Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station

UW scientist wants to dispel genetically modified crop, pesticide use fallacies

Kniss-AndrewA weed scientist at the University of Wyoming targets misconceptions about the safety of genetically engineered crops (GMOs) and pesticide use in modern agriculture in a public webinar Friday, Oct. 17.

“Many people believe the giant seed companies are the only ones who benefit from GMO crops, but this simply isn’t the case,” said Andrew Kniss, an associate professor in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The webinar begins at 1:10 p.m. and is at http://goo.gl/69jQKY.

Consumers should be interested in their food, Kniss said.

“But when people go looking for this information, I worry a lot of people are being misled by organizations with alternative motives,” he said. “It is our job at the university to be a primary source of unbiased information. It is important for us to engage the public and provide the best information available.”

Kniss will discuss the role of land-grant faculty members in addressing disinformation and misconceptions among non-agricultural audiences. He said many people have little firsthand knowledge of how modern farms operate and are hungry for that information. He cites a lack of agricultural outreach and extension to the general public as partly responsible.

http://www.wyomingextension.org/news/

UW scientists study how complexity developed from simple cell

Ward-Naomi-150x150

Naomi Ward

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Ekaterina Gottshall

Consider this a matter of scrambling down the family tree to its roots.

Really old roots.

Or perhaps it’s more like blowing the dust off the family album – the human album – and opening to the first pages billions of years ago.

Naomi Ward, an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Biology at the University of Wyoming, is the senior author on a paper recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS).

The research examines how simple bacterial cells could have made the transition to more complex cells, leading to plants, animals and humans.

The paper, “Spatially segregated transcription and translation in cells of the endomembrane-containing bacterium Gemmata obscuriglobus,” was published online this week, and describes research supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Ekaterina Gottshall, a graduate student in the Molecular and Cellular Life Sciences Ph.D. program, is first author on the paper and main contributor to the experimental work. Other authors are assistant professor Jay Gatlin, also in molecular biology, and Corrine Seebart, an assistant research scientist in Ward’s group.

Ward’s version of genealogy looks at how simple bacterial cells, which do not have the nuclear membrane that separates transcription and translation (the reading of DNA instructions to make protein), could have evolved into eukaryotic cells (plants, animals, humans), which have transcription and translation occurring in separate locations.

This evolutionary step was an important part of developing greater cell complexity in ancient eukaryotic cells.

The membrane-no membrane distinction, and separation of the two processes, serves as a definition.

“This is usually considered to be a very fundamental way in which bacterial cells differ from our cells,” said Ward. “However, cells of Gemmata obscuriglobus (the bacterium they studied) have complex internal membranes, making them look superficially like eukaryotic cells.”

Gottshall wanted to know if transcription and translation could occur in different places in the cell just like in a eukaryote cell.

“We asked this question because the way in which complex eukaryotic cells evolved from a simpler ancestor is not completely understood, and we thought that studying this question in Gemmata might shed some light on that problem,” said Gottshall.

It is generally thought that two of the major membrane-bound compartments in animal and plant cells – mitochondria, the power plants of the cell, and chloroplasts, where photosynthesis occurs – were formed when ancient bacteria took up residence in an ancient proto-eukaryotic cell.

Some estimates place the move-in date around 1.8 billion years ago. Bacterial microfossils first appear about 3.5 billion years ago.

Ward and her research group found a substantial amount of G. obscuriglobus translation does occur in a different place from transcription, as is found in eukaryotic cells.

“Although this is not the first time this has been reported for bacteria, it is the first time it has been reported for such a complex bacterial cell,” said Ward. “Although we don’t know whether this uncoupled gene expression in Gemmata arose in the same way it did in the ancient eukaryotic cell, it shows us one possible way in which it might have been organized.”

The research has yielded another product unusual in molecular biology or other kinds of experimental science.

Ward recently participated in an art-science collaborative experiment (The Ucross-Pollination Experiment), organized by UW philosophy professor Jeff Lockwood. She collaborated with philosophy professor H.L. Hix to explore form in poetry and science, and one of the products was a poem based on the PNAS paper.

Ward believes the poem helps achieve one of the goals of the NSF as well as the Ucross Experiment (supported by the Ucross Foundation and the Wyoming Humanities Council, and a diversity of UW departments and programs), to make science more approachable to non-scientists.

http://www.wyomingextension.org/news/2014/07/15/uw-scientists-study-how-complexity-developed-from-simple-cell/

UW Professor Jay Gatlin Named a Pew Scholar

gatlinwebJune 24, 2014 — Jay Gatlin has been named a 2014 Pew Scholar, marking the first time a University of Wyoming faculty member has received this prestigious award.

Gatlin, an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biology, is among 22 newly selected Pew Scholars nationally. The grant award for each is $240,000, or $60,000 per year for a four-year period.

The Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences provides funding to young investigators of outstanding promise in science relevant to the advancement of human health. Launched in 1985, the program makes grants to selected academic institutions to support the independent research of outstanding individuals who are in their first few years of their appointment at the assistant professor level.

