News & Announcements

SMUTS! New Mycology Club

PB Graduate students Kathryn Vescio and Kelly Allen and their faculty sponsor Rob Wick have co-founded a new GSO club on campus focused on exploring and sharing information on the fungi growing in our area.  The new club, S.M.U.T.S. (Society of Mycology at UMass for Teachers and Students), has been joined by Sam Glaze-Corcoran, Caroline Wise, Greg DeIulio, and Elisha Allan-Perkins, as well as UMass alumni, and is welcoming new members!  If you are interested in helping to plan or joining in on mushrooms forays, fungal trivia nights, fungal inspired crafts (like spore prints), or just learning more about the fascinating world of fungi, please feel free to come to our next general body meeting on Tuesday, December 1st at 5 pm in the Paige Laboratory Conference Room, or contact Greg ( to be added to our mailing list.

We have a few mycology inspired events coming up this fall that are open to everyone! On November 17th from 4:30-6, Dianna Smith of the Pioneer Valley Mycology Association will be giving a seminar on “100+ Edible Fungi and Their Poisonous Lookalikes (The Astute Amateur Mycologist Doesn't Play Russian Roulette)” in the Paige Conference room 202. On December 8th we will be giving a mini-microscopy lesson and looking at microscopic fungi in Fernald Hall. We hope to see you there!

Zhongyun Huang's recent travels to Europe and South America

PB PhD graduate student, Zhongyun Huang

Zhongyun Huang, PhD student in the Caicedo Lab, traveled to Austria this past July to participate in the Society of Molecular Biology and Evolution (SMBE) conference in Vienna. The SMBE conference is an annual meeting for evolutionary biologists and molecular biologists who use various model systems to investigate different aspects of evolution.  She presented a poster "Parallel Evolution of Weedy Rice Traits". At the conference, she was particularly interested in bioinformatics and said she found exactly the right group of scientists to talk with, and they all gave her very good examples of how to apply bioinformatics in evolutionary studies.

Zhongyun also went on a field collection trip in Colombia with colleagues from Universidad Nacional de Colombia in November 2014. She helped local colleagues collect diverse weedy rice accessions for further molecular and genetics analysis. The field research was supported by an NSF grant from the Caicedo Lab focusing on the weedy red rice infestation problem in South America. During the trip, she met with a lot of local farmers in their family owned fields, and even though she could not speak Spanish, she could clearly feel that the farmers were extremely happy to know researchers are working to help them save their rice plants from weedy infestation. She said, "It was the moment I realized my study is not only limited to benches and computers, it is going to help a lot of people!"

How to choose a postdoc in Switzerland

PB PhD graduate student Peter van Gisbergen

Peter van Gisbergen, PhD in the Bezanilla Lab, writes about his recent experience choosing between three postdoc offers.  "The next step. You know it is coming, but when it is there, it catches you by surprise anyway. Suddenly, questions start popping up in your mind; academics or industry, the USA or somewhere else? For foreign students, back to my home country or staying here? What about future opportunities? Significant others? Salaries? You would almost forget about the most important question of all: where can I work on a problem that captivates me and that I can sink my teeth in for at least a couple of years?

            I faced these questions recently. For me it was clear academics was the way to go, as I’ve wanted to pursue that path since I was a teenager. No 9 to 5 job, no discoveries to help humanity, but doing research for my own personal interests. The other questions were harder to answer. I applied to the three labs whose research I like best based on the papers I read in journal club. I also met all the PIs at a conference. They did not have job ads out so I just sent an open application, but got an interview and later also an offer for all three. That is when the above mentioned questions needed answering. Two of the labs were in the U.S., one in Switzerland. The U.S. labs use techniques I would like to learn, while the Swiss lab has the more interesting biological question. Staying in the U.S. means better job opportunities later on, but going to Switzerland means being closer to family (same time zone at least) and a better salary. Staying in the U.S. means an easier move and transition whereas moving to Switzerland has better prospects for my wife.

            I chose the option that was the overall best in terms of living conditions, chances for my wife and I, and the most interesting problem. There was one clear answer; we’re going to Switzerland! I will be working on fission yeast reproduction, no longer on plants. Yeast mating requires two cells to grow a structure towards each other (called a shmoo) in a pheromone-guided way. Then, the two cells need to fuse, which requires them to basically make a hole in themselves, for which the cytoskeleton is necessary as well as my favorite protein family: formins. The cells are under a high turgor pressure though, and if they do not do this at exactly the same time, at exactly the same place, they will basically blow up. How two very basic cells can successfully accomplish this almost 100% of the time fascinates me. The fact that the Martin lab at the University of Lausanne looks out over Lake Geneva and snow covered Alps didn’t negatively affect the decision either. Life is not all work."

PB alumni updates

New academic positions for our PB alums: Nicole Soper Gorden (PhD 2013) started this fall as a member of the Natural Sciences Faculty at Mars Hill University in North Carolina, as an Assistant Professor of Biology/Botany; Carrie Thurber (PhD 2012) is in her second year as an Assistant Professor in the School of Science and Mathematics at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Georgia; Sydne Record (PhD 2010) is an Assistant Professor in Biology at Bryn Mawr College; Shuang Wu (PhD 2010) is a professor, Horticulture Plant Biology and Metabolomics Center at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University in China.

