David J. Anderson

  • LTREB: Evolutionary ecology of seabird reproductive life histories
    Awarded $450,000 for the period 2/15/14 to 1/31/19
    Source: National Science Foundation (NSF)

This study of the evolution of seabird reproductive life histories began in 1984 and has been supported by the NSF’s Long-Term Research in Environmental Biology (LTREB) program since 1992. As the study matured, the population of banded (i.e., recognizable) adults now includes large sample sizes of age groups from the youngest adults to the apparent maximum age, the late 20s. The current project focuses on aging in this long-lived species. The data indicate senescence both of reproductive ability and survival. Using foraging performance as the primary determinant of reproductive success or failure, the foraging biology of known-age adults will be studied with electronic trackers and loggers over the next five years. Aging will also be investigated using new quantitative genetic techniques based on the “animal model”, exploiting our comprehensive individual histories in our databases and the developing pedigree.

  • Life history evolution in Galapagos boobies
    Awarded $27,000 for the period 10/1/13 to 10/31/14
    Source: Galapagos Conservancy

This project continues a study of seabird reproductive life histories that began in 1984. Results on the Nazca booby (Sula granti) include novel insights into the evolution of clutch size, sibling competition, sex ratio, and mating system and the role of hormones in social behavior. As the study matured, the availability of known-aged birds increased dramatically, and it now focuses on aging in this long-lived species. It integrates three approaches: (1) electronic trackers and loggers to study foraging biology of known-age adults; (2) long-term monitoring of known-age individuals, including the very old; and (3) new quantitative genetic techniques exploiting the comprehensive individual histories in the databases and the developing pedigree.

  • Population size in blue-footed boobies: Evaluation of indications of population decline
    Awarded $32,853 for the period 4/1/12 to 12/31/13
    Source: Galapagos Conservancy

Blue-footed boobies are an iconic, well-studied Galápagos species, but we do not even begin to understand their population size and trends, dispersal biology, foraging characteristics, and sex ratio and, thus, cannot confirm whether they are declining due to reproductive failure. This 2-year project uses mark-resight techniques to estimate sex ratio, annual adult survival sizes, and the breeding and nonbreeding members of colonies throughout the archipelago. It monitors reproductive success in major colonies at 4-month intervals and uses bird-mounted GPS units and diet samples to evaluate dependence on sardines. Results will provide a baseline population size for quantitative comparison with future data and qualitative comparison with past data and elucidate the relationship of food distribution and abundance to the timing and location of breeding and the demographic processes needed to parameterize a population model. An Ecuadorian Master’s degree student will receive training and publish results with an expert consultant and the PI in peer-reviewed journals and in English and Spanish reports to sponsors, the Galápagos National Park Service, and the Charles Darwin Research Station.

  • LTREB: Evolutionary ecology of seabird reproductive life histories
    Awarded $90,000 for the period 2/1/13 to 1/31/14
    Source: NSF

Building on 19 years’ study of long-lived birds and the resulting database of individual bird histories, the project investigates newly discovered connections between breeding ecology and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation; the causes and consequences of male-bias hatchling and adult sex ratios, including unexpectedly high rates of extra-pair copulation; and aging and immune function in several thousand birds of known age.

  • LTREB: Evolutionary Ecology of Seabird Reproductive Life Histories, supplement
    Awarded $10,400 for the period 2/9/12 to 1/31/14
    Source: NSF

Dr. Katharina Foerster, University of Tubingen, will contribute her expertise in wild organism quantitative genetics to this long-term study of birds living in the Galapagos Islands to estimate additive genetic (co) variance for fitness traits in the Nazca booby and to examine both the genetic architecture for fitness traits in a long-lived bird and any genetic trade-offs constraining life history evolution. The supplement will allow them to produce a pedigree.

  • Dissertation Research: Genetic basis for maltreatment of young in a bird
    Awarded $14,974 for the period 7/1/11 to 6/30/13
    Source: NSF

The Nazca booby, a long-lived seabird, offers a unique opportunity to study the mechanisms of physical and sexual maltreatment by nonparents in nature. Nonbreeding adults show a directed and intense social interest in unrelated young; maltreatment is ubiquitous among both sexes, has no apparent adaptive value, and is easy to observe and manipulate in the open, barren breeding colony on Isla Española, Galápagos. This project investigates the following hypothesis: An interaction between early life experience and functional polymorphisms in the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTT), monamine oxidase A gene (MAOA), and dopamine receptor gene (DRD4) influence adult Nazca boobybehavior and suchn personality traits as shyness, aggression, and anxiety/neurosis. Nazca booby maltreatment behavior represents a rare, perhaps unique, wholly natural model for child abuse and the cycle of violence. The sexual aspect is of particular interest because it is the only identified animal model of pedophilia.

Co-PI J.K. Grace will work with Avian Biology undergraduate students to develop an interactive presentation addressing North Carolina Educational Standard 4.05 on innate, learned, and social animal behavior for biology classes at Parkland Magnet and Mt. Tabor high schools.

  • Diversification without obvious geographical barriers in blue-footed and Peruvian boobies
    Awarded $13,400 for the period 9/10/07 to 12/31/08
    Source: National Geographic Society

If reproductive barriers arise as a result of genetic drift or selection, new species may evolve by a process termed parapatric speciation, but demonstrating its occurrence is difficult, requiring evidence of inviable or infertile hybrids, a primary contact zone where two ecological regimes meet, and spatial variation of multiple traits. Blue-footed and Peruvian boobies breed along the western coast of South America and their ranges overlap where the Humboldt current meets the equatorial counter-current. The fact that they are recently diverged (~0.2 mya) sister species with ranges that abut at an ecotone suggests they may have originated paraptrically. This project analyzes mitochondrial DNA and microsatellite variation throughout their ranges to measure the extent to which they hybridize, whether the zone of contact is primary or secondary; and variation at multiple genes. This study will improve our understanding of diversification mechanisms in mobile organisms and aid management of the two species.

T. Michael Anderson

  • Fire, fear, and foraging: Understanding multitrophic interaction in a savanna foodweb
    Awarded $40,000 for the period 1/20/16 to 7/20/18
    Source: National Geographic Society

The Serengeti National Park contains one of the last intact and fully functioning grazing ecosystems in the world. This project quantifies how fire and monthly changes in plant phenology are related to the abundance and distribution of large herbivore and carnivore species across a grid of 225 camera traps. It uses predator playback experiments, controlled burns, and grazing exclosures across gradients of predation risk and plant productivity to test hypotheses about species interactions at various trophic levels.

  • Spatiotemporal dynamics of woody cover in East African savannas
    Awarded $305,261 for the period 9/1/15 to 2/28/19
    Source: NSF

Using advanced remote sensing, intensive fieldwork, and spatial modeling, the team will determine the dynamics and drivers of woody cover change over the past two decades in a model system, the Serengeti of east Africa. First, remote sensing will explore whether small-grained spatial distribution predicts larger scale distribution. Second, field data will identify local influences – soil moisture, grass biomass, fire intensity, and herbivory – on tree recruitment and woody cover change. Third, spatial analyses will address how tree neighborhoods influence tree recruitment dynamics. Last, a 15-year analysis will ask whether the dynamics of woody cover change across Serengeti has been abrupt or gradual.

  • Environmental monitoring of the Serengeti ecosystem
    Awarded $27,000 for the period 6/1/15 to 5/31/18
    Source: Grumeti Fund/University of Glasgow

The Serengeti ecosystem in northern Tanzania is an iconic protected area and one of the most treasured savanna habitats in the world. However, its massive size and patchwork management make monitoring difficult, and human encroachment, invasive species, altered hydrological patterns, and wildlife poaching threaten it. To rectify the lack of coordination in baseline measures of ecosystem processes, Wake Forest University joins with the University of Glasgow to establish an integrated ecological network. Wake Forest researchers will establish and lead collection of weather-station data, long-term vegetation monitoring, and camera trapping at sites distributed across the ecosystem. This effort will elucidate a prototypical tropical African savanna and pave the way to better stewardship.

