UM Student Discovers Potentially New Tarantula Species

Andrew Snyder makes find during research trip to Guyana

It is believed that the blue tarantula, discovered by UM doctoral student Andrew Snyder in Guyana, is an undescribed species. Submitted photo by Andrew Snyder

OXFORD, Miss. – A shiny cobalt blue gleamed in the beam of a flashlight sweeping through the evening darkness of the tangled rainforest in Guyana.

Holding the flashlight, University of Mississippi doctoral student Andrew Snyder walked closer to this brilliant blue source, lured by the curiosity twinkling from a small hole in a rotting tree stump.

What the biology major discovered is perhaps a new species of tarantula, one whose hairy legs and body are speckled with streaks of metallic-looking blue.

“Many jungle organisms give off eye shine, caused by the reflection of your beam of light off of a membrane in the eye, and typically with a characteristic color depending on the organism,” Snyder said. “The blue that my light beam illuminated in fact was not the eye shine of a spider, but rather the forelimbs of a small tarantula.

“I have spent years conducting surveys in Guyana and have always paid close attention to the tarantula species. I immediately knew that this one was unlike any species I have encountered before.”

Snyder, who is finishing his doctorate at Ole Miss this spring, had been trudging through the rainforest of the Potaro Plateau that evening in the spring of 2014. He had been conducting a survey of nocturnal amphibians and reptiles as the herpetologist for a joint conservation research team through Global Wildlife Conservation and World Wildlife Fund-Guianas.

Then the tarantula captured his eye. And there were more. The tree stump was pockmarked with holes, and several, if not all, housed a tarantula, each seemingly tolerating a neighboring tarantula.

“When I sent the images of the tarantula to an expert who specializes in neotropical tarantulas, he ecstatically proclaimed that this was 99 percent likely to be an undescribed species,” Snyder said.

An individual tarantula was collected and sent to experts for verification. The creature is awaiting its formal description, and the process might require a follow-up trip to the region to try to collect a few more samples. The tarantula’s discovery could be publicized only recently.

UM doctoral student Andrew Snyder has made 10 trips to Guyana for various research and conservation efforts. Submitted photo by Liz Condo

“For a species description, it is crucial to have multiple individuals, ideally both males and females, and across different age classes to account for sexual dimorphism and phenotypic variability (normal variability in external appearance within the same species),” Snyder said.

A return trip to Guyana, which hugs the North Atlantic coast of South America and contains some of the continent’s largest unspoiled rainforests, would not be unusual for Snyder. He’s been there 10 times.

The Baltimore native first journeyed to Guyana during the summer of 2011, weeks before he started graduate school at Ole Miss. He received his bachelor’s degree in biology with a concentration in ecology and evolution from the University of Maryland.

Snyder’s scientific work in Guyana is as a herpetologist, a biologist who studies amphibians and reptiles, and his work is related to his doctoral research through collecting specimens and DNA samples. He’s also visited the country, which is slightly smaller than Idaho, on personal research trips, training programs and conferences.

He was last in Guyana in November to participate in a press release for the results of the Potaro expedition.

Snyder, who describes himself as a Ph.D. candidate, photographer, conservationist and naturalist, also served as an expedition photographer on the Guyana trips.

“While the data collected on these expeditions were valuable to my Ph.D. research, these expeditions were conservation expeditions,” he said. “We were exploring and surveying areas in Guyana that were lacking biodiversity data and facing certain conservation threats: logging, mining, etc.

“(My photography) documents the biodiversity, habitats and conservation threats, and communicates the research that we are doing throughout the country.”

The Potaro River in Guyana flows 140 miles before flowing into the Essequibo River, Guyana’s largest river. The blue tarantula was discovered in the Potaro Plateau area. Submitted photo by Andrew Snyder

After earning his Ph.D., Snyder hopes to continue his conservation research and photography, perhaps with a group such as the World Wildlife Fund or Global Wildlife Conservation. He wants to continue to contribute to science and conservation, and further public awareness of biodiversity and conservation efforts with his images.

