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‘Leaders for Tomorrow’ Recipients Aim High at UM

Posted on: August 16th, 2022 by erabadie No Comments

Incoming freshmen awarded Annexstad Family Foundation scholarships

AUGUST 15, 2022 BY ERIN GARRETT

Three students in the University of Mississippi‘s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College have been awarded scholarships from the Annexstad Family Foundation.

The foundation awards three Leaders for Tomorrow National Scholarships each year to Ole Miss students who have exhibited leadership in their schools or communities, said John Samonds, associate dean of the Honors College.

“Our 2022 recipients have demonstrated that they have the drive to accomplish anything they set their minds to,” Samonds said. “We hope that this scholarship will enable them to do just that.”

Oxford native and Annexstad scholar Brady Bass plans to major in biology. Submitted photo

Oxford native and Annexstad scholar Brady Bass plans to major in biology. Submitted photo

Incoming freshmen Brady Bass, Destiny Kirksey and Manjot Nagra are setting big goals for their time at the university.

Originally from Oxford, Bass learned about hard work from his family’s business, Bassco Foam in Tupelo. COVID-19 had an incredible effect on the polyfoam fabrication company when a stay-at-home order was issued in March 2020.

“While many of the workers could go home, we still had orders coming in that needed to be taken care of to keep the business afloat,” Bass said. “We were let out of school, so I began working.”

Bass, along with other family members, worked every weekday from March to August, barring one week that summer. He primarily operated a polyfoam cutting saw and a table saw that cut fiber for furniture.

“At the end of the summer when it was time for me to go back to school, people had begun to learn more about COVID and most of our workers came back through mandating the wearing of masks,” he said. “I was able to return to school with the proud feeling that I had helped keep my family’s business from potentially collapsing.”

Bass, who will major in biology, said he learned to never waver when solving a problem.

“I have an ideology that bad things are going to happen, and you just have to persevere and work through them,” he said. “I am definitely relying on my work ethic to help me excel in college.”

Bass is grateful for the scholarship, which will ease his financial burden as he plans to attend medical school.

Kirksey, who hails from Philadelphia, Mississippi, hopes to ultimately use her studies at the university to help families through genetic counseling. This mission is near and dear to her heart.

“I have a cousin who was diagnosed with autism when he was 12,” she said. “My brother also exhibits symptoms, though he was never diagnosed.

“By becoming a geneticist, I could assist by telling the parents about any genetic risk that could happen to their future child.”

The biology major said she hopes to specifically study genetic variations and those that could be hereditary.

Destiny Kirksey, of Philadelphia, is using her Annexstad scholarship to study biology in hopes of someday helping families through genetic counseling. Submitted photo

Destiny Kirksey, of Philadelphia, is using her Annexstad scholarship to study biology in hopes of someday helping families through genetic counseling. Submitted photo

Helping others is vital to Kirksey. During the pandemic, her mother was infected with the Delta variant of COVID-19 while working as a licensed counselor at Weems Community Mental Health Center. The community stepped in to help take care of her family.

“People would drop off food, disinfectant, medicine and anything else we might have needed,” Kirksey said. “The community even made sure my brother and I attended school.

“Without their help, I would have struggled to be where I am today. They helped me continue on the path towards higher education.”

Kirksey is also grateful for the opportunities that this scholarship will provide – namely saving for medical school.

“Years from now, I would like to say I accomplished my goals, helped many families and helped my community,” she said.

The eldest daughter of Indian immigrants, Nagra is a first-generation college student. She became interested in health care during high school and has selected biomedical engineering as her major.

“The medical field has always caught my eye, but when I started shadowing physicians from the Tupelo area, it really made me feel like this is the job I was meant for,” Nagra said.

“I am very passionate about science, and as the oldest sibling and first grandchild in my family, caregiving comes naturally to me. I hope to use these qualities to become a pediatric surgeon one day.”

Nagra often helped her parents by caring for her younger brother and sister. Even with these obligations at home, the Tupelo native excelled at school and has kick-started her education by becoming a certified nursing assistant during the summer.

“I have been waiting for the day I could complete the CNA program ever since my second semester of junior year in high school,” she said. “I thought it would help make me a better future physician.

“I learned so much – the biggest realization was that nurses are truly the backbone of the health care field. Overall, I now have a huge amount of respect for CNAs.”

Nagra said that the scholarship will allow her time to study and conduct research while going to classes. She also plans to pursue research programs and internships during the summer before applying for medical school.

Cathy and Al Annexstad, with their family, created the foundation in 2000 to focus on helping young people earn college degrees. They’ve been awarding scholarships at Ole Miss since 2015. The foundation, based in Minnesota, has provided more than 1,000 scholarships to deserving students across the nation.

For more information about the Annexstad Family Foundation Leaders for Tomorrow scholarships, visit http://annexstadfamilyfoundation.org/. To make a gift to Honors College programs or scholarships, visit https://give.olemiss.edu or for more information, contact Brady Bramlett at bradyb@olemiss.edu or 662-915- 3081.

Exploring Biology Beyond the Classroom

Posted on: August 3rd, 2022 by erabadie No Comments

Off-campus courses give students hands-on opportunities in biodiversity locations

Abby Morgan (left), a senior biology major from Tullahoma, Tennessee, and Bridget Sprandel, a junior biology major from Crystal Lake, Illinois, show off a live conch they discovered while exploring an estuary on the Bahamian island of Half Moon Cay. The Ole Miss students participated in an Island Biogeography course in the Caribbean during the 2022 Wintersession. Submitted photo

Abby Morgan (left), a senior biology major from Tullahoma, Tennessee, and Bridget Sprandel, a junior biology major from Crystal Lake, Illinois, show off a live conch they discovered while exploring an estuary on the Bahamian island of Half Moon Cay. The UM students participated in an Island Biogeography course in the Caribbean during the 2022 Wintersession. Submitted photo

AUGUST 3, 2022 BY STAFF REPORT

Biological science students at the University of Mississippi are broadening their horizons by taking classes in the Caribbean, Hawaii and Arizona, taught by professors Brice Noonan, Erik Hom and Jason Hoeksema.

“The Department of Biology is fortunate to have a number of off-campus opportunities that allow students to explore such varied topics as the biodiversity of the desert southwest in Arizona and the interaction of biology and society in Hawaii,” said Noonan, acting chair and associate professor of biology.

