News

Biology professor new Associate Dean of Research

June 25, 2019 - The incoming dean of the College of Science has announced the appointment of Professor Dr. Leslie Sieburth from the School of Biological Sciences as the new Associate Dean of Research in the College of Science, effective July 1, 2019. Leslie earned her PhD in Botany from the University of Georgia, completed a postdoctoral appointment at the California Institute of Technology, and joined the University of Utah in 1999. Leslie’s research interests are plant developmental biology, especially as it relates to RNA decay and cell signaling. Leslie is a recipient of the prestigious University of Utah Distinguished Teaching Award and the College of Science Award for Teaching Excellence. She recently served as Associate Director of the School of Biological Sciences and serves on numerous University and school committees.

How trees affect the weather

June 24, 2019— Nature, said Ralph Waldo Emerson, is no spendthrift. Unfortunately, he was wrong. New research led by University of Utah biologists William Anderegg, Anna Trugman and David Bowling find that some plants and trees are prolific spendthrifts in drought conditions—“spending” precious soil water to cool themselves and, in the process, making droughts more intense. The findings are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We show that the actual physiology of the plants matters,” Anderegg says. “How trees take up, transport and evaporate water can influence societally important extreme events, like severe droughts, that can affect people and cities.” Anderegg studies how tree traits affect how well forests can handle hot and dry conditions. Some plants and trees, he’s found, possess an internal plumbing system that slows down the movement of water, helping the plants to minimize water loss when it’s hot and dry. But other plants have a system more suited for transporting large quantities of water vapor into the air—larger openings on leaves, more capacity to move water within the organism. Anderegg’s past work has looked at how those traits determine how well trees and forests can weather droughts. But this study asks a different question: How do those traits affect the drought itself? See UNews Article...

Biology Professor named AVP for Research

June 24, 2019 - Biology professor Diane Pataki, Ph.D. is the new Associate Vice President for Research at the University of Utah. She replaces Cynthia Furse who will return to full-time teaching and research in the College of Engineering beginning July 1. Since the announcement in April, Diane has continued to serve as the Associate Dean for Research in the College of Science. Diane’s research work is transdisciplinary and has spanned the impacts of climate change on ecosystems, coupled human-natural processes related to urban CO2 emissions, and the role of urban landscaping and forestry in the socioecology of cities. Her lab currently studies human-environment interactions related to urban biodiversity, resource use, & landscape design, and continues to collaborate with social scientists, urban planners, landscape architects, engineers, and local stakeholders to understand the ecological and social consequences of urban landscape change. This summer The Landscape Lab, part of the University’s Center for Ecological Planning & Design and which she helped develop break ground. (Read more about the new Lab in Red Butte Creek watershed here.)

Successful 'Alien' bird invasions

June 19, 2019 - Whether ‘alien’ bird species thrive in a new habitat depends more on the environmental conditions than the population size or characteristics of the invading bird species, say researchers, including University of Utah ornithologist Çağan Şekercioğlu. A new study published today in Nature shows that alien bird introductions are most successful in locations and climates similar to their native habitats and in places where other alien species are already established. The discovery is important for understanding the processes that help or hinder species moving between locations, and the next steps for predicting and limiting the threat of future biological invasions. See UNews Article...

Biology professor lecturer to head HAPS

June 19, 2019 - Prof. Mark Nielsen who runs the human anatomy lab in the School of Biological Sciences at the UofU is the new president of the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society (HAPS). He replaces Judi Nath. Mark has taught over 30,000 undergraduates and more than a thousand TAs over the past 30+ years. He holds the School’s Legler Endowed Lectureship in Human Anatomy. Since its founding in 1987 HAPS has developed a number of resources for educators of human anatomy and physiology. This includes the development of core curriculum for undergraduate instruction as well as the HAPS Comprehensive A&P Exam. Annual conferences, 1-day regional meetings across the country along with professional development, grants and scholarships are all available to members. HAPS has also established cooperative relationships with several other related professional organizations. As president, Mark will complete his second of three years on the board of directors.

Sex, lice and videotape

June 10, 2019 - A few years ago, Scott Villa of Emory University had a problem. Then a graduate student in the Clayton/Bush lab at the University of Utah, he was stumped with an issue never addressed in school: How does one film lice having sex? Villa and University of Utah biologists had demonstrated real-time adaptation in their lab that triggered reproductive isolation in just four years, mimicking millions of years of evolution. They began with a single population of parasitic feather lice, split the population in two and transferred them onto different-sized hosts—pigeons with small feathers, and pigeons with large feathers. The pigeons preened at the lice and populations adapted quickly by evolving differences in body size. See PNAS Article... See UNews Article...

