Featured Scientist: Saurabh (Mobi) Singh (he/him/his), Master of Business Administration 2017, Inactive M.S. student, Department of Technology, Illinois State University.
Birthplace: Jhajjar, Haryana, India
My Research: The research, led by Dr. Pranshoo Solanki, involved creating unique types of construction materials out of waste products like glass and rubber. The goal of the project was to support sustainability and help reduce pollution. The cement industry is one of the leading producers of greenhouse gases and our research can help the industry make sustainable and environment-friendly decisions.
Research Goals: Short term, I want to engage in research that challenges the status quo to help industries make choices that will make the world a cleaner and better place. Long term, I want to engage in research that will use innovative technologies to address child hunger. I am also interested in researching the role of privacy concerns and emotions in social media advertising at Kent State University in Ohio.
Career Goals: I like to dream and try new things. There is no specific career path that fits all my skill sets but I wish to be a full-time scholar for the rest of my life. Being a university professor and helping other students grow intellectually is one of my long-term career goals. As I grow older, I would like to spend more time giving back to my community. In later years, I wish to support the costs of higher education for those who are not able to cover the costs themselves.
Hobbies: I enjoy travelling to other countries, cooking, meeting new people, and community service.
Favorite Thing About Science: Science is exciting because it shifts paradigms towards better methods and applications of knowledge.
Field of Study: Material Science
What is Material Science? Material science is the study of human-made materials. We study the chemical and physical properties of these materials and figure out how they can be used. For example, one practice could be to take recycled materials and see how they might be used in common household items.
My Team: The research was conducted in Turner Hall at Illinois State University. The research team was led by Dr. Pranshoo Solanki. The team had an external co-investigator named Dr. Gaurav Sancheti from Manipal University in India. I actively worked with Dr. Pranshoo Solanki in the construction management laboratory to test samples of concrete.
Check Out My Original Paper: “Sustainable Use of Waste Glass in Pavement Systems–Review, Limitations and Potential Application”
Citation: Solanki, Pranshoo, Gaurav Sancheti, and Saurabh Singh. “Sustainable Use of Waste Glass in Pavement Systems–Review, Limitations and Potential Application.” The Journal of Solid Waste Technology and Management 47.2 (2021): 235-251.
Research At A Glance: The United States (U.S.) transportation sector is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption in the U.S. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. is the third largest producer of cement, and cement is the second most consumed substance in the world (after water). The cement industry is the third largest source of industrial pollution in the U.S. and is responsible for emitting more than 500,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year. Cement is one of the raw materials used to make pavement. As cement is a leading contributor of industrial pollution, it has become increasingly clear that our use of pavement has had a negative impact on the environment. As a result, many researchers have started to explore how recycled materials might be used in pavement. For example, usage of recycled glass in pavement has attracted a lot of interest as an alternative to current methods. According to the EPA, 11.5 million tons of glass is produced in the U.S. every year, but 60% of it ends up in landfills. However, when glass is finely ground, it can be used as a substitute for certain components of cement. In our paper, we reviewed potential uses of recycled glass as a pavement material and how the glass might affect the performance of the pavement. Overall, our study found that recycled glass could be used as a pavement material. This means that we could divert large amounts of glass headed to landfills to use as a construction materials.
Highlights: Fly ash has traditionally been used as a partial replacement for cement in many construction materials, like concrete and other controlled low strengthpavement materials. Fly ash is a fine powder that is created as a by-product of coal power plants. There have been numerous closures of coal power plants in the past few decades, and this has disrupted the supply of fly ash to the construction industry. Recycled glass powder can be used in place of fly ash in pavement construction and can help to reduce the industry’s reliance on cement. Our study tested the feasibility of using recycled glass powder in lieu of fly ash.
To test this, we substituted the fly ash in the cement with a specific type of recycled glass, called ACAS. We then tested the material for its compressive strength. Compressive strength refers to the amount of pressure that a solid material can handle before it cracks. We also used glass of varying thickness to see if more finely ground or more coarsely ground glass would be best to improve the compressive strength of the pavement. The results in Figure 1 show that when 100% of the fly ash inside of the cement was replaced with finely ground glass, the compressive strength of the pavement improved the most.
Next, we tested the material for its flow consistency. Flow consistency refers to the ability of freshly mixed concrete to flow into empty spaces before it sets. It is used to measure how much the low strength pavement materials flow naturally when they are used to fill trenches and pavements. Similar to the previous experiment, we replaced the fly ash inside of the cement with different amounts of finely or coarsely ground glass. The results in Figure 2 show that the flow consistency was highest when 50% of the fly ash was substituted with finely ground glass.
What My Science Looks Like: In this paper, we suggest that recycled glass can be used as a replacement for fly ash in cement and we test the quality of the new material. In the image below, a sample of controlled low strength pavement material is being tested for its compressive strength.
The Big Picture: Our research can help reduce pollution in many ways. We suggest alternatives to concrete and provide proof that these alternate materials are effective. We show that recycled glass can improve the properties of concrete. Glass can be a cost effective alternative for the transportation industry and we hope that the industry will adopt these new materials. We offer a green and cost effective alternatives to certain parts of cement and our goal is to reduce current levels of pollution.
Decoding the Language:
Compressive strength: Compressive strength can be defined as maximum compressive stress that a solid material can sustain before fracture.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The EPA is a United States federal government agency whose mission is to protect human and environmental health.
Flow consistency: The flow consistency is a measure of the ability of freshly mixed concrete to flow into empty spaces before it sets.
Fly ash: Fly ash is a fine powder that is made from burning pulverized coal. It is used in concrete to improve workability, strength, and durability.
Greenhouse gas: Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, trap heat inside the Earth’s atmosphere and can destabilize global weather patterns.
Low strength pavement materials: Low strength pavement materials have a lower concentration of cement as compared to regular pavement material.
United States (US) transportation sector: The US transportation sector is a subsector of the government that deals with all types of transportation, including roads, railways, air travel, and waterways.
United States EPA information on the health and environmental effects of cement
Synopsis edited by Ian Rines, BS 2018, Wofford College, Elyse McCormick, MS (Anticipated 2022), Illinois State University, and Rosario Marroquin-Flores, PhD (Anticipated 2022), Illinois State University.
Featured Scientist: Daniel Lorenz Goldberg (he/him/his), PhD (Anticipated December 2021), Illinois State University, Biological Sciences.
Birthplace: Riverside, California
My Research: I study vocal behavior and how it evolved in a group of birds called rails. Rails vocalize frequently at night and in dense vegetation to communicate with each other.
Research Goals: I am interested in pursuing research in bird conservation after I graduate. I hope to learn more about birds to protect them and their habitats. My dream is to increase public understanding about birds by sparking interest through birdwatching.
Career Goals: I aim to do a combination of research and teaching as a university professor.
Hobbies: I enjoy birdwatching, hiking, swing dancing, and tabletop games with my friends.
Favorite Thing About Science: I love the vast amount of primary literature that we have at our fingertips as scientists. There have been so many discoveries that have been documented, and we can access it by reading about it in books or online. If you have an interesting research question, chances are good that there is some background information out there to get you started!
My Team: This project was a group effort, though I am the first author on the published article. My advisor Dr. Angelo Capparella helped me develop the project, while Dr. Mike Ward provided field equipment. Both professors provided advice on writing the article. My hardworking undergraduate, Toby Bassingthwaite, assisted with fieldwork and transporting our equipment, and she also knew where to hunt down some delicious food in the Chicagoland area!
Organism of Study: I study the Sora (Porzana carolina), a common rail in Illinois.
Field of Study: Behavioral Ecology
What is Behavioral Ecology? Animal behavior is shaped by an animal’s habitat and its interactions with other organisms. Behavioral ecology is the study of how an animal’s behavior affects its life and survival. Behaviors that help animals to survive become more common. Behaviors that do not help animals survive become less common.
Check Out My Original Paper: “Calling owl: Rails adjust vocal activity rates in response to changes in predation risk”
Citation:Goldberg, D.L., Bassingthwaite, T.A., Ward, M.P. and Capparella, A.P., 2020. Calling owl: Rails adjust vocal activity rates in response to changes in predation risk. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. 132(4):1038–1043.
Research At A Glance: Animals use sound-based communication to signal to each other to defend territories, attract mates, or maintain group contact. However, this communication can be risky because predators can eavesdrop on these sounds. Predators can then home in on the calling animal, and more easily capture and eat it than if the animal had remained silent. Animals can recognize the calls of their predators and often react by reducing the number and rate of their own sounds. For example, birds that are preyed on by raptors fall silent upon hearing raptor calls. One group of birds that has shown little evidence of varying their calling behavior in response to predator sounds are rails. In previous studies, rails have been found to flick their white tails as a visual signal to predators, indicating that the rail is aware that it is being watched. We tested the hypothesis that rails will recognize raptor calls as a predator threat. We predicted that rails would reduce their calling rates when they hear the calls of a raptor, but not when they hear the calls of a different and harmless bird.
The Lake Calumet wetlands near Chicago are a restored habitat that is home to large numbers of rails, including the Sora. We used Autonomous Recording Units (ARUs) to record the calls of rails in 10 locations at the water’s edge of three marshes in the region during the spring breeding season of rails in April 2019. At half of these recording locations, we broadcast the hoots of a raptor, the Great Horned Owl. At the other half of these recording locations, we broadcast quacks of a harmless bird, the Blue-winged Teal duck. We made these broadcasts in the evening, night, and early morning, when rails tend to call the most. At the end of the month, we retrieved the ARUs and counted the number of Sora calls recorded at each of the 10 locations. We then compared the number of calls the rails made per hour at each location. We found that Soras increased their calling rates after broadcasts of the Great Horned Owls but decreased their calling rates after broadcasts of the Blue-winged Teals. This result is the opposite of our hypothesis because birds usually decrease their calling rates when they hear predator calls.
Highlights: Our results indicate that Soras do not recognize Great Horned Owls as a major threat, as the rails were not threatened into silence after the owl broadcasts. This finding made sense because Soras are not the primary prey of this raptor, even though the owl does eat Soras on rare occasions. We found that Soras called at higher levels after the owl broadcast than beforehand. They also maintained high levels of alarm calling for an entire week after the owl broadcast (Figure 1). Other research has found that Soras tend to stay hidden in thick emergent vegetation in their wetland habitats. The plants in this habitat should give rails cover from Great Horned Owls, which use their superb vision to hunt down their prey. If the owls cannot see the Soras, then they are more safely able to make an alarm call because they are not revealing their location.
