Kristy Townsend Featured on the You’re the Expert Show

Dr. Kristy Townsend will be the featured scientist at the You’re the Expert event, headlining the Maine Science Festival on Saturday, March 18. This is a national public radio show and podcast out of Boston/Cambridge, featuring three comedians questioning a scientist. Tickets are available for purchase.

Elizabeth Kilroy investigates causes of muscle dystrophy

Elizabeth Kilroy is a second-year doctoral student in the University of Maine Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering (GSBSE) working under the guidance of Dr. Clarissa Henry. She is investigating genetics of muscular dystrophy, which is a group of genetic disorders that can cause progressive muscle weakness and wasting. Kilroy’s close family members are affected by this disease, and she hopes that her investigations will help discovering the cure.

Jasmine Saros’s research is key to understanding Arctic

Jasmine Saros, Professor at School of Biology and Ecology and Climate Change Institute, led the UMaine research team on the multidisciplinary research project in the Kangerlussuaq region of Greenland that studied the complex ecological interactions in the deglaciated landscape. The team also included postdoctoral research associate Robert Northington, and graduate students Benjamin Burpee and Rachel Fowler.

Frank Drummond receives the 2017 NSFA Agriculture Award

Dr. Francis Drummond is this year’s recipient of the College of Natural Sciences, Food, and Agriculture – Agriculture Award. Throughout his long and distinguished career, Dr. Drummond worked with the two most important industries in the state: potatoes and blueberries. He has developed an extensive and very diverse research program that uses a variety of techniques and approaches ranging from molecular genetics to field trials and from mathematical modeling to behavioral observations. Areas of Dr. Drummond’s interest included, among other things, investigating role of native insects in weed seed predation, studying potato plant response to insect defoliation as mediated by soil fertility, optimizing pollination of lowbush blueberry, and managing insect pests in lowbush blueberry. The applied component of his program specifically addressed the needs and concerns of commercial growers, and worked tirelessly to make the latest scientific findings available to a wide variety of stakeholders. Because of his efforts, farmers now have a variety of previously unavailable pest control techniques in their disposal, and can make informed decisions on their use.

Congratulations!

Farahad Dastoor receives the 2017 NSFA Outstanding Teaching Award

Dr. Farahad Dastoor is this year’s recipient of the NSFA Outstanding Teaching Award. Dr. Dastoor is a primary instructor for the introductory Biology sequence, BIO 100 and BIO 200. BIO 100 is one of the foundational courses at the College of Natural Sciences, Food, and Agriculture. Taken annually by close to 900 students, it is required for 11 majors within our college. It is also taken by Chemistry students with Pre-Med and Pre-Pharmacy concentrations, as well as by many Psychology majors. Commonly, students take BIO 100 during their first semester while still transitioning to college life. BIO 200 is somewhat smaller, serving “only” 250-300 students and required for nine different majors.

Managing such classes is no small undertaking. Despite the challenge, Dr. Dastoor invariably does it with distinction. He is always keen to employ the latest pedagogical methods, many of which are developed with his input. He is a co-author of several scientific publications on improving efficiency of teaching science, and an expert on using active learning techniques in large classrooms. Dr. Dastoor is also very good at using technology in the classroom, including online delivery of course materials.

Congratulations!!!

Recipient of the 2017 David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship to join Gill’s lab

Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie will complete a project titled, “Conservation Challenges for Tundra Refugia under Climate Change: A Paleoecological Perspective on Subalpine and Alpine Vegetation in Maine” under the academic mentorship of Dr. Jacquelyn Gill at University of Maine and in partnership with Dr. Abe Miller-Rushing at the National Park Service. The Smith Fellowship, the nation’s premier postdoctoral program in conservation science, seeks to find solutions to the most pressing conservation challenges in the United States.  Each Fellow’s research is conducted in partnership with a major academic institution and an “on the ground” conservation organization to help bridge the gap between theory and application.

