Assistant Professor of Biology, Dr. Ana Fiszbein, was recently announced as a junior faculty fellow with the Hariri Institute for Computing. The Junior Faculty Fellows Program "recognizes outstanding early-career computing and data-driven researchers at BU and supports their continued development by connecting them with one another and with the Institute community at large through various mechanisms and activities." Ana was recognized for her research with investigates fundamental aspects of gene regulation using an interdisciplinary genomics-based approach. Congratulations Ana!
The Biology Department is extending a big thank you to our undergraduate interns: Sofia and Serena. Sofia and Serena have been helping us with our events and communications in the past year which was greatly appreciated during a very busy and unpredictable year. Sofia planned multiple events for us, including brand new ones that she organized like our Biology/BMB Club Fair, our Biology Specialization Fair, and our Career Exploration events. Serena wrote dozens of news articles for our website on recent developments in research and publications and created posts for our social media channels to help get news about opportunities and events to our students. Thank you Serena and Sofia for all of your hard work and support!
Sofia and Serena were hired through the CAS On-Campus Internship program which runs every fall and spring semester. More info can be found here.
Jenny Bhatnagar and BU Grad Students Zoey Werbin and Kathryn Atherton Publish Paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution
Dr. Jenny Bhatnagar, PhD candidate in Biology Zoey Werbin, and Bioinformatics grad student Kathryn Atherton recently published a paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution titled, "Soil microbiome predictability increases with spatial and taxonomic scale". BU alum, Colin Averill (CAS '08) and Michael Dietze, Professor Earth & Environtment at BU were also authors on the paper. The goal of the paper was to "develop predictive models of bacterial and fungal community composition in soil". In their work, these researchers found that soil microbe predictability increased with the size of the land area being surveyed and predictions were more accurate when based on symbiotic relationships that microbes have with local plant species.
PhD student Jason Samaroo of the Larkin Lab was recently selected for a project with The Poetry of Science, an initiative directed by the Cambridge Arts Council in which poets and scientists of color from the Cambridge area collaborate to create poetry for a public art installation centered around science, poetry, and racial social justice. Through this collaboration with the Poetry of Science, Jason is hoping to further understanding of the relationship between life and art, analogous to the perspectives of science and poetry.
The project offers scientists the opportunity to speak about their work in new and creative forms of writing, and allows poets and scientists to bridge the gap between the sciences and humanities while also strengthening links between distinct communities of color. A local photographer will also create portraits of the scientists in their field of study.
The poems will be presented at the Boston Lit Crawl on June 10th at the Starlight Space in Central Square, Cambridge and will also be published in a special edition of Spry Literary Journal. Both the poems and portraits will be printed and publicly installed at local businesses in the Cambridge area later this summer. Further information about this project can be found on The Poetry of Science website.
Jason conducts research on the biophysical properties of microbial communities. Microbes encounter many different environments: the soil, ocean, animal intestines, etc. To thrive in these environments, they must employ biological and physical strategies to address self-organization—more specifically, what cell-to-cell or cell-to-environment information is necessary for successful formation of microbial communities. A clear understanding of how the emergent patterns, intrinsic to life, originate from cells would show us how living things have spread across the whole planet.
Bacterial cells can differentiate into many fates, much like the cells in our bodies. For example, they can become motile and move dynamically, or matrix producing, and aid in surface adhesion. Jason aims to investigate the role that physical interactions between cells, and gene regulation within cells, play in the emergence of colony-level behaviors that make bacteria successful in every habitat on earth.
Bacterial communities that stick to surfaces such as plant roots and medical devices are called biofilms. Once a group of cells adheres together to form a multicellular biofilm, it becomes a living material in which forces can be transmitted to shape colonies and alter cellular states. Using the soil bacterium Bacillus subtilis as a model, Jason seeks to find how localized forces create emergent patterns that give biofilms new strategies to thrive in harsh environments. In this way, a school of thought is formed in which biofilm formation can be thought of like the development of an organism: as cells grow, stick together and unstick, local forces create movements and three-dimensional structures that become anatomy.
Professors Templer, Gilmore, and Bradham Receive University Awards for their Work in the 2020-2021 Academic Year
Three Biology faculty, Pam Templer, Tom Gilmore, and Cyndi Bradham received awards from Boston University for their work during the 2020-2021 academic year. Congratulations to Pam, Tom, and Cyndi on this achievement.