What My Science Looks Like: Rails are shy birds that tend to live in dense emergent vegetation in wetlands, grasslands, or forests. They are difficult to see but are quite loud and produce a variety of sounds that can be heard easily. This allows us to study them using ARUs. ARUs allow us to listen to all the sounds in an area and make recordings when the birds are calling. We can then identify rail calls by their appearance in spectrograms using a computer in the laboratory. This approach cuts down on the amount of time that we need to spend on fieldwork, because instead of going out at dawn, dusk, and night to listen for rail calls, we can simply place an ARU out in the rail habitat to detect calls.
The Big Picture: Many rails are endangered, as they have lost habitat due to humans converting wetlands, grasslands, and forests to farm fields and cities. Some rails, like the Sora, are also hunted by humans for food and sport. Because rails produce many calls that are easily recognized, predators can use their calling behavior to identify rail species in the wild. We can use their calls to learn more about how they respond to predators and how they may return to habitats that have been restored. This research is important because it may be used to help rails to increase in number. Conservation of wetland species will benefit other birds and animals that live in those habitats. Wetlands provide many benefits, such as reducing the impact of flooding, improving water quality, and maintaining water levels during droughts. These habitats cannot persist without the presence of a variety of organisms, including rails.
Decoding the Language:
Autonomous Recording Unit (ARU): Autonomous Recording Units (ARU) are battery-powered recording devices. They can be left outside because they have protective covers that shield them from the weather. When they are turned on, they will record all sounds made around them until they are turned off or the batteries run out of power.
Emergent vegetation: Plants that grow in wetlands and stick up partially out of the water. They provide an ideal habitat for rails, which can hide among the plants to avoid detection by predators.
Endangered: Animal species that is at risk of extinction.
Fieldwork: Fieldwork is a type of scientific research that takes place outside of the lab. For my research, fieldwork includes deploying and analyzing sound recordings to listen for rails at the Lake Calumet wetlands near Chicago.
Primary literature: Primary literature is a collection of historical and scientific documents such as books, recordings, or journal articles. Essentially, it is the write-up of information that was collected in a study.
Rail: Diverse group of birds which includes about 127 different species, including Soras. Most rails are small to medium, and while typically found near marshes they can be found throughout the world.
Raptor: Raptors are meat-eating birds such as hawks, eagles, vultures, falcon, and owls.
Signal: A signal is a type of communication, such as a sound produced by an animal.
Sora: Small waterbirds found throughout North America typically in marshes. Usually 19-30 cm in length, they have a grey face and belly while the rest of the body is brown with black & white patches.
Spectrogram: A spectrogram is a type of graph that shows a visual representation of sound, with the frequency of the sound on the y-axis, and the timing of the sound on the x-axis.
For more information on bird call research using ARUs, check out Dr. Mike Ward’s laboratory webpage.
The Macaulay Library of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a website devoted to collecting recorded calls of birds and other animals in a database for scientific and general use, was the source of the Great Horned Owl and Blue-winged Teal calls that I broadcast in my study.
There are many articles written about prey animals’ responses to predator sounds. These papers summarize what is known about changes in calling behavior:
Hettena AM, Munoz N, Blumstein DT. 2014. Prey responses to predator’s sounds: a review and empirical study. Ethology. 120:427–452.
Hughes NK, Kelley JL, Banks PB. 2012. Dangerous liaisons: the predation risks of receiving social signals. Ecology Letters. 15:1326–1339.
Zuk M, Kolluru GR. 1998. Exploitation of sexual signals by predators and parasitoids. Quarterly Review of Biology. 73:415–438.
The papers that initially piqued my curiosity about this avenue of rail research:
Randler C. 2006. Disturbances by dog barking increase vigilance in Coots Fulica atra. European Journal of Wildlife Research. 52:265–270.
Randler C. 2007. Observational and experimental evidence for the function of tail flicking in Eurasian Moorhen Gallinula chloropus. Ethology. 113:629–639.
Synopsis edited byIan Rines, BS 2018, Wofford College, and Emily Kerns, PhD student, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Integrative Biology.
Featured Scientist: Jennifer Patritti-Cram (she/hers), PhD candidate (Anticipated: Fall 2021), University of Cincinnati & Cincinnati Children’s Hospital
Birthplace: Valencia, Venezuela
My Research: I’m interested in understanding how a type of tumor called neurofibromas form in the nervous system. We use mice to study the neurofibroma disease and see how these tumors form. Our goal is to identify genes important to the formation of neurofibromas. We want to provide therapies to patients that suffer from a specific version of this disease: neurofibromatosis type 1.
Research Goals: After obtaining my doctoral degree, I will pursue a career in Intellectual Property Law and Policy. This means I will not be doing research. Instead, I will use my scientific knowledge to advise scientists on how to protect their scientific inventions.
Career Goals: I plan to use my knowledge in neuroscience and cancer biology to help scientists protect their inventions. I am also interested in science policy. I plan to use my training to advocate for policies that increase funds for important research and help to increase Latino representation in science fields.
Hobbies: I like to take hikes with my dogs and watch Netflix.
Favorite Thing About Science: My favorite thing about science is how we are creating new knowledge through research. My most fulfilling time as a scientist is when I discover something new that only I know. Then, as part of my job as a scientist, I get to share that knowledge with other scientists and people around the world.
My Team: My lab is very cooperative. We all help each other with experimental design and with performing experiments. We also have several collaborations with other labs in the United States.
Organism of Study: The house mouse (Mus musculus)
Field of Study: Neurobiology & Cancer Biology.
What is Neurobiology & Cancer Biology? Neurobiology is a type of biology that focuses on the nervous system. Cancer biology focuses on the mechanisms that regulate the spread of cancer. This can include the study of cell growth, the transformation of normal cells into cancer cells, and the spread, or metastasis, of cancer cells.
Check Out My Original Paper: “Purinergic Signaling in Peripheral Nervous System Glial Cells”
Citation:Patritti-Cram J, Coover RA, Jankowski MP, Ratner N. Purinergic signaling in peripheral nervous system glial cells. Glia. 2021 Aug;69(8):1837-1851. (PMCID: PMC8192487).
Research At A Glance: This article is a review, it summarizes our knowledge of a particular topic. In this review, we address specific ways that cells communicate with each other and how that can control cell function. We focus on a type of molecule called purines, which are located outside of the cell. When purines bind to the cell, they can cause changes in how the cell functions and how it communicates with other cells. To make this change happen, the purine must bind to a specific type of chemical structure called a receptor, which is located on the outside surface of a cell. When the purine binds to a receptor, it can trigger a change in how that cell communicates with other cells. When this happens, it is called purinergic signaling. Our review focuses on purinergic signaling and how it affects a specific cell type in the body called glial cells. Glial cells surround our nerve cells to provide the support and protection that they need to work properly. Our nerve cells transmit information across the body. They help us to interpret tactile information, like touching a door knob, help us to control muscle contractions, and play a role in how we experience pain. In our review, we focus on a particular type of glial cell called Schwann cells.
In this review, we provide a summary of all the known receptors that purines can bind to. We refer to these receptors as purinergic receptors. We also provide a summary of the molecules that turn on to block those receptors, a summary of all the receptors that purines can bind to in mouse Schwann cells, and explain how they work. The nervous system is made up of two parts, the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain and the spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system (PNS), which connects the rest of the body to the CNS. In our review, we discuss which purines might be found in the PNS. We review the role of purinergic signaling in several diseases and how it may impact how we experience pain. We conclude the review by arguing that scientists should focus on purinergic receptors when we develop drugs to treat diseases that impact the PNS.
Highlights: In this article, we provided a summary about how purinergic signaling happens in normal nerve cells (Figure 1), how purinemolecules can impact tumors (Figure 2), and how purinergic receptors can regulate pain (Figure 3). Each figure below gives a summary of the main points made in our article. Figure 1 shows what happens in a normal nerve cell. When nerve cells receive an electrical signal, the axon of the nerve cell will receive and send the signal to other nerve cells, muscles, and glands. The electrical signal triggers the release of different types of purine molecules. These purines bind to purinergic receptors on the surface of Schwann cells to trigger cell responses. Schwann cells will perform different functions based on which type of purinergic receptor becomes bound by the purine molecule.
Figure 2 shows the roles of purine molecules in tumor cells when they are located in the PNS. Tumors have many purine molecules. These purinemolecules activate purinergic receptors in the immune cells inside the tumor. The immune cells will then respond and contribute to fight tumor growth.
Figure 3 shows the roles of purine molecules in regulating our pain response. Purinergic receptors have different roles in pain. Some help alleviate pain and inflammation, while others produce the pain sensation itself. We still need more research to clarify the role of purinergic receptors in pain.
What My Science Looks Like: As part of this paper, we did an experiment to identify the purinergic receptors found in mouse Schwann cells. We isolated the Schwann cells from mice and performed a laboratory technique called reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). RT-PCR allows us to count how much DNA is in a sample. In this case, we wanted to know which purinergic receptors were in mouse Schwann cells and how abundant they were.
Figure 4 shows the results of this test when we were looking for one type of purinergic receptor, P2X. Recall that P2X receptors help Schwann cells to communicate with other cells, migrate, and protect the axon of the nerve cell (Figure 1). The x-axis in Figure 4 shows each P2X receptor we found and the y-axis shows the cycle threshold (CT) value. The CT is the number of cycles required for the DNA to be detected in our sample. If a CT value is low, this means that there was more DNA in our sample because it took fewer cycles to be detected. So, in this case, a low CT means that the purinergic receptor was more abundant in our sample. As you can see, the P2X receptor “P2RX4” was the most abundant in mouse Schwann cells, while “P2RX1” was the least abundant. Our results are interesting because we can now give scientists a specific list of purinergic receptors that are present in mouse Schwann cells. This list can provide scientists with insight on how these receptors might impact how Schwann cells function in diseases that affect the peripheral nervous system.
The Big Picture: My research is important because it can help scientists develop therapies for patients that suffer from diseases that impact the nervous system. Currently, over 100,000 Americans suffer from neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1). Patients with NF1 have an increased risk of developing tumors (neurofibromas) in the peripheral nervous system. Neurofibromas can cause nerve damage and can compress vital organs. They are tumors composed of many types of cells that are not working properly. One type of the cell that plays a very important role in neurofibroma development are Schwann cells. Schwann cells are specialized cells that surround all the nerves in our body. In healthy humans, Schwann cells help to support nerve function. In neurofibroma patients, Schwann cells do not function properly and will multiply uncontrollably. This leads to the development of neurofibroma tumors. To date, there is no cure for this disease. Therefore, the main goal of my research is to understand how these neurofibroma tumors form and develop therapies for patients that suffer from this disease.
In our lab, we use mice to study NF1. We use mice because the genetics of mice closely resemble that of humans. Mice develop neurofibroma tumors in similar places in the body and at a similar rate. In both humans and mice, Schwann cells are at the center of neurofibroma formation. They express many different purinergic receptors and it’s important for scientists to understand the role of these receptors so that we can learn about how Schwann cells function in the body. In our review, we clarify and organize the body of research on this topic. Our research can help scientists understand how purines impact diseases of the nervous system.
