Olin-Rice Science Center, Room 221
September 2012 Bio Newsletter
With 56 senior majors and 57 junior majors, we are all looking forward to a busy and exciting year. We wanted to give you an update on what the department faculty and staff have been up to over the summer and what lies ahead. The Bio Club is organizing another active year and they will lead off.
BioClub, a student-run organization that coordinates weekly social events for the Macalester Biology community, is already off to an exciting start! BioTea resumed last week and will continue for the duration of the year every Thursday at 12:45 PM in the biology hallway. Get to know Biology majors, minors, enthusiasts and faculty during regularly scheduled events such as the upcoming trip to Ordway for our fall bonfire! Additional exciting activities such as photo contests and t-shirt designing are on the schedule as well! The board members (Dresden Gagne (2013), Haley Yerxa (2013), Domi Lauko (2014), Mary Dybvig (2014), McKenna Bernard (2014), and Samantha Zimmerman (2014)) and faculty advisers (Patty Byrne Pfalz, Kristi Curry Rogers, and Jerald Dosch) would like to welcome everyone and thank our recent graduates, Joel Soma and Megan Davies, for all their hard work and leadership in the club over the past years.
Mark Davis (chair)
Along with Mike Anderson and Jerald Dosch, I spent the first ten weeks of the summer collaborating on ecology research with four wonderful Macalester students (Clare MacMillen, Marta LeFevre-Levy, Stephen Tyndel, and Yuris Martinez). This was the 3rd year of what we plan to be a long-term study of the garlic mustard population at the Macalester field station. Despite common claims that this non-native species is ‘choking out’ native plant species, so far we have found little evidence of any significant negative impact on other species. We are excited that a paper describing the first two years of results will be published this Fall. In August, we submitted another paper based on the three years of research. At the end of August, we took our son, Zack, down to Grinnell for the start of his college career. This makes teaching first year students especially interesting for me this year since I know that faculty members at Grinnell are interacting with Zack in the same way that I am interacting with my first year students. With the semester underway, I am enjoying teaching and learning from another generation of Macalester students.
I had a full, fun and productive summer. Four students, Kate Hamilton ’13, Nathan Scheiner ’13, Zhenmei Zhang ’13, and Kebebush Tekle ’14, joined me in the lab to continue our studies on the role of PSA-NCAM in spinal mechanisms of persistent pain in mice. We were able to successfully demonstrate that the spinal siRNA knockdown of STX, an enzyme involved in the polysialation of NCAM, significantly attenuated pain in our mouse model of peripheral inflammation. There are, of course, a number of follow-up studies continuing in the lab, but overall, the results from experiments over the past few years look quite promising. In between studies in the lab, I spent as much time as possible at the farm where my dear horse, Loegan, lives. As well as riding him as much as possible, I was also busy cutting, raking and baling hay! I believe a “farming gene” has been latently expressed in me. I’ve rarely felt as much peace and contentment as I have on a tractor in the middle of a beautiful field turning over rows of hay. My adventures continued with a week-long trip to Itasca State Park and a week in Jackson Hole, WY with my sisters. We had great adventures there; the pinnacle for me (pun intended) was soaring in a glider around the Tetons. The adventure continues this fall with teaching Cell Biology and chairing the department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies for the year.
Together with Mark Davis and Jerald Dosch I spent the first half of the summer supervising the 3rd annual Ordway student research crew. It was another great group of ‘roommates’ this year – thanks Clare, Marta, Yuris and Stephen! – and another productive summer, with a paper submitted in August summing up the results of the last three years (thanks, Mark!). During the second half of the summer, together with my old advisors in Fairbanks, I managed to squeeze a couple of papers out of my recently completed PhD, one of which has already been accepted! Between all this, I also spent a lot of time cramming for, and developing curriculum for, my first class at Mac – Soil Ecology. Finally, in August I took my two boys out to WA state to make the family rounds. After 2 weeks of overeating, oversleeping, and rock-throwing, I’m ready to get back to work, even if they’re not.