Gill examines plants encased in tar pits to reconstruct ice age ecosystem

This is a reprint from the UMaine News feed ( January 23, 2017). Click here to see the original.

tar-encased plantsFor tens of thousands of years, the warm, sticky natural asphalt that occasionally bubbled to the Earth’s surface in the area now called Los Angeles was a death sentence for some ice age animals.

Woolly mammoths, camels, rabbits, horses, bison, sloths, rodents, snails, turtles, birds and saber-toothed cats perished after becoming mired in the liquid asphalt — sometimes referred to as tar pits.

For Jacquelyn Gill, the fossils, twigs and plants encased in this sticky petroleum at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum in downtown Los Angeles provide opportunities to examine the climate and flora and fauna of the past and observe evolutionary changes.

The University of Maine paleoecologist’s findings will be added to the broader mosaic of what’s already known about the very large animals of that era.

Gill and other scientists involved with Project 23, as it’s called, intend to reconstruct the food web — from mastodons and bison to rodents and plants — during 2,000- to 5,000-year snapshots across an approximate 50,000-year period.

Jacquelyn Gill
Jacquelyn Gill

“Most of these are ice age survivors,” Gill says of the animals and plants trapped in the oil seeps. “What made them so resilient to climate change and extinction?”

By reconstructing the food web, Gill and the team of researchers will learn how various species were connected for extended periods of time when they were not under climate stress.

Understanding those connections could help protect today’s biodiversity in a changing climate, she says.

“We can see how species relied on each other, and use those relationships to predict extinction risk based on food web connections,” says Gill. “It’s a useful model to apply to our modern ecosystems.”

Fossils in the tar pit tombs were unearthed recently when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which is adjacent to La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, excavated a site to build an underground parking garage.

Salt Lake Oil Field, a large petroleum reservoir below the Earth’s surface, is nearby. For tens of thousands of years, oil — formed from marine plankton deposited in an ocean basin 5–25 million years ago — has seeped to the surface.

The National Science Foundation funds Gill’s nearly $300,000 portion of the $1.2 million three-year project.

Gill conceived of the project when she delivered a lecture about ice age ecosystems and extinction at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, which manages the Tar Pits.

“For the first time, we can look at the entire ice age ecosystem of Rancho La Brea, instead of just the largest herbivores and predators,” Gill says.

Thus far, Gill says the plants that have been identified in asphalt chunks from Los Angeles now grow in Oregon and at higher elevations in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains.

This indicates the late Pleistocene climate at La Brea Tar Pits was cooler and wetter than it is now, she says.

UMaine undergraduate Chason Frost, an environmental horticulture major from Gardiner, Maine, is assisting Gill with research.

University of California Merced professors Jessica Blois and Justin Yeakel and several graduate students there also are taking part in the project, as is Emily Lindsey, a curator at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum.

In Maine, the grant includes funding for middle school student-centered citizen science activities as well as for training of middle school educators.

Gill is a frequent source for The New York Times, Slate, The Atlantic, National Geographic and other national media for articles on climate and ecosystem change, extinction and past and modern ecosystems.

She co-hosts Warm Regards, a podcast about the warming planet created by Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist and writer. Andy Revkin, a senior reporter at ProPublica, also is a co-host.

Recent topics, which can be heard on SoundCloud, iTunes and Twitter, include “The year in review,”  “On humanizing science” and “Climate anxiety in the Trump era.”

As a researcher and educator at a public university, Gill says she’s sensitive to her responsibility to think about ways in which science influences policy.

Gill also is active on Twitter. “I’m passionate about how my work connects with the public and about standing up for science and publicly funded science,” she says.

Having conversations — in class, on podcasts and on social media — amplifies the messages, she says, and helps people make meaningful connections with science.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Faculty’s active-learning lesson improves student understanding of biology concept

This is a reprint from the UMaine News feed ( January 23, 2017). Click here to see the original.

Michelle SmithAfter one of Michelle Smith’s recent genetics classes at the University of Maine, several students approached her to compliment the lesson.

“I wish that happened to me every time I teach a class,” says Smith, an innovative science educator and of one six University of Maine faculty members who designed that day’s lesson to help students better understand the building blocks of life.

