Tag Archives: featured

Student research: Melissa Yost-Bido

Ticks are vectors for several serious diseases (meaning that they can transmit these diseases to humans), including Lyme disease, babesiosis, and anaplasmosis. Melissa Yost-Bido ’19 studied something called Haller’s organs: chemosensory organs (essentially, a very special type of smell) that ticks have on their front legs, and  that is thought to help them detect pheromones, carbon dioxide, and infrared radiation. As you can guess, all that ticks really care about, is how to find a host (such as a mouse, or a human), to attach to them, and  feed on their blood. Being able to detect animal smells and heat would definitely help here!

Many methods of tick-borne disease prevention that are used now, harm not only ticks, but also other, good, beneficial organisms. If we learn more about the Haller’s organ, we can try to find new ways to fight ticks, by making sure that they cannot find new hosts. Melissa studied the ability of the Haller’s organ in blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis; the nastiest ticks around here) to detect infrared light. She collected local ticks, separated them into groups, and then either left their Haller’s organs intact, or removed them. Then Melissa exposed each tick from each group to infrared light (heat), and recorded the distance that each tick moved towards the source of infrared radiation. She found that ticks with a Haller’s organ traveled farther towards the heat, compared to those that had their Haller’s organs removed. This suggests that Ixodes ticks can use Haller’s organs to detect warm bodies, which is something nobody had ever shown before!

Student research: Rachael Mendoza

We live in the era of antibiotic resistance: old, familiar antibiotics, that used to work so well in the past, are no longer guaranteed to kill harmful bacteria, as the bacteria evolve new ways to fight back and survive the treatment. Because of that, now, more than ever, it is important to study the fundamentals of gene regulation in bacteria, with a hope to find new ways to control them.

Riboswitches are a unique mechanism of gene regulation that is used by bacteria, fungi, and plants. A piece of RNA with a riboswitch changes its shape depending on what chemicals are present in the cell, which in turn changes what proteins are produced by the bacterium. Riboswitches were shown to be critical for the bacterial survival, which means that in the future, we can try to use them as targets for the development of new pharmaceuticals. With the guidance from Dr. Gabriel Perron and Dr. Swapan Jain, Rachael Mendoza ’19 used bioinformatic tools to identify and classify the riboswitches in thirty strains of a certain bacterial species (B. subtilis). She described the diversity of riboswitches in these strains, and put forth some interesting hypotheses about how this information can inform development of future medical treatments.

Student research: Lucy Christiana

For her senior project, Lucy Christiana ’19 built a computer simulation of plant community dynamics. Lucy studied how plants would grow if they experience a phenomenon called “plant-soil negative feedback”. Despite a scary name, the idea of this effect is rather simple: imagine that every growing plant is attacked by some “bad stuff” living in the soil, such as pathogenic fungi that try to weaken or kill the plant. As a plant is growing , these fungal pathogens will multiply in the soil around it, making this patch of soil kind of hostile to this plant species. Any seed from this species, for example, will have a hard time surviving in this particular patch of soil, just because it is so rich with “bad fungi”. A different plant species, however, will have no problem living there, as it will be immune to pathogens (each plant species comes with its own list of enemies, so pathogens of one species don’t necessarily harm the other).

As you can imagine, this can really change how plants grow, and it would probably improve biodiversity: even if one plant species is a strong competitor, it will soon be weakened by local pathogens, allowing other species to grow in its place. Lucy was interested in how these negative feedbacks shape the emerging plant community, and she used over 30 years of historical vegetation data from a particular long-term field experiment in Lawrence, Kansas. Lucy built a cellular automata model for one of the species described in this experiment (Ambrosia artemisiifolia, aka common ragweed), and compared predictions of her model to real data. This study is a step towards a more integrated analysis of spatiotemporal patterns of plant community assembly dynamics, and it can help us to understand how plants interact with each other, and how these interactions shape the landscapes that surround us.

