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Spring 2020

If you’re looking for some good news, here’s a tiny something to “bee” happy about. The UB Bees program, which launched last summer, reports that all six of its honeybee colonies survived their very first winter. This sweet success is meaningful because nationally, hives have been perishing at rates of about 30% over winter in recent years, says David Hoekstra, clinical assistant professor of biological sciences, who runs the UB Bees research and outreach initiative. Story by Charlotte Hsu
The Department of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that Nicole Wong has won the University at Buffalo Graduate School's 2020 Excellence in Teaching Award for Graduate Teaching Assistants. Wong is currently a PhD candidate based in the lab of Dr. Matthew Xu-Friedman, who serves as her mentor. Wong was sponsored for the award by Dr. Lara D. Hutson, Clinical Associate Professor Director of Undergraduate Studies.
When doctors diagnosed 2-year-old Yuna Lee with FOXG1 syndrome, her parents recognized the disease immediately. Yuna’s mother and father, Soo-Kyung Lee and Jae W. Lee, are biologists at UB. By chance, Soo-Kyung had studied the FOX family of genes, including FOXG1, for years before Yuna was born. Only about 650 people in the world are known to have FOXG1 syndrome. That Yuna, the daughter of a biologist who had researched the gene, would be one of them: What were the odds?  Read the news article by Charlotte Hsu.
The journal, PLOS Genetics has published the research article by Vincent Lynch and Mirna Marinić, Relaxed constraint and functional divergence of the progesterone receptor (PGR) in the human stem-lineage.  Lynch is currently assistant professor, UB Department of Biological Sciences. About their study, the co-authors summarize, “We resurrected ancestral forms of the progesterone receptor and tested their ability to regulate a target gene. We found that the human progesterone receptor forms have changed in function, suggesting the actions regulated by progesterone may also be different in humans. Our results suggest caution in attempting to apply findings from animal models to progesterone biology of humans.” The research was funded by the March of Dimes and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Preterm Birth Initiative. Read the news article by Charlotte Hsu. 
Congratulations to Megan Dwyer, Katherine Eaton, and Kathleen Ohma. Our Biological Sciences majors are among the winners of the 2020 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, the highest honor the State University of New York bestows upon its students. The annual award recognizes and honors students who have best demonstrated and been recognized for integrating academic excellence with accomplishments in the areas of leadership, athletics, community service, creative and performing arts, campus involvement or career achievement.
Zhen Wang's lab is investigating the chemical processes the plants use to create cardiac glycosides: what steps are taken, what genes are turned on and what enzymes are deployed. Wang’s team can figure out, step by step, how foxgloves make cardiac glycosides, scientists could leverage that information to explore a variety of improvements. 
UB Biological Sciences Alum Long Shen, PhD (2003),​ is a founding partner of KSL Biomedical. Drawing upon scientific and medical training in Xiamen University, China and the University at Buffalo, USA, he has performed as translational biomedical research innovative scientific program leader for over 15 years in academic programs and private industry. Dr. Shen has made significant contributions to the identification of novel biomarkers for the early diagnosis of autoimmune disease and associated B-cell lymphomas. Dr. Shen has authored more than 25 peer-reviewed publications in high impact research journals and is co-inventor on a number patents in this field. Read the research news article by Charlotte Hsu.
Genetics, published by the Genetics Society of America, contains a paper co-authored by UB alum Ozgur Taskent, a recent PhD graduate, and Omer Gokcumen,Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences. The work presents a comprehensive analysis of the unusually divergent haplotypes in the Eurasian genomes and showed that they can be traced back to multiple introgression events. Funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the research reinforces the concept that Neanderthal DNA has been woven into the modern human genome on multiple occasions as our ancestors met Neanderthals time and again in different parts of the world. Read the news article by Charlotte Hsu.
During the 2020 State of Emergency declared by New York, our faculty responded to Erie County's urgent call for much-needed laboratory supplies to support local testing for COVID-19. Read the news article by Charlotte Hsu.
The Neolithic ushered in dramatic changes: civilisations with large populations, advancements in technology, arts and trade. But with the advent of agriculture, humans also began to experience malnutrition, starvation and epidemic diseases. The BBC explores the question "Was this humanity's biggest mistake?" in a short video program that includes an interview with Omer Gokcumen. See BBC REEL.
WGRZ-TV produced a news story on the science of climate change features Trevor Krabbenhoft and other UB faculty who are researching "specifically" what climate change means in our region. He discusses the delicate balance of Lake Erie's fresh water and how aquatic life respond to environmental change. Krabbenhoft states, "We don't realize how rare this kind of environment is globally." Using functional genomics and bioinformatics to test hypotheses related to mechanisms underlying how fish respond to their environment, we can better predict outcomes for future scenarios of environmental change. Krabbenhoft's research has important management and conservation implications both locally for the Great Lakes and more broadly for aquatic ecosystems worldwide. (Krabbenhoft's interview begins at 3:43/5:35)
"Beyond suggesting that the last mammoths were probably an unhealthy population, it’s a cautionary tale for living species threatened with extinction: If their populations stay small, they too may accumulate deleterious mutations that can contribute to their extinction.” —Vincent Lynch, PhD, assistant professor, UB Department of Biological Sciences
Shermali Gunawardena is leading a new study that explores alpha-synuclein’s basic properties, with a focus on a section of the protein known as the non-amyloidal component (NAC). The research was done on fruit fly larvae that were genetically engineered to produce both normal and mutated forms of human alpha-synuclein. The small acidic protein is associated with Parkinson’s disease. The study is published in the journal, Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience.

