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Faculty Spotlight: Swanne Gordon, Assistant Professor of Biology

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Swanne Gordon, assistant professor of biology, talks about her background, career challenges and passionate belief in embracing diversity and broadening horizons. "As a minority in STEM it is easy to feel that you don’t belong in academia because there are rarely people that look like you in positions of power in it, or really in any positions at all. The overt racism my father went through as a black scientist in North America in the 70’s has now given way to more covert racism (although my experiences show me the other definitely still exists); where people in academia (students and staff) devalue your merits, question your presence even in spite of your CV, limit your promotions, cite and collaborate with you less, etc. It is imperative that we fight against and fix these issues. The importance of this cannot be overstated because as I always say and wholeheartedly believe, only when the broad diversity of humanity is fairly represented, can science truly appeal to our society as a universal knowledge."

Straight from the source: Arts & Sciences researchers discover novel process microbes use to harvest electrons

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Bacteria don’t have mouths, so they need another way to bring their fuel into their bodies. New research from Washington University in St. Louis reveals how one such bacteria pulls in electrons straight from an electrode source. The work from the laboratory of Arpita Bose, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, was published Nov. 5 in the scientific journal mBio.

Getting to know Tyson's plant disease research team

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As a member of the science communication team led by Suzanne Loui, lecturer in environmental studies, recent graduate Christian Fogerty and I developed projects to identify methods to best communicate the research happening at Tyson. Both of us shadowed a different research team in order to document and express the human elements that make their scientific work possible. I had the privilege of embedding with the plant disease team, led by Rachel Penczykowski, assistant professor of biology. I worked in the field with the team every day for two weeks while taking notes and capturing photos and video footage.

This year, let’s make standard time permanent

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Herzog is a professor of biology in Arts & Sciences and president of the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms (SRBR), a scientific organization dedicated to the study of biological clocks and sleep. He is often asked his opinion about time changes. The SRBR recently released a formal position paper, titled “Why Should We Abolish Daylight Saving Time?” The researchers have been carefully following the initiatives of the European Commission and California Proposition 7 to abandon the annual clock-time changes in spring and autumn. There is a consensus among experts that the advantages of permanent standard time outweigh those of switching back and forth to daylight saving time annually — or of switching to daylight saving time permanently.

Dr. Elizabeth Haswell: Researching How Plant Cells Sense and Respond to Internal Forces-#524 of People Behind the Science Podcast

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Dr. Elizabeth Haswell is a Professor of Biology at Washington University in St. Louis and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)-Simons Faculty Scholar. She received her B.S. degree in biochemistry from the University of Washington and her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California, San Francisco. Afterwards, Liz conducted postdoctoral research at the California Institute of Technology before joining the faculty at Washington University in St. Louis where she remains today. In addition to being named an HHMI-Simons Faculty Scholar, Liz received a National Science Foundation Early Faculty Career Development (CAREER) Award. In our interview she shares more about her life and science.

This Strange Rule Is What Makes the Human Brain So Powerful

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This week, a team from Washington University in St. Louis combined neural recordings from rats with computer modeling to uncover one of the largest mysteries of the brain: why, despite noisy components, it’s so damn powerful. By analyzing firing patterns from hundreds of neurons over days, the team found evidence that supports a type of “computational regime” that may underlie every thought and behavior that naturally emerge from electrical sparks in the brain—including consciousness.

Bose wins new grant for Gateway Science Summer Program

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Arpita Bose, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, was awarded a second “Changing the Face of STEM” mentoring grant from L’Oreal USA to continue a summer laboratory research experience she offers low-income high school students from the St. Louis area. Bose will use the new funding to continue supporting the Gateway Science Summer Program, a partnership she created in 2017 with the Gateway Science Academy of St. Louis. The program pairs three low-income high school students with Bose and Joshua Blodgett, also an assistant professor of biology at Washington University, for mentoring and to gain exposure to real laboratory experience and STEM careers.

Jez awarded patent for work on engineered plants

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Joseph Jez, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor and chair of biology in Arts & Sciences, along with two former researchers in his laboratory, P.A. Rea and R.E. Cahoon, was awarded a U.S. patent for engineered plants that could help detoxify, or remediate, soils contaminated with heavy metals. Separately, Jez received a $15,525 research gift from Clean Earth for the evaluation of engineered Brassica for bioremediation of heavy metals.

L’Oréal USA Awards 11 Female Scientists With Grants to Support Mentorship Efforts Across the U.S.

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L’Oréal USA today announced the 2019 recipients of its annual "Changing the Face of STEM" (CTFS) mentoring grants (including Arpita Bose of WUSTL Biology), which are issued through the beauty leader's For Women in Science program. The selected projects represent a broad range of activities focused on mentoring and engaging girls and women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), from elementary to graduate school. The grants will help fund STEM programs in Missouri, Texas, Florida, New York, Washington, Maryland, Massachusetts, and California.

New England winters are on the decline due to climate change, study says

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New Englanders may take cold, snowy winters for granted, but those are in jeopardy due to climate change — and that could affect everything from forest ecosystems to human health, researchers say.

These Microbes ‘Eat’ Electrons for Energy

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Arpita Bose, PhD, of Washington University in St. Louis, is interested in understanding the metabolism of ubiquitous microorganisms, and putting that knowledge to use to address the energy crisis and other applications.