At BU's 148th Commencment on May 16, Dr. Pam Templer was awarded the Provost's Scholar Teacher of the Year Award. The Provost’s Scholar-Teacher of the Year Award recognizes outstanding scholars who excel as teachers inside and outside the classroom and who contribute to the art and science of teaching and learning. From the Office of the Provost:
"Dr. Pamela Templar’s thoughtful integration of original research into her teaching practices embodies the spirit of a scholar-teacher. In the classroom, Dr. Templer uses findings from her own climate and pollution studies to teach students how to analyze data and examine the impact of human activity on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
A frequent presenter at national and international conferences, she is a Fellow and Vice-President for Education in the Ecological Society of America, and her research group has published nearly 90 articles in premier scholarly journals. This convergence of excellence in research and teaching is at the core of what the Provost’s Scholar-Teacher Award celebrates."
On May 5, Dr. Tom Gilmore was awarded the 2021 Dean's Award for Excellence in Graduate Education and Dr. Cyndi Bradham was awarded a Templeton Award for Excellent in Student Advising. From his nominators:
"Thirty years ago, Thomas started the Biology Department’s weekly graduate-student seminar series, which remains an integral part of the curriculum for the Cell & Molecular and Molecular and Cellular Biology and Biochemistry (MCBB) graduate programs. Since 2019, he has directed the MCBB graduate program, an umbrella program incorporating faculty from several BU departments, and he has made changes to the admission process that have both enhanced the experience for students and elevated the program’s quality."
And from her nominators:
"Cynthia’s nominators noted she saw her role as much more than just helping students to choose classes and was especially helpful with academic skills. According to one of her nominators, 'When I first transferred to Boston University I was lost. I didn’t know how to study or how to properly take any test. After doing bad on my first test, Professor Bradham reached out to me and invited me other office hours. She not only helped me with the class but with my testing anxiety and overall mental health.'"
Congratulations to Pam, Tom, and Cyndi for these well-deserved awards and thank you all for your hard work!
The awardees and honorable mentions for the 2021 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) competition were recently posted and one Biology graduate student and one Biology undergraduate alum were among the students funded. Our current grad student winner is Maria Ingersoll. Maria is studying the
molecular basis of the stress and immune responses in cnidaria (coral and anemones). She is completing her PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology in the labs of Tom Gilmore and Sarah Davies, where she is linking single-molecule studies of the transcription factor NF-kB to large-scale, environmentally relevant datasets on coral bleaching. According to Maria, in lab she mostly spends her time playing with sea anemone larvae.
Our alum winner is Cheta Siletti (CAS '16) who is pursuing her graduate studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Also receiving an Honorable Mention for her submission is Kathryn Atherton, a graduate student in BU's Bioinformatics program.
Congratulations to the awardees and honorable mentions on your hard work and this well-deserved honor.
Dr. Anthony Capobianco, who got his PhD with Tom Gilmore in Biology, is currently a Professor at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of Miami, and is President of the Biotech Company StemSynergy Therapeutics. His research on new therapeutics directed against cancer stem cells, especially for the treatment of esophogeal and certain breast cancers, was recently featured in Business Wire and was published in Cancer Research.
Dr. Angela Ho and Christina Gallo (PhD in Pharmacology student and member of the Ho/Beffert lab) recently received grants from the National Institute on Aging the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Ho received a R21 grant from NIA/NIH. The project’s goal is to determine the specificity of the cell-permeable APP mimetic peptide to disrupt the APP-Mint interaction and reduce Ab accumulation in Alzheimer’s disease mouse models. This work is based on a recent publication from a collaboration with Dr. Kristian Stromgaard’s laboratory at University of Copenhagen where co-first author, Shawna Henry (PhD in Biology, Cell & Molecular student and member of the Ho/Beffert lab) showed that targeting the APP-Mint2 interaction with a peptide-based inhibitor reduces amyloid formation in neuronal in vitro model of Alzheimer’s disease (Bartling CRO, Jensen TMT, Henry SM et al., 2021, Journal of the American Chemical Society).
Christina Gallo received a F31 NRSA award from NIA/NIH to study whether alternative splicing of apoE receptor, apoER2 is altered in the aging and Alzheimer’s disease brains and to uncover modifiers of apoER2 splicing events. Congratulations to Christina and Angela!
