Featured student project: Theo Black

Many aquatic insects use polarized light to find water surfaces on which they reproduce, and where their larvae live and grow.  Manmade objects and structures can sometimes mimic these water surfaces by polarizing light. Moreover, in some cases they can be more attractive to aquatic insects than water itself. This effect causes “ecological traps” that can lead aquatic insects to population decline or even extinction.

Previous studies have shown that the attractiveness of polarizing synthetic surfaces can be reduced if grids of non-polarizing lines are strategically placed on them. In his senior project, Theodore Black measured the effect of line thickness on the attractiveness of polarizing non-water surfaces. Early in the morning he would install his polarizing traps near the water stream, and late at night he would collect them. Then, for days and days, he would sort and identify insects trapped in oil under the microscope, classifying them into such poetically named groups as non-biting midges (Chironomidae), black flies (Simulliidea), caddisflies (Trichoptera), and mayflies (Ephemeroptera). This work allowed Theo to analyze and describe the effect of non-polarizing line thickness on the attractiveness of traps, which will undoubtedly help to develop ways to protect aquatic insects from human interference.

The Tick Project: a Large-Scale Study Aimed at Reducing Ticks and Lyme Disease

The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation has awarded a $5 million dollar leadership grant to support a scientific study that seeks to reduce Lyme disease in neighborhoods. If successful, the project will revolutionize Lyme disease prevention.

Bard College biologist Felicia Keesing and Cary Institute disease ecologist Richard Ostfeld will direct the scientifically rigorous five-year study. It will take place in Dutchess County, New York, which is home to one of the nation’s highest Lyme disease infection rates. Residents of 24 neighborhoods will be recruited from Lyme disease hotspots identified by the researchers and their partners at the Dutchess County Department of Health.

Link to the project web-page:
http://www.tickproject.org/

Full press-release from Bard.

FEATURED STUDENT PROJECT: Sophia Zega

What are the molecular processes distinguishing cell regeneration from cell development? Using zebrafish as a model organism, Sophia Zega studies one facet of this question by investigating the role of FAT2 protein in initial hair cell development, and in hair cell regeneration. Based on previous evidence we know FAT2 levels increase following hair cell ablation in preparation for regeneration. Sophia performs a knock down of FAT2 in zebrafish larvae, and then stains hair cells with dyes binding to actin and microtubules, to see how the FAT2 gene is important for hair cell development and regeneration.

Publications: Evaluating exotic plants as evolutionary traps for nesting Veeries

In this study, Bruce Robertson and coauthors tested whether non-native plant species may cause problems to Veeries when birds try to build nests in these plants. It appears that Veeries do indeed prefer non-native plants to native ones, but fortunately in this case their preference is not maladaptive, as non-native plants still provide enough protection and concealment for the nests.

Full citation:
Meyer, L. M., Schmidt, K. A., & Robertson, B. A. (2015). Evaluating exotic plants as evolutionary traps for nesting Veeries. The Condor, 117(3), 320-327.

Publications: Electrophysiological diversity of neurons during development and plasticity

Brains consist of many cells called neurons: billions of them in a human brain, and hundreds of thousands in the brain of a small fish or a frog tadpole. Many of these neurons are very much alike, and work together to process information in the brain. Yet while they are similar, they are not exactly identical. By looking at how individual neurons within a specific type differ from each other, it is possible to understand more about how they work together.

We have now compared the properties of the neurons in a part of the brain of a developing frog tadpole that processes sensory information. These neurons appear relatively similar to each other in young tadpoles, yet as the tadpoles grow and their brains become more elaborate the neurons become increasingly diverse, and their properties become more unique and nuanced.

Full citation:
Ciarleglio, C. M., Khakhalin, A. S., Wang, A. F., Constantino, A. C., Yip, S. P., & Aizenman, C. D. (2015). Multivariate analysis of electrophysiological diversity of Xenopus visual neurons during development and plasticity. eLife,4, e11351.

Volunteer with the Eel Project

(by Olivia Williams)

Each spring, glass eels make their way from the Sargasso Sea to the Hudson River and then swim up various tributaries, including the Saw Kill. The New York DEC organizes the Eel Project where they set up eel nets across the Hudson River tributaries to track and count eel populations and migrations. The Bard College Field Station is one of the many locations that collects the data, and on March 28 we will be installing the eel net! For the next two months or so, we are looking for volunteers to come down to the field station and record data. Experience is not necessary as we will have trainings for the first week, and there will always be an experienced eel monitor with each group! To sign up, e-mail Olivia Williams.

eel-hand

Featured student project: David Hendler

David Hendler in interested in wildlife conservation. In his senior project he is trying to develop methodologies for surveying wildlife corridors in fragmented forest habitat. To study this question, David placed dozens of automatic wildlife cameras in the woods around the Town of Red Hook. Working under supervision of professors Felicia Keesing and Bruce Robertson, he collected thousands of photographs of various mammals, and analyzed them, to check whether animal diversity is different in in wildlife corridors compared to the larger habitats they connect.

On a picture: a collage of several photos, one showing a coyote, and another one with some deer.

Featured student project: Alessia Zambrano

For her senior project, Alessia Zambrano characterized biofilms produced by a bacterium Janthinobacterium lividum: a strain isolated from the Hudson River Valley area that plays an essential role in aquatic health and community diversity. Alessia took three-dimensional images of the biofilm using an atomic force microscope. These 3D reconstructions for the first time provide a detailed picture of the shape, size, and surface topography of individual cells of this bacterial strain.

Biology Seminar series: Spring 2016

Biology seminar schedule

Spring 2016

Publications: Microbial fuel cells in the classroom

A publication by Brooke and Craig Jude in JMBE is focused on building microbial fuel cells (bacterially powered batteries) in the college and local school classroom! These microbial fuel cells serve as lab projects in Brooke Jude’s BIO145 Environmental Microbiology course and are also constructed when local 8th grade classes visit Bard through Center For Civic Engagement (CCE) sponsored events (that are taught by Bard students!)

Citation and full-text link: Jude CD, Jude BA. Powerful Soil: Utilizing Microbial Fuel Cell Construction and Design in an Introductory Biology Course. J Microbiol Biol Educ. 2015 Dec 1;16(2):286-8. doi: 10.1128/jmbe.v16i2.934. eCollection 2015 Dec.