NSF funds research on nitrogen fixation

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Pakrasi, collaborator awarded $1.2 million to study cyanobacteria for crop improvement amid climate change

Brain tunes itself to criticality, maximizing information processing

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Researchers long wondered how the billions of independent neurons in the brain come together to reliably build a biological machine that easily beats the most advanced computers. All of those tiny interactions appear to be tied to something that guarantees an impressive computational capacity.

Brave new world Simple changes in intensity of weather events "could be lethal," researcher says

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Faced with unprecedented change, animals and plants are scrambling to catch up — with mixed results. A new model developed by Carlos Botero, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, and Thomas Haaland, formerly a graduate student at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, helps to predict the types of changes that could drive a given species to extinction.

Faculty Spotlight: Barbara Kunkel, Professor of Biology

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Dr. Kunkel always knew she wanted work in some sort of biological field, but it was never medicine, never human medicine at least. She credits her various courses and professors at UC Davis for exposing her to different areas of biology and helping her discover that she wanted to do research as a career. After her postdoc, she and her husband, also a biologist, Michael Nonet started looking for permanent positions, hoping to end up at the same university. Washington University provided such an opportunity, and offered them both assistant professor positions. They joined the faculty here in spring of 1994, Dr. Nonet in the Department of Neuroscience (then it was the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology) at the med school and she in the Biology Department on the Danforth campus.

Hiding in plain sight: Early rice farmers unwittingly selected for weedy imposters, Arts & Sciences biologists find

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“In Asia, rice farmers have traditionally planted and weeded their paddies by hand. Any weeds that stick out are easily detected and removed,” said Kenneth Olsen, professor of biology in Arts & Sciences. “Over hundreds of generations, this has selected for some strains of barnyard grass that specialize on rice fields and very closely mimic rice plants. This allows them to escape detection.” Olsen collaborated on data analyses and interpretation for the new study. He is working with the study’s corresponding author, Longjiang Fan of Zhejiang University, on other research related to rice evolutionary genomics and agricultural weed evolution. This study sequenced the genomes of rice-mimic and non-mimic forms of the weed as a step towards understanding how this process has occurred.

Recognizing excellence in teaching and service

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On Sept. 10, Dean Barbara Schaal presented the annual Arts & Sciences faculty awards. This year's awardees were Stan Braude, Lerone Martin, Elizabeth Borgwardt, Steve Fazzari, and Adrienne Davis.

Can we kill superbugs before they kill us?

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Most of today's antibiotics have come from a surprising source: bacteria. In fact, just one type of bacteria — Streptomyces and their cousins — produce two out of three antibiotics now in use. “Bacteria are constantly waging chemical warfare with other microbes, so they’ve evolved all kinds of weapons that we can use,” explains Joshua Blodgett, PhD, a biologist at the University of Washington in St. Louis.

Stan Braude: Stories from the Classroom

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Stan Braude, professor of the practice of biology, was awarded the Arts & Sciences Distinguished Teaching Award. Braude is ever deserving of this award – an award he is receiving because he was nominated by numerous students. The impact he has had on the students he has taught and mentored over the years is impossible to measure. Read some of their stories.

Meet our new faculty: Natural sciences and mathematics

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Learn about new Biology faculty members Swanne Gordon, Michael Landis and Andrés López-Sepulcre.

Big brains or big guts: Choose one Alternate ecological strategies help birds survive unpredictable conditions

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“What’s really interesting is that we don’t see any middle ground here,” Fristoe said. “The resident species with intermediate brain size are almost completely absent from high latitude (colder and more climatically variable) environments. The species that don’t go all in on either of the extreme strategies are forced to migrate to more benign climates during the winter.” “Having a large brain is typically associated with strong energetic demands and a slower life-history,” said Carlos Botero, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences and co-author of the paper. “Free from these constraints, species with small brains can exhibit traits and lifestyles that are never seen in larger-brained ones.”

In Defense Of Naked Mole Rats And What We Can Learn From Them

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Picture a pinkish, hairless, wrinkly rodent about the size of a small sweet potato. Researchers are studying naked mole rats to figure out what they can learn about longevity and health.

WashU Expert: Proposed changes will stamp out ‘countless species’

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“Species are being lost at a rate not seen since an asteroid slammed into the Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs and many other species 66 million years ago,” Losos said. “The Endangered Species Act has been successful at slowing this rate and preventing the extinction of many species, and it has served as an inspiration for countries around the world. Sadly, the recent proposals of the federal government, if put into place, will greatly weaken the act’s protections and hasten the extinction of countless species,” he said.

Sticky proteins help plants know when — and where — to grow New research uncovers a mechanism that keeps hormone auxin in its place

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“You can have any cue,” said lead researcher Lucia Strader, associate professor of biology in Arts & Sciences and associate director of the Center for Science & Engineering of Living Systems. “Light, temperature, different nutrients … the plant makes auxin in response to all of these things.” What follows as a result of that auxin release can also vary, from stress responses to leaf development to changes in the root system architecture. Those responses are all results of Auxin Response Factors (ARFs), proteins which bind to DNA in a cell’s nucleus to facilitate growth and development in one way, or another.

