Archives

Brett Blaauw ’05

Brett co-authored a paper that appeared in the Journal of Applied Ecology. According to paper’s other co-author, Rufus Isaacs, theirs is the first paper that demonstrates an economic advantage for farmers when they create wild bee habitat next to cultivated fields. The two entomologists planted marginal land surrounding blueberry fields with a mix of native perennial wildflowers. Even though the fields were pollinated by honey bees trucked in for the purpose, Brett discovered that, after a period of two years, the rising population of wild bees increased blueberry yields by 10 to 20 percent. That increase more than offset the costs of making the marginal land attractive to wild bee populations. Brett was the lead author on the paper. The K biology major completed his Ph.D. at Michigan State University under Isaacs and is now working at Rutgers University.

Nancy Huntly ’77

Nancy is the Scientist in Residency Fellow for the month of September at the Sitka Sound Science Center. Nancy is a professor in the biology department and the director of the ecology center at Utah State University (Logan). She also chairs the committee that administers Science Unwrapped, the USU College of Science public engagement program. She earned her B.A. in biology at K and her Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Arizona. Since 2004 she has studied the human ecology of the northern Gulf of Alaska region. Her interests in Alaska are particularly in landscape legacies, food webs, and sustainable resource use.

Dan Babbitt ’96

Biologist, educator, and “bug geek,” Dan manages the O. Orkin Insect Zoo and Butterfly Pavilion (part of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History). He contributed his expertise to a recent NPR report (the delightfully titled “How Animals Hacked the Rainbow and Got Stumped on Blue”) about the evolution of the uses of color by animals. Turns out that living and reproducing depended occasionally on an organism’s ability to make itself a certain color. And it further turns out that the color blue was difficult for animals to make by ingesting dietary pigments (many animals get their color from their food). According to Dan, if you can’t make blue, then make the optical technology to appear blue. The entomologist then provides a beautiful example–the blue morpho butterfly, some of which he keeps at his insect zoo. They have tiny transparent structures on their wing surface that reflect light in a way that makes the wings appear so blue it hurts your eyes. But ground up wings, robbed of the reflective prism structures, look gray or brown. At K Dan majored in biology, and his study abroad in Ecuador gave him ample opportunity to pursue his love of insects, a passion he traces back to his freshman year aquatic ecology class. Dan has never forgotten the influence of K on the trajectory of his career. Not long ago he sponsored a K externship at the insect zoo.

J. Peter Coppinger ’99

Peter is an associate professor of biology at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. Peter’s research interests include plant-microbe interactions and identification of phytoplasma in wildflowers. He teaches courses in cell and molecular biology, genetics, industrial microbiology, and plant biology. Peter earned his bachelor’s degree in biology and studied abroad in Aberdeen Scotland. After he graduated from K he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and studied rainforest ecophysiology at Macquarie Univeristy in Sydney, Australia. He earned his Ph.D. in plant biology at the University of California at Berkeley.

Dan Blustein ’06

Dan is the subject of “Member Spotlight” for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The article (by Laura Petersen) is titled “Dan Blustein journeys from marine biology to Hollywood and back again,” and it’s a good read, chronicling his interesting forays in the saga explicit in the title–though “back again” might more accurately refer to “marine robotics” rather than marine biology. Of particular note is the reference to Dan’s opportunities in K’s externship program. Those two experiences, one with octopi at the Seattle Aquarium and the other job-shadowing a physician, helped clarify what he wanted to do. Of course the article showcases that Dan’s path has been more spiral than straight line. How cool (and liberal arts!) is that.

Jacob Meyers ’08

Jacob recently completed his Ph.D. at Colorado State University. He has been conducting research on new approaches to control disease-carrying mosquitoes. His research was described in a paper–“Mosquitocidal properties of IgG targeting the glutamate-gated chloride channel in three mosquito disease vectors (Diptera: Culicidae)”–that was published in the May issue of Journal for Experimental Biology. And his paper was highlighted as the “Editor’s Choice” for that issue of the journal. Despite the fact that malaria mortality rates have fallen steadily since 2000, the disease threatens half the human population and kills one child every minute. Moreover, resistance in mosquitoes to the primary pesticide used to control them is increasing. A new mosquitocidal candidate has arisen in an old drug, ivermectin, which has been successfully used against parasitic worms that cause diseases such as onchocerciasis (River Blindness). However, little was known about the process by which ivermectin worked against mosquitoes. Jacob’s research elucidated the site (called the glutamate-gated chloride channel, part of the insect’s nervous system) and the mechanism of action at that site which were responsible for ivermectin’s effectiveness. Based on what was learned from that discovery, Jacob tested a new strategy, essentially substituting for ivermectin an antibody to the glutamate gated chloride channel. His preliminary tests confirmed the antibody insecticide’s effectiveness against the mosquito that transmits malaria. In two other disease-carrying mosquitoes (yellow fever and West Nile virus) the antibody did not pass across the gut, which prevented any insecticidal effect. The next step is to immunize cattle with the antibody. Cattle are a major source of blood meals for mosquitoes. It is hoped that malaria-bearing mosquitoes that consume cattle blood carrying the toxic antibodies during the malaria parasite’s incubation period would die, disrupting transmission of the disease. A new antibody insecticide may offer hope for a malaria-free future.

