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Antibiotic Resistance and Microbial Diversity

Shannon Hinsa-LeasureShannon Hinsa-Leasure, associate professor of biology, along with her students and collaborators, are researching ways to develop novel technology to study the diversity of antibiotic-resistance genes and how the genes can be transferred between bacteria.

The research is funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant of $999,346 awarded to a team of researchers including Hinsa-Leasure, along with her collaborators at Iowa State University and the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

In addition, Hinsa-Leasure has received a one-year $20,262 grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture to expand on the USDA grant by investigating bacterial community structure in soils fertilized with animal manure. Both grants will support undergraduate research at Grinnell College.

The grants will enable researchers to monitor hundreds of genes related to antibiotic resistance, the spread of resistance, and microbial diversity in environmental samples at one time, providing a more in-depth characterization of environments than current technologies. The technologies can be used for many types of environments including, hospitals, farms and water systems, and will allow researchers to study if and how antibiotic resistance genes move in particular environments.

“I am delighted that Shannon has received these grants that will create new opportunities for our students to conduct collaborative, cutting-edge research,” says Michael Latham, dean of Grinnell College. “This research reinforces Grinnell’s commitment to active scholarship and inquiry-led learning opportunities that reach beyond our campus.”

Adina Howe, assistant professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State, leads the three-year USDA grant. This grant will support technology development, field sampling, laboratory experiments and workshops to disseminate the open-access bioinformatics pipelines to the broader research community.

“I feel very fortunate to be collaborating with a tremendous team of scientists, who are all sharing their expertise to address an important environmental issue — how do we detect and monitor movement of antibiotic-resistance genes in the environment,” Hinsa-Leasure says.

Hinsa-Leasure, an environmental microbiologist, first began investigating antibiotic-resistance genes in the environment near Grinnell in 2014. This project was instigated by one of her former students, Evan Griffith ’15, who was interested and concerned about the local environment.

“Evan and I began this work with a directed reading course to learn what was happening in the field,” recalls Hinsa-Leasure. “That course led us to the USDA in Ames and the development of a partnership that continues to flourish today.”

“I am excited that this project is continuing and that I made a small contribution,” says Griffith, who received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Grinnell. He recently returned from Australia, where he worked as a research intern on a project between Arid Recovery and the University of New South Wales. He hopes to pursue a master’s degree in conservation medicine at Tufts University.

Griffith is one of eight Grinnell undergraduates who already have participated in the project he and Hinsa-Leasure initiated.

“I am thrilled,” Hinsa-Leasure says, “that through this funding additional Grinnell students will have access to cutting-edge technologies and bioinformatics, which will allow us to advance the field.”

Volunteer Opportunity at CERA

Savanna Restoration and Greenhouse Work Day​

Join Grinnellians and other volunteers on Saturday, February 20, 2016, for a volunteer work day at  Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA). 

The group will be working on two projects:

  • savanna restoration mop-up (making piles and salvaging firewood), and
  • transplanting prairie and savanna seedlings in the greenhouse.

Work gloves and light refreshments will be provided; please bring your own water bottle.

Wear clothes and boots appropriate for work outside in the snow unless you’d like to stay in the greenhouse. 

Travel

If you plan to drive out to CERA, please park by the Environmental Education Center and meet the group at the Maintenance Shed at 10 a.m.

Need a ride? Please contact Nick Koster to reserve one. Riders will meet at the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center drop-off area at 9:30 a.m. 

Our Microbial Neighbors

Adina HoweCome join in an interactive discussion of microbiology and how novel technologies have created opportunities to access and learn about our microbial neighbors and how they influence our lives.

Adina Howe, Iowa State University assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, will present the free, public biology seminar "Our Microbial Neighbors" at 11 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, in Robert N. Noyce ’49 Science Center, Room 2022. 

She will lead participants to explore how our gut microbes change with our diets, the importance and challenges of soil microbiology, and how microbes can help us monitor and understand water quality in Iowa lakes.

Howe is an expert in microbial ecology, soil health, water quality, big data, and metagenomics. She has had broad, interdisciplinary training, including microbiology, sustainable development, and engineering, and has been a staff scientist at Argonne National Laboratory where she continued studying microbial communities in environments such as the soil and gut.

Inaugural Meeting of the Pre-Physical Therapy Society

Are you interested in learning more about a healthy, active lifestyle and about rehabilitation?

Two free public talks on the research and practice of movement science, with a specific focus on physical therapy, are part of the Inaugural Meeting of the Pre-Physical Therapy Society.