Decoding the Language:
Central nervous system (CNS): The CNS consists of two parts, the brain and the spinal cord.
Cycle threshold (CT): The CT is a way to express the abundance of DNA in a sample during an RT-PCR reaction. Each time the DNA is amplified, this can be considered one cycle. If many cycles are required to detect the DNA, then there is a small amount of DNA in the sample. If very few cycles are required to detect the DNA, then there is a large amount of DNA in the sample.
Glial cells: Glial cells are cells in the nervous system that do not produce electrical impulses. They make a fatty substance called the myelin sheath, which wraps around nerve fibers to insulate them and increase the speed at which electrical impulses are conducted. They also provide support and protection for neurons.
Metastasis: Metastasis is the spread of cancer cells from the place where they first formed to another part of the body.
Neurofibroma: A neurofibroma is a type of nerve tumor that forms soft bumps on or under the skin.
Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1): Neurofibromatosis type 1 is agenetic disorder that causes tumors, called neurofibromas, to grow in peripheral nerves.
P2X: P2X is a type of purinergic receptor located at the cell membrane that gets activated when a molecule called adenosine 5’-triphosphate (ATP) binds to the receptor. When ATP binds to P2X receptors, molecules that were outside the cell can then move inside the cell. These molecules are sodium, potassium, and calcium and are essential for any cell to function properly.
Peripheral nervous system: The peripheral nervous system is the nerves outside of the brain and the spinal cord.
Purine molecules: Purine molecules are made up of carbon and nitrogen atoms. When the human body produces them, they are called endogenous purines.
Purinergic receptors: Purinergic receptors are a family of molecules or receptors that are found in the cellular membranes of almost all mammalian tissues.
Purinergic signaling: Purinergic signaling is a type of cell signaling that takes place when a purine molecule binds to a receptor embedded in the membrane of a cell. The bound receptor allows other molecules like sodium, potassium, and calcium to enter the cell, triggering a response that allows the cell to communicate with other cells.
Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR): RT-PCR is a laboratory technique used to amplify specific DNA targets. To do so, researchers will add a fluorescent tag to DNA and amplify the DNA in a machine. Each time the DNA is amplified, the fluorescent tag glows and the machine records how often the DNA fluoresces. This technique allows scientists to determine how much DNA is in a sample.
Schwann cell: A Schwann cell is a type of glial cell in the peripheral nervous system that helps to form the myelin sheath around nerve fibers.
Synopsis edited byTitilayo Omotade, PhD, Yale University; Yale School of Medicine Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Elaine Crutchley, MS, University of Tennessee, Business Analytics and Statistics.
Featured Scientist: Mark A. Rossi, Ph.D., Psychiatry Department, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Child Health Institute of New Jersey.
Birthplace: Detroit, Michigan.
My Research: I attempt to understand what motivates our behavior and the way that we eat. I focus on how the brain is wired and I am particularly interested in how our diet can rewire our brain circuits.
ResearchGoals: My goal is to help develop therapies that can treat eating disorders, like diabetes.
Career Goals: I want to push the technological boundaries of how we study the brain.
Hobbies: Soccer! I’ve played all my life.
Favorite Thing About Science: The freedom and flexibility to go where the data takes me.
My Team: I recently opened my own lab, so I am temporarily a team of 1. The lab will soon be populated with research technicians, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and undergraduates.
Organism of Study: Mice
Field of Study: Neuroscience
What is Neuroscience: Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system. The goal of this field is to understand how the central nervous system works. The central nervous system includes the brain and the spinal cord. My area of expertise is in how the brain contributes to motivated behavior. Motivated behavior includes any type of behavior that is important for our survival.
Check Out My Original Paper: “Obesity remodels activity and transcriptional state of a lateral hypothalamic brake on feeding”
Citation:Rossi MA, Basiri ML, McHenry JA, Kosyk O, Otis JM, van den Munkhof H, Bryois J, Hubel C, Breen G, Guo W, Bulik CM, Sullivan PF & Stuber GD. (2019) Obesity remodels activity and transcriptional state of a lateral hypothalamic brake on feeding. Science. 364(6447):1271-1274.
Research At A Glance: Obesity is an inflammatory condition where our bodies store extra fat. Obesity can increase our chances of developing health issues, such as heart disease. I am mainly interested in understanding the role that our brain plays in obesity. A region of the brain called the hypothalamus is responsible for coordinating many day-to-day actions such as, reproduction, aggression, and feeding. The lateral hypothalamicarea (LHA) is an area within the hypothalamus that has neurons that are known to control feeding behavior. A neuron is a brain cell that can communicate with other cells using electrical signals. We don’t know very much about the neurons in the LHA, and it is not clear if they are affected by obesity. In our paper, we characterize the excitatory neurons in the LHA and try to understand how they may be affected by obesity. We used a technique called single-cell sequencing to look at the messenger RNA (mRNA)in a single cell and compare it to other individual cells. This allows us to build a profile of the cells in LHA. In our experiments, we looked at the brain to find differences between lean and obese mice. We found that the pattern of gene expression was different between the mice, particularly within the excitatory neurons. Excitatory neurons are a type of neuron that increase the likelihood that a neuron will create and fire an action potential. In normal conditions, the excitatory neurons will send signals to activate other neurons that function as a ‘brake’ to suppress food intake. We found that a high fat diet can change the activity of excitatory neurons, so they no longer send the signal to suppress food intake. Next, we wanted to see if the cells change in function in response to obesity. We used a technique called longitudinalcalcium imaging to magnify and take pictures of the cells under a microscope over the course of 12 weeks. We found that the normal functions of excitatory neurons in the LHA were greatly decreased in obese mice. Our research gives us one mechanism for how the brain may be altered by diet. As we become obese, the excitatory neurons in our brains have reduced activity, which may contribute to the behavior of overeating.
Highlights: One of the goals of our study was to see how the activity of the LHA excitatoryneurons change in mice with a high fat diet and how this may contribute to obesity. What we found is that a chronic high fat diet affects how excitatoryneurons function,and this can increase overeating. The most important part of this project was our ability to track the activity of individual neurons in the hypothalamus over time (Figure 1). We monitored the mice as they started the high fat diet and as they became obese. This helped us show that while the structure of the individual neurons looked similar in the brain, they did change in function in response to diet over time. That is, single neurons will respond to food rewards but lose that responsiveness as obesity progresses.
What My Science Looks Like: For this experiment, we fed six mice (n=6) a control diet and seven mice (n=7) a high fat diet for 12 weeks (Figure 2). The high fat diet had higher levels of fat content because it had high levels of sucrose (sugar). Like humans, a diet with a high fat content leads to an increase in body weight for mice. After 12 weeks, mice fed with the high fat diet gain significantly more weight than mice fed on the control diet (Figure 2).
The Big Picture: Obesity is a serious medical problem that is widespread in the United States. It is associated with increased risk of death from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. While it affects many people, there are few viable treatment options. It is important to understand how the brain controls normal eating and overeating. This knowledge is critical to help us develop new treatments for eating disorders and obesity. Our research tries to understand how the brain contributes to normal feeding. It also looks at how those same brain circuits are affected by an unhealthy diet. Measuring the activity of neurons in the hypothalamus using multiple methods can help us get a more complete picture of the ways that the brain controls feeding behavior. Our research provides us with important insights and a deeper understanding of how the brain can be changed by obesity.
Decoding the language:
Action potential: Action potentials are electrical signals that allow information to be transferred to the nervous system. The nervous system will then transmit information to its target cells.
Brain circuits: Brain circuits consist of a web of neurons that are connected to each other. Information will flow from one neuron to another to send information to other parts of the brain. This is similar to the electrical circuits in our homes. When you walk into a room and flip a light switch, the electrical current will be carried across the room to turn on a light bulb.
Neuron: A neuron is a cell that acts as messenger. It sends and receives information to and from the brain and spinal cord. This information then goes to different areas of the body. For example, when you are hungry your stomach will send a signal to a region in your brain called the hypothalamus to let you know that you need food!
Excitatory neurons: Excitatory neurons are cells in the brain that increase the likelihood that a neuron will create and fire an action potential. When neurons fire an action potential, they are using electrical signals to communicate to other cells. The excitatory neurons are distinct from other types of neurons, like inhibitory neurons, because they increase the signal, rather than silencing it.
Gene expression: Gene expression allows us to measure gene activity. At any given time, our bodies will turn on genes to perform important bodily functions. For example, if you are eating a sandwich, your body may turn on a gene that codes for an enzyme to help break down the food in your mouth. Before a gene can perform a function, it must be converted into messenger RNA (mRNA). Therefore, we can measure the expression of a specific gene by quantifying how much mRNA for that gene is in a sample. We say that a gene has high expression when the mRNA for that gene is very abundant in our sample. In our study, we changed the diets of our mice and measured which genes had high expression after the change in diet. This helps us to understand the role of certain genes in conditions like obesity.
Genetically encoded fluorescentcalcium indicator (GECI): GECI is a tool that marks a set of neuron cells by binding to calcium ions. This allows us to track the calcium activity which is associated with the firing of action potentials. Higher calcium activity will manifest as a brighter signal, with the help of a fluorescent dye. It allows us to read the activity of the neurons to better understand how neuronal activity relates to behavior.
Hypothalamus: The hypothalamusis an area in the brain that plays an essential role in regulating motivated behaviors. This can include hunger, reward responses, and homeostasis. The hypothalamushelps to keep the body stable and plays a role in heart rate and blood pressure.
Lateral Hypothalamus area (LHA): The LHA is a small region in the hypothalamus that regulates feeding behavior. In this research, we looked at cells in the LHA to see how these cells were affected by obesity.
Messenger RNA (mRNA): mRNA are intermediate molecules between DNA and proteins. In our research, we used mRNA to look at patterns of gene expression. This allowed us to identify which genes were being activated in the LHA neurons in response to our control and high fat diet.
Single-cell sequencing: Single cell sequencingis a specific form of gene sequencing. Gene sequencing allows us to read the genetic code in DNA and quantify how much of each gene is present in a sample. Most gene sequencing techniques read the genetic code of several cells at one time. The single cell sequencing method is unique because it allows us to measure gene expression in individual cells. This method allowed us to target excitatory neurons and see how diet impacts gene expression in these specific cells.
More research papers about how the circuits in the brain contribute to feeding behavior:
Rossi MA & Stuber GD (2018) Overlapping brain circuits for homeostatic and hedonic feeding. Cell Metabolism, 27(1): 42-56.