Hoeksema’s BISC 380 and 491: Ecology and Evolution of Sky Island Biodiversity course in Arizona is offered over the summer, and Noonan’s BISC 448: Island Biogeography in the Caribbean and Hom’s BISC 380: Life at the Interface; Microbes, Volcanoes and Culture in Hawaii are Wintersession courses.

“To me, the best thing about this class is that southeastern Arizona is a major biodiversity hotspot with a beautiful landscape, making it the ideal outdoor laboratory for learning about species in their natural environments,” Hoeksema said.

“Students are immersed in nature, learning to recognize species and how they fit into their characteristic habitats while hiking and exploring in an outdoor wonderland of mountains and canyons.”

Students in professor Jason Hoeksema’s Ecology and Evolution of Sky Island Biodiversity course catch their breath and take in the view during a hike in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona. Photo by Jason Hoeksema/UM Department of Biology

Students in professor Jason Hoeksema’s Ecology and Evolution of Sky Island Biodiversity course catch their breath and take in the view during a hike in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona. Photo by Jason Hoeksema/UM Department of Biology

Meredith Goza, a biology major from Oxford, participated in the Arizona class.

“Every day, we explored the habitat we were studying, documenting the interesting plants or animals we found,” Goza said. “We conducted small research projects; mine was investigating the concentration of different species of bats throughout the region.

“All aspects of this course offered enjoyable and direct approaches to exploring science.”

Through travel and study both inside and outside the U.S., students gain a more holistic view of the field of biology beyond campus classrooms.

“I believe training young scientists and researchers is much more a journeyman experience than most people realize, one that is poorly captured by traditional lecture-lab courses,” Hom said.

“The type of field courses I have led to California and Hawaii for StudyUSA emphasize ‘experiential learning’ – on-the-spot critical thinking combined with hands-on practice – and has excited students without fail that they are ‘doing science.’ Having students ‘do science’ is precisely the goal of my field courses.

“Teaching students in a beautiful but unfamiliar environment helps a lot with meta-cognition, helping them to see science in a different and more culturally far-reaching context.”

Recent biology graduate Jaylen Powell, from Lambert, is working in Hom’s laboratory as a technician to gain more skills before graduate school. He enrolled in the Hawaii course because of a talk with Hom.

Jaylen Powell, a recent UM biology graduate from Lambert, stands on lava rock overlooking the Pacific Ocean while in Hawaii for a 2020 Study USA course on Life at the Interface; Microbes, Volcanoes and Culture. Submitted photo

Jaylen Powell, a recent UM biology graduate from Lambert, stands on lava rock overlooking the Pacific Ocean while in Hawaii for a 2020 Study USA course on Life at the Interface; Microbes, Volcanoes and Culture. Submitted photo

“It was my junior year and I did not know what I wanted to do with my life,” Powell said. “Dr. Hom explained that I should step out of my comfort zone and gain a new perspective. After much deliberation and reassurance that airplanes are safe, I decided he was right.

“The Hawaii experience was everything Dr. Hom had said it would be and more. It was an engaging class, from listening to professors to harvesting tea leaves. My top memorable moments: visiting a honey farm and learning about bees, and when the class went snorkeling, I was pushed out of my comfort zone and it made me want to learn how to swim.”

For Noonan’s Island Biogeography class, 13 students explored jungles in Jamaica, forests on St. Thomas and coastal communities of the Bahamas, observing biological communities and learning about how their geography affected them.

Tiffany Nguyen, from Indianola, called the class her “favorite memory at Ole Miss.” She enrolled in the class to study abroad and to fulfill a biology elective for her biochemistry major, which she completed by earning her bachelor’s degree in May.

“During winter intersession, it was nice to have a small break and focus on one class,” Nguyen said. “We would have a two-hour class on ship days, and on island days we would have our ‘lab’ where we hiked around the islands to find species and study the islands. I tried to live in the moment and appreciate all of it.

“Dr. Noonan was really, really passionate about the class, so it made it 10 times more enjoyable. It’s such a small class, you get to know one another because you spend most of your time on the ship with your classmates. I made some of my best friends on this trip.”

Former Student wins Society for Freshwater Science 2022 Career Award

Posted on: March 24th, 2022 by erabadie No Comments

MARCH 24, 2022

Dr. Zanethia Barnett, who earned her Ph.D. from the Department of Biology is the recipient of the 2022 Hynes Award for New Investigators, one of the Career Awards from The Society for Freshwater Science.

Zanethia Barnett

Dr. Zanethia Barnett earned her PhD from the University of Mississippi Department of Biology.

“Our Career Awards recognize outstanding contributions in advancing freshwater science through research, translating this science into policy or social action, and service to SFS,” said Ashley Moerke, president of the Society. “These  scholars and leaders have all exhibited excellence in their varied contributions to our field around the world.”

The Hynes Award for New Investigators is awarded to a freshwater scientist who was senior author of an outstanding primary publication that appeared in print in the last three years. The recipient must have received a terminal post-graduate degree within the last five years and cannot currently be enrolled in a degree program.

Barnett is a Research Fisheries Biologist at the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station whose publication, “Crayfish populations genetically fragmented in streams impounded for 36-104 years” (Freshwater Biology 2020) was the first paper to assess the effects of relatively large dams on crayfish population genetic structure. Barnett’s research focuses on understanding the structure of aquatic communities and quantifying the effects of human induced disturbances on aquatic systems. She eloquently pairs her research with strong service to both SFS and the US Forest Service, including her dedication and passion to advance equity, inclusion, and diversity in freshwater science.

Currently, Barnett represents the Southern Research Station on both the interagency Upper Mississippi River Aquatic Invasive Species Panel and the Forest Service Dive Control Board. In addition to her involvement in the award-winning Get Black Outside day that exposed youth and their families to freshwater snorkeling and the importance of healthy streams, Barnett is a member of the Society’s justice, equity, diversity and inclusion task force and serves as a co-lead for council of underrepresented voices.

Immersed in Summer Research

Posted on: November 11th, 2021 by erabadie No Comments

Undergraduate program opens doors to new creative scholarship

September 15, 2021 By Shea Stewart

A photo of Jared Barnes (right), a senior biology major from Grenada, talks about his biodegradable drug delivery system research during a poster presentation for the UM Summer Undergraduate Research Group Grant program. Photo by Shea Stewart/UM Office of Research and Sponsored Programs

Jared Barnes (right), a senior biology major from Grenada, talks about his biodegradable drug delivery system research during a poster presentation for the UM Summer Undergraduate Research Group Grant program. Photo by Shea Stewart/UM Office of Research and Sponsored Programs

Sydni Davis found herself in rewarding new territory this summer.