Dr. Jeffrey Kinsella-Shaw

Dr. Jeffrey Kinsella-Shaw will present "Physical Therapy: Bringing the Science of Healing and the Art of Caring Together.”

Dr. Kinsella-Shaw is associate professor in the kinesiology department and director of the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at the University of Connecticut. 

Justin Munato

Justin Munafo will present "Research Experiences in Human Movement Science: Older Adults on Cruises" at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3 in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101.

Justin Munafo is a doctoral student in the kinesiology department at University of Minnesota.

The presentations are appropriate both for those interested in the group and pre-physical therapy as well as anyone in the general public interested in how their body moves and how physical therapy helps.

Damian Kelty-Stephen, assistant professor of psychology and adviser of the Pre-Physical Therapy Society will provide information about the group to those who are interested.

The event is being sponsored by All-Campus Events, Wellness, Students on Health-Oriented Tracks, and Pioneer Diversity Council, among others. 

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations and Events.

Visual Contrast Sensitivity as a Biomarker of Neuro-Developmental Age and Connectivity

Jeffrey Kinsella-Shaw will present “Visual Contrast Sensitivity as a Biomarker of Neuro-Developmental Age and Connectivity,” 11 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3, in Robert N. Noyce '49 Science Center, Room 2022.

In this free public event, he will discuss his dynamical-systems theoretic research on the perception-action linkages that support motor coordination across the lifespan and that help to inform and target clinical interventions in movement.

Jeffrey Kinsella-Shaw is associate professor of the Department of Kinesiology and director of the Doctoral Program in Physical Therapy at the University of Connecticut. His visit is sponsored by the biology department.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations and Events.

Big Island Summer

Rebecca Rasmussen ’16 and Edward Hsieh ’16 helped find what turned out to be the largest super colony of ants ever recorded in North America. By large, we mean all the way from Iowa to the Appalachian Mountains.

Students sitting on ground with research tools around them.Those Mentored Advanced Projects (MAPs) in summer 2014 earned them both an invitation from Grinnell biology professor Jackie Brown to do a second MAP last summer. This one meant spending two months on Big Island, Hawaii.

Both students agreed enthusiastically. By mid-May, Rasmussen and Hsieh were planning preliminary field studies to help Brown and Idelle Cooper ’01 of James Madison University find out why some female damselflies are red and some are green.

Ecological or sexual selection

“I was looking at a behavioral biology aspect because we wanted to see if the females were evolving this color dimorphism because of sexual selection,” Rasmussen says. For two months, she and other researchers stalked damselflies at various sites near Na’alehu, the southernmost town in the United States.

“Our main hypothesis was ecological selection, so I was testing the alternative,” Rasmussen says. Her findings indicated that sexual selection was minimal. “What we saw goes along with what Professor Brown and Professor Cooper have been positing, which is promising for their research,” she says.

Hsieh tested for chemical properties related to the color morphs. “In the ant project I looked at their particular hydrocarbons, and in this one I looked at antioxidant chemicals to see what potentially helped protect damselflies against UV radiation depending on the elevation.”

Finding the unexpected

Damselfly sitting on a notes that track flies sex and behavior for June 18, 2015, 10:12 a.m.Hsieh’s early findings contradicted expectations that red pigment signals protection from UV stress. He found that the redder the damselfly, the lower its antioxidant capability. “We have a couple of theories as to why that might be so,” Hsieh says. “It’s still pretty open ended and we’re actually continuing to work on it right now.”

Brown, who along with Cooper received National Science Foundation funding for the damselfly project, says, “Working with Edward and Rebecca on two different projects has highlighted for me both their talents and the value of our research-based curriculum in preparing students for meaningful participation in research.

“Each has built on their particular experience with the ant project, but in a completely new setting,” Brown says. “We’ll be working hard together during their senior year to submit these results for publication.” 

Serious contributions

Rasmussen says the collaborative research processes have made her feel “more prepared for going to graduate school in biology, if that’s the route I decide to take. Going through the planning stage, executing it, and then summarizing it is, I think, applicable to any career field.”

Rasmussen says it is satisfying as an undergraduate to do research that adds knowledge to a field. “It is pretty exciting to find things that could seriously contribute or that turn out to be an unusual finding that is worth reporting,” she says.

“I was originally interested in doing biological field research,” Hsieh says of his MAP experience, “and these opportunities gave me a lot of experience in what I would expect to do if I were to continue in that vein. It’s very likely that I’ll continue on to graduate school, possibly in entomological research.”

