Dumont Receives Top Honors for Bat Research

Betsy Dumont, professor of biology and vice provost for academic affairs, recently received the Gerrit S. Miller Award from North American Society for Bat Research “in recognition of outstanding service and contribution to the field of Chiropteran biology,” placing her among the world’s most influential bat biologists.

The award was presented to Dumont at the 44th annual meeting of NASBR held Oct. 22-25 in Albany, N.Y. Dumont is the 21st recipient and only the fourth woman to have earned this high distinction since it was first given 34 years ago.

The UMass News & Media article, is available here.

Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Interfere With Placental Thyroid Hormone Activity Study by R.Thomas Zoeller

A study led by biologist R. Thomas Zoeller of the University of Massachusetts Amherst provides evidence that endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) found in flame retardant cloth, paint, adhesives and electrical transformers, can interfere with thyroid hormone action in pregnant women and may affect the fetus.

The researchers chose to analyze placental tissue because it likely reflects what is occurring in the fetus. Using placental tissue samples from 164 pregnant women with no thyroid disease, they analyzed the messenger RNA expression for the enzyme CYP1A1.The researchers found that in pregnancies where the placenta contained higher levels of CYP1A1, there were signs of thyroid disruption. Levels of two thyroid-regulated genes tended to be higher in these pregnancies, although the mother’s overall thyroid hormone levels did not change.

Results appeared in an online edition and in the December print edition of the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. News-Medical.net. Medical Express. Science 2.0. Science Daily. Science Codex. MedIndia.net. Growingyourbaby.com.

The work was a collaboration between scientists in the biology department at UMass Amherst and physician scientists led by Larissa Takser at the University of Sherbrooke, Québec.

The UMass News & Media article, is available here.

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.