The University of Mississippi sophomore from Tupelo spent the summer conducting interviews with Black women, gaining valuable experience in ethnographic methods as part of a summer research project.

“I am proud of myself for collecting my data and conducting interviews,” said Davis, an African American studies major. “This experience has given me the confidence to pursue more research. Diving into this headfirst, I was not sure how I would fare, but I proved to myself how capable I am.”

Davis was among 15 UM undergraduate students who investigated new research areas or creative scholarship, or furthered their existing knowledge, as part of the university’s Summer Undergraduate Research Group Grant program, which is funded by the Office of the Provost and administered by the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

The 8-10-week fellowship program allows students to conduct individual research and creative scholarship projects through the summer with a faculty member as a mentor.

The program also prepares faculty collaborators to submit competitive external funding proposals for undergraduate research activities by designing and conducting a pilot summer program in a thematic area of interest to the faculty team.

Jared Barnes, a senior biology major from Grenada, was a member of the Ole Miss Nanoengineering Summer REU Program, which is designed for undergraduates to enhance their research activity within the School of Engineering and assist collaborations between early career and established faculty. Hosted by the Department of Biomedical Engineering, students were able to choose from research projects in one of three emphases: nanobiotechnology, computational nanoengineering and sustainable nanoengineering.

Barnes’ research topic was investigating a biodegradable drug delivery system for the sequential release of psychoactive drugs.

“I wanted to pursue this topic because I have always had a strong interest in the psychology field,” he said. “On top of that, I have the intention of becoming a physician one day and want to help tackle many of the health disparities present today.

“This topic deals with that issue by providing a cheaper, more convenient option for patients who require the repeated drug administration treatment.”

His project involved working with different drug delivery films, including applying parafilm and wax coating to polymeric films, to further examine durable film coatings and how they can be managed to better release drug doses.

“This was my first research experience of actually taking data on my own and feeling as if I played a vital role within the research throughout the entire summer,” said Barnes, who plans to attend the UM Medical Center after earning his bachelor’s degree. “With that being said, I have truly grown a passion and love for research with now an open mind to the possibility of doing more in the future.”

A photo of Sydni Davis, a sophomore African American studies student, presented her oral history project, ‘Soul Food and Soul Searching,’ during a poster presentation for the UM Summer Undergraduate Research Group Grant program. Submitted photo

Sydni Davis, a sophomore African American studies student, presented her oral history project, ‘Soul Food and Soul Searching,’ during a poster presentation for the UM Summer Undergraduate Research Group Grant program. Submitted photo

Davis’ oral history project was conducted under the guidance of researchers in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

She was one of three students involved in the summer research experience that used interdisciplinary approaches to the study of race, power and place-identity.

The program benefited students by honing their methodological skills and better preparing them for writing and presenting their findings.

The students, who also were exposed to the differences, debates and key overlaps in methodologies, were encouraged to and received instruction on how to prepare reports for submission to the peer-reviewed journal Study the South or Mississippi Stories.

Davis’s summer research project resulted in “Soul Food and Soul Searching,” an exploration of how the relationship between food in Black culture and racialized beauty standards can lead to disordered eating symptoms in Black women.

“I chose this project because I have seen the effects of eating disorder symptoms and Eurocentric beauty standards in my own body and life,” she said. “Black women are often the ‘other,’ meaning that we are easily ostracized especially in the arenas of beauty and health.

“I have felt the effects of beauty standards I will never quite live up to because they were not meant for me in the first place. My hope for this project is to give Black women a voice, so we can speak for ourselves.”

Davis plans to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in museum studies in hopes of becoming a museum director and inspiring young Black women and bringing more inclusivity to the museum world.

For Santana Amaker’s summer research project, the senior computer science and international studies major from Biloxi studied denial-of-service attacks using a device capable of transmitting or receiving radio signals that is designed to test and develop modern and next-generation radio technologies.

She was one of five students collaborating with mentors in the Department of Computer and Information Science on projects involving cybersecurity research methods that exposed the students to various security risks and mitigation strategies.

A photo of Santana Amaker (left), a senior computer science and international studies major, discusses her summer research project about denial-of-service attacks during a poster presentation for the UM Summer Undergraduate Research Group Grant program. Photo by Shea Stewart/UM Office of Research and Sponsored Programs

Santana Amaker (left), a senior computer science and international studies major, discusses her summer research project about denial-of-service attacks during a poster presentation for the UM Summer Undergraduate Research Group Grant program. Photo by Shea Stewart/UM Office of Research and Sponsored Programs

Through the summer research experience, Amaker created a program that allows for denial-of-service attacks.

“I believe that the experience helped me become a better researcher by allowing me to become more independent in my learning,” said Amaker, whose interests include studying vulnerabilities in wireless devices.

“With this program, there was a lot of responsibility placed on me to independently research and turn to my professor for help when I faced a difficult problem, rather than at every step. I think this is much closer to what I will experience working in the tech industry, which is why I see this program as an invaluable opportunity.”

Four students were involved in the Department of Chemical Engineering‘s “Snazzy Surfaces for Students” program, which offered talented undergraduate students an opportunity to join the multidisciplinary surfaces and interfaces team to learn key research skills.

The students learned about surfaces, interfaces and material development, and used the university’s Quartz Crystal Microbalance with Dissipation, a highly sensitive balance that can detect changes in mass at the molecular level using a quartz crystal, which registers minuscule deviations in frequencies and loss of energy.

The program taught students research know-how, creativity and innovative skills, which are fully transferable to future industry or research careers in STEM.

One of those students in the program was Jack Flanders, a junior psychology and biochemistry major from Munford, Tennessee, whose research topic explored protein adsorption on ionic liquid-capped nanoparticles.

“These nanoparticles have shown a wide variety of potential medical applications; however, in order to be effectively used, we need a better idea of exactly how the nanoparticles interact with proteins in the body,” said Flanders, who plans on attending medical school, specializing in psychiatry. “I was able to start my own research project, which will set the groundwork towards my thesis.