Coolest experience

Damselfly research is highly weather dependent, so on a few rainy days the research team found diversions that included Hawaii’s vast mix of Asian cuisine, volcanoes, and black sand beaches.

“One morning it was pretty rainy so we went to a beautiful beach for snorkeling,” Hsieh says. “We swam with sea turtles, and then farther out we found a giant pod of 30-plus dolphins.

“We were swimming with dolphins,” Hsieh says. “It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. And it was on my 21st birthday. It was awesome.”

Rebecca Rasmussen ’16 is a biology major from Des Moines, Iowa. Edward Hsieh ’16 is a biology major from Champaign, Ill.

2015 Faculty Named Chair Installation Ceremony

Grinnell College faculty, staff, students, and the general public are invited to attend the College's 2015 Faculty Named Chair Installation Ceremony at 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 8. The event will take place in Herrick Chapel.

This celebration provides a unique opportunity to honor current named chairs and celebrate the naming of two new designees:

Speaking at the event will be President Raynard S. Kington, Dean Michael Latham, and the newly installed chairs, among others.

Vincent Eckhart

Vincent EckhartA full professor at Grinnell since 2012, Eckhart is a specialist on the evolutionary ecology of plant reproduction, life history, and geographic distribution. His publications include 27 peer-reviewed journal articles and five book chapters and reviews. At Grinnell he has earned seven prestigious grants from the National Science Foundation to further his research and teaching. The most recent grant, a $450,000 collaboration with researchers from Cornell University and the University of Minnesota, supports long-term research on what factors limit species’ ability to survive in unfavorable environments, a topic with major implications for how organisms respond to change.

Eckhart is the first faculty member to be named the Waldo S. Walker Chair in Biology. The late Margaret "Peg" Stiffler, a 1963 Grinnell graduate, endowed the chair in honor of her mentor and lifelong friend, Waldo S. Walker, professor emeritus. Walker served the College for more than 50 years as a professor of biology, dean, provost, vice president and acting president.

Jin Feng

Jin FengFeng, who became a full professor at Grinnell in 2012, is a highly accomplished scholar and teacher who provides exemplary service to her field, her students, and the College. She has developed a body of significant, interdisciplinary work that links literature to history, ethnography, gender studies, and popular culture. The author of three books and scores of articles in English and Chinese, Feng is an invited presenter at conferences around the world and across the United States. This year she received a prestigious Senior Scholar Grant from the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation for her most recent project, which explores food nostalgia in the Yangzi River valley.

Two alumni from the Class of 1908 established the Orville and Mary Patterson Routt Professorships of Literature. Orville Routt went on to serve as president of Scripps College. Mary Patterson Routt was a renowned national columnist and journalist and long-serving trustee of Scripps College. This professorship is a living example of the deep appreciation they had for Grinnell College.

 

Sameness and Difference

Paul Vanouse at microscope

 As 21st century racism unfolds and recedes under scientific scrutiny of human sameness and differences, the American studies concentration in collaboration with the art & art history and biology departments, have invited Bio-Artist Prof Paul Vanouse. 
 
 Over the last decade, Vanouse's work has been specifically concerned with forcing the arcane codes of scientific  communication into a broader cultural language. 
 
 In "The Relative Velocity Inscription Device" (2002), he literally races DNA from his Jamaican-American family members, in a DNA sequencing gel, an installation/scientific experiment that explores the relationship between early 20th Century Eugenics and late 20th Century Human Genomics. The double entendre of race highlights the obsession with “genetic fitness” within these historical endeavors. Similarly, his recent projects, “Latent Figure Protocol”, “Ocular Revision” and “Suspect Inversion Center” use molecular biology techniques to challenge “genome-hype” and to confront issues surrounding DNA fingerprinting.  
 
Vanouse will present "Sameness and Difference," at 4 p.m. Thursday, September 17, in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101. The talk is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be available.
 

 

Climate Reality

Elizabeth QueathemLiz Queathem, senior lecturer in Biology and co-chair of the Sustainability Planning Committee, will deliver a public lecture on the current state of climate change, and the prospects for progress at the United National Climate Change Conference that will take place in Paris Nov. 30—Dec. 11, 2015.

Queathem will present "Climate Reality:  Problems and Solutions on the Road to Paris" at 4 p.m., Friday, October 2, in Robert N. Noyce '49 Science Center, Room 1023.

The presentation is co-sponsored by the Rosenfield Program and Center for Prairie Studies.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations.