CBio News

August, 2020:

Dr. Duane McKenna published a paper in the journal Current Biology on the evolution of metabolic interactions between plant-feeding (phytophagous) leaf beetles and their obligate bacterial symbionts. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982220307764


July, 2020:

Dr. Chelsea Specht, Barbara McClintock Professor of Plant Biology in the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell University, will speak with CBio  on July 24 about her research on the evolution and diversification of plant form and function. She will also discuss her role as the inaugural Associate

Dean for Diversity and Inclusion for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell.

Information about some of the programs/resources mentioned by Dr. Specht for mentoring graduate students can be found here: https://cals.cornell.edu/about/our-values-impact/diversity-inclusion/graduate-student-mentorship


July, 2020:

Dr. Jim Adelman joined the Editorial Board of the Auk, the official publication of the American Ornithological Society. It was established in 1884 and is published quarterly. The Auk publishes research from around the world that tests fundamental, scientific hypotheses through ornithological studies.


Flamingo Close Up

July, 2020:

The McKenna Lab attended the 2020 Arthropod Genomics Symposium via Slack/Zoom beginning July 21.

July, 2020:

Dr. Jennifer Mandel (https://blogs.memphis.edu/jmandel/) and several colleagues published a paper in the journal Taxon on classification of the Compositae. The paper is a tribute to the late Dr. Vicki Funk.  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/tax.12235

Dr. Mandel also published a paper in the journal Molecular Phylognetics & Evolution on "Abandoning persistent misconceptions that obfuscate organelle evolution". https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1055790320301755


June, 2020:

Dr. Jennifer Mandel joined the Editorial Board of the Journal of Systematics and Evolution.


Colorful Flowers

June, 2020:

CBio announces a new initiative: Broadening participation in biodiversity science and education through advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.

June, 2020:

Dr. Nigel Pitman from the Field Museum of Natural History (Keller Science Action Center) spoke with CBio via Zoom on June 26 about his research on South American rain forest floras and animal faunas in the face of rapid human-induced habitat loss and degradation. We also heard from Maryam Shahrtash, a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Shawn Brown (UofM Dept. of Biological Sciences). Maryam reported on outcomes from her 2019 CBio Graduate Student Seed Grant.

Tropical Leaves

June, 2020:

The Brown Lab (www.microbialmemphis.com) published a paper in the Journal of Hazardous Materials on the interactions of biofilms and water chemistry that shows that biofilms increase lead deposition onto plastic pipe material. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304389420312425#!

Closeup of a Petri Dish

May, 2020:

Dr. Steve Palumbi from Stanford University (Marine Sciences, Hopkins Marine Station) spoke with CBio via Zoom on May 29 about his research on marine biodiversity, conservation, and evolution in the face of rapid human-induced global change. We also heard from Kathryn Parsley, a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Jaime Sabel (UofM Dept. of Biological Sciences). Kathryn reported on outcomes from her 2019 CBio Graduate Student Seed Grant.

May, 2020:

PhD student Maryam Shahrtash of the Brown Lab (www.microbialmemphis.com) published a paper investigating drivers of fungal endophyte assembly in the invasive plant kudzu. https://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/12/5/185.


The Brown lab also published a paper on how nutrients and organic matter shape alpine lake biofilm communities in the journal Aquatic Microbial Ecology. https://www.int-res.com/prepress/a01937.html


April, 2020:

Dr. Thomas Near from Yale University (Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology) spoke with CBio via Zoom on April 24 about his research on mechanisms that generate and maintain fish biodiversity.

Fish on Ice

March, 2020:

Dr. Paul Garber from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (Department of Anthropology) spoke with CBio on March 27 about the primate extinction crisis, and transitioning from advocacy to activism in addressing the biodiversity crisis.

We held the March CBio Group meeting remotely via zoom. CBio Group meetings will be held remotely until further notice.

March, 2020:

Dr. John Tooker from Penn State University spoke on Wednesday, March 4, from 12-130 pm in the FedEx Institute. His talk was titled: Toxic Slugs Chart a Path Back to Integrated Pest Management.

Conservation-based agriculture is being heavily adopted in the certain regions of the U.S. to help reduce erosion and provide other benefits. No-till farming and diverse rotations that include cover crops are the primary ingredients in current interests in conservation agriculture. Unfortunately, many farmers are inadvertently handicapping their production systems by overusing pesticides, particularly insecticides. Dr. Tooker’s team has revealed that Integrated Pest Management is a key component to maximizing the production of these conservation-based systems.

Dr. John Tooker is an Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Entomology at Pennsylvania State University. His research group studies relationships among plants, invertebrate herbivores, and natural enemies to understand factors that regulate populations of herbivorous insects and slugs. The long- term goal of his research is to exploit ecological interactions for sustainable insect pest management.