“This program taught me a lot about how rewarding research can be. Long hours and extra work are all worth it when you have good data to show for it.”

More than 50 undergraduate students have participated in the program, which began in 2018 and offers participants valuable knowledge and skills while expanding and enhancing the university’s undergraduate research and creative achievement efforts.

The students’ output results in or contributes to a finished product that is significant, such as a presentation of the creative work or a publishable paper.

Biologist Talks Science on CBS’s ‘Mission Unstoppable’

Posted on: October 29th, 2021 by erabadie No Comments

IF/THEN ambassadorship gives Goulet national platform to encourage young women

A photo of Tamar Goulet is taking the crew of CBS's 'Mission Unstoppable' to explore coral reefs off the coast of the Florida Keys for the new episode of the program, which airs at 7 a.m. Saturday on CBS stations. Image courtesy 'Mission Unstoppable'

Tamar Goulet is taking the crew of CBS’s ‘Mission Unstoppable’ to explore coral reefs off the coast of the Florida Keys for the new episode of the program, which airs at 7 a.m. Saturday on CBS stations. Image courtesy ‘Mission Unstoppable’

OCTOBER 28, 2021 BY JB CLARK

Tamar L. Goulet loves sharing her passion for the sciences with anyone who will listen, especially young women interested in pursuing a career in the male-dominated field.

This weekend, the University of Mississippi biology professor will have a national audience as she takes CBS’s “Mission Unstoppable” into the field to learn about coral reefs in the Florida Keys.

Goulet said her goal is simple: to show at least one girl that she can be a scientist.

“As cheesy as it may sound, if one girl watches that episode and says, ‘Look, she’s a scientist. I can be a scientist too,’ then that’s worth its weight in gold.” Goulet said. “There are already so many factors that stand in the way of training and advanced degrees.

“I hope no girl chooses not to pursue her dream because someone told her she couldn’t do it.”

Goulet has an opportunity to reach a lot more than one girl this weekend. “Mission Unstoppable” is broadcast nationally on CBS at 7 a.m. Saturdays.

A photo of graduate student Savannah Draud

University of Mississippi graduate student Savannah Draud, who works with professor Tamar Goulet on research into corals, appears on this weekend’s edition of ‘Mission Unstoppable.’ Goulet said she hopes the segment inspires more young women to pursue STEM careers. Image courtesy ‘Mission Unstoppable’

For this episode, Goulet and her graduate student, Savannah Draud, brought the “Mission Unstoppable” crew along as they studied octocorals living in the only living barrier reef in the United States.

Mark McCauley, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Florida, said the time he spent in the field and in the water with Goulet made him the scientist he is today.

“Some of the defining moments of my time as a Ph.D. student were the opportunities she provided for field research,” he said. “I was given the support to establish my own experiments and ask important ecological questions.

“Dr. Goulet is strongly driven toward success in the field, and I hope to continue to grow as a researcher from the skills I learned within her lab.”

If She Can, I Can

Goulet’s appearance on the show is a part of her IF/THEN ambassadorship, an effort to position women in STEM as role models for middle school girls. The program, launched by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, makes its ambassadors and their work available to classrooms, media and educational partners

“There are a lot of very talented female scientists, but they’re not visible to the public,” Goulet said. “The public-facing scientists – Bill Nye, Carl Sagan – are all men. The scientific correspondents for the major networks are men.

“One of the ideas behind the ambassadorship is to make extremely talented women visible to the public.”

IF/THEN ambassadors are driven by the mantra, “If she can see it, then she can be it,” which is why the organization works to spotlight the work of women scientists and increase their visibility in media.

As an ambassador, Goulet gets to share her love of science on a larger scale.

She’s been a science fair moderator in California, spoken to Girl Scouts in Georgia and teen girls at a science camp in Texas. She’s taught elementary school students about symbiosis over Zoom and served as a panelist during the 2021 AAAS annual meeting. She’s also working on a local project that will introduce middle and high school students to the science in their own backyards.

She even had a life-size statue made of her in her diving gear as a part of a larger exhibit of 120 statues of IF/THEN ambassadors in Dallas.

“Dr. Goulet’s work that focuses on increasing women’s participation and visibility in STEM fields is incredibly important,” said Lee Cohen, dean of the UM College of Liberal Arts. “It allows women, who are underrepresented in STEM fields, to ‘see themselves’ as scientists.”

A photo of Tamar Goulet's 3D statue.

Tamar Goulet had her likeness 3D-printed as statue as a part of her IF/THEN ambassadorship, which works to make successful women in STEM available as media and educational resources while also providing opportunities for them to mentor young women. Photo courtesy IF/THEN/Orange Capital Media LLC

Students want role models who connect their reality with their dreams, Cohen said.

“There is considerable data to indicate that biases – implicit and explicit – shape students’ perceptions of and access to particular fields of study,” he said. “Working to address these biases and creating strategies to increase women’s access to STEM fields will help to develop a more diverse group of scientists, which will lead to greater discoveries and ultimately a more inclusive and better future for all.”

Sharing Science

IF/THEN is only the latest form Goulet’s passion for sharing the sciences has taken. After completing her master’s degree, she wrote as a science reporter for the Richmond Times Dispatch through an AAAS fellowship that placed scientist and engineers in mass media outlets.

“I have always been interested in communicating science to the public.” Goulet said. “It’s one of the reasons I teach a nonmajors introductory course; because I find it challenging and rewarding to explain science and get people who aren’t scientists excited about science.”

Her husband, Denis Goulet, is coordinator of laboratory programs in the Ole Miss biology department as well as her partner in research and publishing. He said her excitement for and devotion to her work and the people around her is what makes her a mentor to her students.

“My wife leads by example, devoting endless time to her job and her family,” he said. “She is a role model for how to pursue one’s dreams and achieve goals.”

Tune into “Mission Unstoppable” on CBS at 7 a.m. Saturday to learn more about Goulet and her work.

Consider the Amphibian

Posted on: October 18th, 2021 by erabadie No Comments

UM biologist part of institute studying species’ resiliency against disease

Humans have a lot to learn from amphibians.

This class of animals – frogs, salamanders and caecilians – has been decimated by the emergence of new infectious diseases, along with human-caused damage to their ecosystems. Yet, some species have bounced back, and researchers are wondering if there’s a lesson for humanity in the resiliency of amphibians.