Professor Felicia Keesing is named Ecological Society of America Fellow

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) has named Bard Biology faculty Felicia Keesing as one of its 2019 Fellows. The Society’s fellowship program recognizes the many ways in which its members contribute to ecological research and discovery, communication, education and pedagogy, and management and policy. Fellows are members who have made outstanding contributions to a wide range of fields served by ESA, including those that advance ecological knowledge in academics, government, non-profit organizations, and the broader society.

The Society cited Keesing for pioneering research in the ecology of infectious diseases and community ecology of African savannas, and pedagogical research that she has integrated into a vision and practice of college science teaching for enhancing scientific literacy.

Read the full press-release here: https://www.bard.edu/news/features/?id=280

Biology Seminar: Spring 2019

1/31 – Introduction
2/7 – Jennifer Dean. New York Dept of Environmental Conservation. Prioritizing Invasive Species Efforts: Working Smarter with NYS Tools and Data
2/14 – Zion Klos. Marist College. Water and Climate in Social-Ecological Systems: Collaborations in Research, Art, and Science Communication
2/21 – Sonya Auer. Williams College. Energetic Mechanisms for Coping with Environmental Change
2/28 – Seeta Sistla. Hampshire College. Unexpected Impacts of Land-based Solar Arrays: Novel Habitat Heterogeneity Formation and Its Influence on Plant-soil Interactions.
3/7 – Elise McKenna Myers. Columbia University. The Impact of Microbial Particle Association on Pathogen Persistence in the Hudson River Estuary
3/14 – Sarah Mount, ‘10. New York Dept of Environmental Conservation. The Hudson River Eel Project: . Fish Conservation Through Citizen Science
3/21 – SPRING BREAK-NO SEMINAR
3/28 – Leroy Cooper. Vassar College. Inter-relations of Aortic Stiffness, Microvascular Function, and Cardiovascular Disease and Cognition
4/4 – Dorothy Beckett. University of Maryland. Regulating Vitamin Biotin Distribution:. Implications for Health and Biotechnology
4/11 – Swapan Jain. Chemistry Program, Bard College. Regulation of RNA Using Synthetic Small Molecules
4/18 – Brian McGill. University of Maine. Global Change and Biodiversity: Understanding Our Future Through the Past
4/25 – Cathy Collins. Biology Program, Bard College. Title TBD
5/2 – Senior Project talks: Lucy Christiana, Rachael Mendoza, and Melissa Yost-Bido
5/9 – COMPLETION DAYS-NO SEMINAR

Keesing lab: Blood meal effects on tick microbiome

Ticks are parasites that ingest blood from their hosts. During their blood meals, they can also ingest microbes, such as bacteria, from their host’s blood, which could influence the microbial community, or “microbiome”, of the tick itself. Using high-throughput sequencing, Felicia Keesing and her colleagues sampled the microbiomes of ticks that had fed on individuals of five different host species — raccoons, Virginia opossums, striped skunks, red squirrels, and gray squirrels. They found that ticks that had fed on different host species had significantly different microbiomes. This is important because some of the microbes that ticks can acquire during their blood meals are pathogens of humans, including the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.

Publication link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1877959X18303297

Full citation:  Landesman, W. J., Mulder, K., Allan, B. F., Bashor, L. A., Keesing, F., LoGiudice, K., & Ostfeld, R. S. (2019). Potential effects of blood meal host on bacterial community composition in Ixodes scapularis nymphs. Ticks and tick-borne diseases.

Dueker lab: Fog in Urban Environments

The urban environment is complex and often highly contaminated. This paper from prof. Eli Dueker’s lab takes a close look at how this contamination influences bacteria in urban air.  The bacteria present in urban waterways were compared with the bacteria present in urban air, showing that there are many sources for atmospheric bacteria in an urban environment, including sewage contaminated waterways and polluted terrestrial areas. We also observed a ubiquitous distribution of sewage-associated bacteria, in water and air at several urban sites, highlighting the prevalence of of sewage contamination in crowded urban centers and underscoring the complexity of managing this form of pollution in water and air.  Surprisingly, we also found that, despite the absence of obvious ecological structures, the air harbored a much more diverse bacterial community than that found in urban waterways. This provides evidence for the possibility of an atmospheric “ecology” and is a step towards understanding the role of megacities in determining the quality of urban air.