  • Collaborative Research: Mechanisms of tree recruitment limitation across a Savanna moisture availability gradient
    Awarded $64,746 for the period 7/26/13 to 1/31/15
    Source: NSF

Savannas are ecosystems comprised of a continuous herbaceous understory dominated by grasses and a discontinuous overstory dominated by trees and shrubs. They are widely distributed, accounting for >20 percent of the Earth’s land surface and nearly half of Africa’s. They are home to most of the world’s livestock, wild herbivore populations, and a large fraction of the human population, yet ecologists know little about the natural conditions that create and maintain them. For example, they vary widely in terms of precipitation and temperature, and why some have only a few trees and others are densely wooded is not known. This project studies the success of seeds and seedling trees transplanted under a variety of conditions across a rainfall gradient spanning 200 km of native savanna in the Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania. The Serengeti is the ideal natural laboratory because it harbors all the factors that may influence germination and growth—fire, large herbivores, soil nutrients, water, and competition with grasses. In a unique fire manipulation experiment, 40 separate plots across the rainfall gradient will be experimentally burned or protected to learn whether interactions with other factors, such as grazing herbivores, soil moisture, and grass competition, promote or depress tree seed germination, survival, and growth.

  • Foraging ecology and habitat selection of re-introduced black rhinoceros in Serengeti National Park
    Awarded $24,200 for the period 5/1/12 to 8/31/13
    Source: National Geographic Society

Illegal poaching of black rhinos has caused catastrophic population declines, placing them on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list of critically endangered species. Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, a world heritage site and one of the most renowned conservation areas in Africa, is no exception: poaching in the late 1970s drove the population from over 400 to 10. Government and conservation organizations initiated the Serengeti Rhino Repatriation Project to release black rhinos into SNP without knowing a great deal about their habitat needs, forage availability, or the consequences of the park’s frequent burning policy on forage quality. This study will be the first to use precision mapping and detailed nutrient analysis to reconstruct the forage selectivity of Serengeti rhinos. It will determine the influence of the frequency of recent and historic fires and generate specific fire management recommendations.

Miriam Ashley-Ross
From Water to Land: Salamanders as a Model for Understanding the Evolution of Tetrapod Locomotion 
Awarded $65,518 for the period 7/1/05 to 6/30/06
Source: NSF

This study is the first to quantify how salamanders use their limbs for underwater and transitional locomotion, yielding insight into neural control and the evolution of vertebrate gait patterns. It supports the training of one graduate student; enables two undergraduate students to present their research results at annual scientific meetings; and uses a major piece of equipment, the flow tank, for teaching and research. Results have broad application in increasing our understanding of motor control, with potential clinical benefits.

William E. Conner

  • Bats jamming bats: A novel form of intraspecific competition
    Awarded $400,000 for the period 7/1/13 to 6/30/14
    Source: NSF

Dr. Conner’s laboratory has shown that different species of tiger moths use trains of high-frequency clicks to (1) advertise the noxious chemicals that some sequester from their host plants (Hristov & Connor, 2005a, 2005b); (2) mimic the clicks of toxic relatives (Barber & Conner, 2007; Barber et al., 2009); (3) startle bats for short periods of time (Corcoran et al., 2011); and (4) jam their sonar (Corcoran et al., 2009, 2010, 2011). In field studies in southeastern Arizona, another kind of acoustic signal was detected: a social call produced by hunting Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brazlliensis). The project will test the hypothesis that this call acts as a jamming signal against conspecifics competing for prey, although such use has never been documented. The Conner laboratory will give a variety of bio-acoustic presentations and assist in developing interactive exhibits at SciWorks.

  • Student Ambassador Program
    Awarded $2,500 for the period 9/1/11 to 6/30/12
    Source: National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA)

As Wake Forest NCIIA student ambassador, Lucy Lan will work to create networks and events that inspire university entrepreneurs, encourage them to be involved with NCIIA programs and activities, and support them as they create innovation and inventions that have a social benefit.

  • Student Ambassador to the National Collegiate Innovators Alliance
    Awarded $6,000 for the period 9/1/10 to 6/30/11
    Source: NCIIA

Mr. William Oelsner will serve as the university’s NCIIA Student Ambassador, creating networks and events to encourage campus entrepreneurs to become involved in NCIIA programs and activities and to support their development of socially beneficial innovations.

  • Acoustic Aposematism, Mimicry, and Sonar Jamming in the Bat-Moth Arms Race
    Awarded $100,000 for the period 4/17/12 to 5/31/13
    Source: NSF

The interactions of insectivorous bats and their prey can be seen as an evolutionary arms race. First, bats evolved sophisticated, high-frequency sonar that lets them echolocate and track flying insects. Many nocturnal insects, including moths, then evolved sonar-detecting devices that alert them to the echolocation cries of approaching bats. Tiger moths (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae) can even answer bats with a series of intense ultrasonic clicks produced by paired thoracic structures called tymbals. Dr. Conner’s research supports 3 functions for these clicks: warning, mimicry, and sonar jamming.

After over 8 years of laboratory experimentation, new field studies in North Carolina and southeastern Arizona will evaluate the efficacy of acoustic aposematism, mimicry, and sonar jamming in nature. First, high-speed infrared thermal imaging, 3D image analysis, and voice-recognition software will be used to identify both participants. Second, molecular probes based on species-specific nucleotide sequences will be used to quantify each moth species in the guano pellets of naturally foraging bats. Results will be compared to field counts, and underrepresented moth species will be considered protected against echolocating bats. The project will educate graduate students, undergraduates, and grade-school children in partnership with SciWorks, a science center and environmental park visited by over 30,000 K-12 students per year.

  • Sound Strategies: Acoustic Mimicry and Jamming in the Bat-Moth Arms Race
    Awarded $185,223 for the period 7/01/06 to 6/30/09
    Source: NSF

Insectivorous bats with ultrasonic sonar exert enormous selective pressure on nocturnal insects. In response, insects have evolved the ability to hear bat cries, to evade their hunting maneuvers, and tiger moths (Arctiidae) utter an ultrasonic reply. Using a novel learning approach, we have shown that the bats only respond to the sounds of arctiids when they are paired with defensive chemistry. The sounds are a warning to the bats that the moth is unpalatable – an aposematic signal.

Although the sounds of arctiids have so far been shown to have this single function, they are extremely diverse in structure. Using free-flying naïve red bats and tethered tiger moths, this project explores the other evolutionary forces may contribute to this diversity. It asks whether some palatable tiger moth species mimic the sounds of unpalatable species to gain an advantage and whether some species have modified their warning signals in a way that allows them to “jam” the echolocation sonar system of the bat and mask their presence.

A team of graduate and undergraduate students will study these questions in the Wake Forest Bat Facility directed by Professor Conner. The results will be shared with children through an educational website devoted to bats and moths. Wake Forest undergraduates will also teach in the summer ecology camp at Archbold Biological Station in Lake Placid, FL.

James F. Curran

  • AREA: Translational roles of the ribosomal E site
    Awarded $204,951 for the period 7/1/09 to 6/30/12
    Source: National Institutes of Health (NIH)

The accuracy of ribosomal protein synthesis is critical to the health of all cells. Evidence clearly shows that ribosomes contain an exit, or E site, for de-acylated tRNA and that tRNA passes through it after completing its translational role. Theory suggests that this site is important for maintaining the translational reading frame and ensuring accurate aminoacyl-tRNA selection at the ribosomal A site. Dr. Curran’s laboratory has already provided strong evidence that E site tRNA helps to hold the reading frame. This project will determine whether E site tRNA affects aminoacyl-tRNA selection at the A site, while contributing to the biomedical research training of promising graduate and undergraduate students.

  • AREA: Does the Ribosomal E Site Help Hold the Reading Frame?
    Awarded $209,205 for the period 7/1/06 to 6/30/09
    Source: NIH

Maintaining the translational reading frame is a fundament feature of protein synthesis. Ribosomes contain an exit, or E, site for deacylated tRNA, which passes through after completing its translational role. Except for transient interactions with the exiting tRNA, however, no clear function has been identified for the E site. Recent evidence suggests the hypothesis that deacylated tRNA in the ribosomal E site helps to prevent frameshifting. This project will test it by determining whether message nucleotides and tRNA in the E site are associated with increased or decreased frameshifting at the RF2 programmed frameshift site. Preliminary work shows that the E site triplet is important, although the mechanism is not yet clear. The project will also determine whether the E site holds tRNA until an aminoacl-tRNA is selected at the A site. If so, then the E site tRNA might have an important functional role during translation of the A site. If not, then it may have a transient role, possibly in message translocation. From 3-6 undergraduate students and 2-3 MS-level graduate students will perform much of the work.