My summer began with two weeks of fieldwork in the Wet Tropics of Queensland, Australia with Caitlin Baker '12, Domi Lauko '14, and Hannah Wiesner '14. It was indeed WET this year, and we were out in rain almost every day. We saw some great sights, including hundreds of wallabies and the Great Barrier Reef, and found plenty of mite harvestmen in the rainforest leaf litter, so we came home happy. Caitlin, Domi, and Hannah spent the rest of the summer doing DNA sequencing and scanning electron microscopy with our specimens. Zach Popkin-Hall '13 also joined Team Harvestman in the lab and continued to name and describe new species. Sam DelSerra '12 and Charlie Benck '15 worked with me on a new project exploring genetic identification of zooplankton in the St. Croix River, and Diane Rubin '13 and Forest Schenk '13 did some genetic work on local mussels. A highlight of the summer was the annual Evolution conference in Ottawa, where Caitlin, Zach, and Domi all presented posters on their research.
It was busy in the Chatterjea lab! This summer our lab published the first set of findings from our studies on contributions of mast cells to inflammatory pain. Abigail Wetzel '11, Camilla Engblom '10, Madison Mack '12, Juliann Allen '10, Carolina Mora-Solano '09, Luisa Paredes '11, Evelyn Balsells '12 and Tijana Martinov '12 were all co-authors with me on this paper. This summer, Emily Davis '13 and Tijana and I worked on establishing an allergy-based mouse model of chronic vulvar pain. Anna Trier '13, Linnea Swanson '14, Grace Linder '09, Emily and I worked together to optimize flow-cytometry based analysis of vaginal lavage samples from mice to determine whether the immune ecology of the mucosa changes through chronic induction of vulvar pain. Elena Tonc '13, Madison Mack and I brought our studies of Immunoglobulin E-mediated allergic pain studies to a close (almost) and began working on a manuscript for publication toward the end of the summer. Kidist Zewdie '14 and Eyerusalem Lemma (U. St. Thomas MacNair Fellow) and I completed a set of studies begun earlier this spring characterizing the infiltrating immune cells in tissue sites of carrageenan-induced mechanical pain. Rosie Glenn-Finer '13 returned from studying away at Oxford and joined me on an exciting project characterizing inflammatory gene expression in the labiar tissue of mice experiencing acute and chronic vulvar pain. We had willing and cheerful help from Emily Ewan '14 with many projects along the way. All of this intense activity at the bench somehow let the summer slip by without too many fun excursions but we tried to make up by eating plenty of cake to celebrate the many summer birthdays.
Kristi Curry Rogers
This summer kicked off with an investigation of tiny juvenile titanosaur bones with my two research students, Megan Whitney '13 and McKenna Bernard '14. Together, we determined that we have two partial skeletons of the smallest hatchling sauropod dinosaurs yet known. From there, Megan spent much of the rest of the summer working with an amazing micro-CT scanner at the University of Minnesota's that is allowing a look at the histological scale details of the bones (without destructive sampling!). McKenna turned her attention to modern lizard bone tissue, and is now awaiting the defleshing of a tegu (at the Science Museum of Minnesota) from her study-abroad in Costa Rica. Later in July I worked with Ray Rogers and Jeff Thole (Mac Geology), and students Ben Faulkner '14, Alex Lawrence '14, and Magaly Perez '14 in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. We canoed and braved 110+ degrees in search of minute fossils from the Late Cretaceous ecosystem preserved by the Judith River Formation. Finally, Samantha Zimmerman '14 and Mary Dybvig '14 and I tackled the organization and cataloguing of our Biodiversity and Evolution laboratory collection - all told they identified more than 1000 metazoans and helped whip the lab into tip-top shape!
I continued my role as the director of the Katharine Ordway Natural History Area (Ordway Field Station) in a year marked by great progress and expansion. The past academic year included a prescribed at Ordway burn (http://www.macalester.edu/news/2012/07/ordway-burn) and the start of a major prairie restoration project. This year marks the 45th anniversary of Macalester establishing the Ordway Field Station and the beginning of a new permanent protection agreement for most of Ordway through a conservation easement on the land in cooperation with Dakota County and the Friends of the Mississippi River (http://www.macalester.edu/news/2012/07/macalester-permanently-protects-open-space-along-the-mississippi-river). Along with Mark Davis and Mike Anderson, I worked with four Macalester students conducting ecological research and land management at Ordway over the summer. During the 2012-13 academic year I will co-teach the very popular new Outdoor Environmental Education course with Ruthann Kurth-Schai from Educational Studies as well as Ecology and Environmental Science.
