Normark speaks on Studies of Evolution of Unusual Genetic Systems


When it comes to sex, the roundworm Diploscapter pachys is a loner. Abstinence may have found its most impressive poster child yet: Diploscapter pachys. The tiny worm is transparent, smaller than a poppy seed and hasn't had sex in 18 million years.
It has basically just been cloning itself this whole time. Usually, that is a solid strategy for going extinct, fast. What is its secret?
"Scientists have been trying to understand how some animals can survive for millions of years without sex, because such strict, long-term abstinence is very rare in the animal world," says David Fitch, a biologist at New York University. Most plants and animals use sex to reproduce.
Photo courtesy of Karin Kiontke and David Fitch/NYU

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Baskin Receives DOE Grant to Study Plant Growth

Tobias Baskin, biology, recently received a $238,000 grant from the Department of Energy to study cellulose and plant control of anisotropic growth, that is, growth rates that are not equal in all directions.

As he explains, “Anisotropy is a hallmark of plant growth. Almost without exception, cells grow faster in one direction than in another.” He will study such questions as how a plant makes organs with specific and heritable shapes, for example, how it builds flat leaves appropriate for catching the sun’s rays and cylindrical roots for foraging soil nutrients.

“In plants, the shapes of organs are controlled by growth. When growth is the same in all directions, it is isotropic, and this kind of growth gives rise to spherical structures, such as a blueberry,” he points out. However, “most plant organs are far from spherical and require growth to differ in different directions, that is to be anisotropic. Growth in plant cells is powered by hydrostatic pressure, which in typical plant cells exceeds that of the typical automobile tire, and is controlled by the mechanical anisotropy of the cell wall.”

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Alexander Gerson Studies Native Songbirds at Risk in a Warming Climate

When it’s 120 degrees in Phoenix, it’s not only planes that aren’t flying. Desert birds are also grounded—hunkered down in the shade until it cools off—but if they stay too long, they can weaken from dehydration and be unable to replenish their water. It’s a vicious cycle, one that UMass Amherst is collaborating with other universities to understand.

“The uniqueness of this collaboration arises from the way it combines climate mapping and geographic information with physiological data,” says Alexander Gerson, Assistant
Professor of Biology, who contributed his expertise in how birds handle thermal stress to the study.

Using land-surface modeling and hourly temperature maps, the team projected the potential effects of current and future heat waves on lethal dehydration in birds and how rapidly this can occur in species native to the Sonoran Desert. Their models revealed that increasing air temperatures and heat wave occurrences will potentially affect the water balance, daily activity patterns, and geographic distribution of arid-zone birds. Some regions of the desert could become uninhabitable for many species, and future high-temperature events could depopulate whole regions—as they have with mass avian die-offs occurring in Australia and South Africa.

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Postdoctoral Research Associate

POSTDOCTORAL POSITION IN BEE HEALTH AND ECOLOGY, University of Massachusetts Amherst 
The Adler Lab at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass, Amherst) seeks a Postdoctoral Research Associate to assess how floral, bee and network characteristics mediate bee disease transmission dynamics under the guidance and supervision of the Principle Investigator. This research is part of a larger NIH grant examining trait-mediated bee disease transmission, with collaborators at Cornell, NCSU, and UC Riverside. The appointee is expected to establish some independence in research design and execution, to publish her/his work as appropriate in collaboration with the principle investigator, and to be an engaged member of the lab. There is an opportunity to mentor undergraduates in related independent research, but this is not a position requirement.

This is a benefited, full-time Postdoctoral Research Associate position. Initial appointment is for one year; reappointment beyond the first year is contingent upon availability of funding and job performance. Funding is available for at least two years. Primary responsibilities will include, but are not limited to, selecting and preparing plant, bee and pathogen species for manipulative experiments and conducting research in field tents asking how network characteristics and floral and bee traits affect bee disease transmission. Research will require close contact with bees in tents and in field settings, and training lab personnel in various experimental techniques.

The successful candidate is required to have a Ph.D. in biology, entomology, ecology or related field by the time of hire. Highly desirable qualifications include experience conducting research in plant-pollinator interactions; experience with pollination networks, experience working with multiple bee, plant and pathogen species in field and/or lab settings, demonstrated record of publishing research in quality journals, expertise in R and statistical analysis, experience and/or strong interest in plant-insect interactions, and experience and/or interest in mentoring undergraduate research. Inquiries about the position can be directed to Lynn Adler, lsadler@bio.umass.edu.

Postdoctoral Research Associates at the University of Massachusetts are unionized and receive standard salary and benefits, depending on experience. Salary is subject to bargaining unit contract, with a salary minima of $47,476.

Candidates must apply online by submitting a cover letter, CV, summary of research interests, and the contact details of three references willing to provide letters of recommendation to:

http://umass.interviewexchange.com/jobofferdetails.jsp?JOBID=89528
Review of applications will begin October 3, 2017 and continue until the position is filled. Applications received by October 3, 2017 will be given priority consideration.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer of women, minorities, protected veterans, and individuals with disabilities and encourages applications from these and other protected group members. 

Peg Riley Joins Board of Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics

Biology professor Margaret Riley, an expert in the evolution of microbial resistance, is one of five new members of the board of directors of the Boston-based Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (APUA). The appointments were announced in June.

Stuart B. Levy, APUA’s CEO, said, “Our new board members occupy the highest levels of academic research, medicine, biopharmaceuticals and veterinary science. Their areas of expertise harmonize to address the complexity of antimicrobial resistance. We welcome them.”

Riley says, “I am honored to be invited to serve on the board of directors for APUA, which was one of the very first organizations devoted to informing the public of the dangers of antibiotic overuse and abuse and has been a key player in efforts to extend the lifespan of these life-saving drugs.”

Read more in the Umass News and Media article