Snyder’s passion for herpetology extends back to his childhood in Maryland; his parents allowed him certain exotic pets such as amphibians and reptiles. After receiving his bachelor’s, he spent two-and-a-half summers conducting amphibian and reptile surveys in Cusuco National Park in Honduras with the conservation group Operation Wallacea.

He credits the University of Mississippi and his professors and labmates for making him “an all-around better scientist and biologist.”

“Perhaps most importantly, I began to see the forest for the trees, if you will (while at UM),” he said. “I really began to understand the bigger picture of the work that I was doing or could do. My time at the University of Mississippi also led to so many valuable opportunities and collaborations that otherwise would have never happened.

“My labmates, the other graduate students specifically in the Noonan Lab with me, have been very instrumental in my development.”

The Noonan Lab at UM is headed by Brice Noonan, associate professor of biology and Snyder’s Ph.D. supervisor. 

Snyder’s area of research is phylogeography, the study of the geographic distribution of lineages of species or closely related species and the processes responsible for shaping them. Snyder credits Noonan for his interest in phylogeography and his interest in performing research in Guyana.

After Snyder’s initial trip to Guyana, he and Noonan brainstormed projects while scanning through Google Earth to find areas for research, which is why Snyder has spent considerable time surveying the Kanuku Mountains in Guyana.

Guyana has one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world, including several species of snake, such as the venomous Bushmaster. Submitted photo by Andrew Snyder

“Having focused much of my own graduate work in the Guianas I was elated to bring in a student with Andrew’s field experience and a genuine interest in exploring this poorly understood, yet remarkably intact region of the neotropics,” Noonan said. “Andrew has quickly become one of the foremost experts of the region’s reptiles and amphibians, and his extensive fieldwork in the region has greatly enhanced our understanding of all aspects of the area’s biodiversity, as evidenced by this tarantula discovery.”

The partnership between Noonan and Snyder at UM is not unique.

“Andrew Snyder is one of our talented Ph.D. students who work to discover new populations and new species,” said Gregg Roman, UM chair of and professor in biology. “The biology department at the University of Mississippi has many strengths in biodiversity and conservation research. Our graduate students work closely with their major professors and undertake expeditions around the world to learn the science and techniques of surveying and analyzing biodiversity.

“The identification of this new and blue tarantula within tree hollows will help conservationists draw attention to overlooked habitats within the forests.”

The Guiana Shield – a geological formation in northeast South America that underlies Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, most of Venezuela, as well as parts of Colombia and Brazil – is a special place for its phylogeographic value, Snyder said. An upland region leading up to the Guyanese border with Venezuela and Brazil, the Potaro Plateau is between the lowlands of the eastern Guiana Shield and the famed Guiana Highlands.

“The region is incredibly old and unique in just how much area is still unexplored and not affected by human impacts,” Snyder said. “From a research perspective, this allows for inferences to be made that are not influenced by human interaction as they are in other tropical areas where the habitats have been affected by deforestation.”

A developing country, Guyana has an abundant biodiversity that is challenged by the country’s richness of natural resources. A delicate balance needs to be struck between conservation and access to and extraction of the country’s natural resources with minimal environmental impact, Snyder said.

Discoveries such as the blue tarantula reinforce the importance of creating and maintaining that balance, said Leeanne E. Alonso, associate conservation scientist with Global Wildlife Conservation.

During a spring 2014 expedition to Guyana, UM doctoral student Andrew Snyder happened upon a cobalt-blue tarantula, which is believed to be an undescribed species. Submitted photo by Andrew Snyder

“Guyana has an amazing range of habitats and high diversity of species, especially for such a small country,” said Alonso, who has worked with Snyder for five years. “Discoveries such as this tarantula help us highlight that there’s so much rich diversity in Guyana, much of it still undiscovered, and all of it contributing to keeping the planet healthy. This tarantula helps to remind us all of the beauty of nature, and that we share this planet with so many interesting creatures.

