|Past News Articles|
Friday, May 14, 2011 - A number of undergraduate students were recognized at the Spring 2011 Graduation Reception and Poster Competition, held in Butler Hall.
Students who graduated with a 4.0:
Jonathan William Havener – BS Biology
Students who were inducted into Phi Beta Kappa for the 2011-2012 fiscal year:
Dustin Oscar Cargill (Biology)
Spring 2012 Distinguished Student Award winner:
Rachel Adams – Ginger Carney lab
1st place winner for the poster contest:
Hannah Starke – "The effects of peritoneal dialysis fluid and its components on the differentiation of white blood cells into fibrocytes."
Runners’ up for the poster contest:
William Jackson – "Who's sound is it anyways? Sound differentiation in Mexican Free-tail bats."
Emily Kasl, a graduate student in Charles Criscione’s lab, was awarded a competitive research grant: the American Society of Parasitologists Willis A. Reid, Jr. Student Research Grant in the amount of $750.00. The award is to help support her research entitled “Elucidating Patterns of Freshwater Biodiversity Using Host-Parasite Co-Phylogeography”. Her work will test current delineations of freshwater ecoregion boundaries (i.e., conservation units) using a crayfish-trematode parasite system.
Wednesday February 9, 2011
COLLEGE STATION, Feb. 9, 2011 — When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go — upstream, that is, if you are a male swordtail fish seeking a mate, according to research from Texas A&M University.
A recent study led by Texas A&M biologists Dr. Gil Rosenthal and Dr. Heidi Fisher in collaboration with scientists at Centro de Investigaciones Cientificas de las Huastecas in Hidalgo, Mexico, and Boston University has determined that the fish use chemical cues in their urine to elicit sexual responses from their downstream female counterparts.
In a study funded by the National Science Foundation and the American Livebearer Association, Rosenthal and his team found that male swordtail fish strategically release pheromone-packed urine in the presence of females as a display of courtship, indicating that they have evolved a temporal and spatial control of their pheromone release. The findings, which are featured in the current issue of the journal “Public Library of Science (PLoS) ONE,” contradict previous assumptions that male pheromones in fish are passively released, given that most fish lack specialized scent glands or scent-marking behavior.
“We showed that male swordtail fish use chemicals in the urine as mating signals,” Rosenthal says. “There’s been relatively little work on how pheromones shape the lives of aquatic creatures.”
The team studied wild-caught swordtail adults from the Rio Atempa in Huitznopala, Mexico, to determine whether females were attracted by passively produced cues or to pheromones as a form of communication. Using fluorescein dye injections to visualize urine release inside an aquarium, the researchers were able to determine that male swordtails relieved themselves more frequently in the presence and proximity of females than when females were absent altogether. In the wild, males court females in much the same way, but by swimming further upstream to ensure their scent is detected in the current by the females downstream.
“Our findings show that aquatic species and vertebrates, in particular, can have fine control over their release of chemical cues in the same manner as mammals that mark their territories or advertise their reproductive state, for example,” says Fisher, a former postdoctoral researcher in Rosenthal’s laboratory who is now with the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.
Rosenthal notes that swordtail fish are considered an important model system in animal communication and are widely used in female mate-choice research. While numerous studies have addressed the role of cues in swordtails — from olfactory to visual — he says none previously have addressed exactly how and when chemical cues are released.
Rosenthal adds that studying the chemical signals of swordtails is vital not only to understanding how they and similar species communicate, but also because the information could be indicative of several environmental factors that could prove useful in the future. For example, he says, any amount of pollution might disrupt the communication within a species, thereby interfering with the courting and mating process and ultimately affecting the population.
To scientists like Rosenthal, these underwater chemical cues can serve as the proverbial “canary in the coal mine.”
“Because these chemicals are rich in information and because they’re transmitted through the water at very low concentrations, any change in the environment has the potential to shut down communication,” he explains. “The silver lining is that we might be able to use communication behavior as a bioassay that local communities can use to detect pollutants in the water.”
To learn more about Rosenthal’s lab and their work with swordtail fish, visit http://swordtail.tamu.edu/en/index.html.
About Research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world’s leading research institutions, Texas A&M is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents an annual investment of more than $630 million, which ranks third nationally for universities without a medical school, and underwrites approximately 3,500 sponsored projects. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world. For more on research at Texas A&M, visit http://rgs.tamu.edu.
About the Public Library of Science: PLoS is a nonprofit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world’s scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource. To learn more, go to http://www.plos.org.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
COLLEGE STATION -- Biologists at Texas A&M University have made an important step toward understanding human mating behavior by showing that certain genes become activated in fruit flies when they interact with the opposite sex.
Their research, published in the January 2011 issue of the journal GENETICS, shows that courtship behaviors may be far more influenced by genetics than previously thought. In addition, this new understanding as to why and how these genes become activated within social contexts may also lead to insight into disorders such as autism.
"Be careful who you interact with," said Dr. Ginger E. Carney, associate professor of biology and co-author of the study. "The choice may affect your physiology, behavior and health in unexpected ways."
To make this discovery, Carney and a student in her laboratory, Lisa L. Ellis, compared gene expression profiles in males that courted females, males that interacted with other males, and males that did not interact with other flies. The investigators identified a common set of genes that respond to the presence of either sex. They also discovered that there are other genes which are only affected by being placed with members of a particular sex, either male or female. The researchers then tested mutant flies that were missing some of these socially responsive genes and confirmed that these particular genes are important for behavior.
Carney and Ellis predict that analyzing additional similar genes will give further insight into genes and neural signaling pathways that influence reproductive and other behavioral interactions.
"This study shows that we're closing in on the complex genetic machinery that affects social interactions," said Mark Johnston, editor-in-chief of GENETICS. "Once similar genes are identified in humans, the implications will be enormous, as it could bring new understanding of, and perhaps even treatments for, a vast range of disorders related to social behavior."