At UMaine, Karen Pelletreau, Farahad Dastoor, Hamish Greig, Robert Northington, Brian Olsen and Smith were the architects of the active-learning lesson to improve student comprehension of a core biology concept called central dogma.

Central dogma provides a framework for understanding the flow of genetic information from DNA, to RNA to a protein.

But undergraduates sometimes demonstrate a poor understanding of it, says Pelletreau, who supports faculty interested in using novel approaches to teaching as the manager for workshops, programs and training at the UMaine Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.

So Pelletreau, Smith, their UMaine colleagues and 19 other scientists nationwide produced a clicker-based class exercise that was used in 10 large-enrollment science courses at five universities. They monitored student learning and tweaked the lesson based on data.

The professors incorporated clickers — wireless student-response devices that resemble a TV remote control — to facilitate engagement and active class participation.

Dastoor taught the lesson in two Biology 100 courses and says the classes were energetic and dynamic.

“Students are engaged and start asking the types of questions we always want our students to ask,” he says.

“It is surprising how much material is covered without the students realizing it. I think this is because content is nested into a very interesting scenario.”

The interesting scenario is a 50-minute activity centered on brothers Liam and Elijah, who have five nucleotide differences in their dystrophin gene sequence. Liam has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and Elijah does not.

In the activity, students take on the role of scientists to examine what nucleotide changes could result in Liam developing DMD, an inherited disease that progressively weakens muscles and often affects males.

Using clicker questions that utilizes think-pair-share, group discussions, animations and predictions, students explore how mutations affect genes as well as corresponding mRNA and proteins.

The exercise encourages students to make connections among topics that can sometimes appear disconnected and unrelated, says Pelletreau, a former lecturer and research associate in the university’s School of Biology and Ecology.

Assessment results back that up.

Data demonstrated improved student comprehension in all 10 classes, which ranged from first-year introductory biology to advanced molecular biology.

In addition to strong improvement in students’ short answers pre- and post-activity, students also scored well on end-of-unit exam questions that targeted similar concepts.

Smith said the project was valuable to her as well.

“Faculty often collaborate on research projects, but there are also meaningful collaborations for developing teaching materials,” she says.

“This project was a wonderful experience because 25 people who have taught this material a variety of ways came together to share their insights and make improvements to the lesson.

An article about this National Science Foundation-funded study — “A clicker-based case study that untangles student thinking about the processes in the central dogma” — is available on CourseSource, an open-access journal of peer-reviewed teaching resources for college biological science courses.

The project resulted from two NSF awards. In one, UMaine received $54,486 of a $718,000 collaborative award and in the other, UMaine received $187,968 of a $5 million collaborative award.

UMaine educators led the project with faculty from the University of Georgia, University of Colorado Boulder, University of South Florida, Michigan State University and Stony Brook University.

The endeavor worked so well, Smith says the same approach is being applied to a Research Reinvestment Fund project across the University of Maine System.

Faculty at all system campuses are collaboratively designing an energy unit centered on economically relevant Maine industries, including timber, potatoes and kelp.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

SBE Seminar on February 3

School of Biology and Ecology Spring Seminar Series presents:

“Inferring biotic interactions over the late Quaternary, and implications for the future” by Dr. Melissa Pardi from the University of New Hampshire. 

Friday, February 3, 2017 at 3:15 p.m. in 107 Norman Smith Hall. For information, please contact Dr. Danielle Levesque (danielle.l.levesque@maine.edu, 207-581-2511).

All are welcome! Refreshments served at 3:00 p.m.

If you are a person with a disability and need an accommodation to participate in this program, please call Trish Costello at 207-581-2540 to discuss your needs. Receiving requests for accommodations at least two days before the program provides a reasonable amount of time to meet the request, however all requests will be considered.

The University of Maine does not discriminate on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, including transgender status and gender expression, natural origin, citizenship status, age, disability, genetic information or veterans status in employment, education, and all other programs and activities. The following person has been designated to handle inquiries regarding nondiscrimination policies: Director, Office of Equal Opportunity, 101 North Stevens Hall, 207-581-1226.