Rethinking seizures associated with cardiac disease: Fly study suggests neuronal gene malfunction, not oxygen deprivation, is behind long QT seizures

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Research from Washington University in St. Louis finds that mutations of a gene implicated in long QT syndrome in humans may trigger seizures because of their direct effects on certain classes of neurons in the brain — independent from what the genetic mutations do to heart function. The new work from Arts & Sciences was conducted with fruit flies and is published Aug. 8 in PLOS Genetics. “This gene seems to be a key factor in the physiological process that protects neurons from starting to fire uncontrollably in response to a rapid increase in temperature, which could lead to paralysis and death,” said Yehuda Ben-Shahar, associate professor of biology in Arts & Sciences.

Haswell and Carlsson receive NSF grant

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Elizabeth S. Haswell, professor of biology, and Anders E. Carlsson, professor of physics, both in Arts & Sciences, received a $954,779 grant from the National Science Foundation for their project titled “Pollen: A model system for computational and experimental study of plant biomechanics at the cellular scale.”

Strange Evolution: the Weird Future of Life on Earth

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Given that our understanding of evolution and genetics is incomplete, and that much will likely depend on chance events, no one can know for sure what future life will look like. Picking the evolutionary winners of the future is like trying to pick winners on the stock market, or forecasting the weather, writes Ward. We have some data for making educated guesses, but also a large degree of uncertainty. “The colours, habits, and shapes of the newly evolved fauna can only be guessed at.” Losos agrees. “At the end of the day,” he says, “the possibilities are so wide and uncertain that it’s really pointless trying to speculate about what life might look like – there are just way too many degrees of freedom. Life could go in so many different ways.”

Science meets the great cat debate-review by Jonathan Losos

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With their shared passion for animals, bird watchers and cat lovers should be allies. Instead, they’re often at each other’s throats. The reason is simple: We love cats—there are more cats in the United States than dogs and a loosely estimated 600 million Felis catus worldwide. The problem is that many cats are outside some or all of the time, killing birds, rodents, insects, and just about every other type of small creature. Plus, outdoor cats can spread human diseases, most notably toxoplasmosis.

‘Antibacterial’ Chemical in Consumer Products Causes More Harm by Making Bacteria Stronger

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Petra Levin, PhD, professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, explained how triclosan is very stable and lingers in the body and in the environment for a long time. Levin and Corey Westfall, a postdoctoral scholar in the Levin Lab, are not supporters of the antibacterial consumer push, regardless of the active ingredient. Both say hand washing with plain soap and water does the job, and the same goes for cleaning and wiping things down, encouraging regular soap, cleaning or bleach products- depending on the task. “I think when it comes to anything antibacterial or antimicrobial should be left to doctors mainly,” said Westfall. “We should leave them out of consumer products.” “At least in your day to day life, washing with antibacterial soap does not provide any advantage to cleaning your hands as to really lathering with soap and washing your hands with just plain soap that doesn’t have anything added in it,” said Levin.

Putting the brakes on lateral root development: Arts & Sciences research could help plants better cope with distinct soil conditions and environments

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It’s not clear-cut how a plant determines enough is enough and stops making roots. New research from Washington University in St. Louis identifies a cellular transporter that links two of the most powerful hormones in plant development — auxin and cytokinin — and shows how they are involved in putting the brakes on root initiation and progression. The new work by Lucia Strader, associate professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, and her co-authors is published July 18 in the journal Developmental Cell.

Neural Networks and Variance, the Implications for Disease-Futuretech Podcast featuring Keith Hengen

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Hengen discusses his self-described “wandering” path to get to the area of his current research. He outlines some context to explain the kinds of research he delves into. Hengen provides an overview of brain function, in regard to some of its processing. As he explains, the brain is not crystallized or ‘locked in’ and our synapses are responding to various experiences all throughout the day. Change is occurring rapidly and yet the final outcome at the end of the day so to speak is incredibly stable. We think a myriad of thoughts and learn things, but the foundation of who we are remains stable. He explains how our continuous narrative, our identity remains steadfast and firm, in spite of millions of interactions and inputs, and constant learning/changes. The brain is computationally stable, and this is one way our brains differ from artificial neural networks. Hengen’s neuroscience laboratory at Washington University focuses on the investigation of the role of sleep and wake in chaperoning various interactions between specific and distinct plasticity mechanisms.

Mustering a milder mustard Scientists reveal protein responsible for a bitter taste. But will it help us to eat our greens?

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“All of the Brassicas — be it Indian mustard, Arabidopsis, broccoli or brussel sprouts — they all make these pungent, sulphur-smelling compounds, the glucosinolates,” Jez said. The compounds have long been recognized as a natural defense against pests. “Plants need to fight back,” Jez said. “They can’t really do anything, but they can make stuff.” “There’s different profiles of glucosinolates in different plants,” he said. “The question has always been if you could modify their patterns to make something new. If insects are eating your plants, could you change the profile and get something that could prevent crop loss?”

Joe Jez talks about his first year as Biology Chair

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Joe Jez began his new journey as Biology Chair on July 1, 2018. One year later, he reflects on what he’s learned and how he would like to see the department move forward in the future.

Dear Scientists: Please Make a Version of Stevia That Isn’t Gross

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Jez calls the version of stevia available now “Stevia 1.0.” He thinks that, with greater understanding of the chemicals within the stevia leaf and how they react to human tastebuds, we could come up with Stevia 2.0: sweet, and no aftertaste. The possibility of a plant-based, inexpensive, zero-calorie sweetener obviously has massive industry and public health implications—provided it tastes good.