To study this rebound and what humans can learn from it, a University of Mississippi biologist and a group of research peers have launched a new institute funded by a five-year, $12.5 million National Science Foundation grant.

Based at the University of Pittsburgh, the Resilience Institute Bridging Biological Training and Research, or RIBBiTR, includes researchers at 11 universities, including Michel Ohmer, an assistant professor of biology at UM.

Biology professor Michel Ohmer is a member of the Resilience Institute Bridging Biological Training and Research, a team of scientists based at the University of Pittsburgh and working to study amphibians’ resilience to disease. Photo courtesy Michel Ohmer

Biology professor Michel Ohmer is a member of the Resilience Institute Bridging Biological Training and Research, a team of scientists based at the University of Pittsburgh and working to study amphibians’ resilience to disease. Photo courtesy Michel Ohmer

“Amphibians are experiencing a pandemic of their own, resulting in catastrophic amphibian declines,” said Ohmer, who joined the UM faculty in August. “Given the worldwide reach of the chytrid fungal pathogen and the wide array of species impacted, amphibians are a perfect system for studying resilience to disease.

“Many amphibian communities were decimated, and many species went extinct, but since then, we have also seen some remarkable recoveries. This provides a natural experiment to understand how and why certain populations are resilient to disease and anthropogenic change across many regions and communities.

“This is incredibly relevant today as we face multiple global crises including a pandemic, biodiversity loss and climate change. Understanding what makes some populations resilient, and what factors into that resilience, is incredibly important.”

Housed in Pitt’s Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology, the institute also involves researchers at the University of Alabama; University of California at Berkeley; University of California at Santa Barbara; University of Massachusetts at Boston; University of Nevada at Reno; Temple University; Texas Tech University; University of Tennessee; and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“My part of this research partnership involves using measurements of amphibian thermal traits and exploring questions such as: Under what temperatures can these species survive? What are the optimal temperatures for performance?” Ohmer said.

“I’ll use those measurements in combination with measures of microclimate – the climate experienced by the amphibian in its environment – to make predictions of when and where amphibians will be most susceptible to climate change and disease. I will be leading experimental work at each of our field sites, as well as running empirical studies with focal species at the University of Mississippi.”

Pitt’s Corinne Richards-Zawacki, professor in ecology and evolutionary biology in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, is the principal investigator and leads the institute.

The institute will study amphibians from sites in Brazil, Panama, the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California and the Pymatuning Lab, which is a Pitt research lab and field station in northwestern Pennsylvania, led by Richards-Zawacki. The researchers will use pioneering approaches to tracking amphibians, such as collecting tiny traces of DNA from the environment and automatically picking up the sound of frog calls.

Southern leopard frog

This Southern leopard frog was photographed in Louisiana while UM biology professor Michel Ohmer was investigating an amphibian-pathogen system across the U.S. and under current and future climate scenarios. Photo by Michel Ohmer

“Because we have lots of data over time from around the world on amphibians who are doing better now than they were after the initial disease outbreaks, they are perfect for studying resilience,” Richards-Zawacki said. “We can ask many questions: What mechanisms make them able to live with their pathogens? Are the pathogens changing? What is the impact of different environments?

“If we understand how the relationship has changed between the species and the threat, we can consider how resilience can be applied to other biological systems.”

Ohmer first got involved with many of the institute’s researchers as part of a Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program grant through the Department of Defense.

“We were investigating this amphibian-pathogen system across the U.S. and under current and future climate scenarios,” said Ohmer, whose research interests include amphibian biology and disease ecology, ecophysiology, global change and conservation biology.

“I am excited to continue to work with these collaborators, as well as expand our partnership to a broader number of institutions and field study locations worldwide, to understand the many ways in which amphibian populations can demonstrate resilience in the face of multiple stressors.”

The institute is part of the NSF’s strategy to create large research teams across disciplines and regions to investigate “rules of life” principles – fundamental life processes ranging from biomes to the Earth.

The award, No. 2120084, is titled “Uncovering mechanisms of amphibian resilience to global change from molecules to landscapes.”

Michel Ohmer works with a frog in the field. Photo courtesy Michel Ohmer

Michel Ohmer works with a frog in the field. Photo courtesy Michel Ohmer

“I’m elated that the NSF has funded the work proposed by the RIBBiTR team,” said Brice Noonan, UM acting chair and associate professor of biology. “The work proposed by Dr. Ohmer and colleagues is clearly relevant as our species struggles through its own pandemic.

“By exploring how frogs have survived and managed to coexist with emerging pathogens that have had devastating effects on their populations we can better understand the ways living organisms, including humans, are able to adapt to these challenging environmental conditions.”

Beyond the biology research, the institute’s team is charged with developing curriculum and programs that will train the next generation of biologists.

At Ole Miss, that means Ohmer will work with Erik Hom, an associate professor of biology, to develop high school research and mentoring experiences that explore the concept of resilience in ecology. The initiative will be part of the A Research Immersive STEM Experience at the University of Mississippi  program.

“My collaborators and I will also develop education modules in the form of student-directed research projects that will contribute to a growing body of knowledge on amphibian thermal physiology,” Ohmer said. “Finally, I look forward to training graduate students and postdocs in ecophysiology both in Mississippi and on location at our field sites as a part of the institute.

“It is incredibly important that we work to broaden participation in science and work to train the next generation of biologists to work in integrative ways as this is the future of scientific discovery. The greater the diversity of backgrounds and experiences, and the more that we elevate underrepresented voices, the stronger and more transformative our science will be.”

Get to Know Dr. Michel Ohmer

Posted on: October 12th, 2021 by erabadie No Comments
Michel Ohmer

Michel Ohmer, assistant professor of biology

Dr. Michel Ohmer has joined the University of Mississippi as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Queensland in Australia, and then went on to do postdoctoral work at the University of Pittsburgh with Dr. Cori Richards-Zawacki. Before coming to UM, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Living Earth Collaborative at Washington University in St. Louis, where she investigated the role of intraspecific variation in thermal traits on climate suitability predictions for amphibian populations impacted by disease. Her research program is in global change ecophysiology and disease ecology, with a focus on amphibians and their conservation.

What is your primary research focus? Why or how did you become interested in this focus?

