Faculty Highlights 2017-2018

Congratulations to Mitch McVey for his promotion to the Full Professor rank.

Throughout October 2018, Professor Barry Trimmer is serving as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow of the Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance (SICSA) in Edinburgh.

Professor Sara Lewis' first book, "Silent Sparks: The Wondrous World of Fireflies" was published by Princeton University Press. For centuries, the beauty of fireflies has evoked wonder and delight. Yet for most of us, fireflies remain shrouded in mystery: how do fireflies make their light? What are they saying with all that flashing? And what do fireflies seek in a mate? Written for a general audience, this beautifully illustrated book uncovers the science behind the spectacle, revealing remarkable stories of passionate romance, treachery, and deadly poisons among these stunning ambassadors for Earth's natural magic.

The Biology department would like to welcome Dr. Erik Hoel, who started as a Research Assistant Professor at Allen Discovery Center.
Dr. Erik Hoel completed his postdoctoral training with Rafael Yuste at Columbia University. He uses information theory and causal analysis to explore the biological basis of consciousness and understand the nature of emergence. Part of this research is on how complexity and information theory can be used to track or measure the neural difference between consciousness and unconsciousness, using data from cutting-edge neuroscientific methodologies. The goal is to develop a formal measure of consciousness that can be empirically verified and is medically useful. A second aspect of his research is to understand how causal structure changes across scale, and how information theory metrics can capture and quantify the emergence of macroscale causal structure. The goal is to improve causal model choice in scientific fields, as well as solve long-standing problems in neuroscience, such as identifying the fundamental functional unit of the mammalian brain. He is pursuing this by causally analyzing the cortex from the microscale of individual neurons to the mesoscale of neural ensembles to the macroscale of brain regions.
Dr. Hoel will be based at the Allen Discovery Center, room 335.
We are exceptionally lucky to have a scientist of Dr. Hoel's caliber in our ranks, and look forward to years of exciting scientific interactions with him.

Professor Barry Trimmer and his colleague Vishesh Vikas have been awarded a new NSF grant as part of the National Robotic Initiative entitled 'M3SoRo: Mobility and Morphing using Modular Soft Robots.'

Congratulations to Biology Ph.D. candidate Charles van Rees, who won 'Best Paper' at the 2018 Conference of The Waterbird Society. In August 2018, members of Tufts University's Reed Lab and Romero Lab traveled to Vancouver, Canada and attended the Waterbird Society annual conference. They also attended the 27th International Ornithological Congress, which provides a platform for ornithologists around the world to meet and share up-to-date research, along with conservation accomplishments and concerns. The Congress occurs every four years, and is considered the oldest and most prestigious of meetings for avian scientists.

Congratulations to Ph.D. candidate Avalon Owens, who won the Founders Memorial Award for the best student or postdoc paper at the 2018 Animal Behavior Society Meeting held in Madison, Wisconsin.

Congratulations to members of the Mirkin Lab, whose paper "The mechanisms of genetic instability caused by (CGG)n repeats in an experimental mammalian system" was recently published in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology. The paper is also referenced in a News & Views feature.

Congratulations to Dr. Michael Romero, who received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics & Engineering Mentoring, on June 25, 2018.

Congratulations to Dr. Benjamin Wolfe on his new appointment to the Eileen Fox Aptman and Lowell Aptman Professorship at Tufts University, effective May 18, 2018.

Congratulations to Allan Chen, a Tufts Biology graduate student, along with Jaclyn Dunphy, Neuroscience, who earned third place in the Gordon Institute's $100K New Ventures Competition. They pitched their idea for Cabin Labs, a pharmaceutical company engineering a safe medicine for chronic pain, and were awarded some seed money to begin their venture. Congratulations to both Allan and Jaclyn.

Congratulations to Ph.D. student Jessica Rozek. This week, Jessica received the national AbbVie Immunology Scholarship ($15,000), which is awarded to exceptional students living with inflammatory diseases. Persons with disabilities are disproportionately underrepresented in STEM as graduate students, and in the workforce. Her diagnoses of both Crohn's Disease and Autoimmune Hepatitis have encouraged her to become a voice and advocate for graduate students and young scientists with chronic illnesses.

Congratulations to the Freudenreich Lab on the recent publication of their paper in GENETICS about ISW1 and triplet repeat expansion. Their work was a featured this past week on the SGD blog "Trouble with Triplets", and they made an exciting video animation of the work.

Congratulations to Dr. Kate Mirkin for receiving a "Tufts Teaching with Technology Award" in recognition of her outstanding use of technology in the classroom. Educational Technology Services requested that students throughout the university nominate individuals "whose use of technology has had a markedly positive impact on their learning and engagement in a Tufts course." The IT Governance Sub-Committee on Teaching and Learning then selected the honorees. Kate will receive her award on the first day of the university-wide teaching conference on May 21, 2018. Congratulations to Dr. Mirkin, from everyone in the Biology department.