Gearing up for the Midwestern Collegiate Climate Summit

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As momentum builds for next year's climate event, students and faculty in Arts & Sciences look ahead to opportunities for collaboration and reflect on WashU's climate leadership. Early next year, leaders from Midwest universities, governments, and businesses will gather to discuss regionwide strategies for combatting climate change. Anchored by Washington University, with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Midwestern Collegiate Climate Summit aims to spur actionable ideas and measurable outcomes to address the changing climate and its impacts.

Structuring sweetness: What makes Stevia so sweet? The molecular madness that makes an herb 200 times sweeter than sugar

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New research from Washington University in St. Louis reveals the molecular machinery behind the high-intensity sweetness of the stevia plant. The results could be used to engineer new non-caloric products without the aftertaste that many associate with the sweetener marketed as Stevia. “If someone is diabetic or obese and needs to remove sugar from their diet, they can turn to artificial sweeteners made from chemical synthesis (aspartame, saccharin, etc), but all of these have ‘off-tastes’ not associated with sugar, and some have their own health issues,” said Joseph Jez, professor of biology in Arts & Sciences and lead author of the new study.

Petra Anne Levin: Current Biology

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Do you feel a push toward more applied science. How does that affect your own work? Yes. As a bacteriologist, I am scared that we could return to a ‘pre-antibiotic’ age. That isn’t overdramatic. The challenge of antibiotic resistance among pathogens is growing. People are dying. Pharma companies are scaling back investments in next-generation antibiotics just as the current generation becomes less effective. That’s why my group now is working on the issue. It started when I visited my dentist and noticed that the toothpaste sample I got in the ‘goody bag’ at the end of the appointment included triclosan as an antibacterial agent. That got me thinking whether such everyday antimicrobials hurt us more than help us. Our research shows that the answer is yes. We also tried to make our research story relevant. To our surprise, our findings were picked up by some media outlets. It’s a small contribution to public understanding of antibiotic resistance, but we are happy with it and plan to continue working in this area.

Kathy Miller: reflections on retirement

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“I think teaching is a critical component of what we do,” Miller says. “All faculty should take pride in teaching and learn as much as possible about how people learn and how they can be effective and motivating teachers. It’s the same mind-set as one brings to research – a stance of life-long learning and experimentation, data collection, analysis, learning about what is known in the field and applying all those pieces to your teaching.” Though she looks forward to a retirement free of grant-related and academic deadlines, Miller says she looks back at the biology department as “a great place to ‘grow up’ as a researcher and teacher.”

Bob Blankenship: reflections on retirement

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“Founding and directing PARC for the nine years of its lifetime as a Department of Energy-supported Energy Frontier Research Center has been the most fulfilling aspect of my professional life,” says Blankenship. He also particularly enjoyed teaching Chem480/Bio4810, an intensive introduction to the field of biochemistry. In order to connect with the large class of 100-200 students, Blankenship would share stories and anecdotes about the history of ideas and key people from the field, many of whom he has met or knows personally. “Many, many times students have come to me later and told me how much they enjoyed these stories, as they humanized the subject and gave some sense of how difficult it is to really know something,” he says.

Biology Professors inducted into National Academy of Sciences

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Sarah Elgin, Viktor Hamburger Professor Emerita in Arts & Sciences, Jonathan B. Losos, the William H. Danforth Distinguished University Professor, and Richard D. Vierstra, the George and Charmaine Mallinckrodt Professor, all of the Department of Biology, were inducted into the National Academy of Sciences on Saturday, April 27, 2019. Their NAS membership is a recognition of distinguished and continuing achievements in original research, and it is considered one of the highest honors that a scientist can receive. Read more on The Source.

Can Wearing ‘Well Fashion’ Really Improve Your Health?

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There’s still a lot that scientists need to study. Antibacterial clothing’s a good example. It raises several questions, said Harry, including, “How concerned should we be about the development of super bacteria that become resistant to our arsenal of antibiotics? The skin is known to be absorbable, so what materials are used to imbibe antibacterial and odor-killing properties into these fabrics? Are the substances used to infuse clothing safe for use in the long term?” According to a Washington University study, the chemical triclosan (which can be used in antibacterial clothing) may accidentally toughen bacteria to survive normally lethal concentrations of antibiotics. So, perhaps wear everything, including your beloved anti-stink gym clothes, in moderation.

Barbara Schaal to receive NSB Public Service Award

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The National Science Board has announced that Dean Barbara Schaal will be honored with the 2019 NSB Public Service Award. Established in 1996, this esteemed award honors exemplary service in promoting public understanding of science and engineering. Past recipients include Jane Goodall, Stephen Jay Gould, Craig Barret, Alan Alda, and Dean Kamen. In addition to her role as Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, Schaal is widely recognized for her pioneering research in plant science and her leadership in addressing critical domestic and global challenges. She was among the first plant biologists to use molecular biology-based approaches to understand evolutionary processes in plants, and she has worked throughout her career to advance public understanding of plant molecular systematics and population genetics.

The kids are alright: Family quarrels in seeds reveal the ways parents and offspring sometimes evolve in conflicting directions

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Plant seeds contain tissues that represent three distinct genetic relatives: the mother, the embryo and a bizarre triploid tissue called the endosperm that is involved in nutrient transfer from mother to embryo. Katherine Geist, a PhD candidate in the laboratory led by David C. Queller, the Spencer T. Olin Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences, and Joan Strassmann, the Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology, used genomic data from the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, to illuminate a dispute between these three parties over how much resources should be given to the embryo.