Rossi MA, Marcus L. Basiri, Yuejia Liu, …, Charu Ramakrishnan, Karl Deisseroth, and Garret D. Stuber (2021). Transcriptional and functional divergence in lateral hypothalamic glutamate neurons projecting to the lateral habenula and ventral tegmental area. Neuron, 109, 1-15.
Featured Scientist: Cierra Raine Sorin (she/her/hers), Ph.D. Candidate (Anticipated: Spring 2022), Department of Sociology with a Doctoral Emphasis in the Department of Feminist Studies, University of California Santa Barbara
Birthplace: Loma Linda, California
My Research: My research is intersectional, meaning that I study people’s identities and how those identities impact their lives. I am interested in how having different identities impacts people’s ability to give consent and to have that consent recognized by others. Using qualitative methods, I study how people understand and react to sexual violence and sexual harassment (SVSH) in their communities, and in the institutions that they belong to. Some of my research questions include:
How do people understand and give consent?
How are people’s individual understanding of consent connected to group norms, such as normal group beliefs that revolve around sexual behavior?
How do these group norms make sexual violence acceptable, so it keeps happening?
What do people do when they have experienced sexual violence in their community or institution, like the workplace or in school?
Research Goals: My research focuses on sexual consent. I want to know how consent violations happen in institutional settings and what we need to know about these settings to protect people’s consent. For example, sexual harassment is one type of sexual violence that is common in workplaces, even though it is illegal. My goal is to understand how and why people experience discrimination in the institutional settings that are supposed to help and protect them.
Career Goals: My work has always revolved around solving social problems. While I love being in academia, it is very important to me to do work that benefits society. I see myself in a professor position where I can pursue research and teaching to improve the world around me. Another dream of mine is to write social justice-oriented children’s books, with my partner as the illustrator!
Hobbies: My hobbies include spoiling my German Shepherd pup, Lilith, swimming and doing yoga, watching bad crime television shows, like CSI, and playing action RPG video games with my partner!
Favorite Thing About Science: I love that in science, there really is something for everyone. Anyone with curiosity and interest in how the world around us works can become a scientist! As a social scientist, I study people and how they interact and co-exist. This may seem very different from someone who studies atoms, oil spills, or butterfly migration patterns, but there are many similarities in that the end goal is to gain a better understanding of how to make the world a better place.
My Team: This paper is the result of an amazing collaboration with several other researchers from a larger team project called UC Speaks Up, which took place across three University of California campuses: UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), UC San Diego (UCSD), and UC Los Angeles (UCLA). Our team of faculty members, graduate students, undergraduate students, and research staff collectively designed and carried out multiple kinds of qualitative data collection. Here, I discuss the data we collected from graduate students participating in focus group discussions (FGDs) and in-depth interviews(IDIs). As a graduate student intern on the project, I oversaw the UCSB undergraduate student researchers and acted as a liaison with the larger team based at UCSD. I also conducted all of the IDIs with UCSB graduate students and led both of the FGDs. During this time, I became good friends with another graduate student intern, Brittnie Bloom. Having similar research interests, we decided we wanted to analyze the experiences of graduate students in our data set. Working with our research advisors, Dr. Laury Oaks (UCSB) and Dr. Jennifer Wagman (UCLA), we have written three papers that speak to the different experiences graduate students have with SVSH and campus resources. In this paper, I took on the role of second author and Brittnie took the role as the first author. While Brittnie led the writing process, the formatting, and the submission, we worked closely together to make decisions, analyze the data, and write the paper.
Field of Study: Sociology
What is Sociology? Sociology is the study of social life and human behavior. We are interested in the relationship between individuals and the social environments they exist in. This includes their groups, institutions, and societies more broadly. Sociologists study a variety of social issues, and many connect to forms of inequality.
Check Out My Original Paper:“Employees, Advisees, and Emerging Scholars: A Qualitative Analysis of Graduate Students’ Roles and Experiences of Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment on College Campuses”
Citation: Brittnie Bloom, Cierra Raine Sorin, Jennifer Wagman, and Laury Oaks. 2021. “Employees, Advisees, and Emerging Scholars: A Qualitative Analysis of Graduate Students’ Roles and Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment on College Campuses.” Sexuality and Culture, (doi: 10.1007/s12119-021-09841-w).
Research At A Glance: It is very important to understand SVSH experiences among graduate students. SVSH includes, but is not limited to, stalking, sexual harassment, and invasion of sexual privacy. SVSH is common on college and university campuses but research in this area rarely focuses on graduate students. This is an important gap in campus SVSH studies because graduate students take on many roles for the university. They engage in teaching and mentoring students and in conducting research with faculty. In many of these roles, graduate students face unequal power roles that can make them vulnerable to sexual violence. We wanted to better understand the experiences of SVSH of graduate students on all three University of California (UC) campuses: UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), UC San Diego (UCSD), and UC Los Angeles (UCLA). To do so, we conducted 21 IDIs and 8 FGDs with a diverse group of 43 graduate students, between 23 and 34 years of age. The study consisted of Masters students, PhDW students, and professional students. Participants were mostly heterosexual and 32% identified as LGBTQ+. Of our UC graduate student participants, 41% identified as white, 25% as Asian, 16% as Hispanic/Latino, 6% as Black and 10% as more than one race or ethnicity. Our research was part of a larger study, but our focus was on the experiences of graduate students. Some of our questions included student knowledge of and perception of SVSH. Additionally, we asked graduate students their opinions about SVSH prevention and the role that they play in reporting and responding to sexual violence. We wanted to see how graduate students understand SVSH, how they work in an environment where they may be faced with unequal power roles, and how to prevent SVSH. We also wanted to raise awareness to situations where these students may be vulnerable or more likely to experience sexual violence.
Highlights: SVSH is a continuing problem on college and university campuses. Students in disciplines that historically lack diverse faculty are at a higher risk of SVSH. Until recently, most research on SVSH has focused on students that identify as white. These studies have also not been intersectional, where students have more than one identity. Our study highlights the importance of race and ethnicity in SVSH work. The stories that we heard from students emphasize that SVSH work is also diversity work. SVSH needs to be more culturally informed because students from underrepresented backgrounds are more likely to experience SVSH. The same is true for sexual orientation. People who identify as gay or lesbian are more likely to experience SVSH than those who identify as heterosexual. Transgender individuals and bisexual individuals are the most likely to experience sexual violence. The students who participated in our study were able to share unique experiences that spoke to these issues. One Latinx student spoke about some of her cultural norms which involve greeting people by kissing. She explained that she was uncomfortable when Latinx faculty engaged in that behavior in academic settings but wasn’t sure about how to respond when it took place. Understanding that certain behaviors have a cultural context is important for teaching and learning consent. We need to recognize and respect the unique experiences of all people in our academic communities and support survivors to prevent SVSH.
What My Science Looks Like: In our study, we identified three themes, detailed below.
Graduate students do not trust university reporting and aid processes because they feel that reporting SVSH can negatively impact them.
Graduate students don’t know about the rates of SVSH on campus or if they are at risk of experiencing SVSH.
Graduate students remain silent about SVSH because of power hierarchies that exist among faculty members, such as professors or mentors.
The Big Picture: Most people who complete a graduate degree are in school for many years. Depending on the environment, graduate students might experience abuse of power by faculty. This can make them more vulnerable to sexual violence. Reporting violence can also have a negative impact on students. Some students experience bullying or lawsuits. Many don’t feel safe reporting their experiences because they may not stay anonymous. It’s a huge risk. Some graduate students have such bad experiences that they choose to or are forced to leave academia altogether. No one should be forced to make the decision between their personal safety and their career. Universities are trying to prevent and respond to sexual violence. One way has been to change groupnorms about sexuality and consent. However, most of these efforts overlook graduate students. This is a problem because graduate students and undergraduate students have different roles at the university. Interventions that work for undergraduate students may not work well for graduate students. Universities can better support graduate student populations by listening to their experiences. In our paper, we present ideas and solutions that can make the university a safer place for everyone. We suggest recruiting people from different backgrounds to participate in making SVSH policies. We also suggest holding university leaders accountable for any policies, procedures, or practices that protect perpetrators and harm survivors. This includes calling out bad behavior and making sure that faculty engaging in inappropriate behavior are removed from their positions.
Decoding the Language:
Culturally informed: Culturally informed practices are those thatrecognize that we all belong to different cultures with potentially different group norms and take that into consideration when developing prevention and response efforts. Accounting for these differences is important in reaching most people effectively.
Diversity work: Diversity work refers to theefforts made in an institution or organization to make the environment and group norms more supportive of people from a diverse set of backgrounds.
Group norms: Group norms are the rules for behavior in a particular group. For example, this can be the way you are expected to dress, how you speak, when and what you eat, and so on.
Institutions: Institutions are formal social structures that include governments, universities, churches, and workplaces. They exist beyond the individuals that take part in them but provide group norms and expectations for how people should live and behave.
Intersectional: Doing intersectional work means examining the different social and political identities that people occupy to understand how they experience privilege and/or discrimination. Common categories of intersectional analysis include race and/or ethnicity, gender, dis/ability, social class, and age, but there are many others!
Qualitative methods: Qualitative methods are types of research methods. Information is collected through observations or through interviews. In our study, we used in-depth interviews (IDIs), where we talked with graduate students one-on-one, and focus group discussions (FGDs) where we did group-style interviews with multiple graduate students at the same time.
Sexual violence and sexual harassment (SVSH): Sexual violence and harassment is any activity, attempted or completed, where one (or more) person uses violence, coercion, force, or drugs to control another to engage in a sexualized activity. Sexual violence is usually not about sex itself, but about someone using power to harm someone else. Sexual violence includes incest, rape, sexual assault, stalking, sexual harassment, and more.
To learn more about the UC Speaks Up project, including some of the other efforts of the group and its members, you can check out our website!
To learn more about intersectionality, I recommend this short Vox interview of Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, thirty years after she coined the term.
Synopsis edited byMaisam Yousef, B.S. 2019, Illinois State University, and Titilayo Omotade, PhD, Yale University, Yale School of Medicine.
Featured Scientist: Austin C. Calhoun, M.S. (he/him/his), PhD student (Anticipated: Spring 2025), School of Biological Sciences, Illinois State University
Birthplace: Danville, IL, USA
My Research: I am interested in how bumble bees defend against parasites and pathogens.
Research Goals: I would like to continue to study disease. I am interested in how diseases arise, how individuals can defend against them, and what environmental contexts amplify the effects of disease. I would also like to study methods that can be used to predict the occurrence of disease in the future.
Career Goals: Ideally, I see myself as a professor at a university, where I could continue to conduct research and to teach. Then, maybe I’ll retire after running a field research station somewhere.
Hobbies: Cooking on a cast iron, building things out of wood, and getting deep into YouTube holes about jiu-jitsu.