2019 Department News


Grand Opening.

Gerald Koudelka (left), professor and former chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, cuts the ribbon at a ceremony, December 3, 2019, celebrating renovations that were completed in the department, located in the Cooke-Hochstetter complex on the North Campus. Looking on are College of Arts and Sciences Dean Robin Schulze and Joe Helfer, senior assistant to the chair. The rehab, part of UB’s physical plan, was designed to foster research and facilitate collaboration among faculty, staff and students.  Photo: Jackie Hausler. See the related item: New Space for New Ideas.

Think of nutrition as “what” and ingestive behavior as “why.” Given that diet-induced obesity inhibits taste responses, Kathryn Medler and Marie Torregrossa, UB Department of Psychology, are working to identify how excess weight and diet each individually affect the properties of taste cells. The work has won a pilot grant, one of the first to be funded by UB’s Center for Ingestive Behavior Research (CIBR). 
James Berry and Omer Gokcumen were selected to receive awards at UB's Fall 2019 Celebration of Faculty and Staff Academic Excellence. The university-wide event was held on October 31, 2019, in Slee Hall. A large crowd was in attendance.
Kathleen Ohman wins ASA Award for Undergraduate Student Research in Acoustics

The Acoustical Society of America (ASA) has named Kathleen Ohman the winner of the Robert W. Young Award for Undergraduate Research in Acoustics. The ASA is the premiere international scientific society in acoustics, dedicated to increasing and diffusing the knowledge of acoustics and promoting its practical application. Ohman, a Biological Sciences Undergraduate Honors student, studies the effects of blast-induced traumatic brain injury on mouse vocalizations.


"Investigating TRAP-mediated attenuation of the trp operon with cotranscriptional SHAPE-Seq"
Authors: Kiel Kreuzer, Molly Evans, Julius Lucks, Paul Gollnick.

Dr. Keil Kreuzer has won "Most Outstanding Talk" at 2019 RustBelt RNA meeting, with an estimated 400 scientists in attendance. Kreuzer is a post-doctoral fellow in the Gollnick Lab. “This work is a collaboration between my lab at UB and that of Dr. Julius Lucks at Northwestern University to use a novel method to examine RNA structure during transcription,” states Dr. Gollnick, “Our work is changing the "textbook" view of how transcription is regulated in Bacillus subtilis.”

