Featured student project: Shailab Shrestha

Shailab Shrestha studied how bacteria develop resistance against antimicrobial agents, such as antimicrobial peptides. Together with prof. Gabriel Perron, Shailab sequenced genomes of several experimentally evolved Pseudomonas fluorescens populations resistant to high concentrations of a certain synthetically modified antimicrobial peptide named pexiganan, and compared these genomes to each other. The results of his original studies were not quite clear due to possible  contamination, but Shailab followed up on them during BSRI 2016, and the project has high chances of being eventually published as research paper.


Featured student project: Katherine Moccia

In her senior project, Katherine Moccia  studied potential effects hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) can have on microbial communities in streams near fracking sites. Under supervision of prof. Brooke Jude, Katherine tried to understand whether the presence of bacteria that produce purple pigments, such as species of Janthinobacterium, can be used as an indicator for the overall “health” of a natural water stream. She used microbial isolates from a local creek, and added a commonly used hydraulic fracturing material called glutaraldehyde to simulated microbial communities, to quantify the effects glutaraldehyde would have on the number of purple colonies. The results of this project were not quite clear, but are promising methodologically.

The Science Literacy website has launched!

What should all students know about science by the time they graduate from college? A great deal of attention has been paid to the training of future scientists, but the education of students who will not pursue the study of science is an equally important challenge. These students might take just a single science course in college. What do we as a society think they should know or be able to do?

The “Science Litreacy Project” was supported by a generous grant to Bard College from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Our goal was to develop and implement a plan for science literacy for undergraduates.

Read more on the project web site:

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 help to protect aquatic insects from human interference. Using this new information, engineers will be able to design solar panels that are efficient, yet don’t trick aquatic insects into laying eggs on it, helping them to avoid an evolutionary trap.

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:

Full press-release from Bard.


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.