  • with Rebecca Alexander, Chemistry, and WSSU
    Research Infrastructure in Minority Institution Grant (RIMI)
    Awarded $15,595 for the period 9/30/06 to 9/29/07
    Source: NIH/Winston-Salem State University
Bacteria significantly overproduce a protein called CsdA when the environmental temperature drops. CsdA may work to unwind RNA, because at low temperatures, a possible increase in RNA secondary structure would inhibit mRNA translation at the ribosome. In collaboration with PI Pamela Jones, a microbiologist at Winston-Salem State University, Dr. Curran will assay CsdA mutations in vivo, looking for translation defects and growth phenotypes, while Dr. Alexander will purify CsdA mutants and assay the effect on RNA binding and unwinding in vitro, to learn what protein motifs in CsdA contribute to the observed functions.

Susan Fahrbach

  • Allotropic actions on insulin in honey bees
    Awarded $240,000 for the period 4/18/14 to 8/31/16
    Source: NSF

This project examines the role of insulin-like peptides and insulin signaling pathways in regulating honey bee reproduction. The expression of genes encoding insulin-like peptides and their receptors will be compared in worker and queen honey bees by quantifying RNA transcripts in the ovaries, fat, and brain. These studies will clarify how conserved endocrine pathways integrated by the brain can be exploited to generate distinct within-species reproductive and behavioral phenotypes, leading to new tools for assessing the health of honey bee queens. A second focus is the health of managed and feral populations of this critical pollinator species. A team of undergraduate researchers will develop hypotheses about the impact of diet on the proliferation of intestinal stem cells in the bees’ midgut and test them using antibody-based assays for mitosis. These lab-based studies have only minimal safety risk and do not require extensive training in beekeeping.

  • Role of Nuclear Receptors in Neural Plasticity
    Awarded $140,000 for the period 1/18/12 to 3/31/13
    Source: NSF

A critical feature of social organization in honey bee colonies is age-based division of labor among workers. For the first 2-3 weeks of adult life, they tend the queen, rear larval brood, and maintain hive architecture, while in their final 1-3 weeks, they forage outside the hive. Foragers show predictable changes in brain volume, including growth of the dendrites of the intrinsic neurons (Kenyon cells) of the mushroom bodies, the primary arthropod brain structure associated with learning and memory. This project aims to clarify why dendritic growth is more prominent during some behavioral development stages than others and why receptors for developmental hormones are expressed so abundantly in the adult insect brain. Long-term, it will enable researchers to control mushroom body growth in vivo as an essential tool for addressing its adaptive function. Broader impacts include support of a doctoral student and a new Bioinformatics for Beginners seminar course, which the co-PIs will teach at Wake Forest University each year of the award. Free access to its teaching materials will be provided via a bilingual (English/Spanish) website.

  • Young Investigators Symposium at the Steroid Workshop
    Awarded $13,050 for the period 4/1/08 to 3/31/09
    Source: NSF

Funding supports the Young Investigator Symposium of the annual Workshop on Steroid Hormones and Brain Function for two years. Five competitively chosen senior graduate students and postdoctoral fellows present and discuss their research findings. Over the past 13 years, it has consistently attracted outstanding applicants, including women and minorities. The workshop, now in its 17th year, provides an informal setting in which scientists using a wide array of strategies and technologies can discuss their current research in neuro-endocrinology. Its intentionally limited size encourages collaborative and cross-disciplinary interaction among junior and senior investigators. Past sessions have dealt with topics ranging from fetal development to aging, novel concepts of steroid receptor activation, the role of steroid receptor co-activators, and the role of orphan receptors in brain and behavior. The neural basis of gender differences in behavioral responses across vertebrate classes is an emphasis, but contributions from invertebrate model systems are welcome, so participants can place their work in the broadest possible phylogenetic context. Information related to the workshop and the Young Investigator Symposium is broadly disseminated

  • FIBR: BeeSpace – An interactive Environment for Analyzing Nature and Nurture in Societal Roles
    Awarded $114,183 for the period 9/1/04 to 8/31/08
    Source: NSF/University of Illinois

The project focuses on the honey bee to elucidate the relationship between genes and animal social life on an unprecedented whole-genome scale. Its interactive environment integrates molecular description with information from ecology, evolution, behavioral science, and physiology. All the roles of a worker honey bee within her society will be functionally analyzed by combining microarray analysis, large-scale brain in situ hybridization, and a novel approach to informatics that links all sources from current genomic databases to the existing scientific and natural history literatures on honey bees. The resulting database will localize the expression of many bee genes to precise regions of the brain for all major social roles. A novel software environment, called BeeSpace, enables users to navigate interactively across sources for hypothesis development and testing. The prototype will be tested in 15 laboratories studying honey bees and related organisms and provide research experiences at the graduate, undergraduate, high school, and middle school levels, with training and minority outreach.

  • Muscarinic regulation of plasticity in the brain
    Awarded $68,150 for the period 3/31/09 to 3/31/10
    Source: NIH/University of Illinois

This project examines how experience translates into changes in brain structure that enhance adult performance. It is based on the surprising demonstration that treating foraging honey bees with a muscarinic agonist, pilocarpine, induces growth of the mushroom bodies, the insect brain center for learning and memory, resulting in a brain plasticity identical to that produced by a week of foraging. The honey bee provides a superb model system for these studies because appropriate tools, such as the sequenced genome, are available and the effects of experience on brain structure are better understood than in any other insect. Nervous system function at the molecular level is highly conserved across the animal kingdom; thus, experiments that can be efficiently performed using the simpler insect system are likely to reveal how learning changes the brain in all animals, including humans. Such understanding is the first step in developing therapies to improve human learning after brain damage or with the decline that accompanies aging.

  • Role of Orphan Nuclear Hormone Receptors in the Adult Honey Bee Brain
    Awarded $103,688 for the period 9/1/05 to 8/31/06
    Source: NSF

The honey bee brain serves as a model for neuronal plasticity coupled with behavioral development; in other words, how the brain changes with age. In honey bee colonies, a critical feature of social organization is age-based division of labor among workers. They tend the queen, rear larval brood, and maintain the physical structure of the hive for the first 2 to 3 weeks of adult life then switch to foraging outside the hive for their final 1 to 3 weeks, and studies show predictable changes in foragers’ brain structure, including the expansion of the neuropil of the mushroom bodies, the primary arthropod brain region associated with learning and memory with some similarities to the vertebrate hippocampus. More specifically, Golgi analyses have shown that the brain volume changes associated with foraging reflect growth of Kenyon cell dendrites. This project seeks to identify the mechanisms that permit Kenyon cells in the adult bee brain to grow in response to changes in experience. Members of the nuclear hormone receptor (NHR) superfamily are candidate regulators of neuronal structure. Analysis of a Bee Brain EST Database revealed that 6 homologs of Drosophilia melanogaster NHRs are expressed in the adult bee brain. Quantitative real-time PCR, in situ hybridization, and manipulation of gene expression in primary cultures of Kenyon cells will be used to test two hypotheses:
1. Neuronal populations showing dendritic growth during behavioral development in the adult honey bee will be characterized by the expression of NHRs; and
2. Process outgrowth with require signaling though NHR-activated pathways.

These studies will contribute new knowledge of the mechanisms of structural plasticity in the adult nervous system and the insect members of the NHR superfamily. Participating graduate and undergraduate students will learn to use several new bioinformatics tools to exploit the Honey Bee Genome Project.

  • Functional Genomics of Chronobiological Plasticity in the Honey Bee
    Awarded $9,775 for the period 9/1/07 to 8/31/08
    Source: United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF)

The project integrates a genomic approach to study complex behavior: the molecular biology of the honey bee circadian clock and socially mediated chronobiological plasticity. Bioinformatic and phylogenetic analyses will identify bee homologs for all pivotal clock genes; and immunocytochemistry and in situ hybridization will be used to determine the spatial expression of clock genes under varying light conditions. Hypotheses include:
1) all clock genes are expressed in pacemaker cells;
2) expression of most or all of these genes will oscillate with circadian rhythm;
3) their phase will shift after alterations in photoperiod; and
4) oscillations in arrhythmic nurses will be smaller than in rhythmic foragers.