SBE Faculty Research Showcase

School of Biology and Ecology Spring Seminar Series presents:

SBE FACULTY RESEARCH SHOWCASE 2017

Friday, January 20, 2017 at 3:15 p.m. in 107 Norman Smith Hall. For information, please contact Dr. Danielle Levesque (danielle.l.levesque@maine.edu, 207-581-2511).

All are welcome! Refreshments served at 3:00 p.m.

If you are a person with a disability and need an accommodation to participate in this program, please call Trish Costello at 207-581-2540 to discuss your needs. Receiving requests for accommodations at least two days before the program provides a reasonable amount of time to meet the request, however all requests will be considered.

The University of Maine does not discriminate on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, including transgender status and gender expression, natural origin, citizenship status, age, disability, genetic information or veterans status in employment, education, and all other programs and activities. The following person has been designated to handle inquiries regarding nondiscrimination policies: Director, Office of Equal Opportunity, 101 North Stevens Hall, 207-581-1226.

India Stewart ’13 Featured In UMaine Today

India Stewart is featured in UMaine Today as one of the participants of the Maine Track Early Assurance Program, which guarantees students a future spot at Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM) while they are still early in their University of Maine undergraduate career. Stewart, a graduate of Bucksport High School, received her degree in Biology from the University of Maine in 2013. She is currently in her fourth year of medical school at TUSM and has found her calling in the field of obstetrics and gynecology.

Kim Dao ’14 Featured in UMaine Today

Kimberly Dao, who graduated with a degree in Biology from the University of Maine in 2014, has a feature article dedicated to her in the latest issue of UMaine Today. Kim is currently a student at Tufts University School of Medicine, where she was accepted after applying to the Maine Track Early Assurance Program. Kim was also a keynote speaker at the 2016 University of Maine Foundation Annual Luncheon.

Holiday Baking Contest Winner

Jessica Haghkerdar’s chocolate cream log with merengue mushrooms won our holiday baking contest. Congratulations!!!
contest_winner

Six SBE Faculty Members Publish an Education Journal Article

Six faculty members in SBE (Karen Pelletreau, Farahad Dastoor, Hamish Greig, Robert Northington, Brian Olsen, and Michelle Smith) are co-authors on a recent publication about teaching the Central Dogma, which is a core concept of biology. The UMaine faculty led a collaboration with faculty from the University of Georgia, University of Colorado-Boulder, University of South Florida, Michigan State University, and Stony Brook University to identify student conceptual difficulties about the Central Dogma and develop an in-class active-learning activity that positively impacted student learning. The project involved an unprecedented number of faculty (both within UMaine and at all these different institutions) working together to design an effective lesson for the undergraduate biology classroom.  

New Graduate Fellowship for the School of Biology and Ecology

Hodosh SketchThe Ellen Keough Hodosh, PhD, Graduate Fellowship Fund was established in 2016 in the University of Maine Foundation for the benefit of the University of Maine, Orono, Maine, with a gift from Ralph J. Hodosh in loving memory of his wife, Ellen Keough Hodosh. Ralph and Ellen were first generation college students, met at the University of Maine and earned their doctorates in Zoology in 1978. At the time of her death, Ellen was the Executive Director of Global Medical Writing for Astellas Pharma Global Development, a department that she built. Prior to joining Fujisawa Pharmaceuticals, the precursor to Astellas Pharma, Ellen spent six years doing medical research at Tufts Medical Center, Boston, after which she established her credentials as a globally recognized medical and technical writer. Although Ellen’s career was cut short by her untimely passing, she was instrumental in gaining government approval of important pharmaceuticals including ones used for the treatment of life-threatening fungal infections and the prevention of organ transplant rejection.