I study disease ecology, ecophysiology, and conservation biology. I primarily work with amphibians, which have experienced dramatic declines worldwide as the result of multiple interacting stressors. I have always been fascinated by amphibians and loved catching tadpoles and frogs in the local pond and exploring the natural areas by my house as a child. When I learned about the amphibian extinction crisis as an undergraduate, particularly how frogs were declining in pristine protected areas due to disease, I knew that this was an area of research that I wanted to pursue, in the hopes that my research would benefit conservation actions.

What have you been working on in the years leading up to your start at UM?

My work focuses on how and why individuals, populations, and species have varied responses to environmental stressors, and in particular, disease. I use ecophysiological, immunological, and modeling tools to investigate these differences. Just prior to coming to UM, I was a Living Earth Collaborative postdoctoral fellow at Washington University in St. Louis, where I was working to predict regions of refuge from both climate change and disease for a declining frog species in the central US. I am interested in whether intraspecific variation in thermal physiology may impact our predictions for how this species will fare as the climate warms. I am excited to continue and expand upon this research at UM.

What experiences do you hope to gain at UM that you haven’t had the opportunity to, previously?

I am looking forward to working with undergraduate and graduate students not only through the classes that I will be teaching, but also in the laboratory and out in the field, as I work to create an inclusive research laboratory group where everyone feels welcome. I am also excited to interact and collaborate with faculty in the UM Biology department, and to expand my field research to both the local field station and natural areas around the state. I am lucky that Mississippi is home to a wonderful diversity of amphibian species!

How will you transition your research to the UM biology department?

I am excited to bring my research program to UM. My laboratory and animal rooms are currently being renovated to include controlled temperature chambers, molecular laboratory spaces, and behavioral assay rooms, which will equip my lab members to do cutting edge ecophysiological research. In addition, my research interests overlap with those of many of the Biology faculty, paving the way for future fruitful collaborations.

Dr. Ohmer in the field photograph

Dr. Ohmer in the field

Tell about the class you’ll be teaching.

Next semester I will be teaching BISC 330, or Introductory Physiology. While this course is primarily focused on human physiology, I will be drawing on my background in animal ecophysiology to bring a comparative angle to the curriculum. This course is one of the core courses of the Biology major, and I look forward to interacting with students pursuing a range of career goals.

What else will you be doing at UM (this semester and in the future)?

I am a part of new, recently funded NSF Biology Integration Institute (there will be a news release soon) that will be working to uncover the mechanisms of resilience to disease, using the amphibian-fungal pathogen system as a model. Amphibian populations have declined worldwide as a result of the amphibian chytrid fungus, which causes the disease chytridiomycosis. Since this disease was first described 30 years ago, some populations have begun to rebound. We will be studying how and why some populations are resilient to disease, and in particular, I will be using ecophysiological and modeling tools to understand how climate change may modulate this resilience.

What interests you other than science? Any hobbies or extracurriculars?

In addition to science, I love art and the outdoors. I am fond of painting, dance, and photography. I also enjoy hiking and backpacking, and I love traveling and exploring new places with my family: my partner Jeff, our son Emerson, and our pup, Darcy.

Helping Farms Be In Harmony With Nature

Posted on: August 30th, 2021 by capurdo1

EPA grant involves researchers, Mississippi Delta farmers exploring agricultural runoff water

Biologist Pablo Bacon (left) and Rachel Anderson, a graduate of the UM Department of Biology, collect macroinvertebrate samples from a field in the Mississippi Delta. A new UM research project at sites such as this is exploring holding runoff water on agricultural landscapes after crops are harvested, which could reduce the pollution of downstream waterways, improve soil health and crop yields and provide crucial food and habitat for migratory birds. Photo courtesy Larry Pace

Biologist Pablo Bacon (left) and Rachel Anderson, a graduate of the UM Department of Biology, collect macroinvertebrate samples from a field in the Mississippi Delta. A new UM research project at sites such as this is exploring holding runoff water on agricultural landscapes after crops are harvested, which could reduce the pollution of downstream waterways, improve soil health and crop yields and provide crucial food and habitat for migratory birds. Photo courtesy Larry Pace

AUGUST 25, 2021 BY Shea Stewart

University of Mississippi professor is using an Environmental Protection Agency grant to explore the potential benefits of holding runoff water on agricultural landscapes after crops are harvested.

The move could reduce the pollution of downstream waterways, improve soil health and crop yields, provide crucial food and habitat for migratory birds, reduce pumping of groundwater, and retain soil in agricultural fields, among other benefits.

The nearly $1 million grant from the EPA through its Farmer to Farmer grant funding program is based on four different farms in the Sunflower River watershed of the Mississippi Delta.

“Some of the key potential outcomes to this research project are to establish whether the benefits of temporary wetlands are consistent among farms and to reveal the mechanisms of how temporary wetlands influence the function of agricultural systems,” UM biology professor Jason Hoeksema said.

“Other potential outcomes are to promote more widespread adoption of these flooding practices in the region, if they prove to be consistently beneficial, and to improve the sustainability of agriculture in our region.”

Hoeksema, who joined the Ole Miss faculty in 2007, is principal investigator on the grant that includes a team of lead scientists and graduate students from the UM departments of Biology and Civil Engineering, Mississippi State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Sedimentation Laboratory, which is in Oxford.

“We were thrilled that the EPA saw the potential value of our proposed research,” Hoeksema said. “We felt that our preliminary results were very compelling, so it was gratifying to receive the award. This project represents an exciting opportunity to benefit wildlife, our environment and the sustainability of agriculture.”

Running through the spring of 2024, the project will include three cycles of crops on the four farms.

“This EPA project is a wonderful example of community-engaged research at the University of Mississippi in which our researchers work with communities to design projects that lead to outcomes that can be readily implemented,” said Josh Gladden, UM vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs. “Agriculture is such a critical community, not only for our state but our nation.

“We are eager to see how the results of this work can benefit both our farmers and the ecosystems of our watersheds and the Gulf of Mexico.”

The researchers and farmers will set up five field treatment groups on each farm after crops are harvested each fall. The treatment groups will allow the researchers to experiment with a range of water conditions, from passive flood treatment, in which water control structures are used to stop rainfall runoff, to different seasonal flood treatments, in which surface water is added and held on fields.

“Different team members will sample various aspects of how the agricultural ecosystem responds to those treatments,” Hoeksema said.

The researchers will study the composition and diversity of birds, invertebrate animals and soil microbes; the health of the soil; nutrient cycling; sediment and chemicals in runoff water; and crop yield.