“It’s intriguing to think about why these tarantulas are blue. Perhaps the color helps them startle predators or blend into the leaf litter. Such large predators must have an important role in the food web of the tropical forest.”

The blue tarantula, with its stunning color, also causes people to take another look at invertebrates and realize the importance of conserving them, Snyder said.

“Since this discovery, the amount of people who have commented, ‘I hate spiders, but this one is beautiful!’ is really telling,” he said. “Conservation starts with awareness.

“The fact that this tarantula is making people aware of the stunning biodiversity of this area is key. Guyana was so proud of this discovery that they actually painted a large mural of it on one of their walls at the Georgetown Zoo.”

Davenport Gift to Support University’s ‘Seat of Knowledge’

UM alumnus designates J.D. Williams Library in estate plans

UM alumnus Bill Davenport has designated the J.D. Williams Library as recipient of his planned gift because of the library’s central role on campus. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi was once known as the campus where everybody speaks. Even today, despite smart phones and ear buds, Ole Miss retains its reputation as a place where professors know students by name and strangers are just friends who haven’t yet become acquainted.

That personable atmosphere goes a long way. In fact, for at least one alumnus, it was the catalyst that inspired a $200,000 gift to the J.D. Williams Library.

A personal letter set Bill Davenport, associate dean of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas School of Dentistry, on a path to making a legacy gift.

“A number of factors went into this decision,” said Davenport, a Corinth native. “First and foremost, I loved Ole Miss. It opened up a whole new vista to a small-town country boy. I loved the school and the students, and the majority of the professors were truly motivating and inspiring. I always wanted to give something back.

“As everyone says, you can’t really describe your attachment to Ole Miss after going to school there.”

Davenport, who’s active in the Ole Miss Alumni Association and has made other contributions to the university, said he began to consider a major gift after he received a letter from the late Charles Noyes, then chair of English, when the Friends of the Library philanthropy was being organized.

“The library is the cornerstone of the university and is truly the most visible icon for education and life-long learning,” Davenport said. “The personal letter was what convinced me as it included comments regarding my time in his sophomore literature course.

“I was hooked. I never figured out how Dr. Noyes even remembered me.”

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter expressed gratitude for Davenport’s planned gift.

“The J.D. Williams Library is a hub of excellence for our university,” Vitter said. “It enables the superb quality of education that our students receive. As one of our most highly-valued resources, it can have a tremendous transformative effect on turning students into scholars and scholars into informed citizens who will make an impact on our world. ”

William Davenport

In high school, Davenport thought he wanted to become an electrical engineer until he took chemistry under an engaging teacher. He entered Ole Miss as a chemistry major but changed his focus once again after taking a required biology elective taught by the late Georgia St. Amand, whom he says was extremely inspiring.

“After that course, chemistry lost its luster to me, so I switched to biology,” Davenport remembers. “As a biology major, I encountered her husband, Dr. Wilbrod St. Amand, also in the biology department, who became a great mentor and friend to this day.”

Even then, UM’s personable atmosphere influenced Davenport’s life: His relationship with the St. Amands, as well as having the opportunity to be a teacher’s assistant in the biology labs, guided his decision to become an educator.

Davenport graduated from Ole Miss with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology in 1969 and 1971, respectively. He taught biology at Arkansas State University for a year before enrolling at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, where he earned a doctorate in 1976.

While completing his doctorate remotely, Davenport joined the UM Medical Center faculty and taught the first seven dental school classes from 1975 to 1982 before transferring to the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center School of Dentistry in New Orleans, where he taught for the next 20 years.

“Serendipitously, in 2002, the opportunity came to come to UNLV in Las Vegas and help start the new dental school,” he said. “Salaries were very good, benefits even better. Thinking I would work a few years in Vegas and move on, but I blinked and here I am 16 years later.”

Davenport said he designated his planned gift for the library because he believes it is the center of knowledge, initially for the entering student and secondarily for the lifelong learner.

“The library is the seat of intellectualism,” he said. “I hope that my gift will provide the library with funds to contribute to the ever-changing technology and methodology that will attract and benefit the students that will be tomorrow’s leaders.”

