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Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Solar-Powered Sea Slugs Live Like Plants, Prof Says

The lowly sea slug, "Elysia chlorotica," may not seem like the most exciting of creatures, but don't be fooled: it behaves like a plant and is solar-powered, says a Texas A&M University biologist who has been studying these tiny creatures for the past decade and, along with collaborators from several universities, has identified a possible cause of their ability to behave like plants.

Biology professor James Manhart is a member of a research group that believes they have identified some of the secrets of the sea slug and its curious plant-like behavior. These research findings have been published in the current issue of"Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences" with an image of a green slug gracing the cover.

Manhart says plants can be compared to solar-powered machines—their cells contain tiny organelles called plastids that trap sunlight and convert it into energy by a process known as photosynthesis. Animals, on the other hand, depend on plants or other animals for their energy needs.

The sea slug, however, works a little differently. Its main food source is a specific type of alga. “It makes a cut in the alga, sucks out the cytoplasm [the material inside the alga] and digests most of it,” explains Manhart.

But there’s a twist—it retains the plastids that trap the solar energy.

These plastids remain in the slug, continue to photosynthesize and provide food for the slug. In effect, the creature becomes a solar-powered slug and is able to make its own food like plants do.

“Photosynthesis needs around 2,000 to 3,000 genes, and animals do not have many of the critical genes,” says Manhart. So Manhart and his co-workers looked into how the plastids consumed by the slug can continue photosynthesizing.

“We found that the slug has at least one gene required for photosynthesis in its nuclear genome, which has never been found in any animal,” says Manhart. “The critical thing is the plastids come from the alga, but the slug nucleus contains at least one, and probably more of the genes required for plastid functioning,” he adds.

“The slug needs the alga to mature and complete its life cycle,” Manhart says. “It is totally dependent on the alga to survive. Once the slug has acquired a sufficient amount of plastids it can survive, like plants, for at least nine months by trapping solar energy and converting it into food.”

That means the “baby” slugs are born with genes that support photosynthesis, but they have to gather their own plastids. Manhart says that if the slug and the alga both brave the ever-changing climatic conditions, the slug might evolve into a truly photosynthetic animal—that is, one born with the plastids. But that might be looking too far into the future. For now, he says, the next step would be sequencing the slug’s genome.

Contact: Dr. James Manhart at (979) 845-3356 or manhart@bio.tamu.edu

Writer: Misha Kidambi at misha5_kidambi@neo.tamu.edu


Tuesday, November 18, 2008
President's Meritorious Award Winners Announced

The 2008 President's Meritorious Service Award recipients are Lali Barrientos, Residence Life; Adrienne Bentz, Center for Mathematics and Science Education; Edith M. Betts, academic support services; Judy Bruce, Career Center; Lois Jean Carter, finance; Teri L. Czajkowski, English; Connie S. Duffield, financial management operations; Jennifer Ford, Multicultural Services; Vince Hardy, veterinary integrative biosciences; Cindy Havner, engineering program office; Mark Hopcus, industrial and systems engineering; Barry Jackson, biomedical engineering; Robert A. Jensen, entomology; Diane S. Pruiett, Technology Services; Craig A. Rotter, Residence Life; Arnold William Schrank, Office of the Commandant; Vickie Skrhak, biology; Cathy D. Sperry, engineering student services and academic programs; James Welford, sports; Sam Wigington, large animal clinical sciences; DeAun Woosley, recreational sports; Mark Wright, entomology; Wes Wynn, human resources; Cheryl Yeager, science and management; and Jocelyn Zarate, student financial aid. One team also is selected each year. The 2008 winning team is the 2007-2008 College of Education and Human Development Staff Advisory Council Community Service Committee. Team members are Mary Helen Coady, health and kinesiology; Kathy May, educational psychology; Shannon Eyre, educational psychology; Jenna Kujawski, dean's office; Kathy May, dean's office; Beverly McClain, dean's office; Susan Jane Morris, educational administration & HR development; Cyndi Gilliam Schoen, dean's office; and Kristie Stramaski, educational psychology. The Association of Former Students funds individual awards at $700 each and each team member will receive a cash award of $200. The awards will be presented during the annual holiday coffee hosted by President Elsa Murano Monday, Dec. 1. For more, go to: http://employees.tamu.edu/employees/WorkLife/recognition/pmsa.aspx.

Thursday, November 13, 2008
Datta Appointed Assistant Dean Of Undergraduate Research

Sumana Datta, associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, has been appointed as assistant dean of the Office of Undergraduate Research. Datta's educational background includes a Ph.D. in biology from the University of California, San Diego, and a postdoctoral fellowship at Yale University. She joined Texas A&M's faculty of genetics in 1993. She has also been a visiting professor at the Emory School of Medicine's Winship Cancer Institute. Forty-three students, including three senior honors fellows, have done research in Datta's laboratory at Texas A&M. Under her mentorship, most of those research students went on to graduate medical or other post-graduate professional education. She has also been a research advisor for freshmen and sophomores since 1993. In her new role as assistant dean of the Office of Undergraduate Research, Datta has primary responsibility for the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program and will develop new undergraduate research initiatives. For more information about the Office of Undergraduate Research, call (979) 458-0039 or visit http://ugr.tamu.edu/.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008
College of Science Recognizes 2008 Award Winners

COLLEGE STATION -- Eight faculty, staff and student award winners in Texas A&M University‘s College of Science were honored Tuesday (Oct. 28) as part of the college's annual Faculty-Staff Meeting and Awards Presentation, conducted by Dr. H. Joseph Newton, dean of the college.

The annual ceremony, held in Room 2104 of the Chemistry Building, recognizes college award recipients and also serves as a forum for new faculty introductions.

Peter Kuchment (mathematics), Jairo Sinova (physics), Sherry Yennello (chemistry) and Mark Zoran (biology) were recognized as recipients of The Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement College-Level Awards in Teaching for 2008. Each honoree received a plaque and a $2,000 check from The Association.

Yasawathie Rathnayaka and Victor Johnson received the college's 2008 Outstanding Staff Achievement Awards, established in 1995 to recognize staff dedication, enthusiasm, accomplishments and contributions. Each received a plaque and a $500 check, also funded by The Association.

Rathnayaka, a business associate II with nearly six years of service in the college, processes all payroll documents for the Department of Physics, maintaining and reviewing all leave documents and coordinating all immigration issues. In addition to exceptional work output and quality, "Yasa" is revered for her patient and effective dealings with people, often in the face of crises. One campus colleague concludes, "Yasa has the personality and work ethic that all departments and colleges should be lucky to have. She genuinely enjoys working with people and providing them the support and information they need to be successful."

Johnson, a research instrumentation specialist in the Department of Biology for the past 10 years, is a member of the Biology Equipment Support Services staff that maintains and repairs departmental research and teaching equipment and provides services and parts to other Texas A&M departments. He is admired for his skill in setting up laboratories as well as his willingness to learn about the work being done in them -- a trait that enabled him to save one particular experiment, thanks to his constant monitoring of related equipment. In addition to impeccable technical and mechanical results, Johnson is lauded for his thorough and pleasant communication throughout all phases of his projects.

Seniors Andrew Harrell and Alden G. Harris each received the John B. Beckham Award in Science, the college's highest recognition for student achievement, integrity, and academic and extracurricular leadership.

Harrell, a native of Garland, Texas who's double majoring in mathematics and German, has maintained a cumulative 3.9 GPR and a 4.0 within his major courses while making the Dean's List every semester of his Texas A&M academic career. Fluent in three foreign languages (German, Spanish, French), Harrell is a University Scholar and the recipient of both the Top Speaker Award for Mathfest 2005 and the Madhava Prize in Analysis. He has been active in many campus and community organizations, including Student Senate, The Math Club, International Student Language Partners, Helping One Student To Succeed (HOSTS) and the National Eagle Scout Association. After graduation, Harrell intends to go to medical school and eventually practice medicine.

Harris, a senior physics major with double minors in economics and mathematics from Auburn, Calif., boasts a 3.8 cumulative GPR and a 3.6 in his major. A member of both the University Honors Program and the Foundation Honors Program, he is a National Merit Scholar, a President's Endowed Scholar and a Champe-Fitzhugh International Honors Leadership Scholar. Harris, who spent Summer 2007 interning with a United States Representative, is active in the Student Senate, the High School Leadership Conference, the Aggieland Beautification Committee and the Texas A&M Target Archers Club. He received first place at the 2006 World Archery Festival. After graduation, Harris plans to attend law school and work in either intellectual property law or public policy.

In addition to faculty, staff and student award winners, Newton recognized new members of the Dean's Office staff prior to delivering a brief State of the College address. The heads of the College's five departments (biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics and statistics) also introduced their respective new faculty at the ceremony.

The afternoon concluded with a reception in honor of all award recipients and new faculty.

Click here to learn more about award-winners in the College of Science.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

2008-10-29 00:00:00


Monday, October 27, 2008
Aggie Grad Gives Scholarship to Honor Father, Fight Alzheimer's

COLLEGE STATION -- Texas A&M University former student Jeff A. Jones, class of 1999, is honoring his father's memory while helping to fight the disease that ultimately took his life by creating an endowed scholarship in the Texas A&M College of Science.

The Jerry R. Jones Memorial Scholarship Fund, established through the Texas A&M Foundation, will benefit Texas A&M undergraduate students pursuing degrees in biology with minors in neuroscience.