Latest issue of 'our DNA'

June 4, 2019 - OUR DNA is a dynamic 360-degree snapshot of both the depth and breadth of the people, the research and the classroom instruction that make up one of the University of Utah's most celebrated academic units. Our first academic year as the School of Biological Sciences was a smashing success! Look here for new research in genetics (Nitin Phadnis Lab) | Alumni profiles (The Gandhi Siblings and Jeanne Novak of CBR fame) | Science Outreach (The Landscape Lab, which just broke ground here in SLC) and more.  Also…a special feature on retiring faculty member, cell biologist and former undergraduate advisor Dave Gard (these days you’ll find him angling on the Green River). Guess who’s an alumni of U Biology? Look for updates on LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson (BS’45),  founder of Clear Choice Dental Implants Ole Jensen (BS’72), Harvard PhD Daina Graybosch (BS’01) now at SVB Leerink in NYC, and Mixed Martial Arts bantamweight fighter the formidable Taylor Thompson (BS’14).See Current Issue of OUR DNA ...

Insect Endosymbiont from the Cradle to the Grave

June 3, 2019 - Host-beneficial endosymbioses, which are formed when a microorganism takes up residence inside another cell and provides a fitness advantage to the host, have had a dramatic influence on the evolution of life. These intimate relationships have yielded the mitochondrion and the plastid (chloroplast) — the ancient organelles that in part define eukaryotic life — along with many more recent associations involving a wide variety of hosts and microbial partners. These relationships are often envisioned as stable associations that appear cooperative and persist for extremely long periods of time. But recent evidence suggests that this stable state is often born from turbulent and conflicting origins. . .Read the article co-authored by U Biology professor Dr. Colin Dale. See Current Biology Article...

A forest "glow" reveals awakening

May 29, 2019 - Winters in the northern hemisphere are brutal. The harsh conditions drive some species to hibernate; bears reduce their metabolic state to conserve energy until spring. Forests also endure winter by conserving energy; they shut down photosynthesis, the process by which a green pigment called chlorophyll captures sunlight and carbon dioxide (CO2) to produce the chemical energy that fuels the plants. “You and I can get sunburned. Too much ultraviolet radiation will damage our cells. Some people can protect themselves— their skin produces more of the pigment melanin to adjust to high-light environments,” said David Bowling of the Bowling Lab, biology professor at the University of Utah and coauthor of the study. “Plants have a different, but similar process.” See UNews story... See PNAS Article...

Faculty teaching excellence Award

May 1, 2019 - Congratulations to Dr. David Temme for being awarded the 2018-2019 Faculty Teaching Award for Excellence in General Education. The committee was most impressed by the unique approach Dr. Temme takes to teaching biology, the depth of his commitment to student learning and the years of dedicated service to high quality biology instruction in General Education. “It is commonplace to hear them [students] say that Dave is one of the most outstanding teachers they have experienced. They always state that he can take a vast field of knowledge and make it extremely conceptual and clear. He gives them tools and approaches to synthesize the knowledge, rather than just dispensing the knowledge itself. ” 

Are Coffee Farms for the Birds?

April 29, 2019 - Over 11 field seasons, between 1999 and 2010, ornithologist Çağan Şekercioğlu of the Şekercioğlu Lab trekked through the forests and coffee farms of Costa Rica to study how tropical birds were faring in a changing agricultural landscape. Through painstaking banding of individual birds, ?ekercio?lu asked whether the expansion of coffee plantations is reducing tropical bird biodiversity. The answer, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesis no. And yes. Sun coffee plantations are able to host a surprising number of bird species, even more if the plantation has some tree cover. But the plantations are not enough to maintain bird biodiversity. See UNews story...

Speaking for the raptors

April 22, 2019 - Birds of prey such as owls, eagles, falcons and vultures are soaring and elegant predators. But many raptors worldwide have flown under the scientific radar and are all but invisible: Ten species of raptors, out of 557 total, comprise one-third of all raptor research, and one-fifth of all species have never been studied in a scientific publication. That’s the conclusion of a recent paper in Diversity and Distributions by University of Utah researchers and their collaborators. The most understudied raptor species tend to be those with small geographic ranges and those in less developed regions. Unfortunately, those same factors contribute to a species’ extinction risk. See UNews story...

Biology professor wins Fulbright Grant

April 11, 2019 - Congratulations to Dr. Lynn Bohs on her selection for a 2019-2020 Fulbright Scholar grant. The Fulbright Scholar Program, which aims to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries, is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. Dr. Bohs will spend several months in Colombia working on research projects in the tomato family. She will revise the museum collections at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá and carry out field work in various parts of Colombia, which is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world.

