2012-2013 News

John McCutcheon - Cell Magazine

cover of cell magazineThe work of John McCutcheon and collaborators is on the cover of the prestigious journal Cell.  Their article "Horizontal Gene Transfer from Diverse Bacteria to an Insect Genome Enables a Tripartite Nested Mealybug Symbiosis"  tells the fascinating story of how a bacterium living in a host mealybug has evolved to shed many  genes and so arrive at one of the smallest genomes among all organisms.  Detailed study of the host mealybug also shows that the insect genome has acquired at least 22 genes from other kinds of bacteria through a process called horizontal gene transfer.  This work uncovers some of the mechanisms used by bacteria and their animal hosts which enable these incredibly interdependent and integrated interactions.

Where Are they Now

Nora holding a falconNora Carlson (right) finished her undergraduate studies at UM in December 2012, completing an Honors Thesis with Erick Greene, entitled “How Red-breasted Nuthatches Communicate about Danger.” She has just been admitted into the PhD graduate program at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland, which has one of the strongest programs in the world in bioacoustics and behavioral ecology. Congratulations Nora!

Beth Roskilly, a biology graduate of UM in 2011, has received a Fulbright award to conduct research in Chile.

Eric Keeling, recent PhD graduate from Ecology and Organismal Biology, has started a tenure-track position at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Mike Chessin - Peacemaker

Mike Chessin, retired professor of DBS with a specialty in plant physiology, is 2013’s Peacemaker award from the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center. Dr. Chessin’s academic contributions are many; including important work on plant alarm signals made in response to attack, but this award is given for his many contributions of time, effort, and leadership for peace. These include protests and writings against nuclear weapons and for protection of the environment. Dr. Chessin still visits the department for seminars and just to say hello. Please join us in congratulating Mike for this singular recognition of a lifetime of good works.

Erin McCullough

Erin McCullough, current DBS graduate student working with Professor Doug Emlen, has recently had her work cited in two prestigious news outlets. The British Broadcasting Service’ Nature News featured her work on March 13, 2013, focusing on her unexpected result that the extravagant horns of at least one species of rhinoceros beetle (see Emlen’s Science cover elsewhere in the DBS news) do not appear to have important energetic costs – they do not slow down flight and increase drag by only a few percent. The American Scientist March-April 2013 issue describes Erin’s work in the ‘Science Observer’ feature, highlighting her novel result that the cost of having ‘too large’ a horn may be its vulnerability to being broken. Thus, mechanical constraints, rather than energetic ones, may limit how large sexually-selected weapons can become.

Genetics and Evolution

The Montana University System Board of Regents approved the addition of a new option in biology: Genetics and Evolution. The approval of this option reflects a decade-long effort to increase the strength of DBS in evolutionary science, including the hires of six faculty members specializing in evolutionary genetics. The G&E option integrates two new courses: 1) General Genetics, providing a synthesis of mechanisms of genetic change from the molecular level on up, and 2) Genomics, an introduction to the study of how evolution shapes the entire set of interacting genes that ultimately determine an individual’s form and function.

Mammals of Montana

Mammals of Montana ImageKerry Foresman's newly published book, Mammals of Montana, has been recognized as a 2012 Montana Book Award Honor Book. Past Winners have included Nathaniel Philbrick, Deidre McNamer, and David Quammen. The Mammals of Montana has been adopted and purchased by all wildlife agencies in the state (USFWS,FS,MFWP,BLM) for their biologists as well as K-12 schools across the state.