"The impact of watching my father die at a young 64 years of age from frontal lobe dementia and Alzheimer's will be lifelong," Jeff Jones said. "I felt by giving scholarships to those who might one day fight these diseases on the front lines or comfort those who have loved ones who suffer from them would be the right thing to do."

Jeff Jones, who grew up in Tulsa and earned a bachelor's degree in environmental design from Texas A&M, is co-founder and owner of Dallas-based Redwood Custom Homes, LLC. He said Aggieland always held a special place in his father's heart, despite the fact that he wasn't a Texas A&M graduate. With five Aggies -- a daughter, son, two nephews and a niece -- in his immediate family, however, Jerry Jones was active in Aggie life and activities for more than a decade before his declining health prevented it.

"I wanted to honor my father's life with something that reflected his unwavering support in giving my sister and me every opportunity to do what we wanted and to be successful in life," Jones added. "By establishing this memorial scholarship in his name, it will be a living gift capable of continuing that support and giving similar opportunity, hopefully to hundreds of students who one day might fight, cure or comfort those whose loved ones are afflicted by these diseases."

According to the Chicago-based Alzheimer's Association, as many as 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease, a progressive and fatal condition that destroys brain cells and causes numerous problems related to memory, thinking and behavior. Today it is the sixth-leading cause of death nationwide.

"The faculty and students in the Department of Biology are grateful to Jeff Jones and his family for making it easier for our students to study neuroscience, one of the most complicated and fascinating aspects of biology," said Dr. Thomas D. McKnight, professor and acting head of the Texas A&M Department of Biology. "This scholarship is an excellent reflection of the Aggie family at work, with former students helping out current students. I share the hope of the Jones family that, one day, one of our students will be able help minimize the effects of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia."

Jones said he hopes that his decision will inspire others to create their own legacy of honor and opportunity through memorial giving.

"I hope it encourages other Aggies who have gone through similar experiences to come forward and give gifts that will continue to provide opportunities to others and allow them to honor their loved ones forever," he explained.

As the scientific core of Texas A&M University, the College of Science provides the required mathematical and science foundations for all Texas A&M majors, teaching 20 percent of the university's total semester credit hours, or one in every five classroom hours logged by its more than 48,000 students. The college annually conducts nearly $40 million in sponsored research in pursuit of scholarly knowledge and technical solutions that benefit the world.

To learn more about memorial scholarships or other giving opportunities through the Texas A&M Foundation, visit http://giving.tamu.edu.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

2008-10-27 00:00:00


Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Aggie Graduate Establishes Scholarship for Biologists

COLLEGE STATION -- As head of a major ophthalmology practice on the East Coast, Randall Shepard knows all too well the value of a quality education.

In an effort to pay tribute to his educational roots at Texas A&M University and help future Aggies learn the same life lesson, Shepard recently created an endowed scholarship in the Texas A&M College of Science.

Shepard, who earned a bachelor's degree in zoology at Texas A&M in 1971, has established the Randall C. Shepard '71 Endowed Scholarship in Biology through the Texas A&M Foundation to support undergraduate students pursuing degrees in biology from Texas A&M.

Since 2000 Shepard has served as chief executive officer for Eye Health Services Inc., a 22-ophthalmologist practice with multiple offices on Boston's South Shore area extending from Quincy to Cape Cod. Prior to 2000, he served in a similar capacity in Texas at Austin Retina Associates.

"Education is the key to success in any business," Shepard says. "The College of Science at Texas A&M University has been the key in my success."

Shepard says he originally intended to pursue a career in medicine until one of his Texas A&M professors, Dr. Howard Gravett, steered him toward research. After graduating from Texas A&M, Shepard spent 10 years in oncology research in the Houston area before heading to Baylor College of Medicine, where he specialized in medical administration and related educational activities.

"The best contribution one can make is to provide the gift of knowledge," Shepard notes. "That is something the College of Science at Texas A&M University does exceedingly well.

"I trust that the college and the university will select student recipients who, too, will learn the value of a quality education and, in time, use their knowledge and success to provide a gift for the next generation of Aggies."

A member of the College of Science External Advisory & Development Council (EADC) since 2007, Shepard is actively involved in a variety of community affairs in the greater Boston area as well as the state of Massachusetts. He serves as vice chair for economic and community development for the South Shore Chamber of Commerce. In addition, he is industry sector chair for the Massachusetts Governor's Workforce Advisory Board and has been appointed by the governor to chair Links to Education, a statewide committee that works with universities throughout Massachusetts to develop curricula more applicable to existing industry needs and better suited to addressing current job skill gaps.

"We are grateful to Mr. Shepard for his contribution to the education of our current students," said Dr. Thomas D. McKnight, professor and acting head of the Texas A&M Department of Biology. "His gift will make it a little easier for them to remain on the path to success. It will also remind them that sharing a small part of their eventual success with the next generation of students is an important role they can play in the Aggie family."

