American Journal of Botany Honors UMass Amherst Biologist Ed Klekowski

As part of its 100th anniversary celebration this year, the American Journal of Botany (AJB) is highlighting a few seminal papers that have led to substantial advances in various fields of botany over the past century. including that of biologist Edward Klekowski, professor emeritus.

His 1973 paper, “Sexual and subsexual systems in homosporous pteridophytes: a new hypothesis,” which speculated on the origin of ferns, horsetails and other spore-producing plants, “launched the rebirth of empirical investigations” into understanding the breeding systems and genetics of ferns, according to evolutionary biologist Christopher Haufler of the University of Kansas, Lawrence.

Haufler’s invited commentary, “Ever Since Klekowski: Testing a Set of Radical Hypotheses Revives the Genetics of Ferns and Lycophytes,” discussing the importance and long-term impact of that 1973 paper, appears in the December issue of AJB.

Haufler adds, "Thanks to Klekowski’s thought provoking proposals, we now have a solid foundation for further exploration of the individual and population genetics of these lineages. Without his vision, ferns and lycophytes might have continued to be ignored and sidetracked and we may not have discovered how central they are to a complete explanation of plant evolution.”

The UMass News & Media article, is available here.

Brewer Featured in Wall Street Journal as Esperanto Speaker

When Steven D. Brewer was invited to speak at the 2006 Brazilian Esperanto Congress, he used Pasporta Servo to stay for several days in São Paulo. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, One of the Perks of Speaking Esperanto? Free Lodging Around the World, describes the experience of using this free service for Esperanto speakers. Pasporta Servo, or "Passport Service" provides hospitality for traveling esperantists, and lists hosts from all around the world who are willing to open up their homes for temporary lodging free of any charge. The article features a host in New York City, a young woman who stayed with 100 hosts over 16 months in Europe, and a lengthy section with Dr. Brewer (pictured left), the Director of the Biology Computer Resource Center, who has spoken at international conferences using Esperanto in the Americas and Europe.

Madagascar: Fossil Skull Offers Clue to Mammals’ Evolution

The surprise discovery of the fossilized skull of a 66- to 70-million-year-old, groundhog-like creature on Madagascar has led to new analyses of the lifestyle of the largest known mammal of its time by a team of specialists including Biologist Elizabeth Dumont from UMass Amherst.

Dumont is an expert in jaw structure and bite mechanics. Dumont and her assistant Dan Pulaski reconstructed the cranium of this mammal from CT scans by painstakingly moving bone fragments back into place and filling in missing bone with mirror images of the same bone from the other side of the skull. Dumont reconstructed the chewing muscles based on comparison to living rodents and used engineering-based models to predict how the jaws moved and how hard the animal could bite.

Dumont and lead author, paleontologist David Krause of Stony Brook University, agree that the discovery shakes up evolutionary biologists’ views of the mammalian “family tree.” Krause says Vintana “reshapes some major branches” of that tree, grouping gondwanatherians with others that have been “very difficult to place.” Dumont adds, “This work is a real tour de force thanks to the collaboration of many different specialists.”

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society.

The UMass News & Media article, is available here.

Riley Delivers Address in Beijing on Antibiotic Resistance

Biology professor Margaret Riley was an invited speaker at the 18th Beijing International Healthcare Industry Forum in China’s capital on Oct. 23, where her topic was “Strategic development of novel narrow-spectrum bacteriocin antimicrobials.”

During her address she told the audience that antibiotic resistance is becoming a global health crisis, and there is no simple solution at present to deal with it. “The traditional paradigm for antibiotic discovery, development and therapy is not capable of responding to the rapid evolution and shifting ecology of our most virulent pathogens,” she said. “We must act now to search for alternative solutions to this fundamental challenge to human health. Our research program, based on sound ecological principles, begins with lead compounds.

Riley's research focuses on exploring the potential of naturally occurring bacteria-killing toxins created by fellow bacteria as the entry point for developing new antimicrobials. She was a co-founder in 2009 of the biopharmaceutical company Bacteriotix, with a mission to provide proof of concept for this new drug development paradigm. In 2009, she co-founded the Institute for Drug Resistance to facilitate new, multidisciplinary approaches to addressing drug resistance. She also created a new Gordon Research Conference on Drug Resistance.

The UMass News & Media article, is available here.

Riley's Presentation at the IOM: "Antimicrobial Resistance: A Problem Without Borders"

Professor Margaret Riley presented a talk at The Institute of Medicines 2014 Richard & Hinda Rosenthal Symposium, in Washington DC. The Symposium explored the current and future impact of antimicrobial resistance, implications for our nation's health and that of the world, and obstacles and successes in the development of solutions and steps to mitigate this global public health challenge.

The Symposium was presented by The Institute of Medicine's Executive Office Board and covered a range of topics from: Health Care Workforce, Health Services, Coverage, Access, Public Health, Quality and Patient Safety.

Using UTI (urinary tract infection) as a model case, Riley and colleagues investigated the use of bacteriocin toxins as a potential treatment method. These antimicrobial molecules have been found to be effective against UTI-causing bacteria while being non-toxic to human cells.

The full video presentation appearing on The Institute of Medicines, of The National Academies, can be accessed here.