The past year has been a rewarding one for me. I chaired the ES department and the College’s Resources and Planning Committee. During the summer, I worked Jenny Liu, Diane Rubin and Forest Schenck examining the impacts of a small dam on mussel communities in a tributary of the St. Croix River, the Sunrise River. We had a great summer and got some interesting data. The students will be presenting the results of their research at the St. Croix River Research Rendezvous hosted by the Science Museum of Minnesota in October.
I also began a research project with the EREN network. The Ecological Research Education Network is an NSF funded network with a mission to create a model for collaborative ecological research that generates high-quality, publishable data involving undergraduate students and faculty at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs). The project I’m working on examines the impact of riparian vegetation on stream temperature. Temperature variation across ecosystems can be assessed at various spatial and temporal scales. I’m working at Valley Creek near Afton, MN at the Belwin Conservancy. The data we’ve collected so far was presented as a poster at the Ecological Society of America meetings in August. We hope to collect more data and publish our results in the next year. I also hope to integrate some of this work into my Aquatic Ecology class.
On a personal note, my second grandchild was born on Dec 30, 2011 – Daniel Sean! This was a great event for our family. Will he be in the Mac class of 2034?
Liz Jansen spent the summer continuing the planning for the Global Health Scholars Program January study trip to Uganda. She also worked with several students doing various fellowships and research experiences around the Twin Cities. With her family, she enjoyed outdoor sports and a trip to Lake Superior on the Michigan side where the sand was surprisingly fine and white and the swimming was wonderful!
During my sabbatical last spring I spent some time learning about the field of genetic counseling. I sat in on a course at the University of Minnesota called "Ethical and Legal Issues in Genetic Counseling" and was able to shadow a couple genetic counselors, one who works in the Cancer Clinic and another who works at Fairview's Maternal-Fetal Medicine center. I found these experiences incredibly moving, enriching, and enlightening. I am applying the knowledge I gained to my current First Year Course (Biotech & Society) and will also be teaching a new course next spring, Seminar in Clinical Genetics, in which much of what I learned will be directly relevant. My experiences should also help with advising students who are interested in pursuing genetic counseling as a career option. During my sabbatical and into the summer, I also continued research on epigenetic modifications that may be associated with gene silencing initiated by RNAi. As many of you know, the model organism I work with is C. elegans, and so I've been looking for specific types of histone modifications associated with genes targeted by RNAi and/or cosuppression. Worms don't methylate their DNA but vertebrates such as ourselves do and DNA methylation is an important mechanism involved in gene regulation, particularly longterm gene silencing. So I also learned how to perform bisulfite sequencing which is a method for identifying which nucleotides in a sequence are methylated. Because of my sabbatical I did not take any research students this summer, but I did arrange for a Macalester student, Nicole Miller, to work with a colleague of mine, Lisa Timmons at the University of Kansas, on a related research project. Finally, I served as "drill sergeant" at the Boot Camp for New Faculty held as part of the Society for Developmental Biology's annual conference which was held in July at McGill University in Montreal. Organizing and running the boot camp is a lot of work, but it was fun and inspiring getting to know the 24 new faculty and post-docs who participated, as well as the 8 senior colleagues who imparted loads of worthwhile advice. The rest of the meeting proved interesting and worthwhile as well.
Summer of 2012 was another great one. There were about 90 students doing research in Olin Rice over the summer and the weekly barbecues were well attended. In August my daughters, sons-in-law, brother and sisters and I went to Door County, WI for a week and then some of us went on to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for a few days. I am all rested up and ready for a new school year.
After several summers of intense “curricular development” on my Microbiology and Virology courses, I took a little more time off and spent it with my family (2 kids in high school now!) as well as doing some golfing (my best summer at it ever!). I did try to keep current on microbiological topics, and it has been a challenge with hantavirus in Yosemite Park, swine flu at state fairs, and the human microbiome being extensively characterized just to name a few. Sure is a fun time to be a microbiologist! I am keeping the Microbiology lab current by updating the “probiotic module”. I also started to investigate some ideas for potential research in virology next summer.