Private gifts provide critical support to the library, more than ever as public institutions constantly struggle with budget issues, said Cecilia Botero, library dean. Gifts such as Davenport’s help the library cover costs associated with digital and paper subscriptions and increasing numbers of journals used as resources by students on a myriad of different career paths.

“I am so grateful that Dr. Davenport chose to support the library with his generous gift. It will help sustain our services in countless ways,” Botero said.

Though distance has kept Davenport from returning to campus, he fondly remembers his days at Ole Miss.

“I was there in Archie’s heyday. What could be more exciting than that!” Davenport exclaimed, adding that being in the Grove during football season was a special time as was participating in the Army ROTC band, being active in his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, eating at Grundy’s and Mistilis, and bowling at Kiamie’s.

For information on designating a deferred gift to Ole Miss, contact Sandra Guest at 662-915-5208 or sguest@olemiss.edu. To support the J.D. Williams Library, contact Angela Barlow Brown at 662-915-3181 or ambarlow@olemiss.edu.

UM Biology Professor Receives NSF CAREER Award

Patrick Curtis is the third faculty member in a year to receive the prestigious funding

UM Biologist Patrick Curtis examines bacterial specimens with one of his students.

UM biologist Patrick Curtis examines bacterial specimens with one of his students.

OXFORD, Miss. – They say good news comes in threes, and for the third time in 12 months, a University of Mississippi professor has received a Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation.

Patrick Curtis, assistant professor of biology, is the university’s seventh CAREER award recipient in the last eight years. Sarah Liljegren, associate professor of biology, got the award in November and Jarad Delcamp, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, was given a similar award in June 2015. This marks the first time three UM faculty members were selected in the same academic year.

Curtis’ research on “Investigation of Conserved Global Regulatory Systems Using Cross-organism Comparison” will be funded for $ 767,103. His award begins in March and runs through February 2021.

“A model bacterium, called Caulobacter crescentus, has been studied for over 50 years,” Curtis said. “For a bacterium, it has a complex life cycle that is governed by these complicated intracellular signaling systems.

“What my research has shown is that a related organism, Brevundimonas subvibrioides, has the same life cycle, lives in the same environments and has the same signaling components. But some of them appear to work in a different way. This grant is to explore why these parts are working differently when there really isn’t any reason that they should.”

Using the developmental bacterium, Curtis and his team are studying dimorphic life cycles where, after division, the two resulting daughter cells have differing description and cell-cycle life styles.

“We are studying epigenetics in bacteria, which has hardly been touched, so we are hoping to be one of the pioneers in the field,” Curtis said. “People may not like to think about bacteria, but they are, by far, the most abundant life form on Earth and impact our lives in innumerable ways.

“We are also studying a basic biological question that even most biologists take for granted: how does one cell become two different types of cells. We know this happens – we observe it all around us – but the mechanics of it are barely understood. We’re trying to get at that.”

Curtis’s award also will support training in bacteriology at UM.

“A major part of the funding will support my two graduate students, Satish Adhikari from Nepal and Lauryn Sperling, who was an undergraduate here working in my laboratory and decided to stay on,” he said. “Another huge portion goes to laboratory supplies. Molecular biology is supply-intensive, so we go through a lot.

“The final portion will cover sophisticated genetic techniques, like high-throughput sequencing, RNA-seq and single molecule sequencing for methylation analysis.”

Curtis’s UM colleagues are excited about his achievement.

“This grant represents a significant investment in a young faculty member, and we couldn’t be happier for him,” said Paul Lago, UM chair and professor of biology. “His career at Ole Miss has developed nicely, and I believe he will continue to have a significant impact in the department and on biology students at the university for many years to come.”

John Kiss, dean of UM Graduate School and also a professor of biology, agrees.

“This award places Dr. Curtis among the top young scientists in the United States,” Kiss said. “He is clearly a leader in the field of microbiology, and I am very proud to have him as a colleague.”

UM Biology Professor Patrick Curtis makes time for his graduate students in his laboratory.

UM biology professor Patrick Curtis makes time for graduate students in his laboratory.

Curtis said he is appreciative of the research support NSF has provided throughout his career.

“Two years ago, I was a reviewer for an NSF grant panel and it was a very disheartening experience simply because I saw so many really great grants that I knew would not get funded, not because they weren’t worthy, but because science funding in this country is at the lowest it’s been since before World War II,” Curtis said.

“I wondered how my grant could ever compete with grants from people that lead their fields and have 25-plus years’ experience. For some time after getting the news, I wondered if I had hallucinated the whole thing. I actually still wonder if it’s real or I’m still dreaming.”

The NSF CAREER program started in 1996. Previous UM recipients are Tamar Goulet, associate professor of biology, in 2008; Nathan Hammer, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, in 2010; Emanuele Berti, associate professor of physics and astronomy, in 2011; and Amala Dass, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, in 2013.

Liljegren, Delcamp, Hammer and Dass all have had previous funding under Mississippi’s NSF EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track-1 Grant. These attest to the effectiveness of that grant in helping to develop research competiveness within the State of Mississippi.

“CAREER awards are the most prestigious NSF awards for early-career faculty who integrate research and education in a very substantial way,” said Alice Clark, UM vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs. “They do not just fund a specific project, but are investments in the nation’s most outstanding faculty members in science and engineering.

“The fact that UM faculty have received three CAREER awards in a calendar year is a bold testament to the quality of our teacher-scholars.”

These awards are external validation of the growing research excellence of the science departments within the university’s College of Liberal Arts, said Lee Cohen, dean of the college.

“These awards also exemplify the kind of success that can be achieved when you have a helpful and encouraging faculty who are willing to assist their colleagues via mentoring,” Cohen said. “It is my understanding that UM’s previous NSF Award winners have been generous with their time and have been supportive in sharing the knowledge that they have regarding this highly competitive process, which I think is wonderful.”

Curtis earned his doctorate in microbiology from the University of Georgia and a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and genetics from Purdue University. He also was a postdoctoral researcher at Indiana University.

Courses he teaches at UM include General Microbiology, Bacterial Physiology and Prokaryotic Development. Curtis has written more than a dozen peer-reviewed journal articles.

Goals of the NSF CAREER program include providing stable support for five years to allow the career development of outstanding new teacher-scholars in the context of the mission of their organization and building a foundation for a lifetime of integrated contributions to research and education. Success rates vary across NSF divisions/directorates and competition years, but the rate in biology generally is between 10 percent and 15 percent.

For more information about the UM Department of Biology, visit http://biology.olemiss.edu/ or call 662-915-7203.

UM Professor Aids in Discovery of New Species of Giant Tortoise

Ryan Garrick among co-authors of peer-reviewed paper published in journal PLoS ONE

Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise

Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi biologist collaborated as part of an international research team on the discovery of a new species of the Galapagos giant tortoise, findings that are included in the Oct. 21 issue of PLoS ONE, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Public Library of Science.

Working as part of a group led by Yale University, Ryan C. Garrick, UM assistant professor of biology, used genetic data to help uncover the existence of the new species on the Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos.

“Giant tortoises occur in two separate locations in Santa Cruz,” Garrick said. “Until now, it was assumed that these groups belonged to the same species. However, genetic analyses have now revealed that they are actually separate species: the Western Santa Cruz Tortoise (Chelonoidis porteri) and the newly-named Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise (Chelonoidis donfaustoi) have been reproductively isolated from one another for a long time.”

To read the complete article, “A (2015) Description of a new Galapagos giant tortoise species (Chelonoidis; Testudines: Testudinidae) from Cerro Fatal on Santa Cruz Island,” visit http://www.plosone.org/.

This work is part of a larger research program. Garrick also was an author on related papers published earlier this year in the journal Ecology and Evolution and last year in Molecular Ecology.

Garrick, who joined the Ole Miss faculty in 2012, earned his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from La Trobe University in Australia. He was a postdoctoral researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University and at Yale University.

His research interests are insect evolution, molecular ecology, biogeography, population genetics and conservation biology.

UM Chemistry Department Modifies Bachelor’s Curriculum

Undergraduate degree program offers traditional and pre-med emphasis

UM chemistry majors (from left) Ashley Williams, Sarah Sutton and Katelyn Allen conduct undergraduate research.

UM chemistry majors (from left) Ashley Williams, Sarah Sutton and Katelyn Allen conduct undergraduate research.

OXFORD, Miss. – The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Mississippi has begun offering two different pathways for students seeking a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

“Our B.S. in Chemistry degree has been modified to have two tracks for students to choose from,” said Nathan Hammer, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry. “The first option is a traditional chemistry track that prepares students well for graduate school in chemistry or a career in the chemical industry. The second track has a biochemistry emphasis and is specifically designed for students who wish to go on to medical school or graduate school in biochemistry.”

The department has a suggested four-year course outline with electives that count toward the degree and are required for medical school admissions. These requirements are covered by the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT. The modified degree went into effect this spring.

“Both tracks are certified by the American Chemical Society and are among the most rigorous in the country,” Hammer said.

By modifying its B.S. in Chemistry degree, the department better serves the growing number of pre-med students who wanted a rigorous bachelor’s degree in the physical sciences, he said. These students typically enjoy chemistry, physics and math, but eventually wish to serve others in a medical profession.

“Prior to modifying our B.S. degree, these students had two options,” Hammer said. “The first was to satisfy our previous B.S. (in) Chemistry degree requirements and then take additional biology and biochemistry classes. The second option was to pursue our B.A. (in) Biochemistry degree and supplement it with calculus-based physics, additional advanced math courses and additional advanced chemistry courses.”

Most students opted to pursue the B.S. degree and take additional biochemistry and biology courses. Creating a B.S. in Chemistry degree track incorporates these additional biochemistry courses as well an advanced biology elective.

“We have substituted these courses for other chemistry courses that are useful for a career in chemistry, but not helpful in preparing for the medical profession,” Hammer said. “We have essentially taken what our best and brightest pre-med students have been doing on their own the last few years and crafted a degree that serves them. We have approximately 20 students total that are pursuing the new B.S. (in) Chemistry degree with the biochemistry emphasis. Most of these are pre-med students associated with the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.”

As a result of the additional students pursuing a B.S. degree each year, more space is needed for physical chemistry and inorganic chemistry laboratories. Coulter Hall’s new research annex includes a state-of-the-art molecular spectroscopy research lab that will serve CHEM 337 classes. CHEM 402 will be moved to a larger room that will be able to serve the larger number of students each year.

Since students in the new emphasis will be receiving a well-rounded chemistry degree, they will be taking courses in every area of chemistry and will have opportunities to take classes from almost every faculty member in the department, Hammer said.

“In their freshman year, they will take two semesters of general chemistry from Greg Tschumper, Steve Davis, Maurice Eftink, Jason Ritchie, Kerri Scott, Murrell Godfrey, John Wiginton, Jim O’Neal or Gerald Rowland,” Hammer said. “Students will take two semesters of organic chemistry in their sophomore year from Dan Mattern, Jared Delcamp or Davita Watkins.”

They will also take a number of advanced classes, including physical chemistry from Hammer, analytical chemistry from Amal Dass and Jim Cizdziel, biochemistry from Susan Pedigo, Randy Wadkins and Mike Mossing, and inorganic chemistry from Ritchie, Jonah Jurss and Walt Cleland.

“Students will also be required to perform original research with a faculty member in chemistry during their senior year, which could be with any research active faculty member,” Hammer said. “For this reason, this new degree track is especially popular with pre-med honors students who can get senior research credit for their honors thesis.”

Charles Hussey, chair and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, is enthusiastic about having two undergraduate degrees within the department.