As the scientific core of Texas A&M University, the College of Science provides the required mathematical and science foundations for all Texas A&M majors, teaching 20 percent of the university's total semester credit hours, or one in every five classroom hours logged by its more than 48,000 students. The college annually conducts nearly $40 million in sponsored research in pursuit of scholarly knowledge and technical solutions that benefit the world.

To learn more about endowed scholarships or other giving opportunities through the Texas A&M Foundation, visit http://giving.tamu.edu.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

2008-09-24 00:00:00


Friday, September 5, 2008
Nine Faculty Members Are Added To The List Of Distinguished Professors

Texas A&M has a select group of faculty members who hold the prestigious title of distinguished professor. This designation denotes a faculty member who is recognized as being in the top five percent of their field by peers throughout the world. Nine additional Texas A&M faculty members have been appointed to the rank of distinguished professor. Those adding the "distinguished professor" designation to their faculty titles are Richard Golsan, European and classical languages and cultures department head and professor of French; John A. Gladysz, professor of chemistry and Dow Chair in Chemical Invention; Ronald D. Macfarlane, professor of chemistry; Rostislav I. Grigorchuk, professor of mathematics; Paul E. Hardin, professor of biology, Duane Ireland, professor of management, Bennett Chair in Business; Joanne Lupton, professor of nutrition and food science; Bruce McCarl, Regents Professor of agricultural economics; and William Saric, Stewart & Stevenson Professor and director of the Texas A&M Flight Research Laboratory. The 2008 honorees are the most recent additions to an elite group of 57 currently active distinguished professors at Texas A&M. Academic units nominate faculty members for the title of distinguished professor. In addition to the nomination, letters of support must also be received from the top researchers in the nominee's field. Each successful nominee is then granted the title by the chancellor of The Texas A&M University System.

Tuesday, August 28, 2008
EHSD Announces "Laboratory Of The Month" Award Winner

A biology department laboratory (located in the Biological Sciences Building West, Room 309) under the direction of Robyn Lints is the July recipient of Environmental Health and Safety's (EHSD's) Safe Laboratory of the Month Award. The lab was selected because its policies for safe handling of sharps are clearly articulated. Appropriate personal protective equipment is readily available to the research staff and there are procedures in place for decontaminating work surfaces. No violations were noted in this laboratory. In honor of the award, Lints' laboratory staff will receive lunch courtesy of EHSD and recognition within their department and the College of Science. For more information
on laboratory safety, visit the EHSD Web site at http://ehsd.tamu.edu

Monday, August 18, 2008
Texas A&M University Student Maria Aldea Participated in the 2008 ASM Kadner Institute

Maria Aldea, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, was one of 29 senior-level graduate students and early-career postdoctoral scientists who participated in the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Kadner Institute from July 19 to 23, 2008, at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The Institute, developed in 2000 by the ASM Education Board Committee on Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, provides a “closely guided experience for graduate students and postdoctoral scientists in key topics important for choosing and succeeding in a microbiology career” says “Shelley M. Payne, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at the University of Texas at Austin and Chair of the Committee.

At the four-and-a-half-day Institute, participants network, explore career options, enhance their grant writing, presentation, and communications skills, and discuss ethics issues. The experience is intense and hands on; beforehand, each participant prepares a 10-page preliminary grant proposal, a 10- to 12-minute scientific presentation, and a curriculum vitae for evaluation by Institute faculty and peers. Career sessions spotlight a wide range of opportunities in the microbiological sciences, including teaching, conducting applied research in industry, and serving in public health, academe, and patent law.   

The Kadner Institute is managed by ASM and sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. The 2009 Institute will be held from July 19 to 22. For details, please visit www.asmgap.org or contact Ronica Rodela at rrodela@asmusa.org or 202-942-9228.

The American Society for Microbiology is the oldest and largest single life science membership organization in the world, composed of over 43,000 scientists and health professionals. Its mission is to promote research and research training in the microbiological sciences and to assist communication between scientists, policy makers, and the public to improve health, the environment, and economic well-being.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008
GIANT-Coli: A Novel Method For Gene Function Discovery

Think researchers know all there is to know about Escherichia coli, commonly known as E. coli? Think again.“ E. coli has more than four thousand genes, and the functions of one-fourth of these remain unknown,” says Dr. Deborah Siegele, a biology professor at Texas A&M University whose laboratory specializes in carrying out research using the bacterium.

Harmless E. coli strains are normally found in the intestines of many animals, including humans, but some strains can cause diseases.

Siegele and her co-workers at the University of California San Francisco, Nara Institute of Science Technology and Purdue University have devised a novel method that allows rapid and large-scale studies of the E. coli genes. The researchers believe their new method, described in the current online issue of Nature Methods , will allow them to gain a better understanding of the E. coli gene functions.

