Em Micer, a senior biology and chemistry double major in the Sabel lab, won first place in the 33rd Annual University of Memphis Student Research Forum in the undergraduate Education category. Their research was titled, “Exploring Undergraduate Chemistry and Biology Students’ Understanding of Enzymes.”
Since 2019, Dr. Mandel and a group of colleagues worldwide have been meeting virtually to discuss papers and ideas for research, and to otherwise share their knowledge about plants in the species-rich family Compositae (asters, daisies, sunflowers, and relatives). This group, The International Compositae Alliance, has recently organized a monthly virtual symposium on Compositae, with talks given by community members. The growing community, which includes researchers, educators, collections directors and managers, and students, has also started an online newsletter designed to promote their research, share knowledge and advice, and facilitate engagement with stakeholders worldwide. See compositae.org for more detail.
January, 2021: Virtual Data Science Conference
The Data Science Cluster at the University of Memphis, which has connections to CBio by way of our new initiative/collaborative in Biodiversity Data Science, is hosting a virtual data science conference (Memphis DATA) on March 25-26, 2021. Submission deadline for talks or posters is February 15, 2021. See for more info!
November, 2020: Meeting on Regional Capacity Building.
CBio hosted a 30-minute virtual meeting on Friday, Nov. 13 to discuss opportunities, interests, and needs for collaborative research, outreach, and education (including internships & workforce development) in biodiversity science and education with representatives from Memphis-area organizations.
Future Meetings will be held once monthly from 12-1pm on Friday’s. These will tentatively cover the following topics (one per meeting): Research, Engagement with Higher Education, Outreach & Other Broader Impacts, Workforce Development, Other Topics (TBD).
Interested in attending a future meeting? Contact us at the email address below.
October, 2020: CBio Graduate Student Redefines her Field of Study!
Kate Parsley (Sabel Lab) published a paper in the open-access journal Plants, People, Planet titled: Plant awareness disparity: A case for renaming plant blindness. Her paper is available at the following link: https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ppp3.10153
Kate’s research about plant blindness has implications for environmental literacy, conservation education, and community outreach efforts related to botany education. Congratulations Kate!
September, 2020: Paper Announcement
Drs. Shawn Brown, Matt Parris, and Denita Weeks (recent graduate from the Parris lab) recently published a paper in the journal Animal Microbiome titled: Recovery and resiliency of skin microbial communities on the southern leopard frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus) following two biotic disturbances. https://animalmicrobiome.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s42523-020-00053-5
September, 2020: CBio Guest Researchers
Dr. Alex Wild, Curator of Entomology for the University of Texas Biodiversity Collections spoke with CBio on September 24 about his research in ant systematics and beetle and wasp evolution, as well as his work as a professional nature photographer (specializing in ants and other insects). His blog (), online since 2007, is an exploration of ants and other insects that are the subjects of his research and photography. Photo galleries showing some of his work can be seen here: https://www.alexanderwild.com/.
We also heard from Dr. Lynette Strickland, a postdoc at Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Dr. Strickland talked about her research on the genetics, ecology, and evolution of polymorphic Neotropical tortoise beetles. She will be moving to the University of Memphis to join the McKenna Lab as an NSF postdoc in early 2021.
August, 2020: CBio Guest Researcher
Dr. Joan Strassman, Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology in the Department of Biology at
Washington University in St. Louis, spoke with CBio on August 28 about her research on social evolution. We also heard from Dr. Ramhari Thapa, a postdoc in the lab of Dr. Jennifer Mandel (UofM, Biological Sciences). Dr. Thapa reported on his trip to attend the Plant and Animal Genome Conference in San Diego, CA (Jan. 11-15, 2020), supported in part by a CBio Seed Grant.
August, 2020: Teaching Award for CBio Faculty
Dr. Keith Bowers was awarded the University of Memphis College of Arts & Sciences 2020 Dean's Award for Teaching Excellence. Keith is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and Director of the Meeman Biological Station. Dr. Bowers teaches courses in biostatistics, ornithology, vertebrate physiology, and general biology, and his research group studies the evolution of adaptive behavior in wild birds.
August, 2020: New NSF Funding
Dr. Shawn Brown (CBio; Biological Sciences) and Dr. Maryam Salehi (Civil Engineering) were awarded a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental & Transport Systems in the amount of $329,655 to study the impact of biofilms on lead sorption and release by plastic water pipes in drinking water distribution systems. For more information: https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=2029764&HistoricalAwards=false
August, 2020: Paper Announcement
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: CBio Guest Researcher
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. Adelman Joins Editorial Board
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.
July, 2020: Conference Attendance
The McKenna Lab attended the 2020 Arthropod Genomics Symposium via Slack/Zoom beginning July 21.
July, 2020: Paper Announcement
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. Mandel Joins Editorial Board
Dr. Jennifer Mandel joined the Editorial Board of the Journal of Systematics and Evolution.
June, 2020: New CBio Initiative
CBio announces a new initiative: Broadening participation in biodiversity science and education through advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.
June, 2020: CBio Guest Researcher
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.
June, 2020: Paper Announcement
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#!
May, 2020: CBio Guest Researcher
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: Paper Announcement
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: CBio Guest Researcher
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.
March, 2020: CBio Guest Researcher
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: CBio Guest Researcher
Dr. John Tooker from Penn State University spoke on Wednesday, March 4, 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: New PhD Graduate
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: Parsley Awarded Fellowship
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: CBio Student Featured in Podcast
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
January, 2020: Paper Announcement
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:
Select news stories:
December, 2019: Brown Lab in the News
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:
November, 2019: Paper Announcement
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:
Select news stories:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w172wpkl42qf5m2 (begins at 31:15)
October, 2019: New Phd Graduate
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: New PhD Graduate
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: Publication Announcement
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.
October, 2019: Publication Announcement
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.
October, 2019: Conference Attendance
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: Conference Attendance
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: Research Travel
Drs. Carolina Siniscalchi and Ram Thapa (Mandel Lab) 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: New CBio Faculty
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: New Postdoc
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: Conference Attendance
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: Paper Announcement
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:
April, 2019: Conference Attendance
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: Paper Announcement
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.
Painting: Marthalicia Matarrita.
February, 2019: Dr. Puckett Joins Editorial Board
Dr. Emily Puckett joined the Editorial Board of the journal Ecology and Evolution as an Associate Editor.