Jonathan Losos receives 2019 Sewall Wright Award

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The Sewall Wright Award, established in 1991, is given annually and honors a senior but still active investigator who is making fundamental contributions to the Society's goals, namely, promoting the conceptual unification of the biological sciences. The 2019 Sewall Wright Award honors Jonathan B. Losos, the William H. Danforth Distinguished University Professor, at Washington University, and the Director of the Living Earth Collaborative, a collaboration between Washington University, the Missouri Botanical Garden, and the St. Louis Zoo.

Specialist enzymes make E. coli antibiotic resistant at low pH

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“Some enzymes that appear to be redundant for bacterial growth and fitness under standard laboratory conditions are specialized for particular environmental conditions,” said Elizabeth Mueller, a PhD candidate and first author of the new study. “We probably miss a lot of interesting and clinically relevant biology by studying bacterial cells predominately during growth in nutrient-rich, neutral-pH, aerated-growth media.” Mueller found that a subset of enzymes involved in making E. coli ‘s cell wall are pH specialists that ensure robust growth and cell wall integrity in a wide pH range. The work was completed with collaborators at Newcastle University in Britain and Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

Tidying up: A new way to direct trash to autophagy Researchers find new way to clean up cells; discovery could aid attack on human disease

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Now, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have uncovered a previously unknown structural feature of living cells that is critical to tidying up. The research, led by Richard S. Marshall, research scientist, and Richard Vierstra, the George and Charmaine Mallinckrodt Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences, is published in the April 4 issue of the journal Cell.

Creating sustainable bioplastics from electricity-eating microbes

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Electricity harvested from the sun or wind can be used interchangeably with power from coal or petroleum sources. Or sustainably produced electricity can be turned into something physical and useful. Researchers in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis have figured out how to feed electricity to microbes to grow truly green, biodegradable plastic, as reported in the Journal of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology. “As our planet grapples with rampant, petroleum-based plastic use and plastic waste, finding sustainable ways to make bioplastics is becoming more and more important. We have to find new solutions,” said Arpita Bose, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences.

Rusted root: Weedy rice repeatedly evolves ‘cheater’ root traits

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“Weedy rice may have evolved a go-it-alone ‘cheater’ root growth strategy that could allow it to exploit the nutrient-sharing soil environment of rice fields,” said Kenneth M. Olsen, professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University and senior author on a new paper in New Phytologist relating their findings. “We tend to think of competition occurring above ground because that’s the part of the plant we see. But that’s only half the plant,” Olsen said. “It’s the ‘hidden half’ — i.e., the root system — that plays a critical role in some of the most important aspects of plant growth and survival, including water uptake and competition for essential nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous.”

Faculty Spotlight: April Bednarski

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April Bednarski grew up in Iowa, completing her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, IA. Her parents both grew up on farms in Iowa, a long family tradition, but she was the first person in her family to enter a field of science. Her inspiration for scientific study began with the challenging and engaging classes offered by her middle/high school teacher Larry Zach. Though he retired from teaching, Zach now shares his passion for naturalism and conservation through art. He is a famous wildlife artist, known for his extremely realistic paintings.

Study shows how electricity-eating microbes use electrons to fix carbon dioxide

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New research from Washington University in St. Louis explains the cellular processes that allow a sun-loving microbe to “eat” electricity — transferring electrons to fix carbon dioxide to fuel its growth. Led by Arpita Bose, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, and Michael Guzman, a PhD candidate in her laboratory, a Washington University team showed how a naturally occurring strain of Rhodopseudomonas palustris takes up electrons from conductive substances like metal oxides or rust. The work is described in a March 22 paper in the journal Nature Communications.

Bose Lab publishes new paper in Nature Communications

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Phototrophic extracellular electron uptake is linked to carbon dioxide fixation in the bacterium Rhodopseudomonas palustris, by Michael S. Guzman, Karthikeyan Rengasamy, Michael M. Binkley, Clive Jones, Tahina Onina Ranaivoarisoa, Rajesh Singh, David A. Fike, J. Mark Meacham & Arpita Bose

Sinking really low – the story of a microbe, electricity and carbon dioxide

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Microbes never fail to surprise me. Their abilities have amazed me for many years and I have become quite the microbe hunter. On my scientific journey, I have met some really interesting microbes. A few years ago, I came across my strangest and most shocking microbial friend yet, Rhodopseudomonas palustris TIE-1. When I met TIE-1, they were dressed in pink, photogenic and very metabolically versatile. We became friends quickly.

Vierstra wins Stephen Hales Prize

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Congratulations to Richard Vierstra, recipient of the Stephen Hales Prize from the American Society of Plant Biologists. This award honors the Reverend Stephen Hales for his pioneering work in plant biology published in his 1727 book Vegetable Staticks. It is a monetary award established in 1927 for a scientist, an ASPB member, who has served the science of plant biology in some noteworthy manner. The award is made annually. The recipient of the award is invited to address the Society on a subject in plant biology at the next annual meeting.

Washington People: Erik Herzog

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Feeling a bit lethargic this week? It may have to do with the recent time change and a disruption to biological rhythms. Erik Herzog, professor of biology in Arts & Sciences and a frequent voice of reason on this topic, said that sticking with standard time makes public health sense. Time is what makes this scientist, well, tick. Herzog’s research is part of a growing body of work that shows the many ways in which circadian rhythms are central to human health and well-being. He is also a gifted teacher and mentor. In honor of his work as principal investigator and director of the St. Louis Neuroscience Pipeline Program, and in recognition of more than 18 years of excellence in teaching at Washington University in St. Louis, Herzog recently received the Award for Education in Neuroscience by the Society for Neuroscience, the world’s largest organization of scientists and physicians focusing on the study of neuroscience.