Carney, who joined the Texas A&M Department of Biology faculty in 2004, earned her Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Georgia in 1998. She held positions as a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon State University (1998-2002) and as a faculty research scientist at Georgia Institute of Technology (2002-2004) prior to coming to Texas A&M, where her research focuses on the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and its genetic control of behavior and nervous system development.
Because fruit flies undergo many of the same developmental processes as larger creatures, including humans, Carney said they serve as model organisms, allowing researchers to observe details that can‘t necessarily be seen in more complex animals. Through this study and her future research, she hopes to learn more about how individual genes regulate behaviors from mating to central nervous system function in humans.
To learn more about Carney and her research, click here.
For more information on GENETICS, go to http://www.genetics.org.
About Research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world‘s leading research institutions, Texas A&M is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents an annual investment of more than $630 million, which ranks third nationally for universities without a medical school, and underwrites approximately 3,500 sponsored projects. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world.
About GENETICS: Since 1916, GENETICS has covered high quality, original research on a range of topics bearing on inheritance, including population and evolutionary genetics, complex traits, developmental and behavioral genetics, cellular genetics, gene expression, genome integrity and transmission, and genome and systems biology. GENETICS, the peer-reviewed, peer-edited journal of the Genetics Society of America is one of the world‘s most cited journals in genetics and heredity.
News release includes significant contributions from GENETICS.
Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr. Ginger E. Carney, (979) 845-6587 or email@example.com
Male sea horses have been lauded as the gallant “Mr. Moms” of the animal world, and pipefish, their close relatives, are devoted fathers too. The female pipefish injects eggs into the male, which then bears live young. But research published in March suggests these model dads are not being selfless: Pipefish treat their offspring well only if they really like their mates.
At Texas A&M, researcher Kimberly Paczolt mated Gulf pipefish in multiple trials. Previous studies had shown that the males, which breed with a single female at a time, show a preference for larger partners. Paczolt found that offspring of these attractive females had higher survival rates than those of their less comely kin. She suspects the males employ “cryptic choice,” a strategy of selecting a mother for their babies after mating has occurred. The father pipefish might do this by transferring more nutrients to broods mothered by attractive females and allowing less desirable broods to languish. “If it’s just the only female he’s been able to find and she isn’t particularly attractive, it may trigger a signal that says, ‘Hold off—I think I can do better in the future,’ ” Paczolt says.
This morning, at the annual Research Foundation Councilor Meeting, Tim Hall was announced as the winner of the JoAnn Treat Award for 2010. The Award is given to researchers who are leaders in their field and whose discoveries have had a dramatic impact on their discipline. The Award included a commemorative plaque and $10,000, which Tim has opted to use for research. Tim's name will also be recorded on the JoAnn Treat commemorative glass vase displayed in the Research Foundation lobby. Tim gave an eloquent acceptance speech that brought honor to the entire faculty.
Thursday, November 4, 2010 -
COLLEGE STATION, Texas—Texas A&M senior linebacker Michael Hodges and junior quarterback/wide receiver Ryan Tannehill were named to the ESPN Academic All-District VI squad as selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) it was announced today.
By earning first-team All-District honors, Hodges and Tannehill will now move on to the national ballot to become ESPN Academic All-America honorees.
“I could not be more proud of these two fine young men,” Aggie head football coach Mike Sherman said. “Michael and Ryan conduct themselves with class and are great examples of giving their best not only on the football field, but in the classrooms as well. They are excellent leaders, on and off of the playing field.”
Hodges, a senior from Helotes, Texas, has already graduated from the Mays Business School with a degree in management posting a 3.82 grade-point. He is currently working on a master’s degree in marketing and has posted a perfect 4.0 in his graduate courses.
Tannehill, a junior from Big Spring, Texas, is on schedule to graduate in May 2011 with a degree in biology. He has a 3.59 grade-point and hopes to attend medical school upon graduation with the goal of becoming an orthopedic surgeon.
Hodges has started 18 games at linebacker for the Aggies and currently is second on the team in tackles with 57 stops (26 solo). He has 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, has broken up two other passes and has two quarterback hurries and one fumble caused. Hodges underwent surgery for a torn ACL in the spring of 2009 and came back to play later that same year for the Aggies. This fall, he is closer to 100 percent and has started every game this season.
Tannehill has played at wide receiver for the Aggies in his first three years of competition and led the team in receptions the past two seasons. He set Aggie freshman records with 55 catches for 844 yards and five touchdowns in 2008 earning honorable mention Freshman All-America honors. As a sophomore, he caught 46 passes for 609 yards and four touchdowns and received honorable mention All-Big 12 honors as a wide receiver, while serving as the team’s backup quarterback as well. This past week, he started his first game at quarterback and responded with a school-record 449 passing yards on 36-of-50 (72.0 pct) passing with four touchdowns against his father’s alma mater, Texas Tech. The 36 completions is the second-best mark in school history. In addition to having a 400-yard passing day, a 200-yard receiving day, a double-digit receiving game, over 100 career catches, over 1,500 career receiving yards, a punt that was downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, Tannehill has held for 145 snaps on placekicks including the most recent string of 104 straight which is a school record.
Thursday, October 7, 2010 -
Michael J. Benedik, a professor of biology at Texas A&M University, will spend two weeks abroad next month teaching in Africa as a result of his 2010 American Society for Microbiology (ASM) International Professorship.
Benedik will leave the United States Nov. 12 to assist in teaching a course on microbial genetics and biotechnology at the University of Lagos in Nigeria alongside his host, Matthew Olusoji Ilori. Their course will focus on manipulating bacteria for useful purposes such as environmental clean-up.
“I’m most looking forward to the opportunity to interact with students and faculty who have very different resources, experiences and backgrounds,” Benedik said. “It will also be a new experience for me to visit a new part of the world and experience life in one of the new megacities of the world, Lagos.”
Benedik was awarded the professorship earlier this summer as part of the ASM International Professorships for Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean — one of three categories under the ASM International Professorships Program umbrella. These professorships enable ASM members who are scientifically recognized in their areas of expertise to teach highly-interactive mini-courses on single topics in the microbiological sciences at institutions of higher learning in the affiliated countries. As visiting professors, they are expected to serve as resources to other faculty and students throughout these areas and also to facilitate international collaborations between institutions. The professorship will provide funds for the trip and living expenses during the visiting professor’s stay.
