Biology Union of Graduate Students

USA Science & Engineering Festival 2016

What: The USA Science & Engineering Festival is the largest and only national science festival. BUGS will have a table with the theme "Life is communication" at the Grand Finale Expo. At the expo, we expect to engage with close to 400,000 attendees! Check out our exhibitor profile here.

When: April 16 & 17, 2016

Where: Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C.

Who: Check some of the people who made this event possible below!

From the planning stages to the real thing, THANK YOU to everyone who helped to make our booth a success! And THANK YOU to everyone who visited our booth and chatted with us at the festival! Next festival is in 2018--check back here for updates.

2016 Presenters

Rachael Bonoan, Starks Lab The Starks Lab is broadly interested in animal behavior--we use behavior to study questions regarding invasion ecology, recognition systems, nutritional ecology, ecological immunity, and microbial ecology. A lot of our research takes advantage of a useful and charismatic study system: social insects.

Kelsey Graham, our senior grad student, is interested in how an invasive solitary bee (the wool carder bee) affects the behavior and fitness of social bumble bees as well as native plants (invasion ecology). Wool carder bees get their name from the female’s nest making behavior: when it’s time to settle down, she pulls the little hairs off of plant leaves to cushion her nest. Just like carding wool! In the process, the female wool carder bee is actually injuring the plant; this causes the plant to give off volatile organic compounds which then allows the injured plant to “communicate” with its neighbors.

Julia Pilowsky, a third year grad student, has studied aggression in paper wasps and currently studies nesting strategies in paper wasps along the East Coast. In her studies on aggression, Julia was interested in how aggressive wasps might be towards strangers when they are by themselves versus when they are with a nestmate (recognition systems). Is there power in numbers?

And then there’s me, Rachael Bonoan, Ph.D. candidate and board member for the Boston Area Beekeepers Association. I am interested in how honey bees get the right nutrients from the seasonal New England landscape (nutritional ecology). What do honey bees do in the fall when there aren’t as many flowers to choose from? I am also interested in how nutrition might affect both physiological and behavioral immunity in honey bees (ecological immunity). By behavioral immunity, I am talking about what’s referred to as colony-level fever. When a honey bee hive is infected with a heat sensitive pathogen (which causes a disease called chalkbrood), worker bees will heat up the hive just enough to kill the pathogen--just like our bodies do! Do bees need a balanced diet in order to efficiently elicit this protective fever? I am also interested in figuring out if nutrition has an effect on the honey bee gut microbiome (microbial ecology). It sure does in humans so why not in bees?

Clare Parker, Romero Lab In the Romero Lab, we study the stress response in wild animals. You probably know what stress feels like — the way your heart races when you crash your bike, or how you lose your appetite after you fight with your best friend. Stress is our the way our bodies deal with bad situations. It might feel bad, but it can actually help us survive when times get tough.

The response to stress is all about different parts of the body communicating with each other. For example, when an animal needs to escape from a predator, the brain needs to tell the animal’s heart to beat fast and its body to burn more energy. All the different parts of the animal’s body need to work together to get through the crisis, and they do that by communicating through chemicals called hormones.

Wild animals face stressful situations all the time. Sometimes they can’t find enough to eat, sometimes they are chased by a predator, or sometimes they need to fight for their territories. In our lab, we want to know more about how the body’s response to stress can help wild animals survive. How do all these circulating hormones help the animal to live through a crisis?

Sometimes, though, the stress response can cause problems. If the brain keeps on screaming “Danger! Danger!”, eventually, the body won’t be able to keep up. In our lab, we also study how too much stress can hurt wild animals. For example, I am figuring out how to help animals when we move them from the wild into captivity. Sometimes we need to capture animals for captive breeding, to move them from place to place, or to study them in the lab. This is very stressful for the animals, so I’m trying to figure out if there is a way to reduce the stress that results from that experience.

Taylor Sands-Marcinkowski, McVey Lab I am a second year graduate student at Tufts University. I conduct my research in Dr. Mitch McVey’s laboratory. The McVey Lab’s primary research interests are DNA damage, repair, and the mechanisms that preserve genomic integrity overall. The model organism we use is the vinegar fly called Drosophila melanogaster.

My project in the McVey lab focuses on a specific family of proteins, called helicases, which are important in repair, as well as the fundamental process of DNA replication. Helicases have many jobs in the cell. Their two biggest roles are unwinding the paired strands of the DNA double-helix and resolving complex structures. Complex structures can arise during replication, or can occur as intermediates in the repair of DNA damage. Damage to DNA can be caused by radiation, UV light, certain chemicals, or as a byproduct of a failed biological process. Replication must occur in order for any cell to copy its genetic material, and the process is essential to the growth of organisms. Because DNA breaks are so common and replication is so important, the jobs helicases have in preserving our genetic material are very important. Many human DNA repair genes, like those that code for helicase proteins, are conserved in flies; furthermore, many of these helicase genes, when mutated, can cause a predisposition to various cancers. For this reason we can learn a lot about diseases in humans just by studying the corresponding genes in flies!

Rory Fuller Brenna Gormally Kyle Jewhurst* Varandt Khodaverdian

Romero Lab

Romero Lab

McLaughlin Lab

McVey Lab

Elizabeth Landis Marcus Lehr Kaylinnette Pinet Emily Pitcairn*

Wolfe Lab

Levin Lab

McLaughlin Lab

McLaughlin Lab

Ishtiaque Quasem

Fuchs Lab


2016 Committee Members

Cassandra Donatelli, Tytell Lab You’ve probably seen a fish swimming in an aquarium or in your goldfish bowl at home, but have you ever thought about how they do it? A swimming fish has to of coordination to get where it wants to go. It needs to know if the water is moving around it and if there are other fish or obstacles nearby. It also needs to know how move its body to respond to any changes in its environment. The Tytell Lab lab wants to understand how the different components of swimming work and how we can use fish as a model for to make our own swimming machines.

Ritwika Mukherjee, Trimmer Lab The Trimmer lab focuses on studying locomotion of soft animals caterpillars. The muscles need neural input or a command to be able to generate locomotion of any kind in animals. Thus, there exists a complex interplay between neuronal processes and biomechanics. Is this a kind of communication? Are there varying degrees of complexities associated with these commands?

Soft animals have unlimited degrees of freedom which greatly increases the complexities in how they move around. My research involves recording electromyograms from muscles of the prolegs while a caterpillar crawls. The muscles fire when the caterpillar begins to lift its proleg from the ground. Would these firings be any different when the caterpillar is climbing up or is hanging upside down?

Engineers in the lab are trying to design SoftWorm Robots too! They are designing various actuated robots that can crawl, inch and climb and look like worms or caterpillars! So if you are interested to design crawling robots or just want to play with the worms, check out the Trimmer Lab at Tufts!

Fallon Durant Amanda Franklin Esther Miller

Levin Lab

Lewis Lab

Wolfe Lab

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