“Some sampling will take place every week or two, some after rainfall events and some only once or twice per year,” Hoeksema said. “Data will be analyzed to compare those system responses among the five treatments.”

Impact on the World

The Mississippi Delta is part of the Gulf of Mexico watershed, a region where farmers provide food and fuel for the world.

A challenge facing this landscape is minimizing pollution, specifically the excess nitrogen and phosphorous that can enter water bodies through runoff or soil erosion. These excess nutrients enter the Gulf of Mexico, harming the productive body of water that has great ecological, economic and social value.

The farmers who work the land have developed skills and innovative practices to reduce this pollution, and they share their knowledge with other stakeholders, including state governments, farm organizations, conservation groups, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations and community groups.

The Farmer to Farmer grants support the leadership of farmers in improving water quality, habitat, resilience and peer-to-peer information exchange to benefit communities and ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico watershed, according to the EPA.

“EPA is proud to support the leadership of farmers and their innovative approaches to improve water quality while working to fuel and feed the world,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said. “EPA is committed to meaningful partnerships with farmers to advance sustainable agriculture practices while creating healthy, clean and safe environments for all.”

Titled “Restoring Temporary Wetland Function to Agricultural Watersheds with Innovative Farmer-Driven Offseason Water Management Practices,” UM’s $999,957 grant is one of 12 projects selected by the EPA in 2021 for its Farmer to Farmer program.

The project is a partnership between university and government researchers and farmers, with the goal, if the project is successful, of replicating it elsewhere.

“Ultimately, if flooding agricultural fields to create temporary wetlands during fallow seasons is proven beneficial, it will only result in consequential impacts if this practice is widely adopted by farmers,” Hoeksema said.

“Moreover, only farmers can ensure that these practices are implemented in ways that make sense in the context of a working farm. As such, it is essential to involve farmers from the very beginning, and to facilitate conversations among them to promote exchanges of ideas, opinions and experience.”

Hoeksema’s original goal of the project was to work with farmers to sustainably create habitat for migratory shorebirds on working farmlands in the Mississippi Delta. These birds come through the region in large numbers in spring and fall, and they need high-quality mudflats and shallow water habitat for stopover and feeding during their arduous journeys.

Exciting and Satisfying Work

“Working agricultural landscapes present a great opportunity for creating this habitat, and we were exploring how to do this without pumping groundwater by partnering with farmers who were recycling and saving the runoff water from their crop fields, pumping it back onto the fields after crop harvest,” Hoeksema said.

Jason Taylor, a research ecologist with the National Sedimentation Laboratory and Hoeksema’s collaborator, had the idea to measure numerous other potential ecosystem benefits, including soil sediment retention and reduction of downstream nutrient pollution by microbial activity.

Taylor’s preliminary data on those additional benefits were compelling and provided the impetus for the proposal to the EPA, with the project potentially offering several beneficial outcomes.

The research continues Hoeksema’s interest in how species, including soil microbes, can influence ecosystem processes. He also explores the ecological and evolutionary consequences of species interactions and co-invasions, with a focus on interactions between plants and fungi.

“My original interest in biology, when I was a young student, was in bird biology and conservation,” Hoeksema said. “Since then, although my university research program has not involved birds or agricultural systems, I’ve been involved in bird conservation projects on working lands through my outreach activities and the nonprofit that I co-founded in 2013, Delta Wind Birds.

“This EPA-funded project brings all of those interests and activities together into my university research program for the first time, which is very exciting and satisfying for me.”

Helping Crops Combat Climate Change

Posted on: June 25th, 2021 by erabadie

UM researcher explores effects of climate change on plant growth

A University of Mississippi biology professor’s research that examines challenges facing crop productivity caused by global climate change is attracting attention.

Yongjian Qiu, an assistant professor of biology, is studying a plant gene that could help solve a problem caused by warming global temperatures in which a plant stem grows too fast, damaging the plant’s biomass and leading to severe crop reductions.

Qiu’s work in this field is the subject of a new Nature Communications paper, Qiu’s first scientific journal paper as a main author while at UM. Graduate student Abhishesh Bajracharya, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in biological science at UM, serves as a co-author on the paper, which was released April 6.

“As a young UM faculty member, this paper means a lot to me,” said Qiu, who joined the faculty in 2019. “I’m excited and more confident with my career at UM. It proves that I’m competent in accomplishing a research project with good quality and makes me more confident when carrying out the other exciting research projects in my laboratory.”

Increases in global temperatures due to climate change are expected to drastically reduce crop productivity, so understanding the mechanism of temperature signaling in plants has become important for devising strategies to sustain crop production in a changing climate.

The Qiu Laboratory at the university is searching for an understanding of the mechanism by which external and internal signals, including temperature fluctuations, co-regulate plant growth and development to improve the functional traits of economic crops.

“When the department interviewed Dr. Qiu, it was his research aimed at exploring biological solutions to coming agricultural challenges associated with climate change that really grabbed our attention,” said Brice Noonan, acting department chair and associate professor of biology. “To see him so quickly bring to publication a study that reveals a novel gene influencing plant growth – and crop yield – is quite exciting.

“Dr. Qiu’s research program has continued to churn along through the pandemic, and I’m eager to see what the future holds for his research program.”

Understanding Stem Growth

Part of the lab’s research is examining the plant gene PIF4, which is a key link in promoting stem extension in various plant species, including economically important crops. The excessive lengthening of stems in certain plants also can cause the stem to bend, leading to nutrient loss, which also affects crop productivity.

“Understanding at the molecular level how this gene is produced and maintained in plant cells is central to finding the solution to solving the problem with stem growth and yield loss,” Qiu said.

“The study we just published found a novel protein called RCB that helps to stabilize the PIF4 protein when plants are facing temperature elevations. Therefore, we are one step further in understanding how global warming affects plant growth through the central regulator PIF4.”

Qiu’s examination of this issue began when he was an assistant project scientist at the University of California at Riverside, working in plant biology professor Meng Chen’s laboratory. Qiu’s postdoctoral research focused on how light and temperature signals regulate plant growth and development, and in 2019 he published his first paper on plant structural changes under warm temperatures – called thermomorphogenesis – in Nature Communications.

“The universal thermomorphogenetic mechanism shared by many plant species, once identified, would help us and other scientists design climate-smart crops that may sustain their biomass and grain yield when facing temperature fluctuations,” Qiu said.