Biology Professor named ESA Fellow

April 5, 2019 - Congratulations to Dr. Diane Pataki who has been named as a 2019 Ecological Society of America Fellow. She was elected for advancing new approaches to understanding the interactions between humans and ecosystems in urban systems. Fellows are members who have made outstanding contributions to a wide range of fields served by ESA, including, but not restricted to, those that advance or apply ecological knowledge in academics, government, non-profit organizations, and the broader society. They are elected for life.

College of Science 2019-20 awards

March 28, 2019 - The CoS Award for Teaching Excellence recognizes extraordinary skill in university teaching with an emphasis on outstanding accomplishments and commitments to science and/or math education. This year, we express our appreciation to two faculty members who have excelled in challenging the intellectual curiosity of our undergraduates:
        Leslie Sieburth, Professor, School of Biological Sciences
        Holly Sebahar, Professor (Lecturer), Dept. of Chemistry

The CoS Award for Fostering Undergraduate Research Excellence recognizes excellence in fostering undergraduate research and promoting experiential learning during the academic year. This year, we express our appreciation to two faculty members with outstanding record of mentoring and advancing undergraduate research:
        Nitin Phadnis, Assistant Professor, School of Biological Sciences
        Tino Nyawelo, Assistant Professor (Lecturer), Physics and Astronomy

Putting Science in Science communication

Mar. 27, 2019 — Bring science to people where they are. That’s the driving philosophy that propels U biology professor Nalini Nadkarni to stretch the possibilities of science communication and bring the beauty of science to people and places that others have overlooked. Building public trust in science is about more than just providing information and improving science literacy, she says. It’s about building relationships between scientists and communities that are founded on shared values. In two recent studies, one published today in BioScience and another published in 2018 in Science CommunicationNadkarni and her colleagues present evidence-based conclusions about the effectiveness of science engagement in two programs: “Our goal is to help people realize that all citizens are interested in, capable of understanding and full of wonder at science, if it is presented in places and ways that are accessible to them,” Nadkarni says. See UNews story...

Fighting Leaf and Mandible

March 14, 2019 - Researchers have been baffled by tropical rainforest diversity for over a century; 650 different tree species can exist in an area covering two football fields, yet similar species never grow next to each other. It seems like it’s good to be different than your neighbors, but why?  To grow in a tropical rainforest is to engage in constant warfare. Related trees share the same pests and diseases—if one gets it, the infestation can spread. Scientists have asked, “What is the primary driver in tropical forest diversity–competition for resources, or herbivore pests?”  For the first time, University of Utah biologists in the Coley/Kursar Lab compared the two mechanisms in a single study. “Despite state-of-the-art laboratory facilities, there’s no substitute for spending months and months in the rainforest,” said Dr. Phyllis Coley, Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Utah, research affiliate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and co-author of the study. “It took us several years to collect data, and samples of leaves and herbivores. It’s hot, humid and buggy, but attempting to understand the diversity of species is a biologist’s dream.”See UNews story... See Science Article...

Cells under stress

March 14, 2019 - A new article has been published in the Journal of Cell Biology by Dr. Julie Hollien and members in her lab. "Cells respond to stress in the ER by initiating the widely conserved unfolded protein response. Activation of the ER transmembrane nuclease IRE1 leads to the degradation of specific mRNAs, but how this pathway affects the ability of cells to recover from stress is not known. Here, we show that degradation of the mRNA encoding biogenesis of lysosome-related organelles 1 subunit 1 (Blos1) leads to the repositioning of late endosomes (LEs)/lysosomes to the microtubule-organizing center in response to stress in mouse cells". See JCB Article...

Startup

March 11, 2019 - University of Utah alumna Reshma Shetty is now an executive of growing Boston biotech firm Ginkgo Bioworks, Inc., which she co-founded in 2008. Ginkgo Bioworks engineers biological organisms for a variety of commercial and industrial uses, including engineering organisms to manufacture specified chemicals and enzymes. The company has been called “the future of” industries from fragrances to pharmaceuticals. But her road to becoming a biotech pioneer began as a high school student in the laboratory of U biology professor  Baldomero “Toto” Olivera. That’s where she met the snails. See full story...

U Biologists trigger adaptive radiation

March 5, 2019 - University of Utah biologists experimentally triggered adaptive radiation; they used host-specific parasites isolated on individual pigeon "islands." Lead authors Sarah Bush and former U PostDoc Scott Villa showed that descendants of a single population of feather lice adapted rapidly in response to preening, the pigeons' main defense. "People have been trying to bridge micro- and macro- evolution for a long time," said Dale Clayton, professor in biology at the U and co-author of the paper. "This study actually does it. That's a big deal." Co-authors include U biologists Michael Shapiro and Juan Altuna. Story in AAAS EurekAlert... See full article... Story in The Atlantic... Commentary in Journal of Exp Biology...

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