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Classroom Sessions:

Biology Day features classroom sessions for visitors. See below for a list of subject areas that will be offered. Choose which classroom session you would like to attend when you register for Biology Day.

Classroom #1

Dredging the genomic gold – it’s in the DNA
Jongmin Nam, Ph.D. Assistant Professor
Our genetic information is stored in a string of As, Gs, Cs, and Ts called the genome. The human genome contains millions of regulatory elements that turn on and off specific sets of genes to make different types cells. Nam’s lab developed new genomic technologies for dredging and sluicing regulatory DNAs and apply these tools to understand the structure and function of the regulatory genome. Dr. Nam also studies how the regulatory genomes have evolved using the purple sea urchin from San Diego as a primary model system.                            

Nir YakobyThe fruit fly: a system to unravel the secrets of developmental biology
Nir Yakoby, Ph.D. Associate Professor
We all begin from a single fertilized cell that after multiple cell divisions becomes a complex organism. However, cell divisions are not sufficient to produce an organism, these cells must specialize to form the different parts of an organism, including arms, legs, eyes, and internal organs. Dr. Yakoby’s Lab uses the fruit fly Drosophila to study the dynamic process of egg development (oogenesis). Oogenesis occurs in the female’s ovaries and consists of several morphologically well-defined developmental stages. Dr. Yakoby focuses on a monolayer of epithelial cells engulfing the developing oocyte. Within three days, this epithelial tissue forms the elaborate structures of the eggshell. Dr. Yakoby is particularly interested to understand the underlying cell-to-cell signaling pathways that instruct epithelial cells’ folding into the 3D structures of the eggshell. Using genetics, molecular, and computational approaches, students in the Yakoby Lab study how cells monitor their extracellular environment and translate that into gene expression and the generation of specialized structures.

Classroom #2

Kwangwon LeeWhat can we learn from a mold about biological clock?
Kwangwon Lee, Ph.D. Associate Professor
The circadian clock is one of the fundamental cellular regulatory circuits that are tightly linked with other cellular machineries. Accumulated research data support that the dysfunctional circadian clock is responsible for diverse disease symptoms in human, e.g. cancer, diabetes, and bipolar disorder. Dr. Lee’s lab study on how this ubiquitous 24-hr biological clock is working at the molecular level using a simple eukaryotic model organism, Neurospora crassa; orange bread mold. Recently, Dr. Lee is working on the molecular mechanisms on how the circadian clocks of Neurospora adapted into two very different natural habitats.

Thyroid hormone action in adult brain:Neurotransmitter-like effects
Joseph Martin, Ph.D. Professor
The goal of Dr. Martin’s current research is to clarify how thyroid hormones influence the adult mammalian brain. During growth and development, hormones from the thyroid gland enter many cell types (including brain cells) and alter protein synthesis. In adulthood, the cellular metabolic rate is accelerated by thyroid hormones entering cells of many tissues, but not in the brain. However, some of the potentially most debilitating complications of thyroid glandular disease are due to neurological disorders, ranging from anxiety and sleep problems to seizures or coma.  Dr. Martin’s evidence indicates that thyroid hormones may bind to and influence the function of brain GABAa receptors.  Current experiments are determining the effects of thyroid hormones on GABAa receptor binding, the subsequent cellular response, and the resultant electroencephalogram (brain waves which change with sleep or seizures). These studies are designed to determine the biological significance of a brain action of thyroid hormones that more closely resembles the action of a neurotransmitter than it does the typical action of thyroid hormones in other tissues.

Classroom #3

Angelica_GonzalezThe chemistry of life: Understanding the structure and function of ecological systems
Angélica González, Ph.D. Assistant Professor
Life is an energy and matter (i.e., chemical elements) harvesting process. All living organisms, including human beings, depend on the continuous supply of energy and matter to sustain their biological function. González’s lab investigates how the supply, flux and allocation of energy and matter constrain the structure and dynamics of ecological systems (i.e., food webs and ecosystems). To answer this question, González‘s group uses a diversity of approaches including experiments, observation, data synthesis, and a variety of analytical tools (e.g., stable isotopes). Dr. González is interested in how the theory of “ecological stoichiometry” (i.e., the balance of multiple chemical substances in ecological processes) can be applied to better understand the structure and function of ecological systems. The diversity of ways in which organisms uptake, store, and transfer energy and matter may have profound effects on the ability of ecological systems to respond to environmental change. Our group studies plants and animals and works in both aquatic and terrestrial food webs that occur in tropical and temperate areas of the world. Some current and future field projects in the lab include: (1) human-driven nutrient inputs (nitrogen and phosphorus) effects on ecosystem functioning; (2) variation in the energetic and material cost and benefits of different spider web architectures and between solitary and social spiders; and (3) the structure and dynamics of spider-prey ecological networks.

John DightonFungal Ecology
John Dighton, Ph.D. Professor 
Dr. John Dighton is interested in forest soil ecology and has spent many years investigating nutrient requirements of plantation forests, especially fast growing trees and interactions of forest trees with mycorrhizal fungi. This line of research has continued at Rutgers looking at human disturbance in the Pine Barrens (N deposition and harvesting). After the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, Dr. Dighton became interested in the role of fungi in radionuclide acquisition and impacts of radionuclides on fungi. A continued interest in ecotoxicology has initiated collaborative work on the impacts of mercury on mycorrhizae and leaf surface fungal communities. New lines of research cover impacts of bark beetle invasions on wood decomposition and fungal communities and the impact of agriculture for biofuel production on soil sustainability.