Jacob is married to classmate Alyssa Brayshaw ’08. This year Alyssa was awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to support her doctoral work. She will begin work in the fall on her Ph.D. at Texas A&M University. She plans to focus her research in the field of wildlife disease ecology, concentrating on Chagus Disease, which threatens to cross the Texas-Mexico border. Jacob was offered and accepted a post-doctoral position at Texas A&M in the lab of a population geneticist studying mosquito populations on Bioko Island and other field sites in West Africa. Jacob majored in chemistry at K. Alyssa majored in biology and studied abroad in Nairobi, Kenya.

 

Samantha Wolfe ’13

Samantha recently served as an AmeriCorps New Jersey watershed ambassador working in the Assicunk, Crosswicks and Doctors Creek watersheds. “I hosted a volunteer monitoring training at the Tulpehaking Nature Center, with eight volunteers,” she is quoted as saying. “We spend many hours together. It had gone so well that I was on cloud nine at the end of the training. I’m so grateful for the time I have spent in New Jersey.” Samantha’s comments were part of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection’s effort to recruit Americorps watershed ambassadors for 2016. Samantha majored in biology at Kalamazoo College and studied abroad in Beijing, China.

Kate Jenks ’02

Kate is a conservation biologist at the Minnesota Zoo. Her mission is to reduce threats to wildlife by using science to solve conservation problems. “I seek to see a planet full of life and awe-inspiring wild places.” She assists the Tiger Species Survival Plan and Tiger Conservation Campaign, and she organizes the zoo’s Recycle for Rainforests Program. She continues her research on dholes in Thailand and is collaborating with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Mongolia on a project related to reintroduced Przewalski’s horses. Her former biology professor, Paul Sotherland, is a big fan. “CONGRATULATIONS,” he wrote to Kate, “on doing such cool stuff!”

Sarah Rockwell ’02

arahRockwellSarah manages the Klamath Bird Observatory’s bird monitoring work on the Trinity River Restoration Program in northwestern California. Body temperature and blood work-ups provide indicators of human health; in a somewhat similar way birds are indicators of a functional river ecosystem. Sarah manages research looking into how changes in habitat structure associated with river restoration are related to bird abundance, diversity and demography. Results shape and assess river restoration activities. Sarah joined KBO in 2013 after earning her Ph.D. at the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. She studied the ecology of the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler. At K, she majored in biology with a concentration in environmental studies. She studied abroad in Ecuador. KBO is a scientific non-profit organization that achieves bird conservation in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the migratory ranges of the birds that frequent the ruggedly beautiful and wildlife-rich Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion of southern Oregon and northern California. KBO emphasizes high caliber science and the role of birds as indicators of the health of the land, and the organization specializes in cost-effective bird monitoring and research projects that improve natural resource management. It nurtures a conservation ethic in local communities through outreach and educational programs.

Tess Killpack ’06

Tess represents one of several K-Plan roots to a recent fruition of egg-and-bird science. A research paper recently published in the Journal of Experimental Biology sheds new light on the stunning metamorphosis that occurs at or near hatching in many birds. The paper has a mighty title: “Development of endothermy and concomitant increases in cardiac and skeletal muscle mitochondrial respiration in the precocial Pekin duck,” and, it turns out, some very deep Kalamazoo College connections. “Most of the work was done in the lab of Ed Dzialowski ’93,” wrote Paul Sotherland, professor emeritus of biology (and, like Ed, a listed coauthor of the paper). He added, “The storyline all got started WAY back when Tess discovered, in her Senior Individualized Project, the dramatic (think: Grinch-like…hah!) cardiac growth in chickens, a discovery illustrated nicely in Figure 4 of the paper (and acknowledged with the highlighted citation on page one of the paper).” The title of Tess’s SIP was “A change of heart in birds: cardiac response to the onset of endothermy.” According to Paul, Tess’s was not the only SIP “root” that nourished the Experimental Biology paper. “A SIP done by Alan (Skip) Faber ’14 contributed as well,” said Paul,”which is acknowledged by his coauthorship of the paper.” Ed is an associate professor in the department of biological sciences at the University of North Texas. Tess is an instructor in the biological sciences laboratory at Wellesley College. Skip is beginning his second year of dental school at the University of Michigan.