News Highlights

Pilotte receives Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations Phase II Award

Nils Pilotte, UMass MCB Program PhD Student

Nils Pilotte, a 4th year student in the University of Massachusetts Amherst Molecular and Cellular Biology Ph.D. Program, recently received a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations Phase II Award in the amount of $424,874.  This award, which was received as a follow-up to a 2013 Phase I award in the amount of $100,000, will expand upon his preliminary proof-of-concept research, and aims to enable low-cost, high-throughput, sustainable surveillance for the presence of tropical parasites through the molecular monitoring of hematophagic insect excreta/feces (E/F).  Through the sampling and analysis of E/F rather than whole insects, the biological mass of samples can be greatly reduced, minimizing the limitations imposed by the presence of large concentrations of “polluting” DNA, and allowing for the improved throughput of testing.  Furthermore, as non-vector insects which have taken a parasite-containing blood meal rid themselves of parasite material through deposition in the E/F, such testing expands the pool of material suitable for analysis.  Preliminary work has demonstrated the adaptability of this methodology to the detection of both filarial and malarial parasites, and Nils will work to fine tune these testing platforms with the goal of developing recommendations for the programmatic implementation of this alternative approach to infection monitoring and surveillance.

Patricia Brennan's research is featured in Science Magazine videos:

Episode webpage: http://www.sciencemag.org/projects/xxfiles/9

Youtube links:

XX Files : Animalia genitalia : Patty Brennan : https://youtu.be/lNJ5tibNKyg

XX Files : Animalia genitalia : Duck surprise [CLIP] : https://youtu.be/YtYnpvIp1QM

XX Files : Animalia genitalia : My science is basic science [CLIP]  https://youtu.be/VoqmhI24wiQ

XX Files : Animalia genitalia : Diversity in science [CLIP] : https://youtu.be/5zIRqDeYU_0

Search For Darwin Fellow Is Underway

The Graduate Program in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at University of Massachusetts Amherst announces a two-year postdoctoral FELLOWSHIP/lectureship. OEB draws together more than 90 faculty from the Five Colleges (University of Massachusetts Amherst and Smith, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Amherst Colleges), offering unique training and research opportunities in the fields of ecology, organismic and evolutionary biology. Our research/lecture position provides recent PhD's an opportunity for independent research with an OEB faculty sponsor, as well as experience mentoring graduate students and teaching a one-semester undergraduate biology course. To be qualified, a candidate must have a recent PhD in a field relevant to ecology, organismic or evolutionary biology and proven teaching skills. Position subject to availability of funds. Read more...

Amy Strauss Awarded Graduate School Dissertation Research Grant

Amy Strauss was awarded a Graduate School Dissertation Research Grant to support her work on song learning in birds. Amy's research explores how certain social and acoustic factors affect the song development process in juvenile male songbirds. During the summer of 2016, she hand-reared wild-caught males in the lab and controlled their acoustic environment throughout the sensitive song learning phase. She presented audio & video stimuli to simulate different acoustic and interactive contexts the birds may encounter in the wild.To understand how these different contexts influence song development, she will use this grant funding to obtain high-quality recordings of the lab males once their songs are crystallized, and perform acoustic analysis to determine song learning outcomes. This research will provide insight into the developmental mechanisms underlying individual variation in bird song learning. Amy is an OEB PhD candidate in the Podos Lab.

Broadley awarded Graduate School Dissertation Fieldwork Grant 

Hannah Broadley photo

Hannah Broadley was awarded a Graduate School Fieldwork Grant to help cover the travel costs for her spring and summer fieldwork.  Hannah is studying the interactions of predators, parasitoids, and pathogens of the invasive forest pest, winter moth, and its native congener Bruce spanworm.  With this support, Hannah will complete her collection of winter moth and Bruce spanworm parasitoids.  This award follows her recent publication “The phylogenetic relationship and cross-infection of nucleopolyhedrovires between the invasive winter moth (Operophtera brumata) and its native congener, Bruce spanworm (O. bruceata)” in the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology. She found that the two species do not appear to share pathogens, but she hypothesizes that they do share parasitoids. Her upcoming fieldwork will help answer this. Broadley is an OEB Phd candidate in the Elkinton lab. 
 

Plastics Compound BPS Alters Mouse Moms’ Behavior and Brain Regions--UMass Amherst Study Finds Impaired Behavior in Pregnant and Lactating Mice

In the first study of its kind, environmental health scientist Laura Vandenberg and neuroscientist Mary Catanese at the University of Massachusetts Amherst examined the effects of the compound bisphenol S (BPS) on maternal behavior and related brain regions in mice. They found subtle but striking behavior changes in nesting mothers exposed during pregnancy and lactation and in their daughters exposed in utero. Read more...

Sam Hazen awarded NSF grant to study gene regulation of cell wall growth in Brachypodium in collaboration with local biotechnology group

The grass species Brachypodium is a model for the Hazen lab to better understand the transcription networks regulating secondary cell wall biosynthesis.  The research grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is part of a Small Business Innovation Research program, and the three-year $713,000 award will fund research aimed at demonstrating how higher yields of renewable biomass can be provided by adapting the processes of secondary cell wall gene regulation that take place in grasses. Read More

Life Sciences Graduate Research Symposium

LSGRC logo

The 6th annual UMass Life Sciences Graduate Research Symposium will be held on Friday, December 2. The event brings together graduate students from all areas of life sciences research at UMass to present their work in both talks (9:00 am-5:00 pm, Life Sciences Laboratories Building, Room S340) and a poster session/reception (5:00-6:00 pm). This event is open to everyone who wants to learn about the fantastic life sciences work going on at UMass! The schedule for presentations is available on the LSGRC website.

MCB students awarded NIH funded two-year traineeships through the UMass Biotech Training Program

Graduate students in the MCB Program, Margaux Audett (Maresca Lab) and Heather Sherman (Osborne and Minter Labs), have been awarded 2016 traineeships through the BTP Program.  The 2-year NIH funded Traineeships allow the students to continue current research in their home labs, and also offer opportunities to make connections and network with others in the biotech industry through career events, seminars and an annual symposium.  Laboratory modules, originally established through the Institute for Cellular Engineering, have been continued through the Biotech Training Program, giving students hands-on experience with cutting edge techniques, and industrial internships for students in BTP are available.  Current internships are through Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Sanofi (Genzyme) and the Material and Analytical Sciences team at Boehringer Ingelheim. Read More

PB MS student Kelly Allen receives $15K SARE award

Kelly Allen, PB MS Student

Kelly S. Allen, a PB MS student working with Dr. Rob Wick, was recently awarded a Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Graduate Student Grant for $15,000 for her proposal titled “Improving Basil Downy Mildew Control with Cultural and Biological Methods”. Sweet basil is one of the most commonly-grown herbs worldwide, and crops are highly susceptible to becoming diseased with basil downy mildew, caused by the pathogen Peronospora belbahrii. This pathogen results in devastating crop losses and economic losses totaling in the tens of millions of dollars in the US. Basil growers are also spending an estimated 10 million dollars each year to manage the disease. Basil downy mildew is not effectively controlled with organic fungicide spray programs, and conventional fungicides are limited and can risk increased pathogen resistance. This research aims to improve cultural control methods for greenhouse propagation of sweet basil, and will investigate the efficacy of a filamentous yeast as biological control agent.

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