“The new Bachelor of Science degree with emphasis in biochemistry is more versatile than our existing Bachelor of Arts degree in biochemistry,” he said. “It not only prepares students to compete for postgraduate opportunities in the pre-health professions, but also provides them with a solid foundation in advanced chemistry. With this foundation, they are well equipped for graduate studies in biochemistry as well as the research-based M.D.-Ph.D. programs offered by elite medical schools.”

For more information about the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, visit http://chemistry.olemiss.edu or call 662-915-7301.

UM Professor Talks Turkeys On NPR Today

Richard Buchholz will talk about his research of the mating habits of America's favorite Thanksgiving bird

University of Mississippi Associate Professor of Biology Richard Buchholz will talk about the mating habits of wild turkeys on today’s NPR Science Friday. His segment is expected to air between 2:50 and 3 p.m. (Central).

The research, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, was conducted at the UM field station. To hear Buchholz talk about this timely topic with Thanksgiving less than a week away, check out this list of stations that air the program.

UM Biologist’s Research Makes News

Ryan Garrick studying tortoises in Galapagos Islands

photo credit: Yale University

photo credit: Yale University

A University of Mississippi biology professor’s study of giant tortoises in the Galapagos Islands is being published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Ryan C. Garrick is the lead author of the paper “Lineage fusion in Galápagos giant tortoises,” which will appear in Molecular Ecology (one of the top journals in the field of population genetics and evolutionary biology). It will be accompanied by a “News and Views” perspective article, used to draw attention to high-profile research that is likely to be of interest to the public.

“The findings are of broad interest because it focuses on a geographic region central to Charles Darwin’s synthesis of ideas about evolution and natural selection,” Garrick said. “We also present unusually clean genetic data on a phenomenon occurring in nature that is rarely caught in the act: the fusion of two long-isolated lineages, one of which is very likely doomed to extinction.”

The paper was written in collaboration with researchers from Yale University, State University of New York at Syracuse, the University of British Columbia in Canada, the University of Florence in Italy and the Galapagos National Park Service in Ecuador. Chaz Hyseni, a UM doctoral student in biology, is among the co-authors.

Biology Lecturer, Legal Studies Secretary Selected for Frist Awards

Recipients honored for exceptional student service

The 2014 Thomas F. Frist Award winners will be recognized on May 10, 2014 at UM's main Commencement ceremony.

The 2014 Thomas F. Frist Award winners will be recognized on May 10, 2014 at UM’s main Commencement ceremony.

OXFORD, Miss. – Each day, University of Mississippi students are affected by the words and actions of faculty and staff members who extend their work beyond classrooms, labs and office space.

Two of them – Denis C. Goulet, lecturer and coordinator of laboratory programs in the Department of Biology; and Carol Forsythe, senior secretary in the Department of Legal Studies – have been selected as this year’s Frist Student Service Award honorees in recognition of their exceptional service to students.

They were chosen from among dozens of nominees, submitted by students, alumni, faculty and staff. A chancellor’s committee weighed all the nominations and made the picks.

“It is always a pleasure to present the Frist Awards because they recognize service to students,” Chancellor Dan Jones said. “Students are our reason for being and service is at the core of our culture. I am grateful for this year’s recipients and their commitment to serving our students.”

The awards, one for faculty and one for staff, were established with a gift from Dr. Thomas F. Frist Sr. of Nashville, a 1930 UM graduate. This is the 20th year for the awards.

Goulet and Forsythe each receive $1,000 and a plaque, and are to be recognized May 10 at UM’s main Commencement ceremony. Both recipients expressed surprise upon learning that they had been chosen for the recognition.

“I was totally surprised and tremendously honored,” Goulet said. “This was totally unexpected. It shows there are people that appreciate the things that I do. It’s nice to know there are people whose lives I’m having an impact upon. It’s wonderful to know that I’m helping people.”

Likewise, Forsythe said, “I was very shocked, very surprised and very, very honored. I feel like our students are like my own children. To have been nominated by them made me feel like I really do make a difference.”

Goulet joined the biology department faculty in 2001, coming from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Ft. Pierce, Fla. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alberta in Canada; a master’s from Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada and a doctorate from the University of Puerto Rico. Goulet was honored in 2010 with an ACCESS Award from the Office of Student Disability Services. He was recently elected to the national executive committee of the Gamma Beta Phi honor society.