Blodgett awarded CAREER grant to study biosynthetic silence

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Joshua Blodgett, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, received a five-year, $900,500 CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support his research related to actinomycete bacteria. This bacteria produces a majority of current antibiotics and may harbor other useful small molecules that could be revealed by activating silent genes.

Germ-Killing Chemical Shields Bacteria From Antibiotics

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A common chemical used to kill bacteria is making them more capable of surviving antibiotics. According to new research from Washington University, triclosan has a protective effect on strains of E. coli and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. The chemical — which is added to hundreds of consumer products — also interferes with the antibiotic treatment of urinary-tract infections in mice. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned triclosan and 18 other antibacterial chemicals from consumer soaps in 2016, on the grounds that they are “not generally recognized as safe and effective.”

WashU Expert: The eternal sunshine of perennial ‘wintertime’: Abandoning daylight saving time makes public health sense

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“The scientific evidence presently available indicates that installing perennial standard time — or ‘wintertime’ — is the best and safest option for public health,” said Erik Herzog, professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St Louis and president of the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms.

Bose receives US Army grant

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Arpita Bose, assistant professor of biology, received a $7,500 award from the U.S. Army to support research on understanding how microbes interact with charged surfaces.

Blodgett receives CAREER grant from NSF

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Joshua Blodgett, assistant professor of biology, was awarded a $900,500 CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate leveraging polycyclic tetramate macrolactam biosunthesis as a model for understanding actinobacterial metabolic silencing.

Chemical added to consumer products impairs response to antibiotic treatment: Triclosan added to toothpaste, mouthwash to kill bacteria inadvertently makes such cells stronger

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Grocery store aisles are stocked with products that promise to kill bacteria. People snap up those items to protect themselves from the germs that make them sick. However, new research from Washington University in St. Louis finds that a chemical that is supposed to kill bacteria is actually making them stronger and more capable of surviving antibiotic treatment. The study, available online Feb. 19 in the journal Antimicrobial Agents & Chemotherapy, suggests that triclosan exposure may inadvertently drive bacteria into a state in which they are able to tolerate normally lethal concentrations of antibiotics — including those antibiotics that are commonly used to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Earning a bee’s wings: In hives, graduating to forager a requirement for social membership

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Until this point, most bee researchers thought bees recognize and respond to a scent that is the homogenized scent of all of the members of their own colony. That’s how it works for some ants and other insects, at least. But new work from the laboratory of Yehuda Ben-Shahar, associate professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, shows that nestmate recognition instead depends on an innate developmental process that is associated with age-dependent division of labor. The work was completed in collaboration with researchers from the lab of Joel Levine at the University of Toronto.

Three faculty members named microbiology fellows

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The American Academy of Microbiology has named three Washington University in St. Louis faculty members as fellows: Gautam Dantas, professor of pathology and immunology at the School of Medicine, and Robert Kranz and Petra Levin, professors of biology in Arts & Sciences. The faculty are among 109 fellows elected this year to the academy, which recognizes scientific achievement and original contributions that have advanced microbiology.

Tamed Conflict: How evolutionary biologists attempt to make sense of the existence of organisms from first principles

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“There’s no reasonable definition as to what an organism is – at the same time it is the most important unit of life. Of course much has been written on the subject, for instance that all parts of an organism must be related, that they are surrounded by a skin, that organisms emerge from a cell. But none of these definitions seem to work universally because most researchers have only examined a small snippet of the world of living beings.” -Joan Strassmann

Roy Curtiss III and Josephine Clark-Curtiss talk about life after Wash U

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Roy Curtiss III began crossing tomatoes at age 10, then chickens at age 12, and eventually bacterial viruses at age 21. He switched to the study of genetics of bacterial pathogens, starting in Alabama and continuing at Wash U. Roy studied leprosy and salmonella, learning the biochemical and genetic basis, why they were successful, and how he could use this info to develop better vaccines and diagnostics. Possessing a strong ethical streak, he wanted to use what he learned to benefit society. He entered the world of disease prevention and vaccine development, and started a company in 1992 called Megan Health which developed salmonella vaccines for poultry and swine.

Faculty Spotlight: Heather Barton

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Heather Barton grew up in Meadville, a tiny town in western Pennsylvania. She completed her undergrad work at Grove City College near her hometown. Her family, including her parents and four sisters, lived a quiet country lifestyle. She spent many hours as a child playing outside in the dirt, in streams and in the woods. Nature was a big part of her life from a very young age and her desire to figure out how things work in nature was a driving force behind her interest in biology.

Purple reigns

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Eye-catching and nutritious, purple rice has been a part of religious and cultural ceremonies across Asia for generations. New research from Washington University in St. Louis uncovers the ways that traditional farming practices have preserved the genetic diversity of Thai purple rice.

How to make your podcast stand out in a crowded market

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Researchers are creating their own podcasts on topics ranging from exoplanets to graduate-student finances.