The principle behind this new method is genetic interaction. Interaction between genes produces observable effects, and this allows researchers to identify the gene functions. The research team has called their new method GIANT-Coli, short for genetic interaction analysis technology for E. coli .

The team believes that its method has great potential to quicken the progress of discovering new gene functions. The use of GIANT-Coli has already allowed researchers to identify some previously unknown genetic interactions in E. coli.

To study genetic interaction, researchers need to use what they call double-mutant strains. GIANT-Coli allows large-scale generation of these double-mutant strains (high-throughput generation). And this is the first time that a high-throughput generation method for double mutants of E. coli has been developed.

Why is it so important to know the E. coli better? “Much of what we know about other bacteria, including the more dangerous ones like Vibrio cholerae, comes from our knowledge of E. coli,” says Siegele. “The E. coli is a model organism.”

Siegele says that GIANT-Coli can be developed to study genetic interactions in other bacteria, and because some proteins are conserved from bacteria to humans, perhaps some of the results can even be extrapolated to gene function in humans. Moreover, Siegele points out that the method has obvious application in medicine because understanding gene functions in harmful bacteria will help in developing better treatment approaches.

Contact: Dr. Deborah Siegele at (979) 862-4022 or siegele@bio.tamu.edu

Misha Kidambi at misha5_kidambi@neo.tamu.edu

Tuesday, July 22, 2008
The Still Image “Endospore and Parasporal Body Formation by Bacillus thuringiensis” by Rita Moyes and Robert Droleskey Wins the 2008 MicrobeLibrary Visual Resource Editor’s Choice Award

Washington, DC (22 July 2008) — The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) is pleased to announce the winner of the 2008 MicrobeLibrary Visual Resource Editor’s Choice Award in the still image category. The
winning image is “Endospore and Parasporal Body Formation by Bacillus thuringiensis” by Rita Moyes, Ph.D. (Biology Department, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX), and Robert Droleskey, Ph.D. (USDA, ARS, Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center, College Station, TX).

The MicrobeLibrary Editor’s Choice Awards were created to spotlight excellence and raise the status and visibility of research into teaching and learning in microbiology education and allied disciplines. Selected by the Visual Resources Editorial Committee, the Visual Resource Award is given to one still image and one animation resource published in the past year that exemplifies the criteria for publication in the MicrobeLibrary. The image by Drs. Moyes and Droleskey was selected out of all the resources published in the MicrobeLibrary Visual Collection in 2007.

The Visual Collection is a clearinghouse of high-quality, peer-reviewed images, animations, and videos about the microbial world for educators, primarily at the undergraduate level. The collection is one of many resources in MicrobeLibrary, an online, searchable collection of more than 2,000 peer-reviewed resources for undergraduate microbiology and biology education. The library builds upon the scientific expertise, intellectual creativity, and private collections of the members of ASM and other researchers of microbiology and biology from around the world; it receives more than 1 million hits per month.

“The Visual Collection has always been the most widely used section of the MicrobeLibrary,” says Susan Bagley, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Mich., and editor-in-chief of the Visual Collection. “We owe the success of the MicrobeLibrary to the high-quality resources submitted by authors such as Drs. Moyes and Droleskey who are committed to sharing their scholarship of teaching and learning with a broader community of educators.”

MicrobeLibrary is a founding partner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s BiosciEdNet Collaborative (www.biosciednet.org), a portal sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s National Science Digital Library (www.nsdl.org). MicrobeLibrary, which has won many citations and media accolades, is the first service of its kind and continues to be recognized as one of the best resources for science information.

For more information about MicrobeLibrary, visit www.MicrobeLibrary.org.

The American Society for Microbiology is the oldest and largest single life science membership organization in the world, composed of over 43,000 scientists and health professionals. Its mission is to promote research and research training in the microbiological sciences and to assist communication between scientists, policy makers, and the public to improve health, the environment, and economic well-being.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Garcia Named Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator

Read More Here

CHEVY CHASE, Md. – Texas A&M University Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. L. Rene Garcia has been selected as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator in recognition of his scientific accomplishment and future potential in biomedical research.

Garcia, who studies how instinctive behaviors are genetically programmed in the roundworm C. elegans, is one of 56 pioneering scientists nationwide introduced Tuesday (May 27) as the newest class of HHMI investigators, chosen through a highly competitive review process involving more than 1,000 outstanding applicants.

“These 56 scientists will bring new and innovative ways of thinking about biology to the HHMI community,” said Thomas R. Cech, president of HHMI. “They are poised to advance scientific knowledge dramatically in the coming years, and we are committed to providing them with the freedom and flexibility to do so.”

