BIOLOGY DAY FEATURES
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: Genetics/Genomics
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.
The 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: Neurobiology/Circadian Biology
What 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: Ecology
Ecology: Understanding the structure and function of ecological systems
Angélica González, Ph.D. Assistant Professor
All living organisms, including human beings depend on the continuous supply of energy and matter for their biological functioning. González’s group investigates the ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that shape the structure and dynamics of ecological systems paying special attention to the role of energy and chemical elements. In addition, González’s group is particularly interested in how the diversity of ways in which organisms uptake, storage, and transfer energy and material may affect the responses of ecological systems to environmental change. González’s group integrates a variety of approaches including theory, experiments, observational studies, data synthesis, and diverse analytical tools (e.g., stable isotopes) to address questions about communities and ecosystems. González’s lab has neither organism nor system bias; we study plants, animals (vertebrates or invertebrates), and her research focuses on aquatic and terrestrial habitats in both the tropics and temperate areas. Some current field projects include; (1) food web reconstructions from fossil and fossil arthropods in the Atacama (Chile) and Sonoran Deserts; (2) the effect of human nutrient deposition (nitrogen and phosphorus) on ecosystem functioning; and (3) the study of ecological networks.
Amy Savage, Ph.D. Assistant Professor
Ecosystems worldwide are experiencing unprecedented levels of natural and human-caused (or anthropogenic) change. The world is becoming increasingly urban, extreme weather events are occurring more frequently, invasive species are dominating more and more habitats, and current global extinction rates are perilously high, rivaling the magnitude of the earth’s historic ‘big 5 mass extinctions’. Evidence that these local and global changes are modifying the diversity, composition and stability of ecological communities is rapidly accumulating. With cascading consequences for ecosystem services and processes as well as human health and well-being, shifts in these community attributes are relevant to ecologists and non-ecologists alike. Research in the Savage lab focuses on investigating how the interplay among local species interactions, chronic stress, and disturbance shape the diversity, composition and resilience of ecological communities, particularly in the context of rapid anthropogenic change. Our work focuses primarily on field and lab experimental tests of ecological theory in systems experiencing rapid anthropogenic changes (e.g. urban ecosystems, recent species invasions, etc.). Because they are critical to many ecosystem services and processes, from the tops of tree canopies to the ecosystems beneath the soil, we are particularly interested in arthropod communities-especially ants.
Classroom #4: Forensic Biology
Kimberlee Sue Moran, MSc, RPA Instructor
Ms. Moran has a diverse set of research interests including the optimization of techniques utilized in the search and recovery of human remains, fingerprint development techniques, ancient fingerprints, environmental evidence, and forensic taphonomy. Some of Ms. Moran’s current projects include the detection of drug in decomposed human remains, the effects of soil type and pH on post-mortem interval estimation, and the recovery of fingerprints on items submerged in water.
Jillian Fesolovich, M.S.F.S., F-ABC
The field of forensic biology is growing every day to keep up with changing laws and standards in the United States. With increasing sensitivities of instrumentation and methods, a full genetic profile can be obtained from a few cells left behind from coming into contact with an item. DNA recovered from skin cells is referred to as ‘touch DNA’ and has helped link suspects to crime scenes in a multitude of crimes. One of research interests of the Fesolovich lab involves optimizing collection techniques for touch DNA to decrease loss of cellular material and determining the likelihood of indirect transfer of cellular material. Many of the types of assays and tests available for testing human biologicals can also be used for wildlife forensics. Wildlife forensic biology focuses on prosecution of crimes against non-domesticated animals. The Fesolovich lab also creates and optimizes assays to test for the presence of wildlife biological material on evidentiary items. We are currently developing genetic assays for the differentiation of African and Asian elephants in hopes of using the tests to prosecute poachers and the illegal trade of ivory products.