Preliminary results suggest that in some ways, the honey bee clock more resembles that of the mouse than the fly. Taking into account the structural and functional conservation of the circadian clock, findings may provide new insights into circadian plasticity in general.

A. Daniel Johnson

  • Project SEARCH Academy 2015
    Awarded $4,000 for the period 5/15/15 to 6/19/15
    Source: Northwest AHEC

Now in its 16th year and its 7th year of partnership with WFU, Project SEARCH Academy brings ~24 rising 8th and 9th graders from western North Carolina to WFU for one week in the summer. They spend their mornings investigating biological and chemical questions using the same active-inquiry methods as WFU students. In the afternoons, they tour research labs, take field trips, and talk with career counselors about planning a route to college and beyond. The program increases student and parent engagement in career planning, particularly in the high-demand biotechnology and healthcare fields.

  • Project SEARCH
    Awarded $3,790 for the period 4/8/14 to 6/28/14
    Source: North Carolina Northwest Area Health Education Center (NW AHEC)

Project SEARCH Academy is a one-week residential camp that targets promising rising 8th-graders across 17 North Carolina counties. At WFU, they participate in inquiry-based lab activities, visit research labs and healthcare facilities, and meet with career counselors who help them plan an educational path to their desired careers in the sciences and mathematics. The experience is tailored each year to the participants, who in past years have diagnosed locally prevalent health problems in mock patients and learned how to measure biodiversity.

  • BioBook: Scaleable, cloud-based eText manager using a robust learning model to outperform print text
    Awarded: $249,348 for the period 4/15/11 to 7/15/12
    Source: Educause

Introductory college biology courses can be a significant barrier to overall college success. They pile on technical language and foreign concepts, and classes are often too large to allow individualized instruction. The current generation of biology textbooks and e-texts provides little help, with dense language, excessive content, and a rigid format that discourages learning. To retain students, not only in biology but to graduation generally, the delivery structure and content approach to this pivotal course must be radically rethought.BioBook is an exciting e-text model developed by Wake Forest University and Odigia, Inc. Its simple, intuitive structure supports most learning styles. Content, multimedia, and self-assessments are organized in a flexible network that instructors and students can adjust to fit specific course learning needs; materials from other institutions and access to copy-protected materials as supplements via hyperlinked URLs can also be incorporated. Funding will support (1) development of a Moodle-based platform that permits scaling and data collection across courses and institutions in real time while providing student access toBioBook via any HTML5-compliant browser on any device; and (2) in-depth evaluation and refinement of BioBook’s functionality and efficacy. Test groups will include undergraduates enrolled in introductory biology courses for nonmajors at WFU, Salem College, Winston-Salem State University, and Guilford Technical and Community College. In Phase 1, half of the targeted students will use a generic version of BioBook; the other half, their regular textbook. Based on analytics and survey data, BioBook will be tailored to each site’s needs and in Phase 2, a second cohort of students at each site will evaluate the revised BioBook.

Erik Johnson

  • Dissection of signaling networks maintaining metabolic homeostasis
    Awarded $486,000 for the period 7/1/14 to 6/30/17
    Source: NSF

The project’s approach integrates genetics, pharmacology, and physiology to investigate the mechanisms by which organisms maintain metabolic homeostasis. Experiments take advantage of the tractability of the model organism Drosophila melanogaster and use powerful molecular and imaging tools to clarify metabolic pathways. Preliminary results indicate that they are very likely to be highly conserved throughout the Metazoa with the potential for practical applications ranging from therapeutics to pest management.

  • Roles of AMP-activated kinase in metabolic homeostasis in Drosophila
    Awarded $330,278 for the period 8/15/09 to 7/31/11
    Source: NSF

Changes in food availability significantly challenge organisms to maintain constant energy stores. The AMP-activated kinase is a highly conserved molecule that becomes active during energy shortages. This project takes advantage of the unique molecular and genetic tools available for the fruit fly,Drosophila melanogaster, to investigate how the AMP-activated kinase regulates behavioral and physiological changes under starvation conditions. It will contribute new information on the cellular signals in defined neural and peripheral tissues with applications from pest management to novel therapeutics, while extending research opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students and enhancing faculty professional development at a primarily undergraduate institution, Francis Marion University (FMU).

Kathleen A. Kron

  • Collaborative Research: Phylogenetic, biogeographic, and monographic studies in the wintergreen group
    Awarded $122,720 for the period 8/1/09 to 8/32/10
    Source: NSF

Its amphi-Pacific distribution and diverse fruit and anther morphology make the wintergreen group (Gaultherieae) particularly interesting within the blueberry and rhododendron family (Ericaceae). This collaborative project will study its evolution using eight nucleotide sequences obtained from the nuclear and chloroplast genomes of approximately 250 species. Phylogenetic analyses will test biogeography hypotheses. Monographic work will be performed on selected strongly supported clades that can also be diagnosed using morphological features. In addition to publication in peer-reviewed journals, data, images, measurements, and results will be made available electronically via the Plone system and Kron’s website, The study will train three graduate students.

  • Ericaceae in the Central Andes: Bolivia and Adjacent Peru
    Awarded: $7,000 for the period 7/1/05 to 1/31/08
    Source: NSF

This cooperative research program focuses on a flora of the Ericaceae in Bolivia and southern Peru, two poorly collected areas that are being rapidly deforested. The Principal Investigator, James Luteyn, New York Botanical Garden, and members of several South American herbaria are collecting ericaceous plants for research purposes, writing identification keys, and providing the basis for future monographs and revisionary work. Dr. Kron will use DNA sequence data to place the discovered taxa within the phylogenetic framework of the remaining neotropical blueberries and wintergreens. Results will contribute to a better understanding of the evolution of South American Ericaceae, a more robust phylogeny for the “Andean Clade”, and help to identify artificially delineated taxa from natural (monophyletic) ones. The specimens collected by Luteyn and collaborators will be housed in herbaria in South America and the New York Botanical Garden, and results disseminated electronically and via scholarly journals and identification keys. In addition, Colombian students will receive training in modern taxonomic techniques and standard field practice.

Raymond F. Kuhn

  • Diagnostic Assay and Nutraceutical for Enteric Septicemia of Catfish (ESC)
    Awarded $75,000 for the period 8/1/07 to 1/31/09
    Source: North Carolina Biotechnology Center

The aquaculture industry is burgeoning in response to decreased wild fish populations and increasing demand for sustainable sources of protein. The predominant species farmed in the United States, 95% in the southeast, is the channel catfish. While total US catfish sales in 2005 were approximately $482 million and estimated to grow 8% per year, the global aquaculture market totals about $60.9 billion. US fish farmers operate under thin profit margins threatened by imports and infectious diseases. Catfish are durable but susceptible to bacterial infections that contribute to losses as high as 30%. In most cases, they are treated by antibiotics in the feed, which is expensive, and consumers are concerned about antibiotic contamination. This project aims to develop a quick, cost-effective test to diagnose enteric septicemia of catfish (ESC), the major cause of mortality from bacterial infection. Following the development of antibodies in experimentally infected fish, a proprietary nutraceutical will be tested. Should it protect fish from infection, it can be produced cost-effectively and avoid the use of antibiotics.

Anita McCauley

  • MRI: Acquisition of Accessories to Upgrade a Confocal Microscope Used for Research and Teaching at WFU
    Awarded $258,251
    Source: NSF

This Major Research Instrumentation award supports acquisition of upgrades for a Zeiss LSM 710 confocal microscope. These accessories now permit live-cell, dynamic, and multilabel experiments and more educational opportunities both on campus and throughout the region.

