Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Honors Margery Coombs

At the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s (SVP) 75th annual meeting in October in Dallas, professor emeritus Margery Coombs, biology, was awarded honorary membership, one of the three major academic career awards given by the society, to recognize her long career of “distinguished contribution to vertebrate paleontology.” The society is the premier international body for the interdisciplinary field of vertebrate paleontology.

Coombs is internationally known for her research on fossil perissodactyls, that is, odd-toed ungulates such as rhinos, tapirs and horses, and in particular on chalicotheres, a group with claws rather than hooves that roamed the Earth from about 55 million years ago until they became extinct about 1 million years ago.

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The Biology Department Welcomes New Faculty - Elena Vazey

Elena’s research investigates neuromodulatory networks in the brain. She is interested in how activity in locus coeruleus norepinephrine neurons modify neural targets to change behavioral responses to environmental stimuli. Her lab primarily studies the impact of locus coeruleus activity on cognitive control and motor responses. This research increases our understanding of different disorders where locus coeruleus functioning is altered, such as ADHD and anxiety, and cases where locus coeruleus neurons are lost such as in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Elena's lab is currently located in Morrill 3 South, room 413A, while her new lab is being renovated.

Irschick, Crosby, and Gilman Reported That Geckos Have a Spring-like Mechanism in Their Bodies to Enhance Adhesion

Duncan J. Irschick, Biology, Alfred J. Crosby, Polymer Science and Engineering, and doctoral candidate Casey A. Gilman, Biology, have shown that geckos have a spring-like mechanism in their bodies to enhance adhesion as they become larger, as reported in PLOS ONE article. In 2012, four of the authors invented the flexible adhesive Geckskin. BBC article, Science Newsline article. Nature World News article., UMass News & Media Relations article.

Gerald Downes, Biology, with James Chambers and Josef Trapani, Awarded $824,000 NSF Grant to Study How Neurons Regulate Location

Gerald Downes, Biology, with James Chambers, Chemistry, and Amherst College neurobiologist Josef Trapani, have been awarded a three-year $824,025 collaborative research grant from the National Science Foundation to study the zebrafish brain to better understand how neurons regulate locomotion. Downes, the lead investigator, says his ultimate research goal is to better understand how different chemical signals, called neurotransmitters, work together at cellular and molecular levels to coordinate normal locomotion such as walking and swimming.

News-medical.net.

Phys.org.

UMass News & Media Relations.

Hazen and Harrington Receive Two Grants to Develop Crop Biotechnology Venture

Plant growth is in part determined by a network of genes that influence total biomass yield. By studying the regulatory mechanisms of how plants build themselves, the Hazen Laboratory has identified ways to potentially boost energy crop yield. Professor Samuel Hazen and Postdoctoral Fellow Michael J. Harrington have been awarded grants from the National Science Foundation and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC). The NSF Innovation Corp program award of $50,000 is designed to extend the basic laboratory research to entrepreneurial ventures. By participating in this program they will explore product opportunities and a business development plan. The MassCEC provided a $40,000 catalyst award to test what they have learned in their laboratory model, the small grass Brachypodium distachyon, in energy crop species.