March, 2020:

Congratulations to graduate student Malle Carrasco-Harris (Cole Lab), who successfully defended her PhD thesis titled: The spatial ecology and genetics of copperhead snakes (Agkistrodon contortrix) in an urban forest. Two papers reporting on this work are in press (see below).

Carrasco-Harris M.F., D. Bowman, S. Reichling, and J.A. Cole. 2020. Spatial ecology of copperhead snakes (Agkistrodon contortrix) in response to urban park trails. Journal of Urban Ecology.

Carrasco-Harris M.F., J. R. Mandel, C. M. Siniscalchi, S. Reichling, and J.A. Cole. 2020. Population genetics of Copperhead Snakes (Agkistrodon contortrix) within an urban forest. Herpetological Review 51(1).

March, 2020:

Graduate student Kate Parsley (Sabel Lab) was

chosen by the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) as a 2020 Plantae Fellow.


Fellows are chosen to nurture and expand the community of plant scientists on Plantae.org, a plant science networking site sponsored and created by the ASPB. Kate will primarily be involved in collecting, creating, and contributing science communication, education, and outreach resources as well as facilitating discussions and interactions surrounding these topics. For more information: 


March, 2020:

Graduate student Kate Parsley (Sabel Lab) was recently interviewed for the Talaterra podcast, a program run by Tania Marien about freelance educators working in natural resource fields and environmental education (see: https://talaterra.com/about).


Kate’s research about plant blindness was featured due to its potential implications for environmental literacy, conservation education, and community outreach efforts related to botany education. Her interview can be found here: https://talaterra.com/podcast/2020/3/5/episode-47-kathryn-parsley-plant-blindness

February, 2020:

Information about the Memphis Area Climate Action Plan is available online.

January, 2020:

McKenna Lab publishes a major paper on arthropod genomes in Genome Biology.

The evolutionary innovations of arthropods – the most diverse group of animals on Earth – are as numerous as they are fascinating, from fangs, silk and stingers to exquisitely colored wings and ingenious feats of engineering. Some arthropods contribute vital ecosystem services, including pollination and decomposition, while others are pests of agriculture or spread diseases. An international team of scientists, including researchers from the McKenna Lab, report the results from a project designed to kickstart the sequencing of genomes from thousands of arthropod species (the Insect 5,000 Genomes Project; i5k). The gene families found to be most dynamically changing in arthropod genomes encode proteins linked to digestion, chemical defence and the building and remodelling of chitin - the major constituent of the arthropod exoskeleton. Newly evolved gene families underlie functions known to be important in different arthropod groups, including visual learning and behavior, pheromone and odorant detection, neuronal activity and wing development.

UM press release:


Published paper:


Select news stories:



December, 2019:

Brown Lab Research Featured in the New Scientist

Dr. Shawn Brown, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, was recently interviewed by the New Scientist, who wrote a story about his research on the microbes that live in snow. The New Scientist is a weekly print and digital magazine that reaches over 4 million readers. You can read the story at the following link: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24432611-100-deep-and-crisp-and-living-how-snow-sustains-amazing-hidden-life/

November, 2019:

McKenna Lab publishes major paper on beetle genomics and evolution in PNAS

Dr. Duane McKenna, William Hill Professor of Biological Sciences, published an article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, titled: “The Evolution and Genomic Basis of Beetle Diversity”. The paper details how ancient horizontal transfers of microbial genes to beetle genomes set the stage for beetle diversification. The study was funded in part by NSF, and involves researchers from Australia, Austria, China, Germany, Russia, and the US, working at the leading edge of large-scale genomic data generation, analysis, and integration. UM co-authors included postdocs Seunggwan Shin & Dave Clarke, graduate student Cristian Beza, and undergraduate Peyton Murin.

UM press release:


Published paper:


Select news stories:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w172wpkl42qf5m2 (begins at 31:15)

November, 2019:

CBio announces Biodiversity Scholars Award Program for incoming PhD students

See here for more information.

October, 2019:

Cristian Beza successfully completed his PhD dissertation defense. Dissertation title: Island Biogeography in the continental New World Tropics: Reconstructing the phylogeny & evolution of the Mesoamerican Bess Beetle tribe Proculini (Coleoptera: Passalidae). CBio Director Duane McKenna was Cristian's major advisor. His other committee members (all CBio Associates) were Randy Bayer, Keith Bowers, Jennifer Mandel, and Matt Parris.

October, 2019:

Adam Ramsey successfully completed his PhD dissertation defense. Dissertation title: Considering cytonuclear interactions in the face of heteroplasmy: evidence from Daucus carota (Apiaceae), A gynodieoceous plant species. CBio Assistant Director Jennifer Mandel was Adam's major advisor. His other committee members were Randy Bayer (CBio), Judy Cole, Duane McKenna (CBio), and Anna-Bess Sorin.