The HHMI Investigator Program — which currently employs more than 300 of the nation’s most innovative scientists, including 124 National Academy of Sciences members and 12 Nobel Prize winners — was established by HHMI as a direct reflection of its guiding principle: “people, not projects.” As the institute’s flagship program, it is intended to identify researchers who have the potential to make significant contributions to science, particularly regarding links between basic biology and medicine.

By appointing scientists as Hughes investigators rather than awarding research grants, HHMI affords them the freedom to explore and, if necessary, to change direction in their research. Moreover, it offers them guaranteed financial support — in the case of this year’s class, in excess of a collective $600 million during their first term of appointment — to follow their ideas through to fruition, even if that process takes many years.

For Garcia, that process centers on hardwired behaviors and how they can be influenced by environmental factors. In his research, he uses C. elegans male mating behavior as a model system for understanding how animals execute, regulate and sustain instinctive behavioral decisions — processes governed by the nervous system.

“Early on in my research career, I began wondering what the source of motivation and drive was, and how they were regulated,” Garcia said. “At the same time, I recognized that sexual impulses are very powerful motivators, and I was curious about what makes those circuits so strong.

“What I hope to do during the next five years is to identify the actual intercellular players in muscles and neurons that are being activated and to understand how they can be manipulated.”

Garcia received both his bachelor of science and Ph.D. in microbiology from The University of Texas at Austin. A former HHMI post-doctoral fellow, he completed his post-doctoral work in the laboratory of Paul W. Sternberg at the California Institute of Technology before coming to Texas A&M in 2002.

In addition to being one of only three Searle Scholars at Texas A&M, Garcia received a 2004 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) Award, the nation’s highest honor for scientists and engineers in the early stages of promising research careers. His research in behavioral genetics has resulted in many publications in top journals and almost $1.5 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Searle Scholars Program alone.

“This award is yet another testament for the high quality of scientist we are attracting to the Department of Biology at Texas A&M University,” said Dr. Vincent M. Cassone, professor and head of biology. “I am very proud to have Dr. Garcia as a colleague. This is a well-deserved honor.”

Researchers with 4 to 10 years of experience as tenured/tenure-track faculty members at more than 200 institutions were eligible to apply for this year’s competition, which featured a direct application process instead of the traditional institution-approved format used in previous years. HHMI officials say the move helped to ensure that candidates were drawn from a broader and deeper pool of scientists.

“Opening the competition to a direct application process allowed us to identify new investigators who are working in areas that have historically been core strengths of the Institute, such as neuroscience and structural biology,” said Jack E. Dixon, vice president and chief scientific officer at HHMI. “But we have also added research fields that have not been strongly represented in the past. This is truly an expansion for HHMI.”

Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a non-profit medical research organization, ranks as one of the nation’s largest philanthropies and plays a powerful role in advancing biomedical research and science education in the United States with the collaborative help of more than 60 universities, medical centers and other research institutions nationwide. In the past two decades, HHMI has made investments of more than $8.3 billion for the support, training and education of the nation’s most creative and promising scientists.

To learn more about HHMI or the Hughes investigator program, visit http://www.hhmi.org.

For more information on Garcia’s laboratory and related research, visit http://www.bio.tamu.edu/FACMENU/FACULTY/GarciaR.php.

To read more about Garcia’s research motivation and the possible implications for human health, go to http://www.hhmi.org/news/garcialr_bio.html.

Contact:  Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu or Dr. L. Rene Garcia, (979) 845-2989 or rgarcia@bio.tamu.edu

Tuesday, May 1, 2008
Male Seahorses Are Nature's Mr. Mom

Male seahorses are nature’s real-life Mr. Moms – they take fathering to a whole new level: Pregnancy.

Although it is common for male fish to play the dominant parenting role, male pregnancy is a complex process unique to the fish family Syngnathidae, which includes pipefish, seahorses and sea dragons. Texas A&M University evolutionary biology researcher Adam Jones and colleagues in his lab are studying the effects of male pregnancy on sex roles and sexual selection of mates and are trying to understand how the novel body structures necessary for male pregnancy evolved. By doing this, the researchers hope to gain a better understanding of the evolutionary mechanisms responsible for changes in the structure of organisms over time.

“We are using seahorses and their relatives to address one of the most exciting areas of research in modern evolutionary biology: the origin of complex traits,” Jones said. “The brood pouch on male seahorses and pipefish where females deposit eggs during mating is a novel trait that has had a huge impact on the biology of the species because the ability for males to become pregnant has completely changed the mating dynamics.”

When seahorses mate, the female inserts her ovipositor into the male’s brood pouch (an external structure that grows on the body of the male) and deposits her unfertilized eggs into the pouch. The male then releases sperm into the pouch to fertilize the eggs. “It wouldn’t be that interesting if the brood pouch were just a flap of skin where the females put regular fish eggs and they developed in the bag instead of on the sea floor,” Jones said. “But the male pregnancy in some species of seahorses and pipefish is physiologically much more complex than that.”

