Category: biology

Developing general education skills

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brickman, head shotIn our contemporary campus culture, broadly construed, developing a well-rounded general education can be quite elusive. Though a broad educational experience is a perennial touchstone in strategic plans and commencement speeches alike, pressures for more narrowly defined jobs and career paths upon graduation create a tendency to whittle away at the very broadness we cherish and that we recognize as important.

On Thursday Nov. 7 at 10 am in the Thomas Reading Room of the MLC, one of the leading teachers in the UGA professoriate, Peggy Brickman, will present a public lecture on Scientific Literacy and how university courses help students build it within themselves as a part of their degree programs:

“Individuals use scientific information in many real world situations beyond the classroom, ranging from evaluating sources of evidence used in media reports about science to recognizing the role and value of science in society. Consequently, achieving scientific literacy for all is a core rationale for science coursework as part of general education (Gen Ed) requirements for undergraduates. But, how do we go about helping students develop those skills? Are courses chock full of content a mile wide and an inch deep helping to produce student with these real life skills? Or do they produce students with a false view of science as a grab bag of facts to be memorized and experiments that reconfirm existing ideas? I’m interested in teaching students to use biology in their own lives, and for the rest of their lives. I’m also interested in finding ways to measure students’ scientific literacy so I can demonstrate the value added to spending a semester in a Core General Education Science Course.”

Emphasis mine. These are extraordinarily important tenants of a healthy society. Even as we put graduates on the path to particular careers, we remember that all of our courses should also be built with the idea of training an engaged citizenry that will face many complex decisions, both personal and societal. Part of the university experience is to help prepare them for this challenge. One challenge for higher education is to strike a balance with these non-competing interests.

Image: Peggy Brickman, courtesy of UGA Photographic services.

Faculty in the News, September '13

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Schermafbeelding newspaper pageHere's a sampling of Franklin College faculty writing and quoted in the media this month:

 

“The secret bromance of Nixon and Brezhnev” – Posting by associate professor of history Stephen Mihm in Bloomberg News, picked up by the History News Network.

Museum of Natural History adds to its collection

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The Georgia Museum of Natural History is a unit of the Franklin College that links collections, research, public service, and education through programs designed for a diverse audience. Many Franklin faculty also serve as museum personnel and board members. Faculty, staff, and students from across campus have built significant collections in natural history through their research that, together, represent the most comprehensive in Georgia. These collections play an important role in the teaching mission of the University as well as in public service and outreach. 

In May 2013, the museum added hundreds of specimens of marine mammals and other animals to its research collection from the Northeastern University Vertebrate Collection in Nahant, MA.. These specimens include skins, skulls, postcranial skeletons, and fluid-preserved materials. The United Parcel Service played a crucial role in the shipping of this newest part of the collection, and made this terrific promotional video touting the transfer.

 

 

 

Origin of Life

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origin of life cartoon depictionThe Origins Lecture Series continues next week with the Origin of Life by series founder and chair of the division of biological sciences, Mark Farmer:

The origin of life remains one of the great unsolved mysteries in all of science.  Late in life Charles Darwin speculated that life may have begun in “a warm little pond” but today we think it more likely that the earliest life forms emerged in the dark depths of the early Earth’s oceans.  Even the simplest of cells is marvelously complex and for this reason there are those who feel that such complexity could not have arisen from natural processes.  In this lecture we will explore the transition from complex biochemistry to simple cells and offer explanations as to how the first free-living life forms emerged to eventually give rise to the riot of complex organisms we find today.

 7 p.m., Wednesday the 20th. These have all been a hit so far and this one promises to be no different. Get to the chapel early.

Origins Lecture Series

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convection.jpgThe Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the the division of biological sciences will host a new lecture series on the UGA campus this spring: The Origins Lecture Series

Since mankind’s earliest days the story of our origins has been one of fascination and inspiration.  In an effort to share that story six of UGA’s leading scientists have come together to present the latest scientific findings on everything from our humble beginnings on the plains of east Africa to the formation of the universe itself.  The Origins Lecture Series is intended for the entire Athens community.  In clear and plain language these talks are geared for those who want to know more about who we are, how we got here, and possibly, where we are going.