Benedik is no stranger to venturing from his classroom to teach in other countries to introduce new technology and different ways of doing science. Last summer, he taught a mini-course at Peking University in Bejing, China. Three years ago, he taught one in Cape Town, South Africa. With each trip, Benedik said he always looks forward to the experience of an unfamiliar culture through his temporary students and, likewise, presenting them with a taste of Texas A&M culture — academia and otherwise.
“It’s an opportunity to bring Texas A&M into other parts of the world,” he explained. “I fully anticipate some of the students wanting to come back here for graduate study after this trip.”
Benedik, who joined the Texas A&M biology faculty in 2004, has served since 2005 on the Texas A&M Faculty Senate, for which he currently is speaker-elect. In addition, he was appointed as the first-ever faculty ombuds officer for the university in May.
Benedik earned his bachelor’s degree in biology with honors from the University of Chicago in 1976 and his Ph.D. in biology from Stanford University in 1982. He previously served as an assistant professor of biology at Texas A&M from 1985 to 1989, then moved to the University of Houston, where he was a professor in the Department of Biology and Biochemistry. He also has worked as a staff scientist for DNAX Research Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology in Palo Alto, Calif.
The American Society for Microbiology is the largest life science professional organization with 43,000 members around the world. Established in 1899, the AMS strives to advance microbiological sciences to enhance the understanding of life processes for the betterment of health and environmental and economic prosperity worldwide.
For more information on the American Society for Microbiology, visit http://www.asm.org/.
To learn more about Benedik and his teaching and research, go to http://www.bio.tamu.edu/FACMENU/FACULTY/BenedikM.php.
Monday, September 13, 2010
Deep in a sulfur cave in southern Mexico, a group of indigenous people have for centuries asked their gods for bountiful rain by stunning the cave's fish with a natural plant toxin. Once the fish have succumbed, the Zoque people scoop them into baskets for eating. Now scientists are finding the ancient religious practice is impacting the fish's evolution.
Those fish that are resistant to the anesthesia survive to pass on their genes, while the others simply meet their demise.
The religious ceremony is held in the sulfur cave Cueva del Azufre each year at the end of the dry season during the holy week before Easter. The Zoque grind up the toxic, carrot-shaped roots of the tropical barbasco plant and mix them with lime to form a paste, which they wrap in leaves. They place the bundles about 110 yards (100 meters) into the cave to poison its waters and anesthetize fish, which the Zoque believe are gifts from gods that inhabit the underworld. The collected fish supplement the meals of the Zoque until crops are ready for harvest.
"We actually got to eat some of these cave fish," said researcher Michael Tobler, an evolutionary ecologist at Oklahoma State University. "They're not very good, by the way." [Image of religious ceremony]
How some fish survive
Tobler and his colleagues were in the area investigating cave-dwelling specimens of the small, guppy-sized Atlantic molly (Poecilia mexicana), to figure out how these fish made their way from the surface all the way underground. And once in the dark reaches of the cave, Tobler wondered how they survived in the cave system despite the presence of toxic hydrogen sulfide there.
"We learned about the ceremony, and actually attended it in 2007," Tobler recalled. "The families each take a certain amount of the fish home. The way we had ours prepared was that they were just mixed with scrambled eggs, although I hear other families fry them. They had a funny salty taste to them, although I'm not sure if that's because of their sulfuric environment, or something the cook messed up."
To see whether this ceremony influenced the evolution of these fish, the researchers collected specimens from the annually poisoned waters as well as areas upstream that hadn't been affected by the ritual. They next placed barbasco root toxin into tanks holding the fish.
Fish exposed to the annual ritual indeed proved more resistant to the toxin than fish that lived elsewhere, able to swim in poisoned waters for roughly 50 percent longer. As such, the poison from the ceremony apparently has over time helped select fish that can tolerate it — fish that cannot get captured and killed by the Zoque.
"What is most exciting to me is that we were really able to find these connections between the natural world and culture, to find that over generations, the local community actually affected the evolutionary trajectory of this population of fish," Tobler told LiveScience.
The local government has now actually banned the ceremony, because they felt it might pose a danger to the cave fish.
"It's very important that the cave and these fish are protected, but I think it's also very important that the local people can live with these ceremonies they inherited from their ancestors," Tobler said. "We see our role as learning more about the actual impact of these ceremonies, to see if we can develop recommendations for the Zoque and the local government as to what a sustainable way to continuing this ceremony might be."
The scientists detailed their findings online Sept. 8 in the journal Biology Letters.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
COLLEGE STATION, Sept. 8, 2010 – One of the nation’s most influential biophysicists and a leading expert on biological terrorism will visit the Texas A&M University campus next week to present two free public lectures as part of the 2010 Emily and Robert Walker ’45 Endowed Lectureship in Biology.
Dr. Steven M. Block, the S.W. Ascherman Chair of Sciences in the Department of Applied Physics and Biology at Stanford University, will present “Facing the Growing Threat of Bioterrorism” on Thursday, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m. in the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center on the grounds of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. Tickets are not required, but RSVPs are encouraged at http://block.questionpro.com due to seating limitations for the lecture, which will detail for a general audience the remarkable pace of modern biotechnological advancements and the resulting increase of biological weapons, their inevitable future and the most effective strategies to combat them.
On Friday, Sept. 17, at 4 p.m., Block will present a second, more technical talk, “The Biophysics of Gene Regulation, Studied One Molecule at a Time,” tailored to life sciences specialists and addressing his current research on single-molecule systems, including transcription by RNA polymerase and structural transitions in nucleic acids. The event will be held in the auditorium of Texas A&M’s Interdisciplinary Life Sciences Building (ILSB).