Like a spelling bee, but for neuroscience: WashU Brain Bee set for Feb. 16

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The 2019 St. Louis Area Brain Bee is set for 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, February 16, at Washington University’s Danforth Campus. Herzog works with undergraduate and graduate students to formulate the Brain Bee questions. He also taps into his archives, recycling questions from prior years. And for the first time, the Society for Neuroscience, which sponsors the national and international Brain Bee competitions, will provide 100 standardized questions which Herzog is free to use. The competition, open to high school and homeschool students in grades 9-12, starts with a written exam. The top 10 finishers then move on to an oral round, which resembles a spelling bee where students take turns answering questions about the brain and nervous system.

Biology Professor Highlights Active Learning in Science Education

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“As an instructor, I try to teach how the topic has relevance from different approaches in biology,” said Erik Herzog, Professor of Biology at Washington University in St. Louis. Herzog teaches undergraduate biology courses at the university. His lab uses a variety of techniques to study the cellular and molecular basis of circadian rhythms, biological clocks that drive near 24-hour rhythms in living beings including animals and plants.

Plant’s recycling system important in sickness and in health

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In a new publication in the journal Nature Plants, researchers [led by Richard Vierstra] in Arts & Sciences describe the effects of autophagy on metabolism in maize, commonly known as corn, an important crop that is sensitive to nitrogen deprivation.

Should Evolution Treat Our Microbes as Part of Us?

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How does evolution select the fittest “individuals” when they are ecosystems made up of hosts and their microbiomes? Joan Strassmann and other biologists debate the need to revise theories.

Biology Chair Joseph Jez elected as AAAS Fellow

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The American Association for the Advancement of Science has bestowed upon 416 of its members the lifetime honor of being an elected Fellow in recognition of their extraordinary achievements in advancing science. . .This year’s Fellows, who represent a broad swath of scientific disciplines, were selected for diverse accomplishments that include pioneering research, leadership within their field, teaching and mentoring, fostering collaborations and advancing public understanding of science.

New maps hint at how electric fish got their big brains

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Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis have mapped the regions of the brain in mormyrid fish in extremely high detail. In a new study published in the Nov. 15 issue of Current Biology, they report that the part of the brain called the cerebellum is bigger in members of this fish family compared to related fish — and this may be associated with their use of weak electric discharges to locate prey and to communicate with one another.

Faculty Spotlight: Mary Lambo

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How does sensory processing lend itself to life as we know it? If our experiences materialize due to sensory transduction, do these processes inspire our entire perspective? These questions sparked Mary Lambo’s interest in neuroscience and eventually motivated her research in neural plasticity and sensory processing. As new teaching faculty at Wash U, Mary now guides students through fundamental neuroscience concepts and challenges them to discover their own motivating questions.

Replaying the tape of life: Is it possible?

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How predictable is evolution? The answer long has been debated by biologists grappling with the extent to which history affects the repeatability of evolution. A review published in the Nov. 9 issue of Science explores the complexity of evolution’s predictability in extraordinary detail. In it, researchers from Kenyon College, Michigan State University and Washington University in St. Louis closely examine evidence from a number of empirical studies of evolutionary repeatability and contingency in an effort to fully interrogate ideas about contingency’s role in evolution.

Erik Herzog on Daylight Savings Time

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Most of the country switched their clocks back an hour over the weekend, ending daylight saving time. And even though one hour might not sound like a lot, it has a noticeable impact. "In the long term, this one hour cumulatively can really have effects on our health," says Erik Herzog, professor of biology and neuroscience at Washington University in St. Louis.

Richard D. Vierstra receives NIH grant

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Richard D. Vierstra, the George and Charmaine Mallinckrodt Professor in the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences, received a $304,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a project titled “Phytochromes: Structural perspectives on photoactivation and signaling.” Vierstra was also granted $49,000 from the NIH to study autophagic clearance of inactive proteasomes and ribosomes as models for protein quality control.

Obituary: David L. Kirk, professor emeritus of biology, ISP faculty fellow, 84

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David L. Kirk, professor emeritus of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, died Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, at Dougherty Ferry Assisted Living in St. Louis after a long illness. He was 84. Kirk, who was an active and passionate member of the university community for nearly 50 years, spent a lifetime teaching developmental biology and researching the evolutionary origins of multicellular organisms. He was internationally known for his research on the spherical green alga known as Volvox carteri.

Dr. Himadri Pakrasi receives U.S. Department of Energy grant

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Himadri Pakrasi, the Myron and Sonya Glassberg/Albert and Blanche Greensfelder Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Biology, received a $1.5 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop Anabaena 33047 — a photosynthetic, fast-growing, nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria — as a versatile production platform that can be used by the bioenergy research community.

Keith Hengen is chosen to be a Next Generation Leader by the Allen Institute for Brain Science

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Next Generation Leaders are selected each year through a competitive process that includes applications from around the world. This year, the six Next Generation Leaders come from universities and research institutes in the U.S., Canada and Germany. They will each have a three-year term on the advisory council.

Erik Herzog receives the Award for Education in Neuroscience from the Society for Neuroscience (SfN)

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“The Society is proud to present Dr. Herzog and Dr. Peker with this year’s award,” said SfN President Richard Huganir. “Dr. Herzog is a gifted teacher and science communicator who is committed to increasing diversity through mentoring, while Dr. Peker has been instrumental in demonstrating the benefits of international educational experiences and research collaborations.”

Feeding Electricity To Bacteria

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Can electricity serve as an alternative electron supplier for bacterial growth? And can we enhance the electron uptake capacity of bacteria?