Citation: Dueker, M. E., French, S., & O’Mullan, G. D. (2018). Comparison of Bacterial Diversity in Air and Water of a Major Urban Center. Frontiers in Microbiology9.

Link: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2018.02868/full

Keesing lab: livestock and wild animals can coexist

The savannas of East Africa are renowned for their abundant and diverse wildlife. But wildlife populations in this region are declining dramatically, in part because of conflicts with humans and their livestock. Felicia Keesing and her colleagues studied the ecological, economic, and social consequences that arise when livestock and wildlife co-occur versus when the two groups live separately. They found that when livestock, particularly cattle, are kept at moderate densities, they actually improve vegetation quality for wildlife, reduce the abundance of parasites, and provide economic and social benefits to people living in the area.

Keesing discussed the research, and its implications, with Scientific American.

Our graduates: Sadie Marvel ’18

Sadie Marvel graduated from Bard Biology in 2018, and already has an interesting twist to her career! We asked Sadie some questions, to learn about her life since Bard:

 

Hi Sadie! How are you doing? Where are you now?

I am an English teacher at a small, grassroots school called Interlink English, in a city of Tuxtla Gutierrez in Mexico.  The school is operated by three Americans, and is one of a kind in this area. It provides students with the special opportunity to learn English from native speakers, in a way that focuses on the practical and conversational use of the language, rather than the theoretical and grammatical knowledge that is taught in schools here.

On the surface, teaching English seems very far from what I studied in college, but this job has sparked my interest in topics like the psychology of language learning, communication, and linguistics that definitely have some roots in what I studied in my classes at Bard. (Seriously! I have such a huge appreciation of language now… I feel like it is something I took for granted and didn’t even really question before when I only spoke to other English speakers. but when you really have to think about how to communicate with someone and actually pay attention to the words you are saying, it opens up a whole new perspective on how beautiful and special it all is. Does that make any sense?)

What does your typical day look like?

Well, I start teaching at 4 pm, and before that I have a lot of free time to go on walks, read in cafes, or run errands. At around 2:30, I head to the school to start preparing for my classes. I teach 4 classes back-to-back that are each an hour long, and I finish off my day with a “conversation club” where I just get to relax and spend an hour talking with students who are fluent in English but want to continue practicing. It’s a great way to end the day because most of the people in the club have become my friends, so we just chat about anything and everything!

What do you like the most about your job?

There’s a lot of freedom in teaching here. Even though the school has designed structured lesson plans for every class, the teacher is also free to diverge from them, coming up with class activities on their own. I like the ability to try out new teaching practices and trying to hone in on my own style, but I also like having the lesson plans to fall back on if I need to. I teach every level of English, from a kid’s club class to advanced students, who are mostly adults. And I was pretty much thrown into teaching the day after I got here… some people would say it was “baptism by fire”!

I love this job because the students are so enthusiastic and eager to learn, and I get to work with people of all ages and levels of English. I also feel like I am learning as much from my students as they learn from me, not only about the Spanish language, but also in learning effective ways of communication and teaching that will help me in my future pursuits.

How did you find this job? Was it hard?

I found this job within a week of searching, so no, it was not hard at all! The market for ESL teaching jobs is booming, and job listings are posted all over the internet. I found a listing for this position on Dave’s ESL Cafe (www.eslcafe.com). The site is overwhelming at first, but I spend a week just sifting through all of the listings, particularly the ones that were posted directly from schools rather than the bigger companies that hire people and then place them in different locations.

And since this post is meant to inspire students, I want to mention how I was able to get certified to teach ESL, which is a super easy thing to do at Bard, even though not a lot of people seem to know about this opportunity. If you are interested in it, reach out to Learning Commons, and talk to them about ESL tutoring!

How did you find Mexico?