The awardees and honorable mentions for the 2018 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program competition have been announced. The NSF received over 12,000 applications, and made 2,000 award offers. Congratulations to Gabriela Garcia from the Orians Laboratory, who was awarded a fellowship this year.

Congratulations to Prof. Dany Spencer Adams, principal investigator at the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology and research professor in the Department of Biology, who has been named editor-in-chief of the new journal Bioelectricity. "We are on the threshold of a transformation in the intellectual and technical strategies used in the biosciences, as ever more researchers begin to explore the biophysical phenomena that act synergistically with the biochemical," said Adams in an announcement about the journal. "That makes this an exhilarating moment in the progression of bioelectricity studies, from a small specialty to an internationally recognized topic of great significance to biology and medicine."

Tufts Biology was ranked 5th in the nation by College Factual. The general biology program was ranked 5th out of 820 programs, nationwide. This makes general biology at Tufts a Top 5 program in the United States. Read more about Tufts Biology Department ranking.

Congratulations to Biology Ph.D. candidate Charles van Rees, who was the recipient of a Fulbright Award to do a post-doctoral fellowship next year in Spain. He also attended a World Wetlands Day celebration in Hawaii to receive a Certificate of Commendation for Dedication and Service to Hawaiian Conservation from the State of Hawaii House of Representatives.

Tufts biologist Benjamin Wolfe and his research were featured in National Public Radio's 'The Cheese Does Not Stand Alone: How Fungi and Bacteria Team Up for a Tastier Rind". The article describes how bacteria use fungal "highways" in cheese to spread, affecting the flavor.

Congratulations to Sarah Dykstra, a post doc in the Biology Department who was co-organizer of a recent highly successful career development symposium. Learn more about the Boston Symposium on Careers and Collaboration in Science (B-SOCCS).

Research completed in Dr. Sergei Mirkin's lab was featured in a December 2017 article in Tufts Now: New process could be key to understanding complex rearrangements in genome. This approach from Tufts-led researchers could lead to new diagnostic and treatment techniques for many cancers and genetic disorders. Learn more about The Mirkin Lab.

Dr. Elizabeth Crone's work on monarch butterflies was recently featured in a Northwest Public Radio article 'Monarch Butterflies Are Disappearing, But They May Be Saved, Researchers Say.'

Congratulations to Dr. Michael Levin, who received a $1.86M grant award from DARPA's Microsystems Technology Office, for a proposal he submitted earlier this year titled "Somatic computation via bioelectricity for novel life-time learning machines." Dr. Levin was the primary investigator for this grant, and he collaborated with two co-investigators: Josh Bongard (University of Vermont) and Sara Walker (Arizona State University). Learn more about this DARPA program.

MD/PhD candidate Alex Neil in the Mirkin lab, found that mutations in the flap endonuclease (Rad27/FEN1) result in the dramatic increase in (GAA)n repeat expansions in vivo, which led him to propose a new mechanism for repeat instability involving lagging-strand template-switch during DNA replication. This work was done in collaboration with the Tainer labs at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UT M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the Grasby lab at University of Sheffield and the Hamdan lab at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. Learn more about this research.

Former Graduate Student Allen Su and Professor Catherine Freudenreich, of the Tufts Department of Biology, recently published the following paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the paper, Su and Freudenreich show that that R-loop-induced deamination of cytosines is responsible for causing chromosomal breaks at an expanded CAG repeat sequence, as well as loss of repeat units (contractions). R-loops are structures that form when transcribed RNA remains bound to its DNA template to form a stable RNA:DNA hybrid. Expanded CAG repeat tracts are the cause of several human diseases, including Huntington's disease and myotonic muscular dystrophy. Su and Freudenreich were able to show that the repeat contractions were caused by base excision repair, a pathway used in other circumstances to repair damaged DNA bases. Intriguingly, the R-loop dependent double-strand breaks were caused by the MutL gamma endonuclease, which is known to recognize structured DNA and cause nicks, defining a new mechanism for how R-loops can generate DNA breaks. The results have implications for human repeat expansion diseases and provide a paradigm for how RNA:DNA hybrids can cause genome instability at structure-forming DNA sequences. Read the paper.

Congratulations to Michael Romero, who has received a five year NSF award "ABR: Melding Mathematical and Theoretical Models of Stress" totaling $1,025,381!

Welcome to Biology. Norah Warchola is a new lecturer in the Department of Biology, where she has been a part-time lecturer since 2016. She received her B.S. in biology and her Ph.D. in ecology and evolution from Stony Brook University. Previously, she was a postdoctoral research associate at Harvard and at Tufts, studying Fender's blue butterfly and Bartram's Scrub-Hairstreak butterfly. A member of the Ecological Society of America, she has published in the Journal of Applied Ecology and the Journal of Insect Conservation.

"When we factored in climate change along with all the other threats to shorebirds, we found that 47 of the 49 species we evaluated were at a higher risk of extinction than scientists previously believed," says Michael Reed, a professor of conservation biology at Tufts University. Scientists and conservationists team up to protect imperiled migratory shorebirds. Read more >

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