Block, a senior fellow of the Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford, earned his bachelor’s of arts (1974) and master’s of arts (1978) degrees from Oxford University as well as a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology (1983). After completing postdoctoral work at Stanford (1983-87), he served as staff scientist at the Rowland Institute for Science, a lecturer at Harvard University (1987-93) and a professor of microbiology at Princeton University (1994-99) prior to joining the faculty at Stanford in 1999. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Biophysical Society.
Block’s research lies at the interface of physics and biology. His laboratory pioneered the use of laser-based optical traps, also known as “optical tweezers,” to study the nanoscale motions of individual biomolecules. It was the first to measure the length of individual steps taken by a single motor protein, kinesin, walking along microtubes and by single RNA polymerase enzymes as these move from base to base along DNA.
In the public policy arena, Block has written and spoken extensively about the threat of bioterrorism. He serves as a member of JASON, a group comprised mainly of academicians that consults for the United States government on a variety of technical matters related to national security.
The Emily and Robert Walker ’45 Endowed Lectureship in Biology was established in 1995 to bring outstanding research in the biological sciences to the attention of the Texas A&M University community.
Block’s lectures are co-sponsored by the Department of Biology and the College of Science in conjunction with the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs, the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum and the Division of Research and Graduate Studies.
To RSVP for the Sept. 16 bioterrorism lecture, please visit http://block.questionpro.com by Tuesday, Sept. 14.
For more information on either event or Block and his research, please contact the Texas A&M College of Science at (979) 845-7361.
Contact: Shana K. Hutchins at (979) 862-1237
Paul Hardin, Distinguished Professor of Biology, recently received notice that his grant proposal "Regulation of Circadian Transcription" will be funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The proposal, which ranked in the top 1% of grant proposals, is a five year study to determine how protein modifications control daily rhythms in the transcription of genes that govern the timing of behavioral, physiological and metabolic rhythms.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Malfunction of a protein has been linked to a form of mental retardation that affects up to one out of every 500 males, says Nasser K. Yaghi, a Texas A&M University magna cum laude biology graduate who was selected to participate in a medical research project at Harvard that has been published in the journal Nature.
The results of the study suggest that if the condition is detected early in fetal development a treatment could possibly be developed to correct the problem.
“X-linked mental retardation (XLMR) is a human genetic disease affecting up to 2 out of 1,000 males and causes significant reduction in intellectual development characterized by an IQ less than 70,” Yaghi says. “Many of these patients also have deficits in craniofacial (head and face) development such as cleft lip and cleft palate.”
The double helix of DNA spools around proteins called histones, whose activities regulate gene expression, and PHF8, an enzyme in the family of histone demethylases, regulates some of these histones, he explains.
“Mutations in PHF8 have been found in patients with XLMR and craniofacial malformations,” Yaghi adds. “Importantly, these mutations compromised PHF8’s catalytic function.”
Biological function of PHF8 was tested in zebrafish, which have an evolutionarily conserved PHF8 called zPHF8. Expression of zPHF8 was found in the developing zebrafish embryo mostly in the head region and was also able to be detected in the jaw, Yaghi notes.
When zPHF8’s expression was inhibited, delay in brain development and the neural tube was observed. In addition, “when zPHF8 is not present in the developing zebrafish embryo, there are very noticeable differences in craniofacial development early in development when compared to normal embryos,” he adds.
“Although this study was largely basic science research, I can hypothesize that when XLMR can be detected early in fetal development through genetic screening, then possibly a treatment could be created that would target the mutated PHF8 gene or introduce a new way to allow for proper histone demethylation in the absence of nonfunctional PHF8, and this would possibly correct the defect and allow proper development to continue,” he explains.
Yaghi graduated magna cum laude from Texas A&M in May, with a bachelor of science degree in molecular and cell biology and a minor in psychology. He participated in the research at Harvard through the Summer Honors Undergraduate Research Program (SHURP), which accepts about 8 percent of the students who apply for a fully funded 10-week research opportunity at Harvard Medical School.
The journal article can be accessed online at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v466/n7305/full/nature09261.html.
Anand Narayanan, a biology Ph.D. student from India has been honored with the Eppright Outstanding International Student for the 2009-10 academic years. It is the highest honor bestowed on an international student currently enrolled at Texas A&M University. This award is in recognition of his academic excellence, leadership and contributions toward the promotion of international awareness at Texas A&M University and in the local community. One international student is recognized with this award every year.
The award was presented to him by Dr. Karan L. Watson, Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, at the All University Awards Ceremony during Parents' Weekend on April 18, 2010. Anand is no stranger to the All-University Awards, as he was recognized with the Diversity Award, Buck Weirus Spirit Award, and was named to Who's Who among students in American Colleges and Universities at the ceremony in 2009.
Anand is an active member of the University Apartments Community Council and the International Graduate Students' Association. He organized two collection drives in University Apartments, the proceeds were donated to Twin City Mission and victims of Hurricane Ike. He has also assisted this year with fundraising for Haiti relief efforts.
Riyadh Chakmachi, a former international student from Iraq, created the Outstanding International Student Award in 1985. In 1991, the award was endowed through the generosity of the late Col. George J. Eppright, Class of 1926. Criteria for receiving this prestigious award include an excellent academic record, involvement in a wide array of university and community activities, and promotion of international awareness on campus and in the community.
Honorable Mentions for the award were: Masa Sukovic, a PhD student in Communication from Serbia, and Maria Fernandez, an undergraduate student in Political Science from Mexico.
Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academics Karan L. Watson announced that Michael J. Benedik, professor of biology, has accepted the position of faculty ombuds officer effective June 1. Benedik was selected for the position after a campus-wide search. The faculty ombuds officer, a part-time appointment reporting directly to the provost, will serve as an independent, confidential and impartial resource for faculty. Benedik's primary responsibilities will be to raise and clarify issues and concerns, identify options and request assistance to informally resolve workplace conflicts, Watson said. In cases where informal resolution efforts fail or are not advisable, he will counsel faculty of their options for formal action and will direct them to the appropriate university rules, resources, and offices. As vice-chair of his department at the University of Houston, Benedik was responsible for faculty affairs. He was involved in establishing a mentoring program for junior faculty and had oversight of all promotion and tenure applications. He also served on both his college and university grievance committees. At Texas A&M he has served as vice-chair of the Faculty of Genetics and as director of the graduate program in the Department of Biology. In addition, he has served on the University Grievance Committee for six years and was elected by that committee to serve as chair for the past four years. He also has served on the Faculty Senate since 2005 and is presently on its executive committee.