It has been nothing but warm and welcoming! The people are so friendly and willing to show their culture. I’m sure once I learn more Spanish I will experience even more of that. Chiapas is crazy beautiful too! Tuxtla is in the valley surrounded by mountain ranges from all sides. Once you go into the mountains, there are all of these quaint towns like San Cristobal, which I have been visiting regularly on the weekends.  My Spanish was pretty minimal at first, but I am learning very quickly! Right now, listening and reading are getting easier but I still have a ton of trouble speaking.

What do you plan to do next?

I am open to many possibilities! I may decide to stay here for another year, or perhaps I will go on to teach English in some other part of the world. After that, I am thinking about coming back to the U.S. and applying for an MAT program, or a program in Educational Psychology, but nothing is set in stone yet!

Our graduates: Molly McQuillan ’17

Molly McQuillan graduated from Bard in 2017. Last year, we had a post here on this site, about a publication on multisensory integration that she contributed to, while at Bard. Now we reached out to Molly with some questions, to see where the destiny brought her.

 

Hi Molly! Where do you work now? What is your position called?

I work at MBL, or the Marine Biological Laboratory, in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. I’m a research assistant in Dr. Jennifer Morgan’s lab. Dr. Morgan is a neurobiologist; she works in spinal cord injury and regeneration, and also studies how synaptic function is affected by neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s Disease.

Can you say a few words about your research?

Our lab has two major projects going on right now, one looking at how synaptic transmission is restored after spinal cord injury, and the other, which is the project I’m working on, is looking at mechanisms of synaptic defects using a Parkinson’s Disease model. Our main animal model is the sea lamprey, which is not very nice-looking, but it has amazing regenerative capacity as well as giant axons which allow for easier imaging and sectioning.

What does your typical day look like? What do you do at work?

It varies, depending on my experiment schedule. There are basic lab maintenance tasks that need to get done every week, such as making stock solutions for experiments and purchasing lab supplies. In terms of my own experiments, I’m mainly doing bench work which can include doing dissections, staining tissue with antibodies, or running gels for biochemistry experiments, or I’m at my computer doing image analysis. Surprisingly, analyzing data can take much longer than the actual experiment! Most of my bench work takes about 1-2 weeks, with each day planned out by the protocol, sometimes even down to the minute, while the analysis and computer work can take about a month or two, but I’m able to plan it out for myself.

When you started, was it a big difference, compared to your work at Bard?

Yes and no. The general lab settings and expectations were fairly similar, but I think the biggest difference was having more time to devote to experiments and science in general. Back at Bard, the time I had to give to experiments was almost always scheduled around other course work and events, or I would even run to the lab during a lecture break. It’s been a nice change to be able to devote full days to science.

Was it hard to find this position? How did you go about it?

Funny enough, during my last semester, in Animal Physiology class, I found myself picking papers for class presentations that used marine animal models. I became extremely fascinated with marine biology because of this, and joked with some friends that in my next life, I might even become a marine biologist. They actually encouraged me to find out if I could somehow combine marine biology with my current interest in neuroscience. I looked into it, and I discovered MBL. I wasn’t even sure what MBL was at first, since I saw on their website that they were offering a lot of courses, but I dug deeper, saw that they are actually a pretty well-known research facility, and eventually found an opening for the position in Jen’s lab.

What do you like the most about your work at MBL?

Since I’ve started here, I’ve had the chance to learn so many new techniques and I’ve really enjoyed being able to figure out which methods I prefer and what I’m good at. I’ve also had the chance to contribute to a paper for the lab that’s now starting to transition into a new study for possible future publication. I’ll be presenting the preliminary results at the Annual Society for Neuroscience conference this year, which I’m really excited about! Aside from lab science though, the MBL is quite unique by itself. Woods Hole is a small community on Vineyard Sound and Buzzards Bay on Cape Cod, so it is something of a summer resort area. But MBL offers many courses in multiple fields of biology throughout the year, so there’s always a stream of visiting scientists and students from all over the country and the world here. It’s been a great opportunity to meet many different people who share similar scientific interests.

What are your plans for the future?

Right now I’m in the process of applying to PhD programs in Biomedical Science or Neuroscience this fall for next year. I’m still in the thick of applications, so my longer term plans aren’t as concrete at the moment.