How Plants Maintain a Healthy Sperm-Egg Ratio

Current molecular biochemistry, microscopy and genetic techniques have become so powerful that scientists can now make mechanistic discoveries – supported by multiple lines of evidence – about intimate processes in plant reproduction that once were very difficult to examine, says molecular biologist Alice Cheung at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

She is the senior author of a new paper in Nature describing how she and her team used such tools to solve, in unprecedented detail, the mechanisms of how flowering plants avoid polyspermy. As the name suggests, polyspermy results from multiple sperm entering and fertilizing an egg, a condition harmful to the zygote. In plants, preventing polyspermy also means higher chances for more females to be fertilized and ensures better seed yields, both of which are agriculturally important.

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POSTPONED-- 2020 Kaulenas Lecture: Dr. Stanley B. Prusiner on Prions Causing Neurodegenerative Disease

**** The 13th annual Kaulenas Lecture is postponed until further notice. A new date and time is TBD.****

This year's lecture will be given by Dr. Stanley Prusiner, the 1997 Nobel laureate in Physiology of Medicine.

In recognition of his pioneering work discovering prions, the underlying cause of neurodegenerative diseases including Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (or Mad Cow), Dr. Prusiner has also received the Wolf Prize, the Lasker Award, the Potamkin Prize, and the National Medal of Science.

He was elected to the National Academy of Science in 1992.

Dr. Prusiner will be speaking about recent discoveries in his lab, namely that the same misfolded protein phenomenon that gives rise to prion diseases is now widely recognized to play a role in most neurodegenerative diseases.

This lecture is sponsored by the Initiative on Neurosciences (IONs) at UMass.

Exploring the ‘Dark Matter’ of the Cell

Tom Maresca recently received a four-year, $1.3 million grant renewal from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to use specialized tools to learn more about the less-studied inner universe of the cell.

There is a little-understood realm inside cells that cell biologist Tom Maresca likes to think of as the cell’s dark matter, something like the largely unknown stuff that is so abundant in space.

He explains that a foundational aspect of how scientists think about biology is called the structure-function paradigm, referring to how many proteins adopt specific and highly reproducible folded shapes that allow them to carry out their functions. For these, shape and function are inextricably linked. “These would be analogous to regular matter and they can be studied with conventional biochemical methods and techniques like X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy,” Maresca says.

“But there are also many proteins that are predicted to have no specific structure, and they’re not as easy to study as well-folded proteins. They’re called intrinsically disordered proteins, which means they are unstructured,” he adds.

Sometimes referred to as the Dark Proteome, these shapeless proteins “appear to be very abundant, we just don’t know much about them. There’s been tremendous progress in understanding structure-function; now we hope to make progress in this other important area of how unstructured proteins function.”

For the new grant, Maresca and colleagues will collaborate with biophysicist Nathan Derr at Smith College.

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Peg Riley Gave a "Fireside Chat" at the Precision Medicine Conference in Silicon Valley in January

Peg Riley was invited to give a "Fireside Chat" with Keith Yamamoto at the Precision Medicine Conference in Silicon Valley on January 22-24, 2020.

Keith R. Yamamoto is Vice Chancellor for Research, Executive Vice Dean of the School of Medicine, and Professor of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco, UCSF.

The Precision Medicine World Conference is the largest & original annual conference dedicated to precision medicine. PMWC’s mission is to bring together recognized leaders, top global researchers and medical professionals, and innovators across healthcare and biotechnology sectors to showcase practical content that helps close the knowledge gap between different sectors, thereby catalyzing cross-functional fertilization & collaboration in an effort to accelerate the development and spread of precision medicine.

HERE is the link to her chat!

Digital Life on Earth

Duncan Irschick is working on UMass Amherst’s Digital Life Project to create visual records of critically endangered species.

The Digital Life Project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has been revolutionary in creating visual records of critically endangered species in ways that technology has never allowed before.

The project team modeled the first-ever 3D image of a southern right whale after researchers used aerial photography and drone videos to measure the mass and volume of whales. Previously, the only way to weigh any whale was by using a dead or stranded animal. Using its innovative Beastcam array, the team has also produced the world’s first accurate 3D image of the southern white rhino.

Led by Professor of Biology Duncan Irschick, the Digital Life Project has gathered a number of global collaborators. Documenting southern right whales as they gathered at their winter breeding grounds off the coast of Argentina involved participants from the Southern Right Whale Health Monitoring Program and the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies in Denmark. To create the visual of a rare southern white rhino, Irschick and team collaborated with the Perth Zoo in Australia, which volunteered its resident rhino, Bakari, to be photographed.

The resulting images are a valuable reference for researchers and conservationists. Measurements of live whales at sea offer information about how stressors affect the weight and physical condition of whales, as well as enabling accurate sedative dosing for whales who panic while entangled in fishing gear. All five species of rhinos are under extreme pressure worldwide, particularly from poaching for their horns. “It’s very special to photo-capture an animal like a rhino because they are a persecuted species,” comments Irschick.

Irschick and his colleagues have created several Beastcam rigs, including hand-held and tripod-mounted instruments in a variety of sizes for animals large and small. The original array consists of 10 fixed arms, each mounting three cameras for a 30-camera array. A variation of this method has even been used to photo-capture free-swimming sharks underwater! Animals located at the focal point of the array are modeled in 3D with special software. For Bakari the rhino, technicians and zoologists took photos from 360 degrees, and then a CGI artist animated the results, which were released last fall on World Rhino Day.

The UMass Amherst Digital Life Project makes its data and models publicly available as “an archive for animals,” says Irschick. The unique capabilities of the project are in demand, with models having been downloaded over 20,000 times since its inception.

As many species face down extinction, the Digital Life Project provides a compelling visual resource for those who want to intervene on behalf of their survival.

Click HERE to learn more!