Friday, April 7, 2010
Honorable mention Matthew Grunewald ’12 is a Genetics and Biochemistry double-major from Madison, Mississippi. A University Scholar, his major research interests are genomic engineering, specifically as applied to treatment of genetic disorders. He will pursue a PhD in Biochemistry, and he was recently selected to participate in the German government’s
Goldwater Scholars are selected on the basis of academic merit, and virtually all intend to obtain a Ph.D. and pursue research careers. The one- and two-year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year. Recent Goldwater Scholars have been awarded 73 Rhodes Scholarships, 102 Marshall Awards
The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established by Public Law 99-661 on November 14, 1986. The Scholarship Program honoring Senator Barry M. Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. The Goldwater Scholarship is the
Silvana Paredes Awarded the Roozbeh Arianpour Endowed Memorial Scholarship in Biology
Science Gift Honors Genetics Grad
The notion that 2001 Texas A&M University graduate Roozbeh Arianpour had a bright life ahead of him was, to many, a foregone conclusion. Not only did he graduate summa cum laude with a degree in genetics, Roozbeh also continued his education at Oxford University, where he earned his master’s degree, then returned to Texas, eager to begin medical school at the University of Texas in San Antonio.
However, what was surely destined to develop into a promising future was tragically cut short on June 6, 2003, when Roozbeh was shot by a childhood friend at the age of 23 while visiting family and friends in his hometown of Tyler, Texas.
Though gone, his memory was cemented in November 2009 with the completion of the Roozbeh Arianpour Endowed Memorial Scholarship in Biology. Established by his mother, Farideh Moharer Arianpour of Tyler through the Texas A&M Foundation, the $1,250 scholarship is awarded annually to well-deserving, full-time biology students pursuing graduate degrees as chosen by a committee of faculty and staff.
For Farideh, establishing a scholarship in her son’s name was an obvious decision. It would ensure that the legacy of the academically gifted young man, who made replicating strands of DNA seem as effortless as his groundstroke during a game of tennis — a testament to his propensity to excel both in and out of the classroom at favorite activities — would live vicariously through students who receive his scholarship and exhibit his same penchant for knowledge.
“I am hoping by this scholarship I will be able to keep Roozbeh’s name alive and achieve my broken dreams,” Farideh adds. “I am hoping that the students who will benefit from this scholarship will understand the depth of Roozbeh’s mission in life and science, and will be interested in his goals and remembering him.”
Silvana Paredes, a graduate student in Texas A&M Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Keith Maggert’s laboratory, is this year’s scholarship recipient. The Colombia native is currently researching Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly, and the role of a cluster of genes located on the Y chromosome. Hoping to one day expand her work into a career in cancer research, Paredes is optimistic about the opportunities that may come from the scholarship.
“It is very comforting to know that my work is being recognized in our community, and that makes me want to keep working hard,” Parades says. “This scholarship is very positive for my career. Having recognition from the Department of Biology just proves that, with good work, I have fulfilled their standards. I know that this recognition will not be overlooked when I move forward in my career and try to get a job.”
Paredes will be officially recognized with the scholarship Thursday (March 25) — what would have been Roozbeh’s 30th birthday — at the Texas A&M College of Science’s Spring Recognition and Awards Dinner, to be held at Pebble Creek Country Club in College Station. Scholarships, Paredes says, are vital for students to reach their scholastic pinnacle, and for that, she is most grateful to be a recipient of the one memorializing Roozbeh.
“I think that scholarships are a very good way to encourage people to become the best of themselves and also give the chance to everyone to achieve their goals regardless of their economic background,” she says. “I want to thank the donors of the Roozbeh Arianpour Memorial Scholarship and the selection committee for honoring me with this award.”
It is a mentality that Roozbeh likely shared, as he was no stranger to illustrious academic awards or scholarships. He was named to the Dean’s List of Outstanding Undergraduate Excellence for three consecutive years at Texas A&M. He also earned several scholarships in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Department of Biochemistry. In addition, he was a published author in the field of genetics and a leader in such organizations as the Texas A&M Health Students of America and the American Medical Student Association.
Farideh says Roozbeh, who was mesmerized by his research and motivated by a profound thirst for knowledge, could often be found both day and night in the laboratory of Texas A&M biology professor Dr. Ira Greenbaum, one of his favorite instructors and most influential mentors.
“It was where Roozbeh found meaning for life and his philosophy, the place where Roozbeh carried a pillow to take a nap after long hours of lab work,” she recalls. “He would even ask me to call him at the lab, and I still have the lab’s phone number in my phone book. It was such a pleasure to call him while knowing he was wholeheartedly working on something he was passionate about.”
Described by many as a natural leader with a solid career in neuroscience on the horizon, Roozbeh made a memorable impact on most people he encountered in life, resulting in a large outpouring of support following his untimely death. However, two such supporters who were instrumental in raising funds for the memorial scholarship had never even met Roozbeh.
The first, Dr. Joseph H. Emmert, a Bastrop dentist and 1969 Texas A&M biology graduate, provided bridge funding for the scholarship in its early days so it could be awarded before it reached endowment level. In addition, it was Emmert’s final gift that put it over the top.
The second, Brian Dias, was a graduate student at The University of Texas in Austin when he first met Roozbeh’s sister, Rouzheen, during a game of volleyball in 2005. The more they talked, the more their friendship blossomed, Dias says, progressing to that of a surrogate sibling relationship.
As he learned more about Roozbeh from Rouzheen, Dias was intrigued by the striking similarities between himself and Roozbeh. They were the same age; Dias’ brother was the same age as Rouzheen; and both young men had chosen to pursue careers in the life sciences. Dias, who by now had grown quite close to the entire Arianpour family, felt a calling to honor Roozbeh in some way.
