant to the risk allocation hypothesis. I also propose a series of field and laboratory experiments that extend the predictions of the risk allocation hypothesis to consider mating behaviors of prey, foraging behaviors of predators, and the results of interactions between predators and prey.

 

Fall 2005 Asa Gray Seminars

September 19, 2005

“Science and Conservation in the Serengeti Ecosystem, East Africa .”

Dr. Samuel J. McNaughton, Professor Emeritus

Professor McNaughton has been studying one of Earth’s great ecosystems for over 30 years. He will present results of those studies and their application to conservation policy.

 

September 26, 2005

"Invasive Worms Clashing in North American Soils: Everyone's Problem."

Dr. Peter K. Ducey, Department, Department of Biological Sciences, SUNY Cortland

The familiar earthworms of the family Lumbricidae have a major influence on physical and biological features of soils in agricultural, horticultural, and natural habitats.  The status of these earthworms is currently under threat in parts of North America.  Within the last 100 years, exotic, terrestrial flatworms (broadhead planarians) that eat earthworms have been spread across much of the continent.  The natural history, evolution, and ecological interactions of these interesting predators will determine the extent of their impact on the earthworms.  Scientific study of the flatworms is finally beginning to reveal their biology.  An additional recent threat to the lumbricid earthworms is coming from a distinctly different group of worms, the invasive megascolecid earthworms from Asia.  Some megascolecids can greatly alter soil structure and compete with the lumbricids for space and food.  One ecological battleground for the three groups of worms is here in central New York.  The desired outcomes, from a human perspective, of these ecological and evolutionary interactions remain open to considerable debate.

 

October 17, 2005

“Population Dynamics of Mutualism: Ants, Treehoppers, and Goldenrod.”

Dr. Manuel Morales, Department of Biology, Williams College

Mutualism is an interaction between species where both species benefit. I study the ecology and evolution of mutualism using the interaction between ants and treehoppers as a model system. Treehoppers are insects that feed on plant sap and excrete a sugary waste product called "honeydew." Ants collect this honeydew as a food source, and in exchange benefit treehoppers by protection from predators and by enhancing feeding. My research shows that the relative attractiveness of treehoppers to ants is the primary factor controlling the dynamics of this system. I discuss this work in the context of the evolution of interspecific signaling (e.g. communication between ants and treehoppers) and the ecology of spatial pattern formation.

 

November 14, 2005

“Integrating the quality and quantity of mutualistic service to contrast ant species visiting a plant with extrafloral nectaries."

Dr. Josh Ness, Department of Biology, Skidmore College

Mutualisms (reciprocally beneficial interactions between two species) are often characterized by great variation in the benefits provided by different partner species. This variation may be due to differences among species in the quality and quantity of their interactions, as well as the costs incurred during those interactions. Many plant species produce extrafloral nectar, a carbohydrate-rich resource, to attract ant species that can act as bodyguards against a plants natural enemies. Here, I explore differences in the quality and quantity of protective service that ants can provide a plant by contrasting the four most common ant visitors to Ferocactus wislizeni, an extrafloral nectary-bearing cactus in southern Arizona. I also ask whether the indirect costs of these plant bodyguards differ. Specifically, I ask whether these aggressive ants deter other beneficial visitors to the plant, such as pollinators. Last, I explore two strategies by which plants may increase the benefits and decrease the costs of their interactions with the ants, thereby increasing the plants net benefit from participating in the mutualism.

 

November 21, 2005

"Embryonic Stem Cells: Role of genetic manipulation on differentiation”

Dan O'Bryan, Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, University of Wisconsin, Madison

 

The use of Embryonic Stem Cells (ESC) offers hope to many fields, including cell-replacement therapy and developmental biology.  By genetically manipulating ESCs, key events of cell specification and differentiation can be identified.  In this talk, the role of genetic manipulations on specification and differentiation of oligodendrocytes from ESCs will be analyzed.

 

November 28, 2005

"Francisella tularensis: It’s Re-emergence as a Weapon of Bioterrorism"

Dr. Chandra Shekhar Bakshi, Center for Immunology and Microbial Disease, Albany Medical College, Albany, New York

For rogue governments and terrorists, Francisella tularensis’s allure is that of a weapon of mass disruption. High infectivity, ease of intentional aerosol dissemination and its tinted past during the cold war has made it one of the latest targets of the U.S. government's massive R&D effort to defend against a potential bioweapon attacks. It is still unknown where this bacterium lives in the wild, how exactly it is transmitted, or even how it makes people sick. Thus, there are plenty of puzzles for the researchers to tackle. The focus of our research efforts is to elucidate the cellular and molecular mechanism(s) responsible for the development of innate immunity which, play a key role in the control of F. tularensis proliferation and alleviation of inflammation-mediated tissue damage. In order to achieve this, we are assessing the clinical course and severity of pneumonic tularemia in mice deficient for various pattern recognition receptors such as Toll like receptor-2 (TLR-2) and TLR-4. Our results have shown that TLRs play a critical role in determining the nature of innate immune response in the lungs to aerosol infection by F. tularensis live vaccine strain. Another focus of our research is to genetically manipulate F. tularensis in order to develop attenuated strains that could be used as a vaccine to populations at risk from F. tularensis infection, either from natural sources or from a biological attack. The ultimate goal is to develop novel, safe and efficacious strategies for biodefense against this potential bioterrorism agent.

Directions to Gordon Science Center

Directions from Interstate 90 – Thruway

Exit at Exit 31. Ramp will take you North on Genesee Street (under the Thruway). Get in Left Lane after passing under Thruway as you will be turning Left on River Road soon after passing under the Thruway. Turn Left on River Road. River Road Parallels Thruway headed West. You will be turning Left onto 8/12 South at an intersection (where there is a WalMart). 8/12 is known locally as “the arterial.” Follow 8/12 South across Utica Marsh (scenic) and then through several traffic lights in an area with lots of old mills/factories (less scenic, but easiest).

After passing these traffic lights, the exit for Utica College (Burrstone Road) will exit Right. The exit will take you to Burrstone Road where you will turn Left, so get in the left lane as you are exiting the highway. Turn Left on Burrstone and immediately get into the Right lane and you will see a Right Exit leading to the Burrstone

Entrance to the college. Go to the stop sign and turn left. Go a few feet to the next stop sign, turn Left and you should see a parking lot to your right. Turn into this lot and immediately on your right should be several Visitor parking spaces where you can park. If these are full, just park anywhere in this lot and we’ll get you fixed up when you come in.

Walk toward the Burrstone Entrance to the college that you just drove past and go in the main entrance (this is White Hall, #1 on Map below). Turn Left on entering the building and walk to the end of the Hall where there’s a little coffee/snack stand. This is BIO Row (the hallway leading from the snack stand to room 167, Donahue Auditorium) and a good place to meet your student or faculty contact person. There is an exhibit about the history and career of Asa Gray across the hall by room 197. If you have trouble finding us,  just ask anyone. The room numbers on our campus are unique and sequential so if you get turned around you should be able to find your way easily.

Gordon Science Center Directions Map

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