John Okechi One of Ten Pardee Center 2020 Graduate Summer Fellows

By Jen CorreiaApril 30th, 2020in Grad Student News

John Okechi of the Kaufman Lab was recently named one of ten Pardee Center 2020 Graduate Summer Fellows. During the ten-week fellowship, he will analyze the impacts of cage aquaculture in Lake Victoria on the environment and on food security in surrounding communities.

The Pardee Center Graduate Summer Fellows Program offers graduate students from across Boston University an opportunity for intensive interdisciplinary research and writing on topics aligned with the future-focused research interests of BU’s Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future. Read the full announcement about the Pardee Center 2020 Graduate Summer Fellows here.

Congratulations, John!

Graduating Senior, Aria Armstrong, Published in Ecosphere

By Ben Bradbury-KosterApril 29th, 2020in News, Student News

Graduating Biology CMG senior and SURF awardee, Aria Armstrong, in the Celenza lab is co-author on a recently published article in Ecosphere entitled, “Indolic glucosinolate pathway provides resistance to mycorrhizal fungal colonization in a non-host Brassicaceae”. Armstrong and Celenza collaborated with Drs. Mark Anthony and Serita Frey at the University of New Hampshire on this work that addresses how the Brassicaceae, an important agricultural group of non-mycorrhizal plants, resist interactions with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Brassicaceae can still be colonized by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), but species like Arabidopsis thaliana experience growth reductions following AMF colonization. Using Arabidopsis mutants that produce no or enhanced indolic glucosinolates, this study addresses whether the ability to produce indolic glucosinolates facilitates resistance to AMF colonization and growth suppression. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal inoculation suppressed the development of IG-removed plants, activated their pathogen-response defenses, and enhanced AMF vesicle colonization of their root systems. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi had no detrimental effects on wild-type or IG-enhanced plants. In conclusion, the IG production pathway appears to serve an important and previously unknown role in reducing AMF colonization in Arabidopsis and it is speculated they serve similar roles in other Brassicaceae.

A link to the paper can be found here:

Richard Primack and Alum Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie Receive ESA’s George Mercer Award

By Jen CorreiaApril 27th, 2020in Alumni News, Faculty News

Dr. Richard Primack and his former PhD student, Dr. Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie (GRS '17), received this year's Ecological Society of America's George Mercer Award for their paper “Phenological mismatch with trees reduces wildflower carbon budgets.” The Mercer Award recognizes an outstanding, recently-published, ecological research paper by young scientists.

Congratulations, Richard and Caitlin!

2020 Biology Department Undergraduate Research Award Winners

By Ben Bradbury-KosterApril 23rd, 2020in News, Student News
Rose Zhao, Jasmine Clevenger, and Madison Pacaro, recipients of the 2020 Biology Department Undergraduate Research Awards.
Rose Zhao, Jasmine Clevenger, and Madison Pacaro, recipients of the 2020 Biology Department Undergraduate Research Awards.


Congratulations to the recipients of the 2020 Biology Department Undergraduate Research Award. The Biology Research and Honors Committee gives this annual award to outstanding seniors of any major who are performing research in Biology Department labs. This year's winners were Rose Zhao (CAS, BMB), Jasmine Clevenger (ENG, BME), and Madison Pacaro (CAS, Biology).

Rose conducted research with Dr. Trevor Siggers on characterizing cell-specific transcriptional recruitomes using a high-throughput microarray platform. Jasmine performed research with Dr. Tim Otchy on a miniscope for multiplexed single-photon imaging of spectrally distinct fluorescent reporters in unrestrained small animals. Madison performed research with Dr. Pete Buston studying nocturnal parental care and the role of parents in hatching in the clown anemonefish.

Rose, Jasmine and Madison will present their research at a Department-wide seminar on April 27. Please join us in celebrating these students’ accomplishments and their hard work.

Remembering Professor Emeritus Thomas H. Kunz

By Jennifer ScottApril 17th, 2020in Faculty News, News

photo by Stephen Alvarez

The Department of Biology is saddened to announce the passing of Professor Emeritus Tom Kunz, our beloved “Bat Man.” After working as a high school biology teacher and football coach, Tom completed graduate studies at the University of Kansas. Tom joined the BU faculty in 1971, the same year he completed his PhD, and launched what would become an enormously productive and impactful academic career. One of the world’s leading experts on bats, Tom published hundreds of scientific papers and several books that spanned and integrated across physiology, behavior, ecology, evolution, conservation and technology. His boundless energy and enthusiasm for science spawned fruitful collaborations with colleagues at BU and around the world, and he was tireless in his efforts to increased public awareness and appreciation for the diversity of bats around the world.