We'll have much more to say about this in the coming weeks, including a preview of the first lecture in the series by Loris Magnani of the department of physics and astronomy on the Origin of the Universe on Wednesday, January 23. Congratulations and thanks to Mark Farmer, chair of our biological sciences division, for bringing this important lecture series to fruition.

Study sees coevolution between invasive, native species

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Coevolution is the change of a biological object triggered by the change of a related object. And up until now there has been little evidence of it driving changes in Earth's history, though that, too, seems to be changing:

A new University of Georgia study shows that some native clearweed plants have evolved resistance to invasive garlic mustard plants—and that the invasive plants appear to be waging a counterattack. The study, published in the early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is thought to provide the first evidence of coevolution between native and invasive plant species.

"The implications of this study are encouraging because they show that the native plants aren't taking this invasion lying down," said study author Richard Lankau, assistant professor of plant biology in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "It suggests that if you were to take a longer view—a timescale of centuries—that exotic species could become integrated into their communities in a way that is less problematic for the natives."

Kannan receives NSF Career award

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Congratulations to Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Scholar Natarajan Kannan, whose work tracing the origins of a protein family that plays a key role in communicating environmental signals in the cell has been recognized by the National Science Foundation:

 

[Kannan]will use $969,822 provided by the NSF CAREER Award program over the next five years to gain an in-depth understanding of the evolution of kinases, a protein that controls cellular signaling pathways. The results could help researchers develop new strategies for treating a variety of diseases.

Predicting risks of extinction

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Brachiopods are marine shell fish that have hard "valves" (shells) on the upper and lower surfaces. The Ordovician is a geologic period and system, the second of six of the Paleozoic Era, and covers the time between 488.3±1.7 to 443.7±1.5 million years ago. Both are crucial to understanding a new study from Franklin scientists:

A team of scientists analyzed more than 46,000 fossils from 52 sites and found that greater numbers did indeed help clam-like brachiopods survive the Ordovician extinction, which killed off approximately half of the Earth's life forms some 444 million years ago. Surprisingly, abundance did not help brachiopod species persist for extended periods outside of the extinction event.

Study co-author Steven Holland, a professor of geology in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, said the seemingly paradoxical finding suggests that predicting which species are at risk of extinction is an extremely dicey endeavor.

"This study shows that extinction is much more complicated than generally realized," said Holland, whose findings appear in the current issue of the journal Paleobiology. "It turns out that a lot of extinction events are idiosyncratic; there are a specific set of circumstances that come together and dictate whether something goes or doesn't."

New study links hypoxia to cancer growth

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A research team led by Ying Xu, Regents-Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and professor of bioinformatics and computational biology in the Franklin College, has published some compeeling new findings on the growth of cancer cells:

Low oxygen levels in cells may be a primary cause of uncontrollable tumor growth in some cancers, according to a new University of Georgia study. The authors' findings run counter to widely accepted beliefs that genetic mutations are responsible for cancer growth.

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The research team analyzed samples of messenger RNA data-also called transcriptomic data-from seven different cancer types in a publicly available database. They found that long-term lack of oxygen in cells may be a key driver of cancer growth. The study was published in the early online edition of the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology.

Origins of the Arts

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Can we understand art better without reducing the magic it can work on us? That is not the theme of this article by E. O. Wilson, though it would seem to be one implication of the schema he describes:

 RICH AND SEEMINGLY BOUNDLESS as the creative arts seem to be, each is filtered through the narrow biological channels of human cognition. Our sensory world, what we can learn unaided about reality external to our bodies, is pitifully small. Our vision is limited to a tiny segment of the electromagnetic spectrum, where wave frequencies in their fullness range from gamma radiation at the upper end, downward to the ultralow frequency used in some specialized forms of communication. We see only a tiny bit in the middle of the whole, which we refer to as the “visual spectrum.” Our optical apparatus divides this accessible piece into the fuzzy divisions we call colors. Just beyond blue in frequency is ultraviolet, which insects can see but we cannot. Of the sound frequencies all around us we hear only a few. Bats orient with the echoes of ultrasound, at a frequency too high for our ears, and elephants communicate with grumbling at frequencies too low.

Emphasis mine, as this seems a highly presumptuous word choice.

Just because enough can never be written on this subject does not mean we must agree to that which is.