  • Acquisition of a laser scanning confocal microscope for research and training in biology and physics at Wake Forest
    Awarded $385,220 for the period 8/1/07 to 7/31/09
    Source: NSF

The Microscopy Core Facility will acquire an urgently needed laser scanning confocal microscope (LSCM). It will enable faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates to conduct and to publish research on plasticity in the brain, hormonal regulation of proteins in plant roots, stress response systems, gene expression and protein localization in Drosophila, chemoreception and plasticity in the moth antennal lobe, blood clot formation, and optical properties of nanoparticles. Forty percent of biology graduate students use the Core Facility for research; 50 percent take a microscopy course; and this impact will increase with the requested LSCM: ~270 undergraduate students will be exposed to it each year and 11 graduate students will immediately increase their competitiveness with peers at larger institutions. In addition, faculty from three local institutions, including the HBCU Winston-Salem State University, will use the LSCM for undergraduate research and education; it will be incorporated in the Biology department’s multiday symposium, Perspectives in Biology (PIB), which brings together leading researchers and regional faculty from 21 institutions; and it will be part of ongoing community outreach events, including regularly scheduled tours by high-school students from urban and rural NW North Carolina.

  • A Stereomicroscope Imaging System for Faculty/Student Research in the Microscopy Core Facility at Wake Forest University
    Awarded $52,999 for the period 5/1/05 to 4/30/08
    Source: NSF

The Biology department has purchased a research-grade, epi-fluorescent stereomicroscope coupled with an image-acquisition and analysis system. These imaging capabilities will enable faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates to conduct research on structure and function, responses to physiological conditions, and gene expression and protein localization in intact, often living organisms and to perform time-apse imaging of animal behavior.

Gloria K. Muday

  • Using purple tomatoes to teach genetics, GMOs, and crop improvement
    Awarded $49,600 for the period 7/31/15 to 9/4/17
    Source: American Society of Plant Biologists

Tomatoes are an excellent model system for teaching genetics because of their familiarity, agricultural importance, and vast diversity in color, size, shape, and flavor. This service-learning program trains undergraduate students enrolled in an introductory biology course for nonscience majors to teach genetics using heirloom tomatoes in middle and high school classrooms. The updated active-learning curriculum uses the 5E instructional model—engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate. It will be connected to the increasing need for drought-tolerant crop plants and current research in the Muday lab using mutants that overproduce healthy antioxidants and appear a striking shade of purple to explain GMO technology and traditional plant breeding, so students can make informed decisions about this technology. With these changes, students will have an increased understanding of the relevance of plant genetics to solve real-world problems.

  • Regulation of reactive oxygen species by flavonols in tomato guard cells
    Awarded $79,000 for the period 9/1/14 to 8/31/16
    Source: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Guard-cell swelling controls the aperture of stomata, pores that facilitate gas exchange and water loss in leaves. The hormone abscisic acid (ABA) helps to regulate stomatal closure by synthesizing second messengers, which include reactive oxygen species (ROS). However, anti-oxidants must keep ROS concentrations from reaching damaging levels. Flavonol anti-oxidant activity is debated. A flavonol-specific dye has shown that flanovol accumulation in Arabidopsis thaliana guard cells is enhanced by ethylene. Guard cells of the Arabidopsis mutant, tt4-2, which make no flavonols, show enhanced ROS accumulation and faster ABA-induced closure than wild-type, suggesting that flavonols damp the ABA-dependent ROS burst that drives stomatal closing. This project investigates the role of ethylene-modulated flavonol accumulation on redox signaling in guard cells of the important cultivated tomato, Solanum lycopersicum.

  • Hormonal regulation of tomato root architecture during iron deficiency
    Awarded $149,688 for the period 9/1/14 to 8/31/16
    Source: USDA

Led by a graduate student, this project tests the hypothesis that changes in flavonoid and ethylene levels induced by iron deficiency alter lateral root formation and enhance iron uptake in tomato. Biochemical and molecular biology methods applied to tomato mutants with altered ethylene signaling and flavonoid synthesis will determine whether these signaling molecules are essential for the obseved changes and explore the antioxident role of reactive oxygen species in response to Fe deficiency and flavonoid action.

  • Teaching Genetics with Tomatoes
    Awarded $30,000 for the period 8/15/12 to 8/29/14
    Source: American Society of Plant Biologists

A familiar and popular food with an intriguing range of forms, colors, and patterns, tomatoes are great tools for demonstrating how genetic changes resulting from spontaneous mutations, traditional plant breeding, and modern mutagenesis and genetic engineering have profound effects on appearance and taste. Problem-based learning lesson plans use heirloom and mutant tomatoes to illustrate genetic variation and are consistent with the North Carolina Standard Course of Study for 7th-grade science and high school biology students. The project will build relationships with local teachers to expand their involvement and maximize the benefits to participating students.

  • Dynamics of auxin transport protein localization and gravitropism
    Awarded $278,728 for the period 8/1/09 to 7/31/12
    Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

When plants re-orient to gravity either in the laboratory or by accident, asymmetric growth returns them to their original angle, with stems growing up and roots growing down. This project examines the molecular mechanisms that control the directional movement of the hormone auxin. First, a domain tied to endomembrane-targeting will be used to transiently disrupt auxin transport and related protein localization. Second, drugs will be used for the same purpose. Finally, mutants with altered auxin transport will be combined with genetic constructs that allow expression of the missing genes to understand when and how these proteins control auxin transport and gravitropism. Experiments combine high-resolution laser scanning confocal microscopy with high temporal resolution gravitropic analyses.

  • Arabidopsis 2010 Project Collaborative Research: Modeling Biological Networks inArabidopsis through Integration of Genomic, Proteomic, and Metabolomic Data 
    Awarded $256,585 for the period 2/28/12 to 4/30/13
    Source: NSF

Six research groups will produce a comprehensive map of phenylpropanoid metabolism and function, genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, computational biology, and computational systems biology in Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant.

  • Ethylene and Auxin Crosstalk in Control of Root Architecture
    Awarded $340,000 for the period 8/15/06 to 8/14/09
    Source: USDA

Appropriate root growth orientation and extensive branching are essential for efficient nutrient and moisture retention and maximal plant productivity. Auxin’s importance in regulating these processes has long been appreciated, while a role for ethylene has not been clearly established. This study uses a genetic approach to ask if ethylene regulates root orientation and branching and how crosstalk between auxin and ethylene defines root architecture. Experiments investigate whether elevated levels of ethylene and known ethylene signaling mutants alter root gravitropism and branching in opposite ways, using two agriculturally important species. The genetic model Arabidopsis thaliana and the crop plant Lycopersicon esculentum (tomato) each offer unique experimental advantages. In Arabidopsis, many well-characterized ethylene signaling mutants are available along with reporters and transgenic lines that can be used to examine the molecular mechanisms by which ethylene and auxin signaling interface. Tomato offers a more limited set of ethylene-insensitive mutants and transgenics but has a rapidly expanding research community and set of molecular tools and many agriculturally important members. Examination of hormonal control of root development in two species will help to determine its universality across the plant kingdom.

Miles Silman

  • FESD Type 1: The dynamics of mountains, landscape, and climate in the distribution and generation of biodiversity in the Amazon/Andean forest
    Awarded $55,595 for the period 8/1/15 to 8/31/16
    Source: NSF/Duke University

Dr. Silman and a graduate student will model species distribution and environmental niches based on data derived from paleo-environmental modeling at Duke University and taxon and functional trait data from modern databases and the Andes Biodiversity Research Group.

  • Biochar production for tropical agriculture and carbon sequestration
    Awarded $47,500 for the period 6/1/15 to 12/31/15
    Source: Blue Moon Foundation

No abstract.

  • LIDAR and radar interferometry-combined model to quantify variations of forest structure and biomass along altitudinal gradients in the tropical montane forests
    Awarded $48,365 for the period 10/1/14 to 9/30/15
    Source: NASA/California Institute of Technology, Jet Propulsion Lab

 Responding rapidly to climate change, neotropical montane forests are vulnerable to severe natural and anthropogenic disturbance. According to recent estimates from ground and remote-sensing observations, they cover more than 1.5 million km2 and may contain ~20% of the carbon stored in the Amazon basin (Saatchi et al., 2011). However, due to the complex terrain and relatively continuous cloud cover, extensive field surveys and satellite observations have been nearly impossible. This project will fuse LIDAR and radar interferometry (InSAR and PollnSAR) techniques and extensive ground and airborne data to estimate the 3-D structure of forests in Costa Rica and the Andes in southern Peru. Results will define whether new and future NASA sensors can measure the carbon stock and dynamics of such forests globally.