Favorite Thing About Science: My favorite thing is the freedom of creativity. Being interested in some question about nature, designing a project to answer that question, and then telling the world about something new.
Organism of Study: The common eastern bumble bee and its pathogen, Nosema bombi (N. bombi).
Field of Study: Disease Ecology
What is Disease Ecology? Disease Ecology is the study of how organisms interact with their pathogens. A pathogen is a disease-carrying microorganism, like a bacterium or a virus. When an organism is infected with a pathogen, it becomes a host for that pathogen. People who work in disease ecology also study other factors that affect how the host and the pathogen interact. For example, a disease ecologist might study the environment, pesticides, or climate change and how they impact the host or the pathogen.
Check Out My Original Paper: “Testing the multiple stressor hypothesis: chlorothalonil exposure alters transmission potential of a bumblebee pathogen but not individual host health”
Citation:Calhoun A.C., Harrod A.E., Bassingthwaite T.A., Sadd B.M. 2021 Testing the multiple stressor hypothesis: chlorothalonil exposure alters transmission potential of a bumblebee pathogen but not individual host health. Proc. R. Soc. B 288: 20202922. (doi: 10.1098/rspb.2020.2922)
Research At A Glance: Bees serve important roles as pollinators, but they deal with many stressors that can negatively affect their health. Climate change, habitat loss, pesticide exposure, and pathogens are types of stressors that can negatively impact bee populations. Although each of these are individually harmful, bees likely experience more than one at a time. When bees are exposed to multiple stressors at once, they may experience worse outcomes. We call this concept the multiple stressor hypothesis. In this research, we test the multiple stressor hypothesis using a species of bumble bee, Bombus impatiens (B. impatiens).
Several species of bumble bee are in decline across North America. One possible reason could be a pathogen called Nosema bombi (N. bombi). N. bombi is a stressor found in many of the bumble bee species that are experiencing population declines. After infecting the bee, it will produce a spore as part of its reproductive cycle. The spores have a hard outer layer that makes them environmentally resistant and these N. bombi spores can infect bees. At the same time, many bumble bees are also exposed to a fungicide called chlorothalonil. A fungicide is a special type of pesticide used to kill fungal pathogens. In 2017, a study found a relationship between the use of chlorothalonil, the presence of N. bombi, and declining bee populations. We wanted to explore this relationship further.
To do this, we infected bumble bees with N. bombi and exposed them to chlorothalonil. Our goal was to test how the combination of these stressors might impact bumble bee health. We measured health by looking at how long the bees survived, how big they were, and how much protein was in their bodies. To make sure that exposure to N. bombi resulted in infection, we calculated how much N. bombi DNA was in each bee as a measure of total infection intensity. We also counted the number of N. bombispores present in the gut of each bee as a separate measure of infection. We found that chlorothalonil exposure did not increase the total infection intensity or worsen bumble bee health. But we did find that bees exposed to chlorothalonil had more N. bombispores in their bodies. This meant that bees infected with N. bombi had a higher potential to transmit the environmentally resistant form of the pathogen to other bees. In this research, we did not find solid support for the multiple stressor hypothesis because the bees did not have worse health outcomes when exposed to both N. bombi and chlorothalonil. Instead, we found that chlorothalonil exposure enhances the potential for N. bombito transmit to new bees.
Highlights: In this research, we exposed bumble bee larvae to chlorothalonil, N. bombi, or both. Larvae are immature bees. Nosema only infects bees during the larval stage of development, which is why we infected them at this stage. We kept the larvae in the lab and allowed nursing bees to take care of them until they grew into adults. At that point, we measured bee health, quantified total infection intensity for each bee, and counted the number of N. bombispores each bee had. To quantify total infection intensity, we used a technique called quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). qPCR is a molecular technique that allows a researcher to count how much DNA is in a sample. We used this technique to measure how much N. bombi DNA was inside adult bees that had been exposed to chlorothalonil as larvae and in those that had not been exposed to chlorothalonil. Figure 1 shows the results of this test. The dots in Figure 1 show the average N. bombi infection for bees exposed to chlorothalonil and for those not exposed to chlorothalonil. The “ns” above the dots in Figure 1 show the results of the statistical test that we did to see if the total infection intensity was different between the two groups. Here, “ns” stands for “not significant.” This indicates that the average infection was not significantly different when bees were exposed to both chlorothalonil and N. bombi.
To count the number of N. bombispores each bee had, we euthanized each bee, pulverized their abdomens, looked at it under a microscope (see the N. bombi picture in the “Organism of Study” section), and recorded the number of spores present in each bee. We did this because the number of N. bombispores inside each bee should tell us how ready the pathogen is to transmit to a new host. Figure 2 shows the results of this test. The dots in Figure 2 show the average number of N. bombispores in bees exposed to chlorothalonil and in those not exposed to chlorothalonil. The two stars (**) above the dots in Figure 2 show the results of the statistical test that we did to see if the number of N. bombispores was different between the two groups. The stars indicate that there was a significant difference between the two groups. These results show that bees exposed to both N. bombi and chlorothalonil as larvae had significantly more spores per bee when compared to bees that were not exposed to chlorothalonil. This is important because bees that have more spores are more likely to transmit N. bombi pathogens to other bees.
What My Science Looks Like: To conduct this experiment, we needed to infect bumble bees with N. bombi. The image below shows the exact method of delivery. N. bombi can only infect bees when they are larvae, so each larva had to be hand-fed the spores. We did this by peeling open the wax casing that protects the larvae and placing food infected with spores at the mouth of each larva. After feeding, they were returned to their homes, the nursing bees would re-seal the wax, and the bees would continue to develop. Nursing bees were bees randomly selected from the colonies to raise the larvae. They are used to maintain the brood until adulthood.
The Big Picture: Bumble bees are especially valuable insects. They increase agricultural production and provide many services that improve ecosystem health. However, some species of bumble bees are in decline. To help them, we must understand how known stressors such as pathogens may impact their health. In our research, we found that a commonly used fungicide may increase the potential for a pathogen to be transmitted to other bees. One possible explanation for our results is that the fungicide chlorothalonil makes the current host less suitable for the pathogen. In response, N. bombi produces more spores to transmit to a new, more suitable host. While higher spore production was the only negative effect that we found related to chlorothalonil, it is important to keep in mind that we only used one bee species, B.impatiens.B.impatiens populations are stable in nature, so it is possible that other bumble bees are more sensitive to the dual effects of chlorothalonil and N. bombi. Regardless, researchers should continue to look at multiple stressors and how they impact bee health. Our research is important because if we can identify factors that increase pathogen transmission or virulence, we can make predictions about how future diseases may impact bee populations. This type of research helps us to understand patterns of disease, prevent outbreaks, and preserve important native pollinators.
Decoding the Language:
Bombus impatiens (B. impatiens): B. impatiens is the scientific name for the common eastern bumble bee.
Chlorothalonil: Chlorothalonil is a type of fungicide that is often sprayed onto crops and used in household gardens. When bees pollinate a plant that has been treated with this type of fungicide, it is easy for bees to pick up chlorothalonil and bring it back to the colony because it stays on the surface of the plant.
Fungicide: A fungicide is a pesticide used to kill fungal pathogens. They are generally used to protect crops from pathogens that may hinder crop development.
Host: A host is the organism infected by a pathogen. The pathogen will extract energy from the host.
Larvae (plural), larva (singular): A larva is the immature stage of an insect’s life, well before it reaches adulthood. The stages of growth go from egg to larva, to pupa, then to adulthood.
Multiple stressor hypothesis: The multiple stressor hypothesis is the concept that exposure to many stressors will have a more negative impact on the organism than exposure to one alone.
Nosema bombi (N. bombi): N. bombi is the scientific name for the pathogen used in this study, which is known to harm bumble bees.
Nursing bees: A nursing bee is one type of worker bee in a colony. The nursing bees are responsible for taking care of the developing larvae. In the context of this study, our nursing bees were those that were picked to raise the larvae used in our research.
Pathogen: A pathogen is a disease-causing microorganism, like a bacterium or a parasite.
Quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR): qPCR is a molecular technique that is used to quantify the amount of DNA within a sample. In this process, the DNA of interest has a fluorescent tag added to it and the DNA is amplified inside a machine. The fluorescent tag glows each time a new DNA strand is made, and the machine counts how many times the DNA glows.
Spores: In the context of this study, a spore is the environmentally resistant stage of Nosema bombi. The spores have a tough, thick outer coating, which allows them to be environmentally resistant.
Stressor: A stressor is any identifiable factor that can negatively affect an individual’s health.
Total infection intensity: Total infection intensity refers to our measure of how infected the adult bees were, after they had been exposed to N. bombi as larvae. We quantified the intensity of infection using qPCR.
Virulence: Virulence refers to theharmfulness of a disease. If it is more virulent, it is more harmful.
Featured Scientist: Pooja Kadaba Ranganath (she/her/hers), PhD (Anticipated: January 2022), School of Biological Sciences, Illinois State University
Birthplace: Bangalore, India
My Research: In my research, I work to understand how the immune system works and how it defends itself against germs that can cause sickness, also called pathogens.
Research Goals: I want to work at the intersection of two types of science, basic and translational. The goal of basic research is to learn how a particular system works. The goal of translationalresearch is to apply the information that we learn from basic research to help humans. My main interest is to do research to understand cancer and help make personalized medicine a reality for patients.
Career Goals: I want to help advance medicine by working in the industry research setting.
Hobbies: In my free time, I like to cook, spend time with friends and family, try out new food, and practice a classical form of Indian music. I also love to travel and explore new places.
Favorite Thing About Science: Cells are amazing to me. It is fascinating to explore the mysteries of the body and use that information to support human health. Science allows you to explore new questions. I love the feeling that my work can make a difference to people who are in need.
My Team: The research for this paper was made possible with the help of Jonathan Lee, an undergraduate student who helped me do the experiments, and the principal investigator, who supervised us throughout the process.
Organism of Study: The fruit fly, also calledDrosophila melanogaster.
Field of Study: Cellular Immunology
What is Cellular Immunology? Cellular Immunology is a type of biology. When a person is infected with a pathogen, the immune system is activated to destroy the pathogen before the person can get sick. Researchers in the field of cellular immunology will study the cells and molecules of the immune system to understand how they all work together to protect the body.