Professor Kunz was also a leader, serving as Biology department chair from 1985-1990, co-founding the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador in the 1990’s, and founding and leading our Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology for many years. He was named a William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor in 2011, BU’s highest faculty honor.

At the age of 73 in 2011, Tom was still running laps around his more junior colleagues and was perhaps at his most productive, with seven PhD students and current grants from six different agencies. While he likely would have continued his research for years to come, his academic career was cut short by a tragic accident in 2011; his determination and positive attitude saw him through a long, tough recovery and allowed him to enjoy his friends and family, including five grandchildren, until his passing on April 13, 2020. Professor Kunz was a good friend and important mentor to many in the Biology Department and beyond, and he will be sorely missed.

Information about a memorial will be shared when available. If you would like to make a donation in Professor Kunz’ memory, please consider the Thomas H. Kunz Fund.

photo by Stephen Alvarez

Biology Graduate Students and Alumni Awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Zoey Werbin, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow
Zoey Werbin, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow

Caroline Fleming, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow
Caroline Fleming, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow

Marisol Dothard, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow
Marisol Dothard, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow

Chris Petty, National Science Foundation GRFP Honorable Mention
Chris Petty, National Science Foundation GRFP Honorable Mention

The awardees and honorable mentions for the 2020 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) competition were recently posted and several Biology & MCBB students were recognized. MCBB Ph.D. student Marisol Dothard, Biology Ph.D. student Zoey Werbin in the Bhatnagar lab, and M.S. Biology student Caroline Fleming in the Rotjan lab were all awarded with a 3-year graduate research fellowship as well as incoming Ph.D. student Corinne Vietorisz joining the Bhatnagar lab in Fall 2020. Jonathan Gewirtzman, the Lab Manager & Senior Research Technician for the Templer lab was also awarded the NSF GRFP.

Several students also received honorable mention: MCBB Ph.D student Abigail Descoteaux in the Bradham lab, Biology Ph.D. student Melissa Inge (also an alum of the Biology Department, CMG, '19) and incoming Biology Ph.D. students Jacob Jaskiel joining the Rotjan lab and Maria Ingersoll.

The NSF GRFP was also awarded to undergraduate Biology and BMB alumni currently pursuing their graduate degrees. The awardees were Billie Goolsby (BMB, ’19) now at Stanford University, Amber Wendler (Biology, ‘18) now at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and Caylon Yates (BMB ‘15) now at Pennsylvania State University. There were several alumni that received honorable mentions as well, including Melissa Inge (CMG, ’19) noted above, Halina Malinowski (ECB, ‘16), Chris Petty (BA in BMB and MA in Biotechnology, ’19) now studying at Harvard University, and Rieka Yu (SBB, ’18) now studying at University of Missouri.

Congratulations to the awardees and honorable mentions on your hard work and this well-deserved honor.

Announcing the Dr. Marion R. Kramer Scholarship Winners

By Jen CorreiaApril 1st, 2020in Grad Student News

The Department of Biology is excited to announce the three recipients of this year's Dr. Marion R. Kramer Scholarship: Tina Barbasch of the Buston Lab, Shawna Henry of the Ho Lab, and Diane Lebo of the McCall Lab.

Tina's research uses the clown anemonefish (Amphiprion percula) as a study system to answer broad questions in the field of animal behavior. Her dissertation focuses on understanding the environmental and social factors that influence individual variation in parenting strategies. She combines theoretical and empirical methods to study how and why parents provide care when it is costly. First, she conducted a 12 month laboratory experiment characterizing plasticity and personality in parental care. Next, to determine the consequences of this plasticity Tina led a field expedition to Papua New Guinea and tested how variation in environmental quality influences plasticity in reproduction and parental care. Expanding on this work, she asked how social interactions influence plastic behavioral strategies. Tina developed a game theory model of how power and punishment influence negotiations between parents over parental care, done in collaboration with Dr. Suzanne Alonzo at the University of California Santa Cruz. She then conducted an experimental test of this model in the field and she is currently writing up the results, which found support for her model. Together, the results of her research extend our understanding of how and why parents provide costly parental care and create a framework for studying parental care in other systems.


Shawna studies how preventing the interaction between Mint1, a neuronal adaptor protein, and amyloid precursor protein (APP) can be a potential therapeutic target to decrease Aβ production associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Her work employs both a non-binding Mint1 mutant as well as a competitive APP mimetic peptide in vitro to prevent Mint1-APP association and decrease total Aβ production. Future studies will move this peptide in vivo to ascertain if the APP mimetic peptide strategy can decrease Aβ accumulation in an AD mouse model.