After the female deposits her unfertilized eggs into the male, the outer shell of the eggs breaks down, and tissue from the male grows up around the eggs in the pouch. After fertilizing the eggs, the male closely controls the prenatal environment of the embryos in his pouch. The male keeps blood flowing around the embryos, controls the salt concentrations in the pouch, and provides oxygen and nutrition to the developing offspring through a placenta-like structure until he gives birth.

Male pregnancy has interesting implications for sex roles in mating, Jones explained, because in most species, males compete for access to females, so you usually see the evolution of secondary sex traits in males (for example, a peacock’s tail or antlers in deer). But in some species of pipefish, the sex roles are reversed because males become pregnant and there is limited brood pouch space. So females compete for access to available males, and thus secondary sex traits (such as brightly colored ornamentation) evolve in female pipefish instead of males.

“From a research standpoint, it’s interesting because there aren’t very many species in which there is a sex role reversal,” Jones said. “It provides a unique opportunity to study sexual selection in this reversed context.”

To study the mating behavior of seahorses and pipefish, Jones’ lab uses molecular markers for forensic maternity analysis to figure out the mother of a male’s offspring. The lab found that gulf pipefish mate according to the “classic polyandry” system, where each male receives eggs from a single female per pregnancy, but females can mate with multiple males. Because attractive females can mate multiple times, this system results in very strong competition in sexual selection, and female gulf pipefish have evolved strong secondary sexual traits, Jones said.

Seahorses, however, are monogamous within a breeding season, and each seahorse only mates with one other seahorse. In this system, if there are equal sex ratios, there is not as much competition among females because there are enough mates for everyone, Jones explained. So seahorses have not evolved the strong secondary sexual traits that pipefish have.

Male pregnancy also results in a reversal in sex-related behaviors, Jones said. “Females exhibit a competitive behavior that’s normally a male-type attribute, and males end up being choosy, which is normally a more female-type attribute,” he said. His lab studies the evolutionary steps leading to that reversal in behavior and the role that hormones play in the change.

Jones’ lab also studies how the brood pouch first evolved in seahorses and pipefish. “A big question in evolutionary biology is how a novel structure gets all of the necessary genes and parts to function,” Jones said. “So we are trying to understand how the brood pouch and the genes required for male pregnancy arose over evolutionary time.”

One of the interesting things about the brood pouch is that it appears to have evolved independently multiple times. There are two major lineages of seahorses and pipefish – trunk-brooding and tail-brooding – and the brood pouch structure independently evolved in each of these groups, Jones said.

Another area Jones’ lab is researching is the evolutionary steps that led to the unique overall shape of seahorses. “How do you go from just being a regular-old looking fish to being something really unusual like a seahorse?” Jones said. “There are a lot of evolutionary steps involved in that.”

Jones explained that the first step in the evolutionary process was the elongation of the fish’s body, which the lab is currently studying. The next step was the addition of other unique structural features that seahorses possess, such as the bending of the fish into its unique shape. The head of a seahorse is unusual because unlike most fish, a seahorse’s head is at a 90-degree angle to its body, Jones explained. Seahorses also have a prehensile tail, meaning that, unlike most fish, they can use their tail to grasp onto things.

“These are all interesting changes, and we’re interested in studying how these novel traits arose and the evolutionary steps that led to them,” Jones said. “Ultimately, we hope to gain deeper insights into some of the evolutionary mechanisms responsible for the incredible changes in the structure of organisms that have occurred during the history of life on Earth.”

Contact: Adam Jones at (979) 845-7747, email ajones@bio.tamu.edu or Amelia Williamson at (979) 845-4641, email aaw11@tamu.edu  or Keith Randall at (979) 845-4644, email keith-randall@tamu.edu.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Low-profile singers of the animal world!: An MSNBC article that includes a picture and a song recorded in the Smotherman lab.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dual-career Couples: Double the Opportunities
By Amelia Williamson

Ginger Carney holding Eli, Adam Jones, Noah is in the black shirt and Nathan standing behind NoahWhen husband and wife Adam Jones and Ginger Carney – both biology researchers at Texas A&M University – were looking for jobs, their No. 1 criterion was finding an institution that would hire both of them. The couple has been together since they met in graduate school, and the thought of having to be apart in order to both pursue their careers was unbearable.

(Seen here are Ginger Carney holding Eli, Adam Jones, Noah is in the black shirt and Nathan standing behind Noah)

“It was critical for us to find jobs at the same university so we could be together,” Carney said. “That was by far the most important thing for us. We had lots of places that we could consider independently of one another, but we wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t had the option of both working at A&M.”

