Biology Undergrad and Post-doc Publish in Current Biology

Biology Department researchers led by Wei-Lih Lee have identified a new molecular player in asymmetric cell division, a regulatory protein named She1 whose role in chromosome- and spindle positioning wasn’t known before. Asymmetric cell division is important in the self-renewal of stem cells and because it ensures that daughter cells have different fates and functions.

Lee and postdoctoral researcher Steven Markus, with undergraduate Junior Fellow Katelyn Kalutkiewicz, identified She 1 as the first known regulator of asymmetric cell division that inhibits the dynein engine, but surprisingly also promotes asymmetric division. Their work will appear in the December 4 print edition of Current Biology and is supported by the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

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Herbarium Collection Receives Grant

The Herbarium (MASS) recently received a four-year NSF “Advancing Digitization in Biological Collections Thematic Collections Network” grant as part of a consortium of five other New England herbaria including those at Harvard and Yale. This was one of four ADBC grants awarded in 2012. Under this grant, the University of Massachusetts herbarium will be responsible for data-basing approximately 90,000 UMass specimens of New England vascular plants as well as approximately 12,000 from Westfield State University and 3000 from the Harvard Forest Herbarium in Petersham. Once digitized, a subset will be analyzed for the impact of climate change and land use on vegetation patterns in New England. The digitizing equipment will remain at the University of Massachusetts to become a focal point for digitizing other herbaria in the region.

Blanchard Receives Community Sequencing Program Grant

The Joint Genome Institute of the U.S. Department of Energy recently granted Harvard Forest co-PIs Jeffrey Blanchard (UMass Biology Department), Kristen DeAngelis (UMass), Linda van Diepen (U. of New Hampshire), Serita Frey (U. of New Hampshire), and Jerry Melillo (MBL) a Community Sequencing Program grant. DOE will pay the costs of DNA/RNA library preparation, sequencing, and basic computational processing for 3 terabases of metagenomic (community DNA) and metatranscriptomic (community RNA) data gathered from Harvard Forest soils. Sequencing three terabases (3,000,000,000,000 DNA bases) is roughly equivalent to sequencing 1,000 human and plant genomes, 10,000 ant genomes or 500,000 bacterial genomes. The sequencing and data processing will take 2-3 years.

The project, overseen by researchers with expertise in ecosystem ecology, biogeochemistry, microbial ecology and genomics, aims to characterize the microbial communities from several long-term soil warming experiments at the Forest. The three warming projects, ongoing for 6, 9, and 20 years respectively, correspond to three distinct phases of projected carbon dioxide emissions. The DNA/RNA chronosequence resulting from this award will help researchers understand how climate change affects soil microbial community composition and activity over time.

Microorganisms are difficult to classify using visible morphology. But DNA analysis enables researchers to determine which microbes are present in the soil, while RNA sequencing provides a view of which microbes are actively contributing to ecological processes. A 2012 summer REU group project at the Forest helped to prototype the DNA sequencing analysis for this project.

Press releases:

Harvard Forest.

Department of Energy

Maresca Wins R.R. Bensley Young Investigator Award

Biology Assistant Professor Tom Maresca has been selected by the American Academy of Anatomists (AAA) as the recipient of the 2013 R.R. Bensley Award in Cell Biology. The award, first given in 1979, recognizes a cell biologist who has made a distinguished contribution to the advancement of anatomy through discovery, ingenuity, and publications in the field of cell biology. Past winners include: John Heuser, Elaine Fuchs, Tim Mitchison, and Ron Vale (2012 Lasker Award Winner). Maresca will present the R.R. Bensley Award Lecture in the Young Investigator Award Symposium at the upcoming AAA Annual Meeting in Boston in conjunction with Experimental Biology 2013.

Riley Named Massachusetts Academy of Sciences Fellow

Biology professor Peg Riley (right) is among the new class of Fellows of the Massachusetts Academy of Sciences, elected by her peers to its prestigious community of scientists, engineers, research physicians and others who are deeply concerned about science and science education in the Commonwealth.

Riley, president and founder of MAS, announced the academy’s latest fellows:
UMass alumna and astronaut Catherine Coleman, Irving Epstein of Brandeis University, Robert Dorit of Smith College, Ward Watt of Stanford University, Mandana Sassanfar of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Junior Academy of Sciences, Megan Rokop of the Broad Institute, and James Hamilton and Paul Trunfio of Boston University.

Riley says, “Each year, the Massachusetts Academy of Sciences honors distinguished individuals through its fellowship awards. They join an elite group of professional scientists and science educators who are recognized for extraordinary scientific accomplishments and service to the science community and the public. The academy is thrilled to welcome these stellar individuals to its elite group. They are crucial to the future success of the academy and it is an honor to announce their commitment and involvement.”

Riley’s research interests range from experimental evolution of microbes to developing novel antimicrobials and redefining the microbial species concept.

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