His research helped him discover a novel function of a protein called HEMERA involved in thermomorphogenesis that regulates the stability and activity of the PIF4 protein.

“The absence of HEMERA’s function in a plant would lead to a growth defect in the short stem at warmer temperatures,” Qiu said. “Since then, I realized the importance of PIF4 and got interested in unveiling the entire pathway underlying the regulation of PIF4 level and activity when plants face temperature fluctuations.”

Qiu and Bajracharya’s Nature Communications paper continues an exploration of how the RCB protein and the novel function of the HEMERA protein involved in thermomorphogenesis interact with PIF4. They are still searching for how that interaction is achieved to regulate the stability and activity of PIF4.

The full title of the paper is “RCB initiates Arabidopsis thermomorphogenesis by stabilizing the thermoregulator PIF4 in the daytime.” Joining Qiu and Bajracharya as authors are members of the Institute for Integrative Genome Biology at the University of California at Riverside.

“I’m thankful to my postdoctoral adviser and his team for their contributions and efforts in pushing this publication,” Qiu said. “But at the same time, I also truly appreciate the support from the Department of Biology, College of Liberal Arts and UM.

“The work would not be accomplished without the initial start-up funding, the renovation of my new laboratory and the assistance from the previous and current chairs, staff and colleagues in my home department.”

Forging a Plant Path

Qiu received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Science and Technology of China, a leading Chinese research university. Working on his undergraduate thesis in his junior year, he joined a plant molecular biology lab that focused on plant resistance against a variety of stresses, such as drought, salt and oxidative stresses.

“That was my first contact with plant physiology and molecular biology, and immediately I fell in love with it,” Qiu said.

“I learned that as immobile organisms, plants need to develop complex systems to cope with the ever-changing environment, and I realized that understanding how plants sense and respond to each environmental stimulus is the key to solving some critical agricultural issues we humans are facing in the 21st century.”

After receiving his doctorate in plant science at Washington State University, Qiu worked as a postdoctoral associate at Duke University and at the University of California at Riverside before joining the Ole Miss faculty.

Qiu said he was drawn to the Department of Biology because of its open and collaborative work environment for new faculty members. He also chose UM because of the diversity of research backgrounds among its biology faculty, covering fields such as cellular and molecular biology, evolution, ecology and more.

“This is the biology department I prefer because I believe the interactions between scientists with different backgrounds will foster innovative research that has the potential to solve the most important scientific questions,” he said. “I feel very comfortable talking with my peers and discussing research topics with them.”

Since joining UM, Qiu has involved more than a dozen Ole Miss students in his research endeavors. This semester, two graduate students and eight undergraduates are working as research assistants in his lab.

When working with students, Qiu remembers his beginnings in plant biology and the mentorship of those who assisted him along his journey as he helps train the next generation of scientists. He also is guided by his belief that science and technology are the essential driving forces for human survival and progress.

“Although some of them may not stay in academia, I hope that their research experiences in my laboratory would help them look at the world in a little different way,” Qiu said. “We scientists should communicate and collaborate to solve hard questions and improve our understanding of nature as well as help our civilization last as long as possible.”

 

Biologist Publishes Breakthrough Study

Posted on: June 25th, 2021 by erabadie

Lainy Day’s research advances the study of avian evolution

Lainy Day, an associate professor of biology at the University of Mississippi and director of the university’s neuroscience minor, has published an article in Nature, an international journal that publishes the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology.

Part of an international team, Day has helped unlock essential new information about the evolution of birds, known as avian evolution. The breakthrough research brings critical new data that will ultimately help with species preservation.

This research initiative is part of the BK10 project, which seeks to collect genomes, sets of genetic instructions, from all existing bird species on Earth. The project’s initiative has resulted in the world’s largest database of bird genomes.

The research reported in Nature includes 363 bird species, 267 sequenced for the first time. This amounts to representative species for 92% of all avian families.

“By examining multiple lineages and noting genes that diverge among specific lineages, we may discover, for example, the genes contributing to loss of flight in ostriches, or those that allow a songbird to trill beautiful notes in contrast to the deafening call of the rooster,” Day said. “We want to know how particular genes allow for trait evolution.”

The research published in Nature has been featured on a BBC podcast; on the website of Cosmos, a quarterly news magazine; and in an article distributed by the United Press International news service.

Day, who joined the Ole Miss faculty in 2006, become involved in this research via the Manakin Genomics Research Collaborative Network, initiated by herself and five other core researchers and supported by a $500,000 grant they secured from the National Science Foundation. Members of the BK10 project and the Manakin Network then recruited other scientists worldwide to sequence avian genomes from DNA samples collected in the wild or in aviaries.

Day’s research focuses on 13 of the 50 species of the manakin family of birds, which live in tropical areas across the Americas. For this initiative, she contributed DNA samples from one of the two species of manakins represented in the Nature manuscript.

The genome was sequenced from tissue samples of the golden-collared manakin that Day collected in Panama when she was doing research in collaboration with the University of California at Los Angeles.

Preserved in a freezer at -80 degrees Celsius, samples such as these are critical to her research. Day’s focal research seeks to understand the genetic language that shapes complex behavior and drives brain evolution.

Manakins are ideal for these studies, as males use complex acrobatic mating displays punctuated by loud wing sounds to attract mates. In separate research, Day has shown that female fancy for complexity in displays has driven increased brain size in manakins.

“As we begin to sequence genomes for each of the species I work with, we come to understand the formula for creating athletic prowess,” she said. The BK10 project aims to share these manakin genomes and those of all birds with the world.

“The database the BK10 project has created is far larger than any others,” she said. “Scientists have been looking at fewer genomes in depth. With this manuscript and continuing work of the Manakin Research Collaborative Network and the BK10 project, we provide, for the first time, sufficient genomic data to unlock the mysteries of bird evolution as well as fundamental principles of evolution.”

Brice Noonan, associate professor and acting chair of the Department of Biology, called Day’s work critical to “understanding the evolution of complex avian behavior. Its link to neurological development has long been recognized,” he said.

“This most recent publication of Dr. Day and her collaborators makes significant strides toward a better understanding of the genetic underpinnings of evolutionary change that is sure to set the stage for not only her research, but that of evolutionary biologists the world over.”

To read the report in Nature, click here.