Study Reveals a New Trick in a Microscopic Arms Race

Image from JoVE Science Education Database.

C. elegans, a nematode (roundworm) that lives in soil, feeds on bacteria that grow on decaying organic matter. But one genus of bacteria, Streptomyces, fights back against these nematode predators with chemical toxins known as nematicides. Indeed avermectin, a nematicide produced by Streptomyces avermitilis discovered in 1978, is such a valuable drug in the treatment of parasitic worms in humans, that its discoverers were awarded a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2015.

Now a new study, published in the journal eLife, reveals how nematodes escape when they enter into nematicide-containing soil: they sense dodecanoic acid, a tell-tale sign that the Streptomyces bacteria are nearby. The study, involving a multidisciplinary collaboration between SJSU and UCSF, has found that C. elegans detects the Streptomyces-produced dodecanoic acid trail via a specific chemosensory receptor expressed in sensory neurons in the head and tail, and hastens a retreat from the area before succumbing to the nematocides.

The scientific team making this discovery was an exemplar of multidisciplinary research including students and faculty researchers from six departments at two universities. The team was led by Profs. Miri VanHoven (Biological Sciences) and Laura Miller Conrad (Chemistry) and included Profs. Daryl Eggers (Chemistry), Martina Bremer (Mathematics and Statistics), and Sami Khuri (Computer Science) all from SJSU and Prof. Noelle L’Etoile (Cell and Tissue Biology)  and Dr. Colleen O’Loughlin (Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences) from UCSF.

Professor Pesek Wins National Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution

Professor Joseph Pesek

The American Chemical Society has recognized Professor Joseph Pesek’s substantial and impactful research contributions with the ACS Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution sponsored by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement. The award honors “a chemistry faculty member whose research in an undergraduate setting has achieved wide recognition and contributed significantly to chemistry and to the professional development of undergraduate students.”

Prof. Pesek’s research in the area of separations science as applied to metabolomics and proteomics has been highly influential leading both to commercial products and to an amazingly prolific academic record with over 230 peer reviewed publications and over 250 seminars, guest lectures, and presentations. During his career at SJSU, Prof. Pesek has mentored over 100 undergraduate research students and 100 Master’s students.

SJSU Geology Graduate Discovers “Smoking Gun” in Largest Mass Extinction in the History of Earth

Jose Jacome/EPA

About 252 million years ago the vast majority of life on Earth went extinct. This mass extinction event, known as the “Great Dying”, led to the demise of 90% of ocean life and 75% of life inhabiting land on the planet. Volcanic activity has long been suspected as the culprit, but new research published in Nature Communications by SJSU graduate Seth Burgess (M.S. 2006, now at the U.S. Geological Survey after a Ph.D. at M.I.T. and a Mendenhall postdoctoral fellowship at USGS), has provided the firm link showing how it happened. A massive volcano in what is now Siberia injected magma into a huge limestone and coal basin leading to an enormous release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The result was a major warming of the planet and acidification of the oceans, extinguishing much of the life on Earth. Articles in The NY Times, and The Guardian draw parallels between the new understanding of the Great Dying and the current climate change underway due to human-made carbon dioxide increases in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren Visits Duncan Hall Research Laboratories

Natanya Villegas, a research student in Prof. Wilkinson’s laboratory at SJSU and a student in the MARC program funded by NIH, describes results from a neurophysiology experiment probing proprioception to Rep. Zoe Lofgren.

On Wednesday Aug. 9, US Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren visited two research laboratories in the Biological Sciences Department to learn about the impact that federal research funding is having on our students’ education. Her visit, at the invitation of Prof. Katherine Wilkinson, brought her to Duncan Hall where she visited Prof. Wilkinson’s research laboratory studying the neurophysiology of proprioception and Prof. French’s research laboratory using a fruit fly model for studying the biochemistry and genetics of fetal alcohol syndrome. Rep. Lofgren also observed a teaching laboratory experiment developed by Profs. Ouverney, Wilkinson, and Grillo-Hill with technical help from Daniel Corral, Matt Voisinet and Marco Parent based on the new technique of optogenetics demonstrating that research activities can quickly reach the classroom to keep students abreast of cutting edge technology when the teaching faculty are also active researchers. Funding for the research on display was from several sources including the National Institutes of Health, especially the MARC and RISE programs.

The faculty and students thanked Rep. Lofgren for her leadership as a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee leading to continued funding for the NIH and NSF in the 2017 omnibus appropriations bill that passed Congress in May.

Studying Weather Created by Wild Fires

Fire front moving through instrumentation array.

Professor Craig Clements of our Meteorology and Climate Science department is the founder and director of the SJSU Fire Weather Research Laboratory, dedicated to understanding the science behind the local weather created by wild fires. Their work could lead to enhanced safety for both firefighters and residents near the fires.

Clements and his team have deployed their mobile laboratory to the Detwiler fire, currently raging just outside Yosemite National Park, to study the atmosphere above the fire. Read a news release from the National Science Foundation about this work. Clements team is also featured in a recent NBC News report about the fire.