  • Understanding range limits and plant migration in response to climate change in neotropical montane forests: Moving from observational models to mechanisms
    Awarded $360,000 for the period 3/15/13 to 2/29/16
    Source: NSF

Over the last 10 years, the research team has used a 500-mile neotropical elevation gradient from Amazonian lowlands to Andean treeline as a natural laboratory for investigating forest and ecosystem ecology, documenting tree migration in response to climate change, and predicting species range changes and extinction under global change scenarios. This research program moves away from correlational exercises on databased records toward a mechanistic understanding based on species performance. Experimental results are used in demographic models to determine population-level performance across species ranges and species- distribution models incorporating data on performance and ecophysiology to predict species responses to future climate change scenarios.

  • Field Laboratory for Integrated Ecosystem Service Science in Upper Amazonian Peru   
    Awarded $238,513 for the period 11/4/10 to 11/15/11
    Source: Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

A new field laboratory in the Amazon headwaters will advance the highly productive Andes Biodiversity and Ecosystems Research Group (ABERG), a scientific consortium studying integrated ecosystem services and climate change in the tropical Andes/Amazon biodiversity hotspot. Moore Foundation funding played a pivotal role in developing this research program, which subsequently attracted over $5 million in additional funds from the US National Science Foundation, UK Natural Environment Research Council, and others. ABERG’s 40 Peruvian researchers and students and 30 researchers from Europe, the USA and Brazil have generated 36 peer-reviewed publications in major scientific journals, while working out of tents or through the generosity of eco-lodges. The new facility will support fieldwork of global impact at very high cost-efficiency.

  • Sensing Approach to Large-Scale Assessment of Carbon Storage in Tropical Forests
    Awarded $178,038 for the period 11/1/09 to 10/31/10
    Source: Blue Moon Fund

As part of its climate-change mitigation strategy, Peru has created a $100 million fund to compensate indigenous people, but it lacks technical support. Many private-sector companies are negotiating carbon contracts, commitments, and deals with stakeholders, including indigenous peoples, Brazil-nut harvesters, private landowners, forestry companies, conservation NGOs, and government agencies, with little or no access to solid data on either biomass, expected deforestation rates, or market prices. For example, the proposed payment of $3.50 per hectare to preserve forests is less than 1 percent of the present value of their carbon. In the absence of this information, flawed agreements are likely to discredit REDD. This project will introduce a new remote sensing technology that allows relatively rapid, accurate computation of total biomass in diverse forest types in the southwest Amazon-Andes region. Results, particularly a publicly available database of carbon and biomass maps, will rationalize market forces.

  • Norwegian Climate and Forest Initiative: ACA New REDD Models for Tropical Montane Forest
    Awarded $10,000 for the period 7/24/09 to 1/1/10
    Source: Amazon Conservation Association, Inc.

The eastern slope of the tropical Andes is home to extreme human poverty, world-famous cultural diversity, and world-record biodiversity. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) programs here offer great opportunities for alleviating poverty, reducing carbon emissions, and test-driving innovative strategies to mitigate the deleterious effects of climate change elsewhere in the tropics. This project works to reforest degraded lands by enriching natural fire breaks with economically valuable Andean species, planted by experienced local foresters and a half-dozen indigenous communities. These agroforestry fire breaks will directly prevent the spread of fire into Manu National Park and adjacent community-held forests, protecting tens of thousands of hectares, while generating REDD enterprise development of nontimber forest products and opening the door for indigenous participation as equals in the growing ecotourism trade. The project includes a strong research component on fire frequency, forest degradation, and carbon cycling in the high Andes and incorporates five other strategies to strengthen REDD programs worldwide.

  • Collaborative Research: Determining the Ecological Legacy of Pre-Columbian Human Impacts on Amazonian Ecology
    Awarded $128,124 for the period 4/1/08 to 3/31/11
    Source: NSF

The view that humans exploited and extensively modified the Amazonian ecosystem before 1492 is becoming mainstream in archeological and ecological thought. The widespread use of slash and burn agriculture coupled with “gardening” the forest to enrich the proportion of useful plants may have rendered the region a “cultural parkland” even before contact with the West. However, the evidence is based on extrapolations from major archeological sites. This integrated study will be the first conducted at 18 sites of ecological rather than archeological significance. Beyond tackling one of the most contentious questions in Amazonian ecology, anthropology, and archeology, the data will be of direct relevance to conservation planners, ecologists working with successional systems in tropical forests, and entrepreneurs looking at sustainable and purely extractive uses (logging, crop production, ranching) through land conversion. The project will also provide new data on Amazonian paleoclimates within the last 3000 years, of considerable interest to climate modelers. The team links 7 researchers at as many institutions as well as several undergraduates, 2 graduate students, and a postdoctoral fellow. RET supplements will support the involvement of high school teachers in the research and fieldwork and subsequent development of curricular materials about their experiences.

  • Conservation Implications of Climate Change and Fire in the Eastern Andes: Impacts on Plant Distribution and Montane Ecosystems
    Awarded $277,190 for the period 6/1/07 to 7/31/09
    Source: Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

The eastern slope of the Andes, which harbors Earth’s highest biodiversity, is threatened by climate change. The project investigates 1) the ecology of plant distribution; 2) the relationships between ecosystem and climate; and 3) the historic relationships between plant community ecosystem and climate. Specifically, it focuses on the anthropogenic tree line, the limit to trees caused by human activities, which bars natural plant migration in response to climate change. Resulting data will inform effective conservation strategies.

  • Collaborative Research: Understanding the Role of Landcover and Landform in the Spatial Organization of the Diurnal Cycle of Orographic Clouds and Rainfall
    Awarded $127,307 for the period 9/1/07–8/31/10
    Source: NSF

Cloud formation depends on large-scale circulation and local effects of geomorphology and vegetation, which is also highly dependent on it. This project uses two elevation gradients, one in the Himalayas and the other in the tropical Andes. The results will be the first comprehensive look at cloud formation on humid continental mountains and crucial to understanding future ecosystem responses to climate change.

  • REU Supplement to Vegetation and Paleoecology of an Amazon-Andean Elevational Transect
    Award $7,443 for the period 5/2/06 to 3/31/07
    Source: NSFFunds support the participation of one undergraduate student in a project that seeks to answer a key question in Andean distributional ecology. Its novel methodology for Neotropical pollen analysis, including a field component, a bioinformatics component, using collection data to refine distributional hypotheses, and a lab component at Wake Forest University and Florida Institute of Technology using SEM, Deconvolution Light Microscopy, and automated image analysis, will greatly improve our understanding of both modern species distributional limits and the history of species distributions for a dominant tree genus through the late Pleistocene in the Andes Biodiversity Hotspot. At the cloud forest field station of the Amazon Conservation Association in Peru, the student will work with Dr. Silman, his graduate students, and a Peruvian field crew to collect pollen samples and refine range limits for 11 congeneric species of Weinmannia (Cunonicacae). The student will gain a breadth of experience with international scientists and exposure to diverse topics of study.

Wayne L. Silver

  • Undergraduate neuroscience training cooperative between WFU and WSSU
    Awarded $86,092 for the period 9/1/13 to 8/31/14
    Source: NIH

Although Winston-Salem State University has several active research neuroscientists, the curriculum offers no neuroscience-related courses, so students are inadequately prepared for postgraduate study or careers in the field. UNTRAC: Undergraduate Neuroscience Training Cooperative enrolls WSSU students in WFU undergraduate neuroscience courses; creates research opportunities for them with WSSU, WFU, or WF School of Medicine neuroscientists; pairs them with graduate student mentors in the WFU Neuroscience Program; enables them to attend a Society for Neuroscience meeting; trains a postdoctoral fellow to assist a WSSU neuroscientist to advance both careers; and evaluates student progress.

  • Can a fruit fly assay be used to screen a cola formula?
    Awarded $10,000 for the period 9/30/09 to 11/2/10
    Source: PepsiCo

The food preferences of Drosophila melanogaster are similar to humans’. A two-choice preference assay, originally developed to measure fruit flies’ sensitivity to sugar and aversion to bitter compounds, which are often toxic, will be used in this pilot project.