Monkey DNA may solve mysteries, help conservation

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Living Earth Collaborative grant supports efforts to understand if Peter's Angola colobus monkeys represent one or two subspecies

Faculty Spotlight: Joseph Jez, Biology Chair

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Joseph Jez began his work with the Biology Department ten years ago as an assistant professor. He is now Professor of Biology, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor and as of July 1, 2018 the Biology Department Chair. We sat down to talk about the changes he’s witnessed over the last decade as well as what he would like to see in the future.

Sniffing out error in detection dog data

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A new study in the journal Scientific Reports gets to the bottom of it: Why do dogs that are trained to locate poop sometimes find the wrong kind of poop?

In sync: How cells make connections could impact circadian rhythm

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Li also collaborated with Erik Herzog, professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University who studies the cellular and molecular basis of circadian rhythms in mammals

Jonathan Losos publishes new book

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Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance and the Future of Evolution

Bacteria in a changing environment

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A&S professor awarded $2 million for research that could help defeat antibiotic-resistant infections

Leggy lizards don’t survive the storm

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An immediate before-after comparison — the first of its kind — shows that survivors of a hurricane have different traits than the general population.

Jez Lab receives NSF grant to collaborate with Maeda Lab at UW-Madison

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A $762k collaborative NSF grant will fund a partnership between Joseph Jez (Wash U Biology chair) with Hiroshi Maeda (U Wisconsin-Madison; Botany) on the mechanisms and impacts of de-regulating aromatic amino acid biosynthesis in plants.

Strassmann/Queller Lab receives NSF grant

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Joan Strassmann and David Queller were awarded a $1,139,388 National Science Foundation grant for the four-year project "Kith and kin in amoeba-bacteria cooperation", about the evolution of cooperation both within and between species, using an amoeba-bacteria system.

Jonathan Myers and collaborators awarded NSF EAGER grant

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The two year grant was awarded from the National Science Foundation

Researchers engineer bacteria that create fertilizer out of thin air

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Next step could be ‘nitrogen-fixing’ plants that can do the same, reducing need for fertilizer.

Ram Dixit named new co-director of the Plant and Microbial Biosciences

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“We train our students to do any type of science. We want to give them the tools so that whether they go into industry, academia or government, they will benefit from what they learned in graduate school,” said Dixit.

Jonathan Myers and Hani Zaher receive tenure

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Congratulations to Jonathan Myers and Hani Zaher who both received promotions with tenure and are now Associate Professors of Biology in Arts & Sciences.

ISP’s Victoria May honored for work with students

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Victoria L. May, assistant dean in Arts & Sciences and executive director of the Institute for School Partnership, has been honored for her work with students.

A New Species in Forest Park

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New species are not hidden only in exotic locales. Recently, graduate student Ben Wolf found a new species of alga in Forest Park.

Three biology faculty elected to National Academy of Sciences

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Three scientists at Washington University in St. Louis are among the 84 new members and 21 foreign associates elected May 1 to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

Bugged out by climate change

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Warmer active seasons and fewer freeze-thaw events lead to big changes for the tiniest Arctic ambassadors — its arthropods.

Sally Elgin: Lessons learned in a life of science

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Nowadays Sally Elgin would probably be referred to as gifted or talented. But in the 1950s, a really smart girl was obnoxious or a nerd.

Sally Elgin receives the Arthur Holly Compton Faculty Achievement Award

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Sustaining life on Earth

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In the midst of what scientists consider to be a sixth mass extinction event, Washington University is joining forces with the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Saint Louis Zoo to collaborate on ­ life-saving research and conservation efforts.

Faculty Spotlight: Jonathan Losos

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Read about Jonathan's background and his new collaboration with MOBOT and the STL Zoo.

WashU Spaces: Keith Hengen

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Keith Hengen is wowed by the organizational prowess of our brains. How, he wonders, do hundreds of millions of neurons interact reliably time after time, especially given that the proteins that power neurons have half-lives on the order of seconds to hours?

Hands-on event teaches St. Louis teens about cell biology

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Forty middle and high school students participated in the most recent Teen Science Café in March 2018.

Yehuda Ben-Shahar awarded $770,000 by the National Science Foundation

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Yehuda Ben-Shahar, associate professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, has been awarded $770,000 by the National Science Foundation to investigate how insects produce and perceive mating pheromones as species diversify.

Making Drugs From Bugs

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Is Daylight Saving Time necessary? And, why ‘springing ahead’ is harder than ‘falling back’

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Keeping plant-cell motors on track

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(Daylight Saving) Time is not on your side

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Arms races and cooperation among amoebae in the wild

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Haswell elected council delegate for AAAS

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The Secret Lives of Plants

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Celebrating science at the ISP’s annual Darwin Day

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Secrets of teaching with Wikipedia

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David Kirk receives 2018 Science Educator Award from the Academy of Science – St. Louis

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Becoming a biotech explorer

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Three years after launching the Biotech Explorers Pathway, a unique opportunity for first-year and sophomore students, biology professor Joe Jez shares how the program started and some of what its students have accomplished so far.

St. Louis Area Brain Bee Takes Teens Inside the Human Mind

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Obituary: John Majors, emeritus professor of biochemistry, molecular biophysics, 69

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2 St. Louis plant scientists dig deep into the struggles of research

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Arpita Bose receives a $40,000 collaboration initiation grant

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