“Pew has supported scientific innovation through its scholars program for 29 years. Time and again, this investment has fueled groundbreaking discoveries that hold the promise of better health for millions of people,” says Rebecca W. Rimel, president and CEO of Pew. “We welcome the newest class of scholars to a community that continues to yield extraordinary findings in the field of bioscience.”

Gatlin says the funding will be used to conduct further research on mitotic spindle assembly. Last November, Gatlin and John Oakey, a UW assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, published a paper in Science, recognized as one of the world’s top scientific journals.

The research focused specifically on how the mitotic spindle scales with changes in cell size. Mitotic spindles are protein-based machines assembled in cells to accurately segregate their chromosomes during division. If the process of building a spindle goes awry, it can result in daughter cells with an incorrect number of chromosomes (called aneuploidy), a condition that has been linked to birth defects and cancer.

“Our research showed that, as the size of the cell in which a spindle is gets smaller, so does the spindle, suggesting that some building block required to make a spindle becomes limiting. If you don’t have enough of what that building block might be, you can’t build a spindle of the correct size,” Gatlin says. “Now, we’re trying to identify the limiting component or components.”

“We found some biomolecule or protein to regulate spindle size. If you don’t have enough (of these proteins), you can’t grow the spindle size,” he adds. “Now, we’re trying to figure out what that component might be. We’re conducting biochemical experiments to identify that limiting component.”

The Pew funding will cover salaries for a post-doctoral fellow or several graduate students, as well as the chemicals and supplies for the research, Gatlin says.

“You are only eligible for a Pew within your first three years of being an assistant professor,” Gatlin says. “I just got in under the deadline.”

The Pew Scholar award is the latest for Gatlin, who recently received the Early Career Achievement Award from the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) at UW.

Gatlin received his doctorate in cell and molecular biology from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in 2005 and was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill until 2010.

He joined UW in 2010. In 2012, he received two National Institutes of Health grants totaling more than $1.6 million and, in 2013, he was awarded a Whitman Research Fellowship. The award paid for Gatlin and doctoral student James Hazel to conduct summer research at the Whitman Center at the Marine Biological Laboratories in Woods Hole, Mass.

Gatlin received his Pew Scholar award notice in March, but the National Advisory Committee of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences did not officially name the winners until today. Gatlin expects to receive the grant funds sometime in August.

For the scholars’ full abstracts and more information about the program, visit www.pewtrusts.org/projects/pew-biomedical-scholars/.

Photo:
Jay Gatlin, an assistant professor in UW’s Department of Molecular Biology, has been named a Pew Scholar. The four-year research grant award — given for science relevant to the advancement of human health — is worth $240,000.

http://www.uwyo.edu/uw/news/2014/06/uw-professor-jay-gatlin-named-a-pew-scholar.html

UW biomechanics research draws scientist early career award

Jay Gatlin, left, during his nomination at the annual Agricultural Experiment Station awards banquet

Jay Gatlin, left, during his nomination at the annual Agricultural Experiment Station awards banquet

Work in the biomechanics of cell division and the cell biology of cancer has earned a Department of Molecular Biology scientist the Early Career Achievement Award from the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) at the University of Wyoming.

Assistant professor Jay Gatlin in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources received the honor Feb. 12 during the AES honors banquet in Laramie.

“Jay Gatlin’s research accomplishments are absolutely amazing for a scientist at this stage of his career,” said Bret Hess, associate dean of research in the college and AES director. “Having received a perfect score on a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant and publishing results of his research from UW in Science are testaments to the quality of hiswork. The college is blessed to have a scientist of Jay’s caliber.”

University of Wyoming president Dick McGinity spoke to the audience and acknowledged the importance of the land-grant university’s mission of boosting the state’s economy and the general well-being of its citizens.

Gatlin joined UW in 2010. In 2012, Gatlin receive two NIH grants totaling more than $1.6 million. In 2013, he received a research award from the Marine Biological Laboratory. The grant paid for Gatlin and doctoral student James Hazel to conduct research at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute laboratories in Massachusetts. Last November, Gatlin and his laboratory published a paper in Science – the most prestigious scientific journal in the United States.

“Although these remarkable accomplishments should command the utmost respect, Jay doesn’t let them influence his attitude and demeanor,” said Hess. “He is the same kind, likable person everyone has come to know.”

Other award nominees were Anowar Islam and Urszula Norton, who are assistant professors in the Department of Plant Sciences.

UW Extension, college of agriculture publications earn awards

University of Wyoming Extension and College Reflections of Agriculture and Natural Resources publications received top awards in the associate’s track competition of the Wyoming Press Association (WPA).

The awards were announced during the WPA annual conference Jan. 16-18 in Laramie. The publications are produced through theOffice of Communications and Technology in UW Extension.

Barnyards & Backyards magazine, produced by the Small Acreage Issue Team, received first place in the Publications category. Produced quarterly, the magazine features information from natural resource experts for small-acreage owners in Wyoming.

            Reflections magazine, the annual publication that highlights research in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, received second place. The magazine is published by the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station.