“It’s one of those things where the constellations just aligned,” Dias explains. “I’m a scientist. I’m quite grounded in how I think, but some things you just don’t question, and one of them is the Arianpours being a part of my life.”
When Rouzheen moved to Chicago in 2008, Dias, who is an avid runner, saw a shining opportunity to honor Roozbeh. He decided to run the Chicago Marathon in October that year and raise money in Roozbeh’s name for the memorial scholarship. After receiving the Arianpours’ blessing and contacting as many people as he could for support, Dias took on the grueling challenge.
“It was a very tough run, and it wasn’t my best by any stretch, but I wore his name and picture on my heart,” Dias says. “Roozbeh was my inspiration the whole way.”
Though he does not quite remember how much money was raised for Roozbeh, Dias recalls the response was overwhelming. Moreover, he believes that, with the support of so many of his friends firmly behind a complete stranger to complete a daunting run in order to help fund a memorial scholarship in his name, Roozbeh likely would have only been deeply appreciative.
“From what I’ve been told, he would’ve respected the response, but he would be nonchalant about it,” Dias adds. “He would just go about his work. He was on course to making a real difference in the world, and he was doing it in a very unassuming and humble way.”
Learn more about memorial scholarships or other giving opportunities through the Texas A&M Foundation.
Friday, March 26, 2010
A select group of undergraduate biology majors at Texas A&M University is spending the spring semester getting up close and personal with bread mold. They also are test-driving their potential for research careers as participants in a large-scale, nationwide experiment involving analysis of the Neurospora crassa genome.
Eleven students currently are enrolled in a new upper-level course, “BIOL 489: Special Topics in Fungal Functional Genomics,” taught for the first time this semester by Professor of Biology Matthew Sachs and funded as part of a $12 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant awarded through the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS).
In addition to joining Sachs, an international expert in fungal biology and the regulation of translation, in the new course are fellow biology professors Deborah Bell-Pedersen, an international expert in Neurospora crassa circadian rhythms and a prominent member of Texas A&M’s world-renowned Center for Biological Clocks Research (CBCR), and Rodolfo Aramayo, an international expert in pathways that control gene expression during meiosis who also uses this fungus as a model.
The course is designed to help educate students in phenotyping Neurospora knockout mutants as part of a widespread effort involving several universities and laboratories to better understand Neurospora crassa and its properties.
Beyond course credit, the class offers a unique approach to getting students involved in a comprehensive experiment that they hope will benefit both the students and the scientific community. In addition to contributing to a national research effort in which student findings will be showcased side-by-side with those of principal investigators in the Neurospora crassa database housed at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., the class is providing students with a new means of getting valuable hands-on research experience in an environment in which many biology majors previously have not had the opportunity for research experience due to the limited number of faculty and laboratories available.
“It is top-notch research; they are finding out new things, and we can get more students research experience,” Bell-Pedersen explains. “Many of them are considering graduate school, so this gives them a real push in that direction.”
Senior genetics major Michael Guffey is one such student benefiting from the lab work who hopes to apply the experience to life after college.
“With a future career in plant science, this course has helped me better understand Neurospora crassa, a model for filamentous fungal pathogens that will still be relevant for years to come,” Guffey says. “The work I have done previously in other labs has involved organic synthesis, biochemistry and some molecular genetics, but I have never seen the expression of mutations like this before [in Sachs' lab]. It’s exciting to see genetics in this way, as phenotypes.”
Understanding Neurospora crassa’s physiological capacity has been the top priority of the investigators on this project since 2003, when the Broad Institute published the sequence of the genome on a National Science Foundation-funded project in which Sachs was one of the principal investigators. Once the information was made available, scientists in the fungal community were interested in taking it further, resulting in a multi-institutional Program Project grant (a “P01″ in NIH parlance) led by National Academy of Sciences member Dr. Jay Dunlap of Dartmouth University . The subsequent, aggressive push to uncover as much as possible about the genome includes numerous universities, such as Texas A&M, the Broad Institute of Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Oregon State University, University of Oregon, Oregon Health and Science University, University of California-Riverside, Ohio State University, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Boston University and Yale University. In the past five years, two-thirds of the genome’s 10,000 total genes have been knocked out by researchers at Dartmouth and UC-Riverside.
When Sachs left Oregon Health and Science University to join the Texas A&M Department of Biology faculty in 2007, he brought the project with him. Bell-Pedersen subsequently joined the effort, adding the full resources of her own highly successful laboratory and the CBCR’s recently renewed NIH grant to this multi-investigator nationwide educational and research effort.
“It’s largely because of the great colleagues and resources for fungal biology that I was interested in moving to Texas A&M,” Sachs notes. “I thought there would be great new opportunities to expand on the project.”
In addition to the new course, the current grant also allots funds for Sachs and Bell-Pedersen to conduct individual research to develop new genomics tools to study environmental responses in Neurospora crassa , to knock out all the remaining genes in Neurospora to observe the genome’s reaction, and to begin a similar project in the fungus Aspergillus .
Thanks to additional support for undergraduate research from Texas A&M, this project has been able to obtain several key pieces of equipment, including incubators to maintain the growth of the fungus under controlled environmental conditions, several state-of-the-art sterile hoods, and a camera-fitted microscope to record the growth of the mutant strains – vital tools in carrying out the professors’ research and in teaching the next generation of researchers enrolled in their class.
Sachs, Bell-Pedersen and other national investigators participating in the project currently are focusing on the complex phenomenon of how an organism responds to environmental signals – or, in this case, what will happen after the organism responds to light or desiccation. This involves several techniques, including use of RNA sequencing – Sachs’ specialty – to identify all of the RNAs in the organism that are altered following its exposure to light, as well as the use of ChIP sequencing – the sequencing of DNA that is associated with specific factors in chromatin that have been purified by immunoprecipitation – to identify all of the components in the gene expression network that respond to light exposure.
