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Insect Taxonomy and Curation

Students will help organize the UMass insect collection by sorting unsorted specimens to order (Coleoptera, Hemiptera, etc.) and within orders, sorting specimens into the most common families. Students will learn about insect classification and diversity through hands-on experience with specimens. Prior knowlege of insect taxonomy is helpful but not essential.

Describe a Species

Our lab studies armored scale insects, a group of tiny parasite-like plant-feeding insects that includes many invasive pests. We have been collecting armored scale insects in tropical rainforests around the world, including Panama, Borneo, Australia, and Gabon, and have found over 100 undescribed species. In this project students spend the first half of the semester familiarizing themselves with the structures and terminology of armored scale insect morpholology, by using standard dichotomous keys to identify a series of samples mounted on microscope slides.

Circadian control of ovulation

Multicellular organisms have endogenous daily (circadian) clocks that control most aspects of their physiology and behavior. On a molecular level, circadian rhythms are generated by cell-autonomous transcriptonal-translational feedback loops involving core "clock genes" and their protein products. In mammals, a master circadian pacemaker is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus (SCN). Among the functions under its control is ovulation, which is triggered by a surge of luteinizing hormone (LH) from the anterior pituitary.

Jumping spider visual behavior

In this project, you will help us learn how spiders react to different visual stimuli. You'll be working with jumping spiders, which have eight eyes that provide them with acute vision. We are interested in how their vision is "primed" by other sensory input—when they hear wasp sounds, for example, are they more likely to react to visual images of wasps? Your project will involve putting spiders in arenas and recording their behavior to videos when they are primed with different sounds.

Effect of a virus on adult house fly food intake

House fly is a major problem world wide. It vectors pathogens of humans, food products, and domestic animals. A newly discovered virus attacks the salivary glands of adult flies of both sexes. The pathology of the virus is that it prevents females from producing eggs and prevents mating in both sexes. Internally it causes hypertrophy or enlargement of the salivary glands. In order to produce the numerous virions essential for transmission, a considerable amount of energy in the form of food intake must be essential.

Brain connectomics

We are reconstructing entire brains from serial sectioned electron micrographs. In this way, we can find not only every neuron, but every synapse each neuron makes. We are doing this with simple brains from nudibranch molluscs, which have only 10,000 neurons. That's still a very large number. We are using semi-automated techniques to "segment" neurons and find their connections, but the software still needs humans to guide it. We are looking for students to run this software and trace out neurons from the electron micrographs.

Molecular genetic mechanisms of host-microbe mutualism

The Wang Lab, located in the Life Science Laboratories, is interested in the mechanisms of beneficial host-microbe interactions. Our experimental system is the symbiosis between legumes and nitrogen-fixing rhizobia, with important economic and environmental relevance, as well as similarities to pathogenic interactions. The BURA student will be engaged in dissecting the genetic basis of the nitrogen-fixing symbiosis, in particular characterizing the defects in host mutants unable to sustain a successful symbiotic relationship.

Grape microbiome

The cold climate wine industry has recently boomed in the Northeastern America after the successful breeding of cold-tolerant grape varieties. Vineyards harbor a wide variety of microorganisms that play a pivotal role in grape quality and will contribute significantly to the final aromatic properties of wine. If essential beneficial microorganisms have been identified in traditional wine cultivars, in contrast little is known about cold-climate cultivars.

Vocal communication & song learning in birds

In the Podos Lab, we study a variety of questions related to vocal communication and singing behavior in songbirds. Right now, we're working on a project with swamp sparrows in the lab to explore the process of song learning in males (those who sing to attract mates) and song preference development in females (those who assess songs when choosing a mate). These birds were collected as nestlings during the summer of 2016 from local field sites, and were raised in captivity on campus under controlled conditions.

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