September 5, 2018 | Atlanta, GA

Editor’s Note: This story was written by Emily Woodward, public relations coordinator for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. It was originally published in the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant Newsletter Volume 4, issue 5.

Four coolers, two shovels, countless sampling vials and five people pile into a vehicle headed to a secluded salt marsh on Sapelo Island, Georgia. It’s a surprising amount of equipment needed to study the microscopic community of organisms responsible for the health of Georgia’s most abundant coastal habitat, the salt marsh.   

“Plant microbiome research, I always say, is about 10 years behind human microbiome research,” says Joel Kostka, jointly appointed professor of biology and earth and atmospheric sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Roughly half of the cells in the human body are microbial. These microbes, mostly bacteria, all have different functions; some make us ill, but most keep us healthy by helping with digestion or preventing infection. Together, these microorganisms make up the human microbiome.

The same is true in the plant world, though little is known about plant microbiomes, particularly those associated with salt-tolerant coastal plants like Spartina alterniflora, which dominate Georgia’s salt marshes.  

With funding from Georgia Sea Grant, Kostka is studying the microbes intimately associated with Spartina to better understand how the plant microbiome supports the health of Georgia’s salt marshes.

“In a way, this is discovery-based science because no one has studied the microbes that are intimately associated with these plants,” says Kostka. “When you look at the marsh from a large scale it really looks constant and consistent, but when you get down at the micro level you see all kinds of differences. There's a lot of complexity there.”

The research team wants to know how the microbial community changes as you move from the interior of the marsh, where the growth of Spartina is stunted and the plants are short, to the taller, lush marsh growing near the tidal creeks.

At the site, they measure salinity, oxygen, and pH as well as the height and density of Spartina at different spots along a transect. A hole punch is used to collect samples of Spartina blades, which will be measured for nutrients, like phosphorous and nitrogen. Soil samples and root material are taken back to the lab where the latest gene sequencing and metagenomics methods will be used to identify individual microbes and understand the microbial processes that improve the health of the plant. 

“We have a number of parameters that we can measure to determine whether the plants are healthy, and then we go in and look at the microbes in more healthy plants versus less healthy plants, and see how those microbes are changing,” says Kostka.

It’s a lot of data to collect and the work isn’t easy, especially when trudging through knee-high marsh mud in 90-degree temperatures.

Luckily, Kostka has an extra set of hands to help with the sampling.

Elisabeth Pinion, an AP environmental science teacher from Cumming, Georgia, is working alongside Kostka and his team. Pinion is one of 16 educators participating in Schoolyard Program of the NSF-supported Georgia Coastal Ecosystems (GCE) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Project, which is hosted every summer at the University of Georgia Marine Institute on Sapelo Island. As part of the program, teachers spend a week on the coast, shadowing different researchers in the field and learning about sampling methods and processes that can be taken back to the classroom.

Pinion recognized similarities between the topics she covers in class and the research methods used for this project.

“Studying parameters that determine the productivity of different ecosystems is something that we generally spend a lot of time on,” says Pinion. “What they are looking at is very applicable to the classroom.”

Throughout the week, Kostka will have the opportunity to engage multiple educators in the field, showing him or her how they collect samples for microbiology and discussing the important ecosystem services that salt marshes provide.

"The Schoolyard Program is a great way to give the teachers a behind-the-scenes look at how science is conducted, including sometimes having to rethink your strategy once you get out in the field," said Merryl Alber, professor of marine sciences at UGA and lead PI of the GCE LTER project. "It’s also beneficial for researchers, who have a chance to interact with the teachers and think creatively about how to bring the science back into the classroom.”

Kostka recognizes the importance of making his research accessible to educators and students, which is why he used a portion of his Georgia Sea Grant funding to support three of the educators participating in the Schoolyard Program.

The trip to Sapelo is the first of many trips the research team will make to the coast. They plan to sample sites at two other barrier islands; Tybee Island and St. Simons Island, in the coming months.

Kostka hopes results from the project can be used to develop innovative methods for improving salt marsh restoration practices in Georgia. One example would be to create plant probiotics that could be applied to Spartina seedlings when planting new marshes.

“We could grow beneficial microbes in the lab and add them to the naked roots during planting, which would help the plant to take hold in the intertidal zone,” says Kostka.

“With sea level rise and increased coastal development, restoration activities will be more important to maintaining the productivity of Georgia’s marshes,” says Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.  

“Funding research like this, that helps us improve attempts to establish native vegetation, will inform future restoration projects and hopefully make them more economically and environmentally efficient.”

September 3, 2018 | Atlanta, GA

Episode 3 of ScienceMatters' Season 1 stars M.G. Finn. Listen to the podcast and read the transcript here!

Leishmaniasis is a scary parasitic disease; it can rot flesh. Formerly contained in countries near the equator, it has arrived in North America. School of Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor and Chair M.G. Finn explains why it’s so tough to fight this disease. His collaboration with Brazilian researcher Alexandre Marques has raised hopes for a possible vaccine.