Educational experiences aside, one might wonder why it is so important to focus so much time, effort and money on studying the physical structure and environmental responses of a fungus. Sachs says light-signaling experiments on the fungus also will give researchers a genome-wide view of the signaling pathways from the environment to the cellular responses, which then can be compared to those in humans and other mammals. Furthermore, Neurospora crassa has proven to be a convenient model for basic research and is linked to plant and animal pathogens, as well industrial strains of fungi that yield antibiotics and pharmaceuticals.
“Studying these responses allows us to ask other questions,” Bell-Pedersen adds. ” Neurospora is an outstanding model system for what happens in humans. This student research has the potential to help us understand what happens in human disease and to identify new therapies.”
For additional background and information on the Neurospora Genome Program Project, visit http://www.fgsc.net/Neurospora/neurospora.html.
To see data collected on Neurospora crassa thus far by Texas A&M students and other participants involved in the project, visit http://www.broadinstitute.org/annotation/genome/neurospora/MultiHome.html.
For more information on the grant, visit http://projectreporter.nih.gov/project_info_details.cfm?aid=7633564.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Males show sexual selection before and after copulation.
In pipefish, pregnant males give birth to more young from attractive mates, new research shows.
Pipefish, sea horses, and sea dragons belong to a family in which the males get pregnant. In some of these species, the females court and compete for males. The pair then do a dance, which includes "twitching at each other and spiralling together, like a double helix", says lead author Kimberly Paczolt from Texas A&M University in College Station. As they spiral around each other, the female transfers the eggs into two rows along its mate's body. The male then fertilizes the eggs, and the brood pouch — which consists of two flaps — glues itself together in the middle. Weeks later, the seam breaks apart, tiny versions of the adults swim out, and the males are free to be impregnated again in as little as an hour.
The male's pouch protects the embryos and gives them oxygen and nutrients. But, Paczolt says, the male doesn't care for the babies with utter abandon. Rather, he tempers how much he invests in the eggs according to how large the female is.
In their study, published in Nature today, Paczolt and her colleague Adam Jones mated 22 male Gulf pipefish (Syngnathus scovelli) with two females each, in separate broods1. They found that the males preferred to mate with larger females, and that these more 'attractive' females transfer more eggs to the male and more of her young survive (see Nature's video).
They also found that if the males mate with larger females for his first brood, their second broods don't survive as well. Similarly, if a second brood does well, that means that the first brood probably wasn't mothered by a large female. "Males are making trade-offs; when they have limited resources, they have to invest in the smartest ways possible," says Paczolt.Infanticide and cannibalism?
The researchers then showed that a male pipefish will absorb some of his developing offspring — effectively eating some of his unborn young. This highlights a conflict of interest between the two sexes: the females surrender their eggs to the males in the hope that they will all be supported, but the males instead may support only a fraction of the brood.
"This potential for both the 'give and take' of resources during male pregnancy has prompted a reconsideration of the costs and benefits of male mating decisions in this system," says evolutionary biologist Tony Wilson at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. If differences in offspring survival can be directly linked to males making choices after mating it would be a "truly outstanding example" of such 'cryptic' choices, he says.
Jones devised a computer model to test when this sort of behaviour might be useful to males in nature. He created an 'electronic community' of pipefish in which he could vary the number of males and females, the size of the females and the smallest size of female with which a male would mate. Given the short supply of large females and the pickiness of the males, it is beneficial for a male to mate with a smaller female and raise at least some of that brood, according to the model. "And hopefully by the time those are born, he'll find a bigger female to mate with," Paczolt says.
The fact that male pipefish are selectively judging the fitness of their mate both before and after copulation is surprising because, in general, most animals judge the quality of their mates before sex or, in some species, after sex. "So rather than just be stuck with a female he doesn't like as much, he can invest only partially," Paczolt says.
"The suggestion that the brood pouch possibly evolved because it gives the males control to resolve the sexual conflict of interest between them and the females is very interesting indeed," says Axel Meyer from the University of Konstanz. It is possible that large females can manipulate males so that they give birth to their offspring, whereas males may have greater control over smaller females than they do over him, he says.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Scientists at Texas A&M University have found evidence that a protein which regulates the internal circadian clock of the cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus, a freshwater blue-green algae, is in fact controlled by a cofactor that can affect its circadian rhythm — a finding which may shed more light on how organisms from bacteria to mammals receive and interpret environmental cues.
Researchers Dr. David P. Barondeau, assistant professor of chemistry at Texas A&M, along with chemistry graduate student Jennifer Bridwell-Rabb of the Texas A&M Chemistry/Biology Interface (CBI) Training Program and biochemistry-biophysics postdoctoral research associate Thammajun L. Wood of the Texas A&M Center for Biological Clocks Research (CBCR) are collaborating with former Texas A&M professor Dr. Susan S. Golden and her team at the Center for Chronobiology and Division of Biological Sciences at the University of California-San Diego and Dr. Andy LiWang and his team at the University of California-Merced in the ongoing project to study KaiA, KaiB and KaiC, the proteins that control the circadian clock rhythm of S. elongatus and other bacteria.
The team’s results are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Long thought to be a biological feature of only eukaryotes, or complex-celled organisms, circadian clocks are the 24-hour cycle that determines an organism’s biological clock. Researchers only recently discovered that unicellular cyanobacteria possess a circadian clock as well, noting that they would go through photosynthesis during the day and then switch to the incompatible process of nitrogen fixation at night when oxygen levels are low. They determined that the organism used the circadian clock to separate the two processes.
In their current analysis of S. elongatus, the Texas A&M-led team found that the quinone analog 2,5-dibromo-3-methyl-6-isopropyl-p-benzoquinone (DBMIB) binds to KaiA, the modulator of its circadian clock, which directly senses environmental signals as changes in its oxidation-reduction (redox) state, thereby affecting its circadian clock. This, in turn, implies a correlation between redox and circadian rhythm.
“This is the biggest clue we have found so far,” said Bridwell-Rabb. “We didn’t know how environmental information is relayed to the oscillator to create these rhythms, so by KaiA binding this cofactor, it’s a direct link to environmental cues in redox and changing the rhythm.”
