News

Assistant Professor of Biology William Browne and Secondary Faculty in Biology Nikki Traylor-Knowles receive a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to characterize immune cells in a model ctenophore

The innate immune system, which includes immune cells and inflammatory molecules, represents the first line of defense against invading pathogens. The emergence of immunity, the ability to recognize self vs. nonself, is integral to the evolution of multicellular life. The new project seeks to shed light on the early evolution of innate immunity in animals by characterizing immune cells and their responses to pathogens in themodel ctenophore, Mnemiopsis leidyi.This work will reveal conserved aspects of pathogen defense mechanisms and immune cell specification associated with the evolution of metazoan innate immunity and reveal potentially novel ctenophore-specific aspects of pathogen defense and immune cell type diversity.


 Assistant Professors of Biology Michelle Afkhami and Christopher Searcy are part of a $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study the effects of fungal seed endophytes on the diversity of flowering plants

Fungal seed endophytes are known to provide many benefits to their host plants from drought tolerance to herbivore deterrence to increased nutrient uptake. The current project, which is a collaborative project with China, is funded through the National Science Foundation’s Dimensions of Biodiversity program. The project seeks to take a broad look at the role of fungal seed endophytes in aiding not only individual plant species, but in increasing plant diversification rates, expanding plant climatic tolerances, and in altering plant community diversity. The UM portion of the grant is $425K.


Lisse lab identifies protein important in both hair formation and wound repair

Lisse GraphsAssistant Professor of Biology Thomas Lisse is first-author of a new study in the June 2020 issue of npj Regenerative Medicinethat identifies the role of glial-cell derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) in both hair formation and skin wound repair. Using transgenetic mice, the research team showed that overexpression of GDNF promoted hair bulge stem cell (BSC) colony growth and induced BSC-derived progenitors to become epidermal cells at wound injury sites. Graduate student Neda Vishlaghi was a co-author of the study. You can read more about the study at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32566252/.


From South American rainforests to the Everglades, the UM Biology Department leads a campus-wide initiative to study sustainability

Associate Professor of Biology Ken Feeley Professors in the UM Biology Department are studying sustainability issues around the world and on the UM campus. Ken Feeley, Associate Professor of Biology and Smathers Chair of Tropical Tree Biology, studies the effects of climate change on Amazonian and Andean forests, as well as educating UM undergrads on sustainability issues through the UGalapagos Program. Mauro Galetti, Associate Professor Biology, also conducts his field work in South America, studying the effects of defaunation on forest regeneration in the Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. Galetti is also Director of UM’s John C. Gifford Arboretum, and emphasizes the importance of this resource for instructing UM’s undergraduate population about tropical plants and sustainability issues on campus. Michelle Afkhami, Assistant Professor of Biology, studies the effects of plant-microbe interactions on endangered ecosystems in South Florida, including the Florida Scrub and Everglades tree islands. Afkhami is excited about the new 3000-square-foot greenhouse that is about to be completed in the Arboretum that will add yet more diversity to the array of on-campus options for studying plant biology. You can read more about UM’s exciting sustainability initiatives here: https://news.miami.edu/as/stories/2020/06/sustainability-story.html.


Assistant Professor of Biology Christopher Searcy and his lab are studying the effects of climate change on local reptiles and amphibians

Assistant Professor of Biology Christopher Searcy The Searcy Lab’s work on climate change issues include local ecosystems like the Everglades and tropical hardwood hammocks, but also endangered species in California. The lab’s research in the Everglades occurs in an experimental landscape at Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge. Here, the South Florida Water Management District is testing different hydrological treatments that may eventually be applied to the Everglades as a whole. Graduate student Hunter Howell has documented that a drier Everglades greatly favors spread of the Brown anole, South Florida’s most common invasive reptile. Graduate student Stephanie Clements is working in a very different habitat, the tropical hardwood hammock. Here she tracks the elusive Florida reef gecko, the only gecko native to the eastern US. Along with graduate students Emily Powell and Caitlin Mothes, she has shown that the average Florida reef gecko occurs only 400 meters from the coast and only 5 meters above sea level, making it the US reptile most endangered by sea level rise. You can read more about the Searcy Lab’s research at: https://news.miami.edu/stories/2020/03/researcher-analyzes-how-our-changing-climate-is-impacting-reptiles-amphibians.html.


UM’s Biology Department welcomes Mauro Galetti as new Associate Professor of Biology and Director of the John C. Gifford Arboretum

Mauro Galetti new Associate Professor of Biology and Director of the John C. Gifford ArboretumMauro Galetti has been studying the effects of defaunation on rainforest regeneration in his native Brazil for over a decade. His research focuses on animals that eat fruit, since fruit eaters are responsible for dispersing many of the rainforest’s largest tree species. If we lose these fruit eating species (toucans, tapirs, peccaries, monkeys) it affects the ability of the rainforest to renew itself, which ultimately cascades to effects on the global climate. As a tie-in with his research, Galetti is currently working on a virtual guide to the Arboretum’s edible fruit trees. You can read more about Galetti and the Arboretum here: https://news.miami.edu/stories/2020/03/ecologist-has-a-passion-for-tropical-trees.html.


Professor of Biology Kathleen Sealey is part of University Laboratory for Integrative Knowledge (U-LINK) team that is working to install eco-friendly seawalls across Miami

Miami is projected to have greater economic impacts from sea level rise than any other city in the world. This calls for innovative solutions, such as seawalls that don’t have to be replaced as often. Sealey is part of a collaborative team with the College of Engineering that is working to develop new ideas for coastal development. The team recently installed 50-ft of experimental seawall at North Bay Village using glass fiber reinforced polymer (GFRP) rebar rather than steel rebar. This should extend life of the seawall from 20-30 years to 100 years. The team is also working on designs using Seacon, concrete made with seawater, and SEAHIVE, a perforated hexagonal tube that can be used to dissipate wave energy. You can read more about the U-LINK team here: https://news.miami.edu/stories/2020/02/college-of-engineering-design-builds-hope-for-a-lasting-seawall.html.


 Assistant Professor of Biology David Van Dyken publishes new paper on evolutionary rescue during invasions

David Van Dyken GraphsVan Dyken’s study, appearing in the January 2020 issue of The American Naturalist, demonstrates that evolutionary rescue is more likely when the invasive species is an exploitative competitor (uses the same resources) of the native species than when it is an interference competitor (is aggressive towards) of the native species. Van Dyken’s work showed a close match in these predictions whether they were derived mathematically using differential equations or from computer simulations. He also found that evolutionary rescue from exploitative competition is strongly dependent on spatial and temporal effects (range size and rate of spread), whereas evolutionary rescue from interference competition is largely independent of these considerations. This work will be valuable in informing management decisions centered around invasive species. You can read the full text of Van Dyken’s article at: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/706181?journalCode=an.