Follow the the researchers' journey at sciencematters.gatech.edu.

Enter to win a prize by answering the episode's question:

What sugar molecule mentioned in Episode 3 is the main reason surgeons can’t transplant organs from animals into humans?

Submit your entry by noon on Friday, Sept. 7, at sciencematters.gatech.edu. Answer and winner will be announced on Monday, Sept. 10.

Results of Episode 2 Quiz

Q: What small four-legged animals mentioned in Episode 2 help Jenny McGuire collect bones from Natural Trap Cave?

A: Wood rats, pack rats, or rats

The winner is Pedro Marquez Zacarias. He was listening to ScienceMatters while doing routine data analysis for his research.

A third-year Ph.D. student in the Georgia Tech Quantitative Biosciences Graduate Program, Marquez Zacarias aims to add to the understanding of how biological complexity evolved, particularly multicellularity.

Marquez Zacarias comes from a small town in rural México, an indigenous community called Urapicho, in the state of Michoacán.

Leucine Zipper and the Zinc Fingers, the world's first genetically modified rock band, have been a staple of the Atlanta Science Festival. This summer they went into a studio and recorded their first album, Atomic Anarchy. The band celebrates the recording with a live performance.

Band leader Leucine Zipper is the clone of College of Science' Jennifer Leavey. The Zinc Fingers are clones of amphibian ecologist Joe Mendelson, chemist Michael Evans, and biologist Ben Prosser. 

This event is free; all ages welcome!

Event Details

Date/Time:

Leucine Zipper and the Zinc Fingers, the world's first genetically modified rock band, have been a staple of the Atlanta Science Festival. This summer they went into a studio and recorded their first album, Atomic Anarchy. The band celebrates the recording with a live performance.

Band leader Leucine Zipper is the clone of College of Science' Jennifer Leavey. The Zinc Fingers are clones of amphibian ecologist Joe Mendelson, chemist Michael Evans, and biologist Ben Prosser. 

This event is free; all ages welcome!

Event Details

Date/Time:

Leucine Zipper and the Zinc Fingers, the world's first genetically modified rock band, have been a staple of the Atlanta Science Festival. This summer they went into a studio and recorded their first album, Atomic Anarchy. The band celebrates the recording with a live performance. 

Band leader Leucine Zipper is the clone of College of Science' Jennifer Leavey. The Zinc Fingers are clones of amphibian ecologist Joe Mendelson, chemist Michael Evans, and biologist Ben Prosser. 

This event has a cover charge. 

Event Details

Date/Time:

Leucine Zipper and the Zinc Fingers, the world's first genetically modified rock band, have been a staple of the Atlanta Science Festival. This summer they went into a studio and recorded their first album, Atomic Anarchy. The band celebrates the recording with a live performance. 

Band leader Leucine Zipper is the clone of College of Science' Jennifer Leavey. The Zinc Fingers are clones of amphibian ecologist Joe Mendelson, chemist Michael Evans, and biologist Ben Prosser. 

This event has a cover charge. 

Event Details

Date/Time:

August 30, 2018 | Atlanta, GA

Editor's Note: This story by Victor Rogers was originally published on the Georgia Tech News Center on Aug. 8, 2018.

When Will Ratcliff and Peter Yunker first met for coffee they had no idea they would eventually collaborate on research that would be published in Nature Communications and Nature Physics.

Ratcliff, an assistant professor in the School of Biological Sciences, arrived at Tech in January 2014. Yunker, an assistant professor in the School of Physics, arrived in January of the following year.

“I met with [Physics Professor] Dan Goldman and told him about my interests in biophysics,” said Yunker. “He told me there’s another young guy who just arrived. You should contact him.”  

Yunker reached out to Ratcliff, and the two began meeting weekly for coffee in the basement of the College of Computing.

“I think our conversations for a solid six months were just about friend stuff,” Ratcliff said. “We talked about science, but we weren’t actively pursuing projects. We were just hanging out and getting to know each other.”

Yunker said they discussed ideas about the evolution of multicellularity.

“Will would talk a little about the biology of the evolution of multicellularity. And then we would pivot, and I would talk about the physics of multicellularity,” Yunker said. 

Though coming from different disciplines — biology and physics — Ratcliff and Yunker quickly recognized some common ground.  

“I would say, ‘There’s this thing in biology where this needs to happen,’ and he would say ‘there’s this thing in physics where this needs to happen,’” Ratcliff said. “It would blow my mind because it was a totally different way of thinking about the things that I was already thinking about. It was incredibly exciting because there were these parallels coming from such different places, and they were describing the same overlapping material. I think we both could tell there was a lot of cool stuff to be done.”

The harder part was figuring out where the overlap was concrete so they could actually conduct experiments or write models.

“A lot of our conversations are brainstorming style,” Yunker said. “They’re less about knocking down ideas and more about: ‘Let’s get a lot of information out there so we can find where that concrete idea emerges.’”  