Check Out My Original Paper: “The S1A protease family members CG10764 and CG4793 regulate cellular immunity in Drosophila”
Citation: KR, P, Lee, J, Mortimer, NT. 2021. The S1A protease family members CG10764 and CG4793 regulate cellular immunity in Drosophila. micropublication Biology. (Doi: 10.17912/micropub.biology.000370)
Research At A Glance: The immune system plays an important role in protecting our bodies against pathogens. When exposed to a pathogen, the body will turn on immune cells to help defend the body against infection. This is called the immune response. To understand how the human immune system functions, scientists often study the immune systems of other animals. In our research, we used the fruit fly and a parasitic wasp to learn more about the immune response. In nature, parasitic wasps can infect flies by laying their eggs inside the body of the fly. When the wasp infects the fly with its eggs, the immune system of the fly will activate to kill the parasite. Special immune cells in the fly recognize the infection, bind to the wasp egg, and surround it with several layers of proteins in a process called encapsulation. During encapsulation, immune cells surround the egg and harden to stop the wasp from getting vital nutrients, killing the parasite. In our research, we identified two important genes called CG10764 and CG4793 that may impact the fly immune response. To figure out what these genes do, we turned them off and measured how the absence of these genes impacted the encapsulation process. We found that these two genes have opposite roles. One gene is involved in turning on the immune response, while the other is involved in turning off the immune response.
Highlights: One important cell involved in the fly immune response is called a lamellocyte. Lamellocytes are immune cells that turn on in response to infection and help form the capsule that kills the wasp parasite. In this study, we turned off our two genes of interest, CG10764 and CG4793, in lamellocyte cells.Then, we watched to see if the fly was still able to encapsulate the wasp egg. Figure 1 is a boxplot that shows how encapsulation changed when our genes of interest were turned off.
The letters in Figure 1 show the results of the statistical test. When the letters are different, that means that the percentage of wasp eggs encapsulated by the fly changed. We see that the percentage of eggs encapsulated went down when CG10764 was removed from the cell, compared to unchanged cells. We can see this because the boxplot for “CG10764 gene absent” has a “B” above it while the boxplot for cell unchanged has an “A” above it. We see the opposite effect for CG4793. We see that the percentage of eggs encapsulated went up when CG4793 was removed from the cells because the boxplot for “CG479 gene absent” has a “C” above it while the boxplot for cell unchanged has an “A” above it.
These results suggest that CG10764 may activate the fly immune response to help it fight against the infection. When CG10764 is absent, the fly has a harder time encapsulating the wasp eggs. Our results also suggest that CG4793 can turn off the fly immune response. When CG4793 is absent, the fly is better at encapsulating wasp eggs. We think that these two genes work together to help regulate the immune system when the fly is infected. CG10764 turns on the response and CG4793 turns it off.
What My Science Looks Like: In our research, we work with fly larvae, these are immature flies that have not yet grown their wings. We allow the parasitic wasps to lay their eggs inside the body of the larvae. It usually takes 72 hours for the fly to encapsulate the wasp eggs. The image below shows a fly larva with an encapsulated wasp egg inside it.
Recall that lamellocyte cells are immune cells that help form the capsule that kills the wasp parasite. The image below shows what a lamellocyte looks like under the microscope.
The Big Picture: In this study, we start to get a better understanding about how the fly immune response is regulated. The fruit fly is a model organism, which means that it has been very well studied and there are many tools available to understand the genes of the fly. Model organisms are often used to study human diseases and several parts of the immune response in the fruit fly can be applied to humans. In our research, we have identified two genes that may help regulate the immune response and this might help us to understand human immune systems too.
Decoding the Language:
Basic research: Basic research is a type of research with the goal of understanding a particular phenomenon or law of nature. The goal of basic research is to advance knowledge in a particular topic.
Boxplot: A boxplot is a graph that shows you information about the spread of your data. The top line of the box shows the 75th percentile. This is where 75% of the data fall below the line, and 25% of the data fall above the line. The line in the middle of the box shows the 50th percentile, or the middle of the data. The bottom line shows the 25th percentile. This is where 25% of the data fall below the line and 75% of the data fall above the line. The lines that extend from the box in either direction are called whiskers. They show the range of the highest values and the lowest values of the data set.
Encapsulation: Encapsulation is the process of enclosing something. In the context of this research, it is the process of surrounding the wasp egg with layers of protein that harden around the parasite to kill it.
Gene: A gene is a unit of heredity passed from parents to offspring. Genes normally code for proteins that have certain functions in the body.
Immune response: An immune response is the reaction that the body has when it encounters a pathogen. The purpose of this response is to defend the body. In the context of this research, the immune response of the fly is to activate the immune cells that the fly needs to encapsulate the wasp egg.
Lamellocyte: A lamellocyte one of several types of immune cell that is turned on when the body identifies an infection, and these cells play a role in the encapsulation process in flies.
Larvae (plural): A larva (singular) is the immature form of an insect. Larvae often look very different from the adult form of the insect. As the larvae grow, they will change to look more like the adult version of the insect.
Model organism: A model organism is a non-human species that is very well studied and is used to learn more about other species. Model species are frequently used to study human disease.
Pathogen: A pathogen is a bacteria, virus, or other microorganism that can cause disease.
Principal investigator: A principal investigator is the person responsible for organizing and managing a research project or lab. In colleges, faculty often serve as principal investigators and run research labs with graduate and undergraduate students.
Translationalresearch: Translational research is a type of applied research with the goal of improving human health.
Featured Scientist: Dr. Lisa Barrow (she/her/hers), Assistant Professor and Curator, Museum of Southwestern Biology and Department of Biology, University of New Mexico.
Birthplace: Tempe, Arizona, USA
My Research: I am interested in understanding the diversityof amphibians and reptiles. I study how species have evolved over time, where they occur, and what leads to the loss of diversity in these species.
Research Goals: My research uses information from museum collections to study how different species change over time. A museum collection is almost like a library, but instead of books, it contains the preserved bones, furs, feathers, and tissues of animals from across the world and throughout time. Part of my work is to make sure that we continue to build our museum collections so that other researchers can use them to ask their own questions. My research moving forward will focus on herpetofauna, or “herps” for short. These are amphibians and reptiles. I have also enjoyed studying birds and mammals in my previous work.
Career Goals: I recently started as an Assistant Professor and Curator of a museum collection – this has been my career goal for a very long time! I now look forward to continuing my research and training students to help them pursue their goals.
Hobbies: I enjoy traveling to new places to see new herps and birds, learn about other cultures, and try different cuisines. I also enjoy baking and trying new recipes at home.
Favorite Thing About Science: Learning never ends! I especially love that science is a team effort, and we can always keep learning from other people with different knowledge and expertise than we each have on our own.
My Team: This project was a huge team effort. At the time of this project (2016-2018), I was a postdoctoral researcher working in Dr. Chris Witt’s lab at the University of New Mexico. We led a team that included three undergraduates, four post-bacs, four graduate students, and four lab associates and former students. Together, we conducted the first community-wide survey of bird blood parasites in New Mexico. I helped with fieldwork, sample collection, specimen preparation, and trained the students who conducted molecular work, the microscopic examination of blood cells, and data analysis. I drafted the manuscript with great input from Dr. Chris Witt and the other co-authors. From the time we finished data collection, it took another few years to finish analyzing and writing!
Organism of Study: Birds and their haemosporidian parasites, including many different lineages in the groups Plasmodium, Parahaemoproteus, and Leucocytozoon.
Field of Study: Community Ecology
What is Community Ecology? Community ecology is the study of groups of species and how they interact with one another. People who study community ecology look at how species compete with each other, how they are organized in space, and how they live together.
Check Out My Original Paper: “Detecting turnover among complex communities using null models: a case study with sky‐island haemosporidian parasites”
Citation:Barrow, L.N., Bauernfeind, S.M., Cruz, P.A., Williamson, J.L., Wiley, D.L., Ford, J.E., Baumann, M.J., Brady, S.S., Chavez, A.N., Gadek, C.R., Galen, S.C., Johnson, A.B., Mapel, X.M., Marroquin-Flores, R.A., Martinez, T.E., McCullough, J.M., McLaughlin, J.E., Witt, C.C. Detecting turnover among complex communities using null models: a case study with sky-island haemosporidian parasites. Oecologia 195, 435–451 (2021). (doi: 10.1007/s00442-021-04854-6)
Research At A Glance: Haemosporidians are a diverse group of parasites that are found around the world. They can cause diseases, such as malaria, in humans and birds. Only five species of haemosporidians infect humans, but researchers have found over 3,000 lineages of haemosporidian parasites that can infect birds. Like what we see in humans, haemosporidian parasites can make birds sick and some birds are more likely to become infected, and die from that infection, than others. It is important for scientists to know which parasite lineages are likely to encounter and infect different bird species, so they can be prepared to help prevent infections and protect those species. One way to study this is to describe the community of haemosporidian parasites at different locations. However, it is not easy to sample such a diverse group of parasites. Haemosporidian parasites infect blood cells. This means that we needed to catch birds and obtain blood samples before we could determine the identity of their parasites. This is even more difficult because some parasites are very common, while others are rarer and might be easily missed if we do not catch many birds. Some parasites are also host specialists, meaning they may only occur in one or a few closely related birds. Others are host generalists and can infect many types of birds. These challenges needed to be addressed by sampling many birds at our study sites and by using a specific type of statistical analysis.
Our team set out to describe a community of haemosporidian parasites in the sky islands of the Southwestern United States. Sky islands refer to mountain ranges that have forest habitat at high elevations and desert habitat at low elevations. Like true islands separated by oceans, plants and animals that live in forests may not be able to move easily across desert habitats. We wanted to know if the parasite communities were different between these mountain ranges. To do this, we checked birds for parasitesusing two methods. We used molecular methods to isolate parasite DNA from bird blood cells and sequenced the DNA to find out which type of parasite had infected the bird. We also looked at blood samples using a microscope and photographed the parasites.
Once we had identified the parasites, we analyzed our data using a null modeling approach. This statistical approach allowed us to find out if the parasite communities were different between sky islands. This method also helped us to understand how our results were affected by our sampling. At the end of our study, we had sampled 776 birds. We found that 280 of them were infected with parasites and we found that some bird species were more infected than others. We found that parasite communities were different between the mountain ranges, even when the same species of birds were sampled. This result is interesting because it suggests that different populations of the same bird species will encounter different parasites across the area that the bird is found.
Highlights: One of the most important parts of this research was the way that we analyzed our data. The null modeling approach that we used was developed by Dr. Chris Witt and Selina Bauernfeind. Selina is the second author on our paper and was a post-baccalaureate researcher at the time. Our models ask whether the actual communities of parasites that we observed are different than we would expect if the parasites were randomly sampled from a single parasite community. This community represents our expectation under a null model, where there is no difference in the parasite lineages between sky islands. Selina developed this model by writing computer code in R. R is a type of statistical software that scientists often use to analyze data. She used the computer code to simulate 10,000 parasite communities under the null model.The null model statesthat there is no difference between sky islands. She then compared the simulated parasite communities to the observed parasite communities that we sampled during our study.