Titan arum blooms in the Morrill greenhouse

PB graduate students with titan arum

The titan arum, officially known as Amorphophallus titanum and also known as the "corpse flower" due to its magnificent rotting smell, bloomed this summer in the Morrill Science Center greenhouse.  It last bloomed about 10 years ago and had just started to fade in both stature and smell when some of the PB graduate students gathered for a viewing! We hope to have a timelapse video of the blooming posted in the near future, courtesy of the Hazen lab.

Christina Stonoha's EAPSI experience in China this summer 

Christina Stonoha, PB student, Wang Lab

Christina Stonoha, PB PhD in Dr. Dong Wang's lab, received an award from the NSF to participate in the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes from June to August.  Christina wrote, "It was an extremely rewarding and humbling experience. I got valuable research experience and the opportunity to practice various methods, such as how to inoculate plants with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, which I wanted to do as a part of my dissertation but was previously unable to because I lacked the expertise. I also learned how to use laser capture microdissection to isolate specific tissues within the root. This was not part of my own project, but I gained knowledge of this technique that I may not have received otherwise. I also gained a deeper understanding of what it means to communicate across cultures.

There was absolutely a learning curve and being unable to speak any Chinese made even simple interactions especially difficult.  Thankfully there was an amazing scientist working in the lab, and she was very willing to hold my hand and explain everything to me. It was at her house where I learned I was continually making a moderate cultural misstep. In short, I was saying “thank you” and “I’m sorry” way too much. I was told that these are phrases reserved mostly for strangers; good friends will already know your intentions and therefore there is no reason to say these things. While I felt bad about this faux pas, I was also flattered that I was considered a good friend. I found that I needed to be upfront about my cultural ignorance and be completely open to criticism. I think that this strategy helped me learn as much as I could about the country and culture in which I was a guest and, ultimately, I was able to get a lot of research done because I had a good rapport with my lab mates."  

SCGSR award to Scott Lee to study in CA

PB grad student Scott Lee

Scott Lee, Hazen Lab, received a DOE Office of Science Graduate Student Research Award to conduct part of his Ph.D. research with Dr. John Vogel at the DOE-Joint Genome Institute. His project was part of his dissertation research on the discovery of biofuel-related traits in natural accessions of Brachypodium distachyon. In concert with the JGI, he performed whole genome sequencing for a total of 65 distinct B. distachyon accessions which were then mapped back to the reference line. Scott continues to work with the Vogel lab using the JGI's supercomputing infrastructure to construct de novo genome assemblies for their sequenced lines which should shed light on the total genome-wide variation of B. distachyon and how that relates to important biofuel traits. He commented, "Overall, the experience was truly remarkable as I was able to work in one of the best genomic facilities with some of the field's leading scientists, and be exposed to great cutting edge technology."

PB alum Pubudu Handakumbura wins poster award at NEASPB

PB postdoc, Pubudu Handakumbura

Pubudu Handakumbura, postdoc in the Bartlett Lab, won the best postdoc poster award at the Northeast Regional American Society of Plant Biologists (NEASPB) meeting held in April 2015.  Pubudu received her PhD in 2014, with her dissertation "Understanding the transcriptional regulation of secondary cell wall biosynthesis in the model grass Brachypodium distachyon" in the Hazen Lab. She and her family recently moved across the country where she has a postdoc position at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

First author publication for Huiyuan Guo

PB graduate student, Huiyuan Guo

Congrats to PB grad student Huiyuan Guo for her first author paper in Environmental Science and Technology! Huiyuan is a PhD student in the lab of Dr. Baoshan Xing, Stockbridge School of Agriculture.  Huiyuan developed a new technique for detection of silver nanoparticles in consumer products that will help in the understanding of the environmental impacts of nanotechnology. The official title of her article is Analysis of Silver Nanoparticles in Antimicrobial Products Using Surface-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS) She also traveled presented talks at two conferences this year.  Well done, Huiyuan!

Elisha Allan-Perkins named 2015-16 Gilgut Fellow in PB

PB graduate student Elisha Allan-Perkins

Elisha Allan-Perkins (Plant Biology Ph.D. candidate, Jung Lab) was awarded the Plant Biology Gilgut Fellowship and the 2015 Chris Stiegler Turfgrass Science Student Travel Award for her research on the soil communities on organic and conventional turfgrass and her outreach activities at UMass and for national scientific societies. She also traveled to Pasadena, CA for the American Phytopathology Society Meeting in August. The PB Gilgut fellowship provides one full year of funding from an endowment in honor of Dr. Constantine Gilgut, who taught at the University for much of his 50 year career.  Dr. Gilgut was a specialist in the control of diseases for major crops such as potatoes and tobacco and was very active in UMass Extension as well as teaching and research. Congratulations to Elisha on receiving this prestigious award!