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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

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.

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.

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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