The mission of the RRM is to provide unique opportunities for junior scientists. The regional meeting encourages the sharing of ideas and the development of new collaborations. Support is provided by the National Science Foundation along with corporate and academic sponsors. 

Omer Gokcumen is co-author of Human and Non-Human Primate Lineage-Specific Footprints in the Salivary Proteome in the Oxford Journal, Molecular Biology and Evolution. The study’s findings provide a necessary basis for future studies to assess whether the differences in human salivary proteins were caused by natural selection. The challenge will be to decipher the genetic underpinnings of these changes, and understand the evolutionary mechanisms that caused them. 
Rupkatha Banerjee wins best talk at Neuroscience Research Day sponsored by the Buffalo Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience

Rupkatha Banerjee, a graduate student in Dr. Shermali Gunawardena's lab, was awarded Best Talk at the 13th Annual Neuroscience Research Day, October 11, 2019. Her research talk was focused on how Glycogen synthase kinase 3β mediated phosphorylation regulates kinesin-1 activity during axonal transport. Rupkatha's research unravels the complex control mechanisms that likely exist for motor function during axonal transport and how transport defects can affect neurodegeneration.


Imagine a UB hall of honor for students who show an undeniable track record of determination and success, perseverance and leadership. Imagine an online presentation — a UB Won’t-Give-Up Wikipedia page, if you will — for students who embody those qualities. Without a doubt, senior biological sciences major Aliaya Williams’ image and resume would be front and center. And now, thanks to the SUNY Educational Opportunity Program, that distinction is official. Read more.

Excerpt from national news report:  "Can science save the avocado? Like many commonly cultivated fruits and vegetables, avocados are under threat from climate change. One recent report predicts that by 2050, high temperatures and reduced precipitation in California will dramatically slash yields of the popular fruit, which thrives in moderate temperatures and humidity." Read more.

Our Genetics course (BIO-319) inspires the study of 240,000 bees buzzing in six hives on the North Campus, thanks to the persistence of a bee-loving undergradute student and faculty members. Read UB Now.


We hosted the first-ever Great Lakes Evolutionary Genomics Symposium. More than 100 scientists from the U.S. and Canada came to learn about our research in how genetic changes shape the evolution of animals, plants and other organisms over time. Read the story in UBNow.

Fall 2019: Welcome New Faculty

Jae W. Lee, PhD

Fall 2019: The Department of Biological Sciences is pleased to welcome a new member of our faculty. Jae W. Lee studies gene regulation that directs cell fate specification during development of neurons in the hypothalamus arcuate nucleus, which controls growth, metabolism and reproduction. Lee also studies a neurodevelopmental disorder named FoxG1 syndrome, which is characterized by severe congenital brain anomalies, in close collaboration with Soo-Kyung Lee’s group. Experimentally, Lee mainly utilizes mouse genetics and genome-wide approaches such as single cell RNA-seq and ChIP-seq. Lee’s lab is recruiting at all levels and anyone interested in his lab should contact Professor Lee directly. See faculty profile.

Soo-Kyung Lee, PhD

Fall 2019: The Department of Biological Sciences is pleased to welcome a new member of our faculty. Soo-Kyung Lee is engaged in studying gene regulation that directs cell fate determination during development of the central nervous system. Lee's major research models are developing spinal cord and cortex. In collaboration with Jae Lee’s group, she recently initiated a new venture with a neurodevelopmental disorder named FoxG1 syndrome, which is characterized by severe congenital brain anomalies. Lee's major experimental approach involves mouse genetics and genome-wide studies such as single cell RNA-seq and ChIP-seq. The Lee lab is recruiting at all levels and anyone interested in her lab should contact Professor Lee directly. See faculty profile.

Related Links

  • 10/22/18 Dittmar joins researchers at the National Science Foundation