  • Multiple Mechanisms of Nasal Chemoreception
    Awarded $16,970 for the period 3/1/07 to 2/29/08
    Source: NIH

Most nasal cavity sensitivity to chemicals can be attributed to receptor cells in the main olfactory epithelium that rely on the cAMP transduction cascade. Other mechanisms may be found in trigeminal nerves or solitary chemoreceptor cells. In collaboration with researchers at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, experiments will explore alternative chemosensory mechanisms using histological, electrophysiological, and behavioral techniques. Results should improve our understanding of how the nasal cavity processes chemosensory information.

William Kirby Smith

  • Physiological ecology of the non-native invasive coastal sand-dune species Vitex rotundifolia: Mechanisms of success
    Awarded $4,800 for the period 8/16/15 to 12/31/15
    Source: NC Sea Grant / North Carolina State University

This project will examine rates of growth, reproduction, and photosynthesis; water relations, including computed leaf/stem water potentials, water-use efficiency; transpiration rates and stomata conductance, structure, and occurrence; leaf morphology and temperatures to determine how this nonnative plant so successfully out-competes and replaces native species. It will also investigate whether beach vitex forms mycorrhizal relationships in the rhizosphere, a critical symbiotic relationship recently recognized among other sand-dune species. These data will elucidate not only this species’ success, but the functional traits that enable any exotic plant species to invade a habitat.

  • Workshop: Using elevational treelines to predict climate change effects on the future size and distribution of mountain forests
    Awarded $17,600 for the period 7/1/15 to 6/30/16
    Source: NSF

The workshop at McCall Field Station, University of Idaho, convenes experts to unravel current controversies about the mechanisms driving mountain forests’ upper and lower treeline elevations and thus the size of forest zones. Objectives include publication of a synthesis manuscript and the interaction of as many external participants as possible via the venue’s strong K12 program, graduate students and assistant professors, and major social media outlets.

  • Collaborative RUI Proposal: Effects of Contrasting Cloud Regimes on Plant Carbon/Water Relations at Treeline
    Awarded $100,549  for the period 7/11/12 to 8/31/14
    Source: NSF

The project is the first to collect data to enable predictions about the effects of cloud pattern on species ecophysicology and spatial stability. Researchers measure day/night radiation regimes associated with specific cloud patterns and the corresponding effects on photosynthetic carbon gain and temperature/water relations in two pairs of treeline species, spruce and fir. One pair is indigenous to Rocky Mountain subalpine forest and the other, considered a relic boreal species, to the southern Appalachians. All four occur in transitional treeline ecotones, which may be moving upward due to climate warming. Broader impacts include undergraduate and high school student participation and an interactive website that provides K-12 lesson plans and activities to teach the principles of climate change research.

  • CBIN: A Research Network for Sustaining Barrier Island Ecosystems in a Changing Global Environment
    Awarded $100,000 for the period 1/20/11 to 2/29/12
    Source: NSF

Barrier islands (BI) cover approximately 85 percent of the east and Gulf shorelines, absorbing and dissipating wave and wind energy, especially during violent storms. They make possible the bays, sounds, and estuaries that host an array of native and migratory species. This organized effort by ecologists, geologists, economists, and cultural scientists works to sustain these ecosystems against the pressures of continued development and global change. Programs for faculty and K-college students include workshops, summer courses, a continuously updated website, and an infrastructure for sharing new techniques, instrumentation, and facilities and creating new partnerships. An urbanized ecosystem approach to restructuring land management practices can allow continued economic benefits for coastal residents.

  • BINET: A Research Network for Sustaining Barrier Island Ecosystems in a Changing Global Environment
    Awarded $100,000 for the period 12/8/08 to 2/28/10
    Source: NSF

Barrier islands (BI) cover approximately 85 percent of the east and Gulf shorelines, absorbing and dissipating wave and wind energy, especially during violent storms. They make possible bays, sounds, and estuaries that host an array of native and migratory species. BINET represents an organized effort by ecologists, geologists, economists, and cultural scientists to sustain these ecosystems against the pressures of continued development and global change. Programs for faculty and K-college students include workshops, summer courses, a continuously updated website, and an infrastructure for sharing new techniques, instrumentation, and facilities and creating new partnerships. An urbanized ecosystem approach to restructuring land management practices can allow continued economic benefits for coastal residents.

  • Facilitation of Birch Seedling Establishment in the Caucasus Mountains
    Awarded $8,998 for the period 4/1/07 to 3/31/09
    Source: Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF); Georgian Research and Development Foundation (GRDF)

This project extends a CRDF/GRDF grant awarded in 2002 and 2005 to study the mechanisms of high-elevation treeline stability. The Georgian group (Institute of Botany, Georgian Academy of Science, FSU) has expertise in distributional ecology, reproductive biology, and seed germination factors in the birch species under study, while the Wake Forest University team has expertise in evaluating the ecophysiology of seedling survival. They will examine ecological facilitation between Betula litwinowii Doluch and Rhododendron caucasicum Pall, focusing on seedling establishment in the Greater Caucasus mountain range. Stunted B. litwinowii forests typically occur at treeline but can be found at high elevations in association with R. causcasicum. The investigators hypothesize that R. causcasicum facilitates B. liweinoii seedling emergence and establishment at these high elevations through several mechanisms. They will test whether (1) photosynthetic carbon gain speeds growth; (2) low carbon gain and reduced root growth result in a desiccation-induced death later in summer, as oils dry following spring runoff; and/or (3) survival is tightly coupled to infection from ectomycorrhizal soil fungi. The results will provide a strong mechanistic explanation for shifts in the maximum altitude at which the intact forest occurs and the expansion or contraction of subalpine and alpine vegetation zones according to global climate change.

  • Conserving the Relic Spruce-fir Forests of the Southern Appalachian Mountains
    Awarded $25,000 for the period 6/6/06 to 12/31/06
    Source: Bipartisan Policy Center

Fraser fir exists in only six isolated mountain-top populations in North Carolina, southern Virginia, and eastern Tennessee. The dominant tree at elevations above ~1850 m and interspersed with red spruce between 1650 m and 1850 m, it appears to be a relic species that probably diverged from balsam fir 7-8,000 years ago. While once found at much lower elevations throughout the region and as far south and west as Alabama and Mississippi, during a relatively prolonged period of global warming, it survived only at cooler, higher elevations. Over the last several decades, a significant decline in adult populations has been attributed to an introduced insect, the balsam wooly adelgid, but other contributing factors include drought, ice storms, and deposition of atmospheric pollutants. Regional cloud ceilings have been rising for the past thirty years, and species like the fir and spruce that depend on daily cloud cover and cloud-immersion could be replaced by species more adapted to clear-sky conditions. One study reported that current-year Fraser fir seedlings had substantially reduced photosynthetic capacity and low survival when exposed to full sunlight on clear days. Any disappearance of spruce-fir forest would have dire consequences for wood-related industries, recreational use, snowpack accumulation and water supply to storage reservoirs, and global biodiversity. This forest regeneration model (REGEN) makes specific, quantitative comparisons of new fir and spruce seedling growth and survival that can be coupled with current scenarios of global change effects to predict the chances for regeneration and survival of these relic forest communities.

  • Sustaining Barrier Island Ecosystems in a Changing Global Environment
    Awarded $14,338 for the period 4/1/06 to 3/31/07
    Source: NSF

Funds support a workshop to consider the sustainability of barrier island ecosystems under current global change scenarios, including the likelihood of continued human disturbance. These unique ecosystems protect all continental shorelines from powerful wave action. An abundance of highly adapted endemic and indigenous species survive in this stressful environment within the ecotonal transition from land to sea, which may be particularly vulnerable to global change.

  • Global Change and Natural Stabilization of Barrier Island Sanddune Ecosystems
    Awarded $8,684 for the period 10/1/05 to 06/30/06
    Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Predictions of future global warming include more intense and frequent weather phenomena, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, and rises in sea level. Little is known about the ecological impact on habitats at high risk to episodic disturbance, like sand dunes, at the interface between the terrestrial and marine biomes, and the possibility of increased extinction rates and loss of biodiversity. This study evaluates the effects of short-term (day-to-day) versus long-term (episodic) stress factors on photosynthetic carbon gain, plant survival, and seed production in five species representing four major categories of plant form and function.