The fund may cover tuition, stipend, benefits (including health insurance), travel and other expenses for teaching or research graduate assistants in the School of Biology and Ecology. A first preference shall be given to Master of Science or Doctor of Philosophy students pursuing a degree in the School who choose to study for a semester, summer or academic year in Israel. A second preference shall be given to Master of Science or Doctor of Philosophy students pursuing a degree in the School who are working on collaborative projects with Israeli scientists and who wish to visit their Israeli colleague’s labs or to host their Israeli colleagues on campus.

Applications for Hodosh Fellowship should be submitted to the director of the School of Biology and Ecology. All applications will be reviewed by School’s Graduate Committee.

SBE Graduate Featured in UMaine Today

Noelle Leon-PalmerNoelle Leon-Palmer, a recent School of Biology and Ecology graduate, was interviewed for a feature in UMaine Today. Noelle discusses her honors thesis about the physiology, neurobiology, and endocrinology of love, playing on the University of Maine women’s soccer team, and her upcoming position as an honors associate in the Honors College.

Click here to read the full feature and interview.

Drummond Featured in UMaine Today

Frank DrummondThe Drummond lab is profiled in this UMaine Today feature, including discussions about Dr. Frank Drummond’s decades of bee research, colony collapse disorder, and current ongoing research by the many students and technicians involved with the lab.

Click here to read the full feature at UMaine Today.

 

 

Plummeting Saltmarsh Sparrow Population Makes Headlines

Saltmarsh SparrowResearch from Dr. Brian Olsen’s lab, in conjunction with the Saltmarsh Habitat & Avian Research Program (SHARP), shows that the saltmarsh sparrow population in Maine has decreased nearly 11 percent annually since 1998. The AP version of the article was distributed by ABC News, the Washington Post, and many others.

Click here to read details about the causes of the decline and what can be done to help avoid extinction of the saltmarsh sparrow and other birds that rely on marshes.

Hamley Receives NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Kit Hamley

Catherine (Kit) Hamley, a graduate student under School of Biology and Ecology professor, Jacquelyn Gill, has been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to continue her research in Quaternary studies while pursuing a doctorate degree through the Ecology and Environmental Sciences Program. Hamley’s work to date has focused on the Falkland Islands where she studies an extinct, endemic fox, called the warrah. Little is known about the human history of the islands, as well as how the warrah made their way to the isolate oceanic islands. Hamley examines the charcoal record taken from peat cores, combining archaeological techniques in conjunction with paleoecological techniques, to investigate arrival times of both the warrah and humans to the islands.

Kit HamleyThe data collected by Hamley is used to assess what sort of impact precolonial humans may have had on the landscape through the use of fire and to help understand the impacts that both introductions and extinctions have on island ecosystems. She will continue to research human-environmental interactions through time for her PhD.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) supports outstanding graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and STEM education fields by providing three years of support for graduate education. The program intends to help ensure vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce of the United States. Out of more than 17,000 applicants, Hamley is one of 2,000 students who received a fellowship, given to those who demonstrate potential for significant research achievements in STEM and STEM education.

Congratulations to Kit Hamley!

Wood Named A UMaine 2016 Outstanding Graduating Student

Liz-Wood-223x300School of Biology and Ecology student, Elizabeth Wood of Catlett, Virginia, has been named the Outstanding Graduating Student in the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture at the University of Maine.

Wood is an honors student majoring in biology with a pre-med concentration, and a minor in chemistry. She is a member of UMaine’s women’s basketball team, serving as captain for the past two seasons.

Her numerous academic and athletic awards include the America East Elite 18 Award, America East Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year and 2015 Dean Smith Award.

The summer after her sophomore year, Wood participated in a NASA-funded cancer biology internship project at Colorado State University. At UMaine, her honors research focused on prevention of Type 2 diabetes, exploring nerve function, calories, energy expenditure and fat storage. The title of her thesis: “Novel Role of Neurotrophic Factor in White Adipose Tissue.”

Wood has served as president of the UMaine Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the America East Conference representative on the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

She plans to pursue a professional basketball career, followed by medical school.

A profile about Wood’s UMaine student experience is online.

Wood is one of eleven undergraduate students to receive this recognition at the University of Maine. Read about the other 2016 Outstanding Graduating Students here.