Brewer Honored as Western Michigan Alumnus

Steven D. Brewer, senior lecturer II in biology and director of the Biology Computer Resource Center, received the 2017 Alumni Achievement Award from the Mallinson Center for Science Education at Western Michigan University (WMU).

Brewer, who received a master’s in geology and a Ph.D. in science education in 1996, was one of 20 alumni recognized by the WMU College of Arts and Sciences.

In a seminar for current students and faculty, Brewer spoke about the path that led him to select science education as a course of study, how he has translated what he learned into practical experience in his role at UMass Amherst, and some of the current key challenges facing science education and public higher education.

Riley's Research Shows the 'Post-Antibiotic Apocalypse' Can Be Prevented. Here's How

The era of antibiotics that began almost a century ago is coming to an end. Diseases that were once easily treatable have become resistant to even the most potent antibiotics. Around the globe, drug-resistant infections claim hundreds of thousands of lives a year; according to one report, the toll of infectious disease deaths could rise to 10 million a year by 2050. England’s chief medical officer warns of an impending “post-antibiotic apocalypse.”

Pharmaceutical companies keep rolling out new antibiotics, often to great fanfare. But experts say such innovations won’t stop the potential disaster barreling our way.
An illustration of bacteriophages infecting bacteria.
Kateryna Kon / Science Photo Library via Getty Images

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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.”

Read more in the UMass News article

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.

Read more in the UMass News article