News & Announcements

Katherine Sanidad PhD dissertation defense

photo of Kathy Sanidad

Thursday, July 25, 2019
1:30 PM
Integrated Sciences Building, Room 221
Dissertation Title:  “Environmental risk factors for inflammatory bowel disease: triclosan and other consumer antimicrobials"
Advisor:  Guodong Zhang

$1 Million Commitment Supports Seed Funding, Business Training, Mentorship

University of Massachusetts alumnus Paul Manning ’77 and his wife, Diane Manning, have committed $1 million through their family foundation to establish the Manning Innovation Program. The program provides three years of support in advancing a robust and sustainable pipeline of applied and translational research projects from UMass Amherst. It will allow the university’s College of Natural Sciences (CNS) to support bold, promising researchers, providing resources for them to innovate in new directions and to develop real-world applications for their discoveries. 

The first grant to be awarded from the Manning Innovation Program will support research on a topic that hits close to home for the Manning family—Stargardt disease. Abigail Jensen, associate professor of biology, will use a $40,000 grant to support her research on Stargardt disease and possible therapies using zebrafish. Read more

Supported by a grant from the NSF to Elizabeth Vierling, Amherst Regional High School science teachers are designing new curriculum involving hands-on experiments with plants.

The grant provided funds to purchase four sets of racks with lighting, light meters, and stocks of pots and growth medium to make the experiments possible. The grant will also pay for three teachers to spend eight days this summer to continue to develop curriculum. This project extends work with the Amherst Regional Middle School (ARMS), where the teachers are using the system for the second year, and will continue to develop new inquiry-based classroom activities with this grant support. Professor Vierling explains, "The best way to introduce students to plant biology is to get them growing plants and for them to experience the many different responses plants have to their environment. Students really connect with watching plants grow, and that helps them begin to understand the different parts of plants and how they work." Read more

Fritz-Laylin named to Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences 

photo of Lillian Fritz-Laylin

UMass biologist Lillian Fritz-Laylin is one of 22 early-career researchers selected for the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences, the Pew Charitable Trusts(link is external) announced Friday, June 14. The scientists will use their awards to conduct biomedical research aimed at advancing human health. Fritz-Laylin will receive four years of funding, or a total of $300,000. Fritz-Laylin studies the complex molecular events involved in the movement of cells, which are central to disease prevention and progression. Specifically, she will use her Pew award to explore how cells can repurpose the actin protein network to perform different tasks. Read more

NIH Supports Microbiologists Morita, Siegrist in Further Anti-bacterial Research

photo of Siegrist and Morita groups

Microbiologists Yasu Morita and Sloan Siegrist recently were awarded a two-year, $422,500 Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to investigate a new strategy for interfering with a well-proven antibiotic target, cell wall synthesis. If successful, their work may suggest alternative ways to kill or control the pathogen that causes tuberculosis.

They will work in a model mycobacterial system that is a “cousin” to the one that causes tuberculosis, combining the complementary expertise of the two labs and using techniques that have not been previously combined, Morita explains. Mycobacteria cause not only TB but leprosy. Doctoral students Alam García-Heredia and Ian Sparks, with postdoctoral fellow Takehiro Kado, are also part of the team. Read more

Studying the Role of Inhibition and Neuro-estrogens in Bird Song

Neurobiologist Luke Remage-Healey, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences, recently received a five-year, $1.7 million grant, the renewal of a prior period of funding from the National Institutes of Health. He and colleagues plan to investigate fundamental mechanisms of how the brain learns and processes complex stimuli like birdsong. As anyone learning a new foreign language can report, sensory stimuli like speech and song are near-continuous streams of complex sound and can be difficult to understand. But “with practice, listeners can learn to parse the meaning in streams of Mandarin or Stravinsky, just like birds learn to process high-velocity songs,” he explains. The new grant will allow Remage-Healey and colleagues to investigate in detail the timing and precision of neurons that encode streams of complex vocal signals.Read more

Four Students Win Awards at Toxicology Conference

photo of Timme-Laragy lab

Four students working in the lab of Alicia Timme-Laragy, associate professor of environmental health sciences, claimed top prizes at the Society of Toxicology’s annual meeting held in Baltimore, Md., this past spring.

Archit Rastogi, a doctoral student in the department of molecular and cellular biology, placed second in the Reproductive and Developmental Toxicology Specialty Section’s graduate student poster competition and third for the Molecular and Systems Biology Specialty Section Graduate Research Award. He attended the conference in part through a student travel award and the Sheldon D. Murphy Mechanisms Specialty Section Student Travel Endowment Award. Read more

Tyler Marcinko PhD dissertation defense

photo of Tyler Marcinko

Thursday, May 30, 2019
1:00 PM
Life Sciences Laboratory, Room N410
Dissertation Title:  "Characterization of β-2 Microglobulin pre-amyloid oligomers and their role in amyloid inhibition"
Advisor:  Richard Vachet

UMass Amherst Distinguished Professor Lila Gierasch Elected to National Academy of Sciences; Celebration Held on May 28

photo of Lila Gierasch

A celebration will be held in honor of Lila M. Gierasch’s induction into the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on Tuesday, May 28 from 2 to 4 p.m. in Old Chapel. Read more

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences announced earlier the election of 100 new members to the academy in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. They include Lila M. Gierasch, distinguished professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and chemistry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The NAS is charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology. Scientists are elected by their peers to membership in the NAS for outstanding contributions to research. Gierasch’s research focus for decades has been protein folding, that is, how amino acid sequence determines the three-dimensional structure of a protein. She is particularly focused on how proteins fold in the cellular environment and the role of molecular chaperones in ensuring high fidelity in the folding process. Read more

A New, Social Science-based Approach to Improve Weed Management

photo of a corn field in Colombia that has been overgrown by a morning-glory-type weed

In the early days of New England, many towns and villages set aside a fenced field, the common, where residents could safely pasture their sheep, cows or other livestock for the day. But the arrangement came with a dilemma that became known as “the tragedy of the commons” – it turned out to be unsustainable. Individuals acting in their own self-interest eventually threatened the resource by over-use, depleting and spoiling it for everyone. This concept is at the heart of a new approach to the global problem of weeds – whether ecological or agricultural invaders – recently advocated by an unusual international collaboration of plant scientists and social scientists that included evolutionary biologist Ana Caicedo, biology. In their recent publication in “Nature Plants,” they propose that a new, nuanced approach can be helpful in protecting shared-resource plant systems around the world. Read more