Diane's research seeks to identify the network of processes that regulate cell corpse clearance by non-professional phagocytes using the Drosophila ovary. Her first project utilized high-throughput techniques to identify the translatome of the entire epithelial follicle cell layer as well as a subset of follicle cells specifically engaged in clearing dying cells. By comparing these two groups of genes, Diane hopes to identify processes that are differentially regulated during clearance. Her second project was performed as a collaboration with 8 other members of the McCall lab. Together, they screened hundreds of kinase lines during two different death modalities in an effort to identify phagocytic pathways used during apoptotic and non-apoptotic death. Together, the translatome and kinome give them a big-picture view of cell corpse clearance by non-professional phagocytes.

This award provides support for high-achieving female students majoring in Biology. The award was established in 2001 in honor of Dr. Marion Kramer who earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Boston University in 1963 and went on to a long and satisfying career in biology and medicine.

The Department of Biology gives this award to graduate students in the spring, and to undergraduate students in the fall. Read about our fall 2019 undergraduate recipients here.

Congratulations, Tina, Shawna, and Diane!

Hannah Aichelman Receives Dana Wright Fellowship

By Jen CorreiaMarch 26th, 2020in Grad Student News

Hannah Aichelman of the Davies Lab is this year's recipient of the Dana Wright Fellowship. Hannah's research interests are broadly focused on understanding resilience and responses to rapid climate change of the coral animal and its symbiotic algae.

Her current work uses physiological and molecular tools to answer these questions in both tropical and temperate marine ecosystems. In the tropics, she is working with corals from the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System to consider species and reef zone-specific responses through time for corals under temperature and ocean acidification stress. Further north in temperate waters, she is utilizing the facultatively symbiotic coral Oculina arbuscula to consider how the coral animal and its symbiont independently respond to temperature extremes both while in symbiosis and when the symbiont is outside of the coral. Better understanding stress responses of temperate corals, like O. arbuscula, will hopefully provide key insights into understanding how tropical coral symbioses will be affected by climate change.

This fellowship was established in memory of Dana Wright (CAS ’00), an alum of the BU Marine Program. After completing her studies, Wright went on to work in research in right whale acoustics at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod.

Congratulations, Hannah!

Isabella Muratore Receives Brenton R. Lutz Award

By Jen CorreiaMarch 23rd, 2020in Grad Student News


Isabella Muratore of the Traniello and Mullen Labs is the recipient of this year's Brenton R. Lutz Award. Isabella's research focuses on the fungus-growing ant Atta cephalotes, which exhibits an extraordinary worker polymorphism of body size-related task specialists, or subcastes. Social role variation that underpins the agricultural habits of this species correlates with brain size and structure. To understand the relationship between brain differentiation and worker specialization, Isabella has identified genes differentially expressed among brains from A. cephalotes subcastes. She has also quantified task performance, correlating it with brain size and allometric variation among functionally specialized brain regions. Focusing on genes that she found were differentially expressed among A. cephalotes subcaste brains, she will look for signatures of positive selection and copy number variation and will compare them to orthologous sequences and regulatory regions of less socially complex relative species.

This award provides support for PhD candidates conducting research in neurobiology or neuroscience and have made significant contributions to their field. Brenton R. Lutz was the first person to receive an MD/PhD at Boston University, receiving his Ph. in 1916. He later became a Professor and Chairman of BU’s Department of Biology. Dr. Lutz also gave the first University Lecture at BU on December 11, 1950 “The Living Blood Vessels.”

Congratulations, Isabella!

Margaret O’Connor Receives Charles Terner Award

By Jen CorreiaMarch 18th, 2020in Grad Student News


Margaret O'Connor, MCBB PhD candidate of the Man Lab, is this year's recipient of the Charles Terner Award. Margaret is investigating the X-linked protein NEXMIF, which is associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). She uses a transgenic mouse model to study the role NEXMIF plays in brain development, specifically neuronal growth and dendritic spine development. There are a number of human patients with NEXMIF dependent ASD. Her research currently focuses on the unique situation of female heterozygotes which mosaically express NEXMIF yet still develop ASD.

This award provides support for a CM or MCBB PhD candidate who has made significant contributions to their field. Charles Terner was a Professor of Biology at Boston University for over 20 years before he retired in 1985. Dr. Terner specialized in biochemistry and focused his research on the metabolic properties of male reproductive cells. The award was established in his memory after he passed away in 1998.

Congratulations, Margaret!