Cyanobateria has a very simple circadian clock in comparison to other multi-celled organisms. However, understanding its functions could have significant implications that could one day lead to a better understanding of the more complicated circadian clock in humans and other mammals.
Things that blunt our normal routines, such as sleep disorders or jet lag, could be better understood or even fixed, Barondeau noted.
“Humans have multiple circadian oscillators, and they are much more complex,” Barondeau said. “Cyanobacteria have a very simple biological clock. When it was discovered that these single-celled organisms have one, it became a really exciting opportunity for an in-depth study. The circadian clock is implicated in human health, including cancer and depression.”
In the meantime, Barondeau and Bridwell-Rabb hope to expand their work with the proteins in cyanobacteria and their relation to its circadian rhythm.
“It’s interesting how environmental signals are used to modify the clock,” Barondeau said. “We want to continue with more detailed structural investigations.”
About research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world’s leading research institutions, Texas A&M is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents an annual investment of more than $582 million, which ranks third nationally for universities without a medical school, and underwrites approximately 3,500 sponsored projects. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Texas A&M University has received a $3.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to complete additional state-of-the-art research laboratories at the institution’s new Interdisciplinary Life Sciences Building (ILSB), recently dedicated as a facility that will enable scientists there to “embark on the important work of solving some of the world’s most daunting challenges.”
This new funding will provide for more than 12,000 additional square feet of research space for studies in structural biology, synthetic chemistry/drug discovery, molecular virology and cancer biology, noted Texas A&M Vice President for Research Jeffrey R. Seemann.
Cong. Chet Edwards, who announced the grant, said, “Texas A&M continues to lead the way with vital research into treatments for many of today’s most serious diseases. This American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding will help build important research labs at Texas A&M that will advance innovative research while making a positive impact on the local economy.”
The $100 million, 220,000-square-foot building, representing one of the largest facilities investments at Texas A&M, was formally opened last fall but, as planned since its conception, has some space that was intended to be left in shell status and be completed as research opportunities are identified.
“With a facility of this magnitude – both in size and mission – we believe that we have gotten it ‘right,’” Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin said at the building’s formal opening. “We wanted to ensure that we had the right core services and facilities, the right PIs (principal investigators) and the right blend of researchers necessary to embark on the important work of solving some of the world’s most daunting challenges.”
“This ARRA funding will complete several state-of the-art research laboratories and shared equipment rooms in the ILSB – advancing the university’s growing contributions to world-class science and helping to stimulate the Texas economy,” Seemann stated. “The ILSB, an exciting cutting-edge facility focused on key research areas that affect the health and welfare of Texans, exemplifies the central role of research at Texas A&M.”
That assessment was underscored by Dr. James Sacchettini, professor of biochemistry and biophysics and of chemistry, who holds the Wolfe-Welch Chair in Science and is director of Texas A&M’s Center for Structural Biology. “This grant will provide the critical facilities Texas A&M researchers need to further study the causes and discover therapeutics for the treatment of diseases such as cancer, tuberculosis and malaria,” he said. “Furthermore, this build-out will allow us to attract even more research dollars for the life sciences at Texas A&M – focusing more resources on these critical research programs.”
Texas A&M University is committed to working on the most difficult and important problems in the life sciences, Seemann stated. The mission of the new Interdisciplinary Life Sciences Building (ILSB) is to integrate multiple academic disciplines in the search for solutions to complex problems under the general umbrella of complex biological systems.
Contact: Tiffany Inbody at (979) 847-9364
Thursday, February 11, 2010
The tiny tongue of a fruit fly could provide big answers to questions about human eating habits, possibly even leading to new ways to treat obesity, according to a study from a team of Texas A&M University researchers.
Paul Hardin, who holds the rank of Distinguished Professor of Biology, along with colleagues Abhishek Chatterjee, Shintaro Tanoue and Jerry Houl, examined the taste organs on Drosophila's proboscis (tongue), which triggers the minute fruit fly's desire to eat or not to eat. They found that several factors, especially the creature's internal daily clock, determine feeding behaviors -- and these same taste sensitivities very likely apply to humans.
Their work is published in the new issue of the journal Current Biology.
"The 'clock' that influences this decision to eat or not to eat is found inside the taste sensing cells, which send a signal to eat," Hardin explains.
"Once this signal is sent, the brain then tells the fly to eat or not, but all of this seems to depend on the time of day. These clocks have a very direct link to its eating habits."
Drosophila, commonly called fruit flies and smaller than a grain of rice, are found worldwide and there about 1,500 species. The word is a Latin phrase for "dew loving."
Like most flies, they have a natural instinct to seek out food "and they are always looking for something to eat," Hardin adds.
"These inner clocks control the sensitivity to food and also affect how much the flies eat. We found that the highest sensitivity to sugar is in the daytime, and far less at night. But we found that if you eliminate these clocks, the flies will eat much more food. So these clocks seem to suppress the desire for food at certain times of day."
Hardin notes that there are obvious parallels that could be drawn comparing the desire for food by the fruit flies and the human desire for food.
"It's long been established that as humans, we have clocks, too," he adds.
"If clocks in our taste-sensing cells also control when and how much we eat, it could greatly impact weight gain. Understanding how these clocks control eating could potentially lead to ways to combat obesity."
Obesity is one of the major threats to health worldwide, especially in the United States, where the number of obese persons has skyrocketed in recent years.
According to the American Medical Association, about one-third of all Americans are now classified as being obese, and obesity rates have soared 60 percent in the last 20 years. Obesity leads to a number of ailments, including heart attacks, strokes, certain cancers, diabetes and others. About 33 percent of all U.S. children are considered overweight or obese, a that has risen steadily in recent years, and in an average year, there are more than 300,000-obesity related deaths in the U.S.
"By looking closely at factors that control Drosophila's desire to eat, we can draw comparisons to human eating behaviors," Hardin says.
"If we could adjust the key internal clocks, we might be able to control food consumption and, of course, that would be a big step in the fight against obesity."