The Biology Department recognized the hard work and innovation of all of our Learning Assistants (LAs) by presenting “The Outstanding Learning Assistant Award” to a group of Biology LAs for the spring 2021 semester. These students presented a poster that was judged by the Biology Honors Committee to best outline procedures that will improve teaching in our undergraduate courses. Financial support for this award is made possible by Professor Emerita Elizabeth Godrick.
Kaitlin Farias, Tara O'Brien, Careena Uppaluri, and Rebecca Yu received the top award for Biology LAs for their presentation on the topic of shifting the BI 108 lab on epidemiology from Simutext to a Case Study Lab. Here is the abstract from the group's presentation:
BI108 has utilized simutext in it’s curriculum for years which is a teaching platform that aims to be an interactive online learning experience for students. When the lab sections were in person, students would work individually or with a group, to complete these online simutext labs. There are currently 3 simutext labs integrated into the 2020-2021 academic school year based on cellular respiration, mitosis and meiosis, and epidemiology. These labs generally consist of a simulation section that teaches the topic with text, images, videos, and guiding questions. At the end of the simulation, there are a few graded questions that test the student’s knowledge on the topic. While Simutext is a great resource for students, it is not very interactive nor conducive to the lab environment. Simutext is designed to be an individual assignment, while one of the BI108 lab’s purposes is to teach and encourage teamwork. Simutext is more fitting as an assignment outside of the lab, or as something students can use as a study aide for the lecture portion of the course. Simutext is a virtual lab/lecture, which is fitting for the LfA format, but it is not as fitting for in person students, and for when teaching resumes back to normal. Also, it costs around $50 per student on top of the materials students need to buy for the lab and lecture. BI108 lab is designed for students to apply the things they have learned in lecture, and Simutext does not provide those opportunities that an in person or interactive lab can. To ensure students get the most out of the BI108 lab on Epidemiology, we are proposing a shift from Simutext to a Case Study Lab. The lab will consist of real life examples that aim to highlight the importance of epidemiology through graded questions based on the synthesis and application of the information given. Basic information about the topic will be given to students in the pre-lab video, which is watched before students come to class, to help provide the background information necessary to understand the case study. Additional Powerpoint slides will also be presented by the TF or LA at the beginning of lab to ensure adequate background knowledge before attempting real-life synthesis and critical-thinking questions. Changing the final BI108 lab from a remote and non-interactive format to our proposed Case Study Lab would provide students with the opportunity to synthesize the information learned in lecture and exercise their practical knowledge in the lab setting. Teamwork is a central tenet of BI108, and the Case Study Lab format will encourage group members to work together rather than work individually. This opportunity for teamwork is the greatest benefit of switching from SimuText to the Case Study Lab. Students have already worked with their specially formulated teams since the beginning of the semester, and the Case Study Lab would be another opportunity to strengthen skills in teamwork such as conflict resolution, active listening, and creativity.
A close runner-up:
Anna Cavallino, Daphne De La Piedra, Thuy Hanley, Juliette Pluviose, and Joseph Yap were the runners up for their presentation on creating a flowchart for resources in BI 315 lab. Here is the abstract from the group's presentation:
BI315 lab is a fast-paced, content-filled course that inevitably results in expressions of confusion by students over how to navigate and succeed in the course. While there is a plethora of resources available to aid students in understanding and completing assignments, students often get lost in the sheer amount of literature and wonder where to start. As learning assistants, we gain valuable insight into the specific questions and concerns faced by students regarding specific activities and assignments, in addition to having faced similar points of confusion ourselves when having previously taken the course. Therefore, our solution is to create a flowchart that will guide students towards the most helpful resources and solutions depending on their questions. By creating a directory of tips and resources based on our own experience and student feedback, learning assistants can be more efficient when helping students. Rather than spending an extended amount of time individually directing students through the different resources, a student group can be set on the right path and utilize dialogic discourse to determine the correct resources. Previous research has shown that peer learning can effectively enhance students’ confidence and learning. We feel that the peer-created resources can also foster and enhance student learning beyond that of the established curriculum.
Congratulations to the award-winners and thanks to all the hardworking LAs who participated in the presentations. More information on the Learning Assistant Program can be found here.