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A tale of two toxins: The acquisition of defensive toxins by animals through horizontal gene transfer

Several disease-causing bacteria produce toxins that damage host cells by triggering preprogrammed cell death. Two such bacterial toxins are called cytolethal distending toxin B and apoptosis-inducing protein of 56 kDa. We discovered that diverse insect species co-opted the two bacterial genes encoding each cytotoxin through a phenomenon called horizontal gene transfer (HGT). HGT occurs when a gene from one organism is inserted into the genome of another and then is stably inherited across generations.

Functional genomics of adaptation to abiotic stresses

Plant nutrient metabolism is regulated through a variety of biological processes, many of which are controlled and coordinated by internal factors such as cell type and developmental stage as well as external factors such as soil quality and other environmental conditions. My research focuses on investigating the genetic and molecular underpinnings of developmental and physiological processes that have been altered to allow plants to tolerate challenging nutrient environments.

Up close and personal: Short-range heat and humidity detectors for mosquito host-seeking and egg-laying behaviors

Mosquitoes use multiple host-associated cues to efficiently locate sources of blood