Fall, 2019:

Alex Mueller, a recent MS graduate of the Bowers Lab, published a paper in Canadian Journal of Zoology describing how supplemental nestboxes can greatly augment breeding densities of Prothonotary Warblers. A habitat specialist, the abundance of this species has declined significantly in recent decades because of habitat loss.


Published paper:


October, 2019:

Dr. Carolina Siniscalchi, Research Associate in the Mandel Lab, published a paper in Frontiers in Plant Science, “Phylogenomics Yields New Insight Into Relationships Within Vernonieae (Asteraceae)”


Photo: Chresta speciosa (Asteraceae) and Colibri serrirostris (Trochilidae), photo credit Carolina Siniscalchi.


Published paper:


October, 2019:

Dr. Emily Puckett, Asst. Professor of Biological Sciences, attended the 2nd International Sun Bear Symposium in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia with support from a CBio Seed Grant.

Sun bears are vulnerable to extinction due to habitat loss, high hunting pressures, and capture for pets.  You can read more about Dr. Puckett’s trip here.


Photo credit: Emily Puckett.

September, 2019:

Dr. Duane McKenna, Professor of Biological Sciences and CBio Director, attended the 9th Insect Phylogeny Meeting in Dresden, Germany.


Photo: Duane McKenna & collaborator Na Ra Shin (Max Planck Inst. for Chemical Ecology; Jena, Germany).

September, 2019:

Drs. Carolina Siniscalchi and Ram Thapa traveled to Washington, DC and the National Museum of Natural History to collaborate with researchers and make collections in the U.S. National Herbarium, funded by a CBio Seed Grant.

September, 2019:

Dr. Stephanie Haddad, Research Assistant Professor, has joined the Department of Biological Sciences. Dr. Haddad will contribute to research development for the McKenna Lab and CBio.

September, 2019:

Dr. Robert (Bort) Edwards joins the Mandel Lab

Dr. Edwards will contribute to ongoing work on the phylogeny and evolution of Asteraceae in the lab of Dr. Jennifer Mandel, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, and CBio Assistant Director. Dr. Edwards will split his time between Memphis and the Smithsonian Institution, which is the home institution for Dr. Mandel's other major collaborator on this project.

July, 2019:

NSF-REU undergraduate student Jorge Gomez presents at his first Botany Conference in Tucson, AZ.


Title: "The Evolutionary Relationships in Pertyeae (Asteraceae) inferred from Hyb-Seq Data"

June, 2019:

Mandel Lab publishes major paper on the daisy family (Asteraceae) in PNAS

Dr. Jennifer Mandel, assistant professor of Biological Sciences, and CBio Assistant Director, authored an article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A. titled: “A fully resolved backbone phylogeny reveals numerous dispersals and explosive diversifications throughout the history of Asteraceae”. In the study, funded by the National Science Foundation, Mandel and her colleagues used genomic data to reconstruct the family tree of daisies and their relatives (Asteraceae; >25,000 species). Their work showed the family first originated near the end of the Cretaceous period ~80 million years ago. However, the family did not begin to diversify until the Earth began to cool and habitats changed dramatically about 40 million years ago. This study was a collaboration involving researchers from the University of Memphis, the Smithsonian Institution and Oklahoma State University. CBio co-authors included C. Siniscalchi and R. Thapa.

UM press release:


Published paper:


April, 2019:

CBio faculty & students attend ASB Meeting

The Annual Meeting of the Association of Southeastern Biologists was held at the Memphis Cook Convention Center from April 3-6, 2019. The meeting was attended by 6 CBio faculty members as well as graduate students and postdocs. Collectively, 8 presentations/posters were presented.

March, 2019:

Puckett Lab publishes major paper on brown rat demography in Genome Research

Travel to almost any city in the world and you may find a rat.  But how did they move from their natal range on the Mongolian steep to a truly global distribution?  Dr. Emily Puckett, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, and colleague sequenced the genomes of 14 brown rats from around the globe.  They found two routes of range expansion; the first began ~16,000 years ago as rats moved eastward into modern day Russia.  These rats were moved later in time to the Pacific coast of North America.  The second range expansion occurred much later, ~860 years ago, as rats were moved to Southeast Asia.  The movement into SE Asia connected this important human commensal species with modes of transport to take them to Europe, and from Europe all over the globe. 

Published paper:


Painting: Marthalicia Matarrita.

February, 2019:

Dr. Emily Puckett joined the Editorial Board of the journal Ecology and Evolution as an Associate Editor.


Grizzly Bear

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