The main results are shown in Figure 1 and Figure 2. In both figures, the gray curves show the simulated parasitecommunities. The dotted line represents the results from our observed community, the parasites that we sampled. The stars (*) above the dotted line mean that the parasite community that we sampled is different from the community that we would have expected under the null model. Figure 1 shows that 56 parasite lineages were only found in one of the three mountain ranges. This number was higher than expected based on the null model, indicating that there were many unique parasite lineages in each mountain range.Only 19 parasite lineages were found in all three mountain ranges. This number was lower than expected based on the null model, suggesting that few parasites were shared across three mountain ranges. Taken together, our results suggest that the community of parasites was different between mountain ranges.
Figure 2 shows the Jaccard dissimilarity index. It ranges from 0 to 1. Higher values show a greater difference between mountain ranges. As shown by the dotted line with the stars (*), the results show that the parasite community differed between Mount Taylor and the other two mountain ranges, Jemez and Zuni. The observed parasite communities in these mountain ranges had higher dissimilarity index values than expected under the null model.
What My Science Looks Like: Our team spent two years sampling birds in the field for this project. Our field set-up included plenty of supplies to record data, preserve samples for DNA analysis, and prepare blood smears to examine under the microscope.
Figure 3 shows the number of birds collected and the number of infections that we found at each of our three mountain ranges. “Individuals” refers to the number of birds that we caught, “host species” refers to the number of bird species that we caught, and “infected birds” refers to the number of birds that were infected with at least one haemosporidian parasite. Parahaemoproteus,denoted by “H”,were the most common haemosporidians we found (54 to 70 infections in each mountain range). Plasmodium,denoted by “P”, were theleast common haemosporidians we found (13 to 37 infections in each mountain range). The number of infected birds in each mountain range was similar, ranging from 87 to 93 birds.
The Big Picture: Parasites are everywhere in the natural world. They can cause disease or death to hosts that they infect. It is important for researchers to study where parasites naturally occur, how widespread they are, and which host species they infect. Parasite communities are usually hard to describe because they are so diverse. If we do not sample all the bird species in an area or if we sample a different number of each bird species in each area, we may underestimate the number and type of parasites there. Our research took a new approach that helped to account for these types of problems. Our null modeling approach can be used by other researchers who want to ask similar questions. Our approach helped us understand the community of haemosporidian parasites in an area that has received little attention in the past. We found that the community of parasites can change between areas that are only tens of kilometers apart, even when the bird communities are similar. Our research helps us better understand parasite diversity and how that relates to host diversity.
Decoding the Language:
Fieldwork: Fieldwork is any type of research conducted outdoors. Examples of fieldwork include people who trap birds, measure plants, or collect water samples outside.
Generalists: Generalists are organisms that can use a wide variety of habitats, food sources, or environmental conditions. In the context of this study, generalist parasites can infect a wide variety of bird species.
Haemosporidians: Haemosporidians are microscopic parasites that can infect the blood cells of vertebrate animals (animals with a backbone). They have a unique structure called an apicoplast that allows the parasite to penetrate the blood cells of the host. These parasites are transmitted when the host is bitten by an insect. There are hundreds of described species and thousands of undescribed lineages.
Herpetofauna: Herpetofauna, or “herps”, are amphibians and reptiles.
Jaccard dissimilarity index: The Jaccard dissimilarity index is a metric that describes the difference between two ecological communities. The index ranges from 0 to 1, where low values show that the two communities have similar species and high values show a greater difference between communities.
Lineages: A lineage is a group of organisms descended from a common ancestor. Members of the same lineage are closely related and their genetic sequences are more similar to each other than to other lineages. A lineage can refer to several species, or it can refer to organisms that are not yet described as a species but are known to be closely related. In this study, haemosporidians are considered different lineages if their genetic sequence is different from other haemosporidian parasites.
Leucocytozoon:Leucocytozoon is a genus of haemosporidian parasite that infects birds. They are introduced to their avian host through the bite of an insect, most often a blackfly. More than 100 species of Leucocytozoon have been described.
Malaria: Malaria is an infectious disease caused by Plasmodium parasites that are transmitted by mosquitoes. This disease affects humans and other animals, including birds. Malaria causes tiredness, fever, headaches, and in severe cases, can result in death. Human malaria is most common in the tropics and subtropics, regions near the equator.
Museum collection: A museum collection is a set of objects that is catalogued and cared for by an institution or dedicated set of individuals. Museum collections can include art, historical objects, or scientific collections, like those at natural history museums. Collections can also include living collections of specimens, such as in zoos or seed banks. Natural history museum collections focus on specimens and parts of animals, plants, fungi, and other natural objects. These specimens are collected and cared for so that current and future generations can study, learn from, and have a record of the natural world.
Null model: The null modeling approach that we used is a statistical method. It is a way to analyze data. A null model describes the expectation that a certain process/event has not happened, or there is no difference between groups. It provides a reference point for comparison. In the context of this research, the null model suggests that there is no difference in parasite communities across mountain ranges. When a null modeling approach is used, researchers randomly sample datasets based on the expectations of the null model (that there is no difference between groups) and then compare that to the dataset that was observed in nature. In the context of this research, we randomly sampled from a pool of all the parasites that we found over the course of the study and compared that to the parasite communities that we found at each individual mountain range. If the values from the observed dataset fall outside the range of values from the randomly generated dataset, this suggests that the null model is not supported. In other words, if the parasites that we found at a particular mountain range look different than the parasites from the random dataset, we say that the null model is not supported and that the parasites are different between the mountain ranges.
Parahaemoproteus:Parahaemoproteus is a genus of haemosporidian parasites that primarily infects birds. They are introduced to their vertebrate host through the bite of an insect, most often a biting midge. More than 170 species have been described.
Plasmodium:Plasmodium is a genus of haemosporidian parasites that infects birds, lizards, and mammals. They are introduced to their vertebrate host through the bite of an insect, most often a mosquito. More than 200 species have been described, only five of which are known to infect humans. These parasites cause the disease malaria.
Post-baccalaureate researcher: A post-baccalaureate researcher, or a “post-bac”, is a person who has completed their bachelor’s degree and has enrolled in a 1–2 year research-intensive program. Post-baccalaureate programs are offered across the country. They are professional development programs that help students transition into PhD programs.
Postdoctoral researcher: A postdoctoral researcher, or a “post-doc”, is a person who has completed their Ph.D., or doctoral degree, and continues to conduct research. Postdoctoral research is often collaborative where the post-doc will work with other researchers and students, and often they are more independent. Usually, these researchers have significant training and skills, but are still considered to be early in their career stage. They may be continuing their training or gaining additional skills before beginning a more permanent position. A typical post-doc lasts for 2-3 years, and a person may complete more than one post-doc appointment, depending on their career goals.
Simulate: Scientists run simulations using computers. The computer will take a mathematical concept and a set of data to mimic what might happen in nature. In the context of this research, we created simulated datasets to describe what might happen in nature under the null model. In other words, these datasets describe what we expected if all the mountain ranges had similar parasite communities.
Sky island: The term “sky island” refers to a mountain range that has forest habitat at high elevations and is surrounded by desert habitat at low elevations. Like true islands separated by oceans, plants and animals that live in forests may not be able to move as easily across desert habitats. This landscape can result in isolated populations.
Specialists: In general ecology, specialists may use or specialize on a particular habitat, food source, or set of environmental conditions. In the context of this study, a specialist parasite only infects one species or a closely related bird species.
Arctos: Arctos is a museum collection management system where we make specimen data available. More information for each of the birds sampled in this project can be found through specimen links reported in our paper. See an example here.
MalAvi: MalAvi is the avian malaria database. All the haemosporidian parasite lineages that have been identified are reported here, along with their host species, geographic ranges, genetic sequences, and publications. New genetic sequences can be compared to the existing database to determine whether a particular parasite has been found before.
United States Geological Survey (USGS) information on avian malaria
Dr. Chris Witt’s lab webpage for those interested in this type of research
Synopsis edited byRosario Marroquin-Flores, PhD (Anticipated: August 2022), Illinois State University, School of Biological Sciences and Madison Rittinger, PhD (Anticipated: May 2027), University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Department of Biological Sciences.
Featured Scientist: Joseph T Neale (he/him/his), M.S. 2015, Illinois State University. PhD anticipated Spring 2023, Department of Biosciences, Rice University.
Birthplace: Richmond, Virginia
My Research: My current research looks at how climate change influences the effects of predators on their prey.
Research Goals: I hope to continue to study how climate change and human activities change how species interact in nature.
Career Goals: I want to be a professor at a research university.
Hobbies: Guitar, hiking and backpacking, running, video games
Favorite Thing About Science: I love being on the front lines of expanding human knowledge about the world around us.
My Team: I conducted this research at Illinois State University in Dr. Steve Juliano’s lab. Dr. Juliano advised me in the design and implementation of this project. I wrote the publication with edits from Dr. Juliano. My lab mates in the Juliano lab included Geoff Ower, Kate Evans, and Kris McIntire. I also had assistance from several undergraduates: Keenan Longan, Amy Gensler, and Kaitlyn Frederick.
Organism of Study: Mosquitoes
Field of Study: Population Ecology
What is Population Ecology? A population is a group of organisms of the same species that live in the same area and mate with each other. Population ecology is the study of how the size of populations change over time. The size of a population can change when individuals of that population are born and when they die. Population size can also change when individuals leave or enter into the population.
Check Out My Original Paper: “Finding the sweet spot: What levels of larval mortality lead to compensation or overcompensation in adult production?”
Citation: Neale, J. T., and Juliano, S. A. 2019. Finding the sweet spot: What levels of larval mortality lead to compensation or overcompensation in adult production? (doi: 10:9. 10.1002/ecs2.2855)
Research At A Glance: In nature, organisms are often killed by outside sources such as predators, diseases, extreme weather, and human activity. When outside sources kill organisms, it is called extrinsic mortality. While this type of death may at first lower the size of a population, killing individuals can sometimes lead to increases in the population size over time. This can occur when food is scarce, and many individuals are already at a risk of starvation. The extrinsic mortality kills individuals that would have starved to death anyway. When these individuals are removed from the population, there is now more food for the other members of the population. This can lead to an increase in the population size because these other members are now able to get the food that they need to survive.
The number of individuals that are removed from a population should determine if the population will grow. Our goal was to find how many mosquitoes must be removed from a population for it to grow. We also wanted to know if the species of mosquito made a difference. To test this, we raised four different species of mosquito larvae in small containers. We then removed individuals from the population to imitate the extrinsic mortality that mosquitoes experience in nature. We either removed the larvae from their containers by hand or added predators that would eat individuals in the population. We removed between 0% and 70% of the larvae from each container to see what percentage of extrinsic mortality would increase the population size. Afterward, we counted the number of adult mosquitoes in each container to find the final population size. We found that how mosquitoes respond to extrinsic mortality depended on the species. We also found that species that can live on less food are less likely to experience population growth in response to extrinsic mortality. Even so, the population size grew for three of the four species that we tested. For two species, high and low mortality kept the population small, but intermediate mortality caused the population to grow. For one species, the population grew no matter how many individuals were removed.
Highlights: In our research, we studied four species of mosquito: the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti), the common house mosquito (Culex pipiens), and the eastern tree hole mosquito (Aedes triseriatus). One of the most important results from this study came from the species, A. triseriatus. A. triseriatus mosquitoes can be found in the southern part of the United States. When we removed 70% of the A. triseriatuslarvae from the container, the population grew (Figure 1).
Each of the dots in Figure 1 represent one replicate from the experiment. The experiment was done several times in different containers to make sure that we consistently got the same results. This is called replication. Each container is a replicate. The lines show the relationship between the percent mortality and the number of survivors when you take all of the dots into account. When 0-40% of the population was removed by predators, the final population grew from 5-45 survivors (shown in orange). When 0-70% of the population was removed by hand, the final population grew from 0-45 survivors (shown in blue). Overall, the figure shows that removing individuals increased the population size.
These results are surprising because we would expect that removing a large number of individuals would cause the population size to decrease. The fact that we can remove 70% of the population and still see an increase is very surprising. When it comes to pest control, this means you could kill up to 70% of a pest population and end up with an even larger population than if you had done nothing at all!
What My Science Looks Like: In this experiment, we mimicked extrinsic mortality by introducing predators called Copepods to our containers. Copepods are tiny freshwater animals related to shrimps and crabs (see the image below).
The Big Picture: Mosquitoes have been linked to several human and animal diseases. Mosquito-borne diseases such as the Zika virus, West Nile virus, and malaria are spread when someone is bitten by an infected mosquito. As a result, government agencies often invest in mosquito control techniques to lower the size of mosquito populations. Many types of mosquito control techniques target mosquito larvae. People will apply insecticides to standing water to kill mosquito larvae, before they can become adults. Our results show why this might be a problem. Our study suggests that removing individuals from the population can increase the population size, depending on the species of mosquito and the number of larvae removed. Our study can be used to better inform mosquito control practices and avoid those that can increase in mosquito populations.
Decoding the Language:
Copepods: Copepods are small animals that live in water and are related to shrimp and crabs. They are predators of other small animals, such as young mosquito larvae.
Extrinsic mortality: Extrinsic mortality is an outside source of death that affects a population. The source of death does not come from the population itself. Deaths that are caused by predators, diseases, fires, and human activities, are all examples of extrinsic mortality. If an organism starves because it is competing for food with other members of the same species, then that is not a death caused by extrinsic mortality.
Insecticides: An insecticide is a substance that can kill insects and is often used in mosquito control. Examples include pyrethroids to kill adult mosquitoes, and BTi and pyriproxyfen to kill larvae.
Larvae: Larvae is plural for the word larva. A larva is the immature form of an insect. For example, a caterpillar is the larva form of a butterfly. Mosquito larvae live in water.
Population: A group of organisms of the same species that are close enough to one another to mate.
Predator:A predator is an animal that lives by killing and eating other animals.
Prey: An animal that is killed and consumed by a predator
Replicate: In experiments, replicates are used to make sure that the results of the study are consistent. The researcher will repeat the experiment several times on a small scale to make sure that they are consistently getting the same results. In the context of this research, the replicate was the individual container. For example, five containers may have had 20% of the mosquitoes removed to consistently measure how the population size changed in response to 20% mortality.
Siphons: A siphon is a respiratory organ that helps insects breathe underwater. Inmosquito larvae, it is like a snorkel attached to their rear ends and serves as a breathing tube. The larvae will rest near the surface of water with their snorkels sticking out to breathe in air.
Juliano lab at Illinois State University, School of Biological Sciences, where I conducted this research for my master’s degree
Rudolf lab at Rice University, where I am currently working on my PhD
The American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) information on mosquito control
Other scientific papers on this subject:
Ower, G.D., S.A. Juliano. 2019. Effects of larval density on a natural population of Culex restuans (Diptera: Culicidae): No evidence of compensatory mortality. Ecological Entomology 44:197-205. (doi: 10.1111/een.12689)
McIntire, KM, SA Juliano. 2018. How can mortality increase population size? A test of two mechanistic hypotheses. Ecology 99:1660–1670. (doi: 10.1002/ecy.2375)
Synopsis edited by Kate Evans, PhD (Anticipated May 2024), Illinois State University, School of Biological Sciences and Rosario Marroquin-Flores, PhD (Anticipated August 2022), Illinois State University, School of Biological Sciences.
Featured Scientist: Michael Burt (he/him/his), Doctor of Education (Anticipated: Spring 2022), Department of Teaching and Learning, Illinois State University
Birthplace: Rockford, IL
My Research: I want to learn more about how science teachers (especially chemistry teachers) build their curricula and how they change them based on their goals for their students. A curriculum is everything students need to learn, how they learn it, and why it is important.
Research Goals: I’d like to explore how science teachers use their knowledge to create chances for all students to learn. I would also like to learn more about how teachers understand their role as science teachers, what ideas they have about how best to teach science, and what they are doing to bring their ideas into their classes.
Career Goals: I currently teach science (mostly chemistry) at Normal Community West High School in Normal, IL. I plan to use my research to improve student learning.
Hobbies: I love backpacking, hiking, and anything that goes on outdoors.
Favorite Thing About Science: Science provides us with great tools to learn about ourselves and our surroundings. It allows us to learn new information that can challenge or expand our understanding of the world.
Organism of Study: People (teachers)! Specifically, for this research, I studied high school chemistry teachers.
Field of Study: Science Education
What is Science Education? Science Education is a field focused on the methods that teachers use to teach science in the classroom and the way that students learn science in the classroom. We refer to this more generally as the teaching and learning of science. We work with students in K-12 and at the university level.
My Team: This research was completed as part of my initial coursework in the doctoral program at Illinois State University. I was doing an independent study with a faculty member, Dr. Sarah Boesdorfer, in the Department of Chemistry.
Check Out My Original Paper: “The implementation of reform-based standards in high school chemistry classrooms influenced by science teaching orientations”
Citation: Burt, M. B., & Boesdorfer, S. B. (2021). The Implementation of Reform-Based Standards in High School Chemistry Classrooms Influenced by Science Teaching Orientations. The Electronic Journal for Research in Science & Mathematics Education, 25(1), 71-92.
Research At A Glance: Teachers use learning standards, or state-wide expectations about what students should know at their education levels, to make lesson plans. These standards are made using the latest research, but it is not known how strictly teachers use the standards in their classrooms. To understand how one common set of standards, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), have been used to change how teachers teach, it is important to find out how widely they are used. In our study, we looked at how some of the science content included in the NGSS had been used in teachers’ curricula throughout the state of Illinois. We found that the NGSS were not fully used in classrooms across the state and that several topics were either left out or only partially covered. Additionally, other topics not included in the NGSS were covered more thoroughly. This suggests that professional development might be required and/or that teachers’ previous knowledge affects how much of the NGSS they use in their teaching.
Highlights: We sent a survey to Illinois high school chemistry teachers across the state of Illinois to gather our initial data. In the survey, teachers reported how much time they spent teaching different chemistry topics. Figure 1 shows the topics that teachers covered for only a short period of time (0-2 days) each school year. The blue bars show the chemistry topics that are included under NGSS and the orange bars show topics that are not included under NGSS. Figure 1 shows that most of the topics under NGSS were covered for only a short period of time in the classroom.
Figure 2 shows the topics that teachers covered for a longer period of time (more than 11 days each school year). Similar to the previous graph, the blue bars show the chemistry topics that are included under NGSS and the orange bars show topics that are not included under NGSS. Figure 2 shows that many of the topics that were covered extensively were not directly tied to NGSS.
What My Science Looks Like: After the survey, we interviewed nine teachers about the teaching and learning of chemistry and how that might affect how they make their curricula. Our results suggested that teachers were changing their curricula based on what they thought would help their students be successful. Six out of the nine teachers felt the goal of an introductory chemistry class was to prepare students for a higher-level chemistry class. These teachers felt they had to “give” their students key knowledge important for success in later coursework. This knowledge is part of what is considered to be “essential” chemistry knowledge that many teachers feel they have to teach their students. Three out of the nine teachers felt that their introductory class was a chance for students to develop skills they can use outside of class. These results fit well with the initial survey and were similar for teachers at different sized schools, experience levels, etc. The results of our survey are shown in the image below.
Our results suggest that we need a deeper look at how teachers with different beliefs might approach each NGSS topic. My dissertation will explore these ideas for less thoroughly covered topics like kinetics and nuclear chemistry.
The Big Picture: It’s important to check how learning standards are being used in the classroom and how their use affects student learning. Our study helps us understand how the NGSS are being used in chemistry classrooms across Illinois. Our study shows that simply having state standards may not be enough to change student learning because teachers may be using them differently in the classroom, depending on their perception of student needs. We need to think about how we can support teachers so that all students reach the NGSS learning goals.
Decoding the Language:
Content: A specific idea or principle covered in a class (e.g. chemical bonding).
Curriculum (singular)/Curricula (plural): Includes the type of knowledge students “need”, how that knowledge is developed or acquired, and why it’s of value to students and/or society.
Kinetics: A topic within chemistry that focuses on the speed that chemical reactions occur as well as the factors that influence those rates.
Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS): K-12 standards that describes what students should know and be able to do.
Nuclear chemistry: A topic in chemistry that deals with changes in the nuclei of atoms and radioactivity.
Standards: The intended learning or performance outcomes that teachers are expected to have all of their students reach in a given class, school year, or over a high school career.
Professional Development: Training and learning experiences designed for teachers that can be used to improve their curriculum planning, classroom teaching, and support students’ learning.
NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Other peer-reviewed papers on similar topics:
Friedrichsen, P., van Driel, J. H., & Abell, S. K. (2011). Taking a closer look at science teaching orientations. Science Education, 95(2), 358-376.
Roehrig, G. H., & Kruse, R. A. (2005). The role of teachers’ beliefs and knowledge in the adoption of a reform-based curriculum. School Science and Mathematics, 105(8), 412–422.
Veal, W. R., Riley Lloyd, M. E., Howell, M. R., & Peters, J. (2015). Normative beliefs, discursive claims, and implementation of reform-based science standards. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 53(9), 1419–1443.
Synopsis edited byJosselyn Gonzalez, M.S. in Biology, Illinois State University, School of Biological Sciences, and Jordyn Kosai, B.S. in Environmental Design (Anticipated June 2024), University of California Davis.