Texas A&M’s College of Science has hired 21 such dual-faculty couples over the past five years. Half of these couples were hired under former Texas A&M President Robert Gates’ 2003 reinvestment plan to hire 447 additional tenured and tenure-track faculty (70 in the College of Science) by 2008.

“President Gates’ reinvestment plan has allowed us the opportunity to find truly outstanding couples who were looking for a university at which they could both get jobs, which is often very difficult to find,” said H. Joseph Newton, dean of the College of Science.

Sherry Yennello, associate dean for diversity in the College of Science, said the reinvestment plan gave the college additional flexibility in hiring dual-career couples. “[With each couple], we were able to attract two exceptionally qualified individuals because we could offer both of them tenure-track positions,” Yennello said. “We took on the view that these were ‘two-body opportunities,’ and this attitude put us at a competitive advantage to other institutions.”

Dr. Ginger CarneyCarney added, “There are not that many places that have the resources and willingness to hire two spouses at the same time, and that makes a difference.”

Another advantage to hiring couples is that they tend to stay at the university, Yennello said. “For another institution to attract them away, the other institution would have to be able to come up with career opportunities for both of the partners.”

Jones and Carney have been at Texas A&M since December 2004 and said they enjoy the school spirit at A&M and the “cohesive university environment” that has enabled them to build strong professional relationships with their colleagues.

While both Jones and Carney wanted to be able to pursue their research careers, having a family was also very important to them. The two have been married for nine years and have three children (ages seven, four, and two). Although the couple admits it can be difficult to balance work and family responsibilities with such research-intensive jobs, they said the flexibility in their schedules makes it easier.

“It’s hard to have a family and to function at the high level that is expected,” Carney said, “but [it’s nice to] have the ability to adjust our schedules and work evenings if we need to be gone for a family obligation.”

Dr. Adam JonesAlthough both Jones and Carney’s research interests are in genetics, their specific areas of study differ. Jones studies ecology and evolution issues from a genetics standpoint and Carney is interested in how genes in the nervous system regulate behavior. The couple said they enjoy talking about their work at home and that their research interests have begun to overlap partly because of this.

Jones said he is happy with the way things have worked out and is grateful that Texas A&M was so accommodating of their two careers.

“We’ve been extremely lucky because we’ve never had to live apart,” he said. “A lot of people in a similar situation as us spend time at positions apart from each other, but we’ve managed to be really lucky.”


February 6, 2008

Threat shuts down A&M building
Other News Articles Here

Eagle Staff Writer

A bomb threat shut down one of the busiest buildings on the Texas A&M campus Wednesday, turning 10,000 students away from classes.

According to police and university officials, the scare was caused by a typed note found on a bulletin board in a campus residence hall. A student who discovered the note immediately took it to a staff member who called police about 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Police would not say which dorm the note was found in or what it said.

Within an hour, police cleared Heldenfelds Hall, which already was almost empty, while three agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms led two dogs through the building in search of potential explosives.

The search lasted until about 1 a.m. Wednesday morning. Police found nothing and declared that they were "reasonably certain" that the building was safe, however; A&M officials still decided to close the building for the day.

"We discussed it with top administration and I think they felt under the circumstances, and without [investigators] being able to assure that the building was completely safe, they believe that the prudent thing to do was err on the side of abundant caution and keep it closed for the day," said Chris Meyer, vice president for environmental health and safety at A&M.

Classes in the building are expected to return to a normal schedule Thursday. Heldenfelds Hall is a four-story building near the Quad that is filled with large lecture halls for beginning science classes, offices and lab rooms. Officers stood guard outside throughout Wednesday.

Students were notified of the closure by an early morning university-wide e-mail. Still, many arrived at the building without receiving the e-mail to see signs with the announcement posted on the doors. Many speculated that the threat was made by a student attempting to get out of a test, a thought that crossed the mind administrators, too.

"We certainly consider those types of scenarios, but if we can't verify that is the case then we have to consider the other possibilities as well," Meyer said. "In this case, we were unable to determine for certain that this was a hoax."

Meyer said that the university has had bomb threats before, but this week's was the first in recent times.

In 1985, a student was arrested for phoning in a bomb threat to Bolton Hall in order to avoid taking a political science test. Police said at the time that a study group agreed the test would be too difficult, and offered a case of beer and a bottle of whiskey to a classmate if he phoned in a threat.

At least two tests were postponed Wednesday because of the threat. Interim Provost Jerry Strawser said that administration has not directly discussed with professors how to address the skipped classes.

"It will be handled like we have handled weather days in the past," Strawser said. "Faculty can either make up the time during the semester or we have classes at the end of the semester, too."

No suspects have been identified in the case, according to University Police Chief Elmer Schnieder. Police are requesting that anyone with information about the threat call 845-2345.

If found, the author of the letter could face charges of making a terroristic threat and could face a Class A misdemeanor or felony charge. Either level of the charge could bring jail time.

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