The collaboration also eased the pressure of being a new faculty member.

“It’s nice to work with other people who are at a similar level, to bounce ideas off each other, talk about critical review, and vent about frustrations,” Yunker said. “The whole time I’ve been here I have always heard Georgia Tech is very supportive of collaboration. I’ve heard of other places where that support isn’t there when you’re still at the assistant professor level. I haven’t worried at all about if there will be trouble down the line if we collaborate. Instead, I see it as we’re doing the best science, and that’s what Georgia Tech wants.”

Ratcliff said, “That’s one of Georgia Tech’s real strengths. People really appreciate our collaboration. I hear from people in both communities — biology and physics. They appreciate not just the research, but also the strengthening of the bridge between the departments and the sense of community it builds.”

In addition to their research collaborations, Ratcliff and Yunker co-advise a Ph.D. student and a postdoc.

Collaboration Advice to New Faculty

Yunker and Ratcliff make collaboration look deceptively easy.

“Collaboration takes effort. It takes sustained interaction,” Ratcliff said. “There’s got to be a reason to do that because as new professors we’re super busy trying to get everything off the ground: get your lab running, get grants, write papers, design classes, do service work. We’re spread really thin. So, to have sustained interactions that are needed for a good collaboration, you have to prioritize it and want to do it.”

Yunker added, “One of the best approaches when starting a new collaboration is to either let it grow or die on its own. If the idea isn’t there or if you just don’t mesh, then forcing it is going to be difficult for everyone.”

Ratcliff has advice for new faculty who are interested in collaborating.

“It’s really exciting and valuable to have a close collaborator from a different discipline or with a  different skillset,” he said. “To get that, I suggest forming collaborations with other professors who are about your age. Key reasons are you’re both at the same stage in your careers. You’re equals. Also, a new professor is likely to have time to form new collaborations. Lastly, new professors have startup funds and a large degree of flexibility. This is great for trying things that are risky.”

He also suggests attending receptions for new faculty.

“Talk to people outside of your discipline. Don’t spend all of your time at the mixer talking to your departmental colleagues,” Ratcliff said.

Developing a good collaboration can be transformational.

“Our collaboration has fundamentally reshaped the way I think about key problems in my field,” Ratcliff said. “I know how to think about the things I was trained to think about, but I had no idea how to think about things I wasn’t trained to think about.”

Yunker said, “Together we’re able to ask and answer more interesting questions. I was not versed at all on questions about evolutionary transitions and individuality. I wasn’t aware of all the open questions and problems there, and they’re fascinating. By coming together, we end up asking even more interesting questions and, hopefully, coming up with new approaches.”

Ratcliff said what made the collaboration work is that he and Yunker became friends.

“We enjoy hanging out. I look forward to having coffee,” Ratcliff said. “We have these exciting scientific discussions where it was obvious that there’s something there, but we had to make the ideas touch down to reality.”

 

 

Leucine Zipper and the Zinc Fingers, the world's first genetically modified rock band, have been a staple of the Atlanta Science Festival. This summer they went into a studio and recorded their first album, Atomic Anarchy. The band celebrates the recording with a live performance. Join them on Sept. 22, 2018 at 8:00 pm at Kavarna coffee house, in Decatur.

Band leader Leucine Zipper is the clone of College of Science' Jennifer Leavey. The Zinc Fingers are clones of amphibian ecologist Joe Mendelson, chemist Michael Evans, and biologist Ben Prosser. 

All ages are welcome!

Event Details

Date/Time:

Leucine Zipper and the Zinc Fingers, the world's first genetically modified rock band, have been a staple of the Atlanta Science Festival. This summer they went into a studio and recorded their first album, Atomic Anarchy. The band celebrates the recording with a live performance. Join them on Sept. 22, 2018 at 8:00 pm at Kavarna coffee house, in Decatur.

Band leader Leucine Zipper is the clone of College of Science' Jennifer Leavey. The Zinc Fingers are clones of amphibian ecologist Joe Mendelson, chemist Michael Evans, and biologist Ben Prosser. 

All ages are welcome!

Event Details

Date/Time:

A School of Psychology Colloquium featuring School of Psychology Assistant Professor Kimberly French

Work and family are two core sources of personal identity, facilitating joy, accomplishment, and belonging. At the same time, work and family roles may conflict with one another, resulting in feelings of stress, strained relationships, and detrimental coping behaviors.

While substantial literature has been dedicated to understanding negative psychological effects of work-family conflict, it is unclear whether, how, or when experiences affect physiological functioning and health. Such a connection is imperative for understanding the scope and nature of work-family processes and establishing work and family experiences as social determinants of major societal health issues such as obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Kimberly French will explore metabolic and cardiovascular outcomes in relation to work demands and work-family conflict experiences. She will present a series of studies focusing on long-term and acute physiological reactions. The results have practical and theoretical implications for the nature and timing of connections between work, family, and physiology.

Reception to follow in the JS Coon 2nd Floor Atrium

Event Details

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