  • Ecological Facilitation by Rhododendron caucasicum Extends the Betula litwinowii Alpine Treeline, Caucasus Mountains of Georgia
    Awarded $29,212 for the period 8/1/05 to 7/31/07
    Source: NSF

Ecophysiological studies over the past four decades have failed to evaluate influences on population biology, a major drawback in elucidating evolutionary processes. If current projections of climate warming are accurate, a significant portion of the Earth’s biodiversity will disappear during the next century. In particular, alpine tundra ecosystems in temperate and subtropical latitudes may be replaced by the subalpine forest below. Despite these predictions, a unified mechanistic explanation for the upper elevational limits of subalpine forests across the globe is still controversial. Recent studies are developing a more mechanistic interpretation using ecophysiological measurements of seedling establishment away from the forest edge by the two dominant conifers, Abies lasiocarpa (subalpine fir) and Picea engelmannii (Engelmann spruce). This project will compare the quantitative influences of microsite preference, structural features (leaf to crown), and physiological adjustments on the photoinhibition of photosynthesis (LTP) in the natural environment. It uses two new experimental techniques for the first time. It will measure (1) both external and internal fluorescence and (2) the optical properties of diffuse light absorption to gauge their impact on photosynthesis.

  • Ecological Facilitation in the Alpine Treeline Ecotone of Georgia: Implications for Future Global Change
    Awarded $7,000 for the period 1/1/05 to 12/31/07
    Source: CRDF

This investigation is the first comprehensive analysis of the mechanisms dictating alpine treeline stability. It evaluates the fundamental process by which timberlines and treelines migrate either upward into the alpine zone or to lower elevations. Results will provide a strong mechanistic basis for interpreting shifts in the maximum altitude for intact forest and predicting the expansion or contraction of subalpine and alpine vegetation zones in response to global climate changes.

Peter D. Weigl
Evolutionary basis for seasonal sociality in the southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys): resolving the conflict between individualistic and kinship-based explanations
Awarded $9,000, Spring 2007
Source: WFU Science Research Fund Social behavior and aggregation are critical adaptations for winter survival in many small animals but can exact high energy costs due to food theft by nest mates. The solution may involve the preferential aggregation of genetically related animals, so individuals gain an evolutionary benefit through their relatives, even when they die. The project will measure whether winter aggregations of the seasonally social flying squirrel (Glaucomys) are genetically related.

Clifford Zeyl

  • Collaborative research: Genomics of adaptation in experimental yeast populations during short and long-term selection in invasive growth
    Awarded $185,159 for the period 8/1/10 to 7/31/13
    Source: NSF

This project uses whole-genome sequencing to study adaptation inSaccharoyces cerevisiae (budding yeast), focusing on invasive growth, in which cells form chains that penetrate soft surfaces, a key component of virulence in fungal pathogens and often strongly expressed in S. cervisiaestrains isolated from human patients. The study will elucidate the mechanisms of an ecologically and medically important trait and advance the fields of experimental evolution, by showing how high-throughput sequencing can monitor standing variation and novel mutations, and molecular evolution, by characterizing the mutations selected during adaptation. Graduate and undergraduate students will apply the newest technologies in genomics research and bioinformatics, and the team will work with a North Carolina School for Science and Math teacher to develop a course exploring evolutionary models relevant to this research.

  • Mating Behavior in allopatric and sympatric postzygotically isolated populations of the model Saccharomyces paradoxus
    Awarded $7,000 for the period 4/9/09 to 8/31/10
    Source: NSF
  • Mating Behavior in allopatric and sympatric postzygotically isolated populations of the model Saccharomyces paradoxus
    Awarded $205,000 for the period 9/1/08 to 8/31/09
    Source: NSF

Microbial species comprise most of the world’s biodiversity, but because most are difficult to isolate and grow in the lab, very little, if anything, is known about their interactions or the process of speciation. Recent debate about whether populations of microbes, which are very large and migrate easily, vary in the same way as higher plants and animals has cast doubt on whether isolated populations speciate in the same way. Kuehne et al. (2007) described two genetically isolated populations of the wild yeast Saccharomyces Paradoxus that live in the same locations in North America. One seems to have descended from a European migrant. This project will look at the mechanisms underlying the genetic isolation, subjecting individual cells from the co-existing populations as well as cells from the migrant’s ancestral population to a variety of mating assays – a new approach in microbial ecology that will enable us to test classic evolutionary ideas.

  • REU: An Exploratory Model for Yeast Population Structure and Dynamics
    Awarded $6,000 for the period 5/21/08 to 1/31/09
    Source: NSF

This supplement to a current NSF award supports summer research for a Wake Forest undergraduate, with the option of continuing in later semesters toward an honors thesis. The project is wide open to innovation, an appealing introduction to research in biology. In addition to making beer, wine, and bread, budding yeast is one of the most important model organisms in cell and molecular biology, genetics, and genomics, yet almost nothing is known about the size of natural yeast populations, their genetic diversity, how they move from one population to another, and the frequency of sexual compared to asexual reproduction among them. This project will introduce genetically marked strains to a structured environment of grapes or figs isolated in fruit fly culture tubes along with fruit flies, which are thought to be a major vector for yeast in nature. The culture tubes will be connected by plastic tubing in a variety of arrangements corresponding to classic models of population structure. In the initial experiments, yeast will be introduced on a single grape or fig, and the other fruits, initially sterile, will be tested for colonization. Subsequent experiments will test for colonization from multiple sources and for mating between strains introduced on separate fruit.

  • Evolutionary Advantage, Recombination, and Adaptation in Experimental Yeast Populations
    Awarded $100,000 for the period 11/22/08 to 1/31/10
    Source: NSF

Few of the many conflicting theories advanced to explain the success of sexual reproduction have been tested experimentally. A sexual population’s advantage may be faster adaptation. If so, large populations in a new environment should have an advantage over small or well-adapted populations because more individuals will contain adaptive mutations at the same time. Alternatively, adaptation may require different lineages for different ecological niches, and recombination would produce genotypes not well adapted to any niche. These hypotheses will be tested using one large and one small yeast population, with and without a 2,000-generation history of adaptation to the laboratory environment. Each will start with equal numbers of otherwise identical sexual and asexual strains. A third set of experiments will test populations adapted to the same laboratory environment with the opportunity but not the requirement for sex and recombination. After 50 sexual cycles and 1,000 mitotic generations, recombination rates will be compared to those of ancestral populations. Undergraduate and graduate students will gain education and training in the methods of both classical yeast genetics and molecular genetics and genomics.

  • REU Supplement to Population Dynamics and Effect of Sex on Natural Yeast Populations
    Awarded $6,000 for the period 6/12/06 to 1/31/07
    Source: NSF

    The adaptive value of sex has not been well established empirically, despite a great deal of theoretical study. While most yeast evolution is conducted in the lab, where conditions can be standardized and readily controlled, several prominent theories of sex propose that environmental variation, either in space or time, is what favors the genetic diversity of sexual offspring. This project compares the fitness of sexual and asexual yeast populations in their natural environment?on and surrounding oak trees. Genes required for mating and recombination are deleted to produce yeast strains that are incapable of sex but otherwise identical to those found naturally at the experimental location, and their fate is then compared to that of their sexual competitors. It also studies the size and genetic diversity of the natural populations, since very little is known about their ecology, population genetics, and population dynamics. Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) supplements support student participation.

Ke Zhang
A novel mechanism of AKT activation regulated by YY1 binding
Awarded $13,118 for the period 4/1/15 to 3/31/16
Source: National Institutes of Health (NIH)/Wake Forest Health Sciences (WFHS)

Yin Yang 1 (YY1) is a multifunctional protein, localized in both nuclei and cytoplasm, that is overexpressed in many cancers and contributes to their aberrant gene expression by regulating both histone and nonhistone proteins. Dr. Zhang’s laboratory showed a correlation between increased YY1 expression and, first, poor prognoses in 258 breast cancer patients and, second, AKT phosphorylation at S473 in a breast cancer tissue microarray study. They then tracked the AKT-binding site to YY1’s oncoprotein binding (OPB) domain and found that the peptide with the YY1 OPB sequence disrupted YY1/AKT interaction and inhibited breast cancer cell proliferation. Based on these data, the new study hypothesizes that YY1 binding causes an AKT conformational change that is independent of the AKT activation mediated by PI3K-PIP3 signaling and, as such, a new mechanism. The objective is to define it and to assess its biological relevance to the proliferative role of YY1 in breast cancer pathogenesis.