One nomination for Goulet, from a graduate student, stated in part: “Dr. Goulet has gone above and beyond expectations as a professor. … He spends day and night organizing, elaborating, delivering donations, making phone calls, arranging and setting up service projects that benefit the local community, along with several communities in the Delta.”

In another nomination, a former student wrote: “I have heard great things about him as a professor, but experienced him first and foremost as a great adviser for … one of the largest organizations on campus. I know he takes out a lot of his time and effort to make this club the best and most enjoyable I have ever come to see.”

Forsythe has been employed at the university since 1997. She worked as a secretary in the Department of Communicative Disorders and then in the School of Applied Sciences dean’s office before moving to her current post in 2002. She is an Oxford High School graduate.

One nomination for Forsythe, from an alumnus, stated: “I have not worked with anyone that has the heart and the genuine love of people that Mrs. Carol Forsythe has. She is a counselor, adviser, event-coordinator, problem-solver and, most importantly, a best friend.”

An international student wrote, “I have struggled with being in a different country and adapting to things here. Miss Carol has been the very backbone that has held me up. She so deserves recognition for all the extra things that she does in the office day to day, and her 17 years of dedication to the faculty, students and University of Mississippi.”

UPDATE FROM UMMC: Child Born with HIV Still in Remission After 18 Months Off Treatment, Experts Report

Pediatrician Hannah Gay, M.D., of the University of Mississippi Medical Center

Pediatrician Hannah Gay, M.D., of the University of Mississippi Medical Center

JACKSON, Miss. – A 3-year-old Mississippi child born with HIV and treated with a combination of antiviral drugs unusually early continues to do well and remains free of active infection 18 months after all treatment ceased, according to an updated case report published Oct. 23 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Early findings of the case were presented in March 2013 during a scientific meeting in Atlanta, but the newly published report adds detail and confirms what researchers say is the first documented case of HIV remission in a child.

“Our findings suggest that this child’s remission is not a mere fluke but the likely result of aggressive and very early therapy that may have prevented the virus from taking a hold in the child’s immune cells,” says Deborah Persaud, M.D., lead author of the NEJM report and a virologist and pediatric HIV expert at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

Persaud teamed up with immunologist Katherine Luzuriaga, M.D., of the University of Massachusetts Medical School and pediatrician Hannah Gay, M.D., of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, who identified and treated the baby and continues to see the child.

“We’re thrilled that the child remains off medication and has no detectable virus replicating,” Gay says. “We’ve continued to follow the child, obviously, and she continues to do very well. There is no sign of the return of HIV, and we will continue to follow her for the long term.”

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A Passion for Haiti

Medical mission turns into lifelong commitment for pharmacy and pre-med students

Andrew Smelser poses with 3-year-old Stephanie Pierre.

OXFORD, Miss. – When University of Mississippi students Andrew Smelser and Wesley Youngblood traveled to Haiti for the first time, they encountered what could only be described as an “eye-opening experience.”

“I really was able to understand what a third-world hospital was like,” said Smelser, a native of Owens Cross Roads, Ala., who is entering his first professional year of pharmacy school. “It was shocking. No air conditioning, very limited care, only one small cabinet of medications – it was unlike anything I’d ever seen.”

Smelser and Youngblood, a Columbus native and rising senior pre-med biology major, traveled to Haiti on a medical mission sponsored by the Christian Relief Fund in May. It was Smelser’s second trip to the Caribbean country in two years.

“I learned a lot from the medical aspect of the trip,” Youngblood said. “We had a physician with us, and we were working in the local schools and small villages. Interacting with the local children left the biggest impact on me.”

Most of their time was spent at the hospital in Cap-Haitien, the country’s second-largest city. Smelser and Youngblood assisted hospital staff by checking vital signs, looking for symptoms of worms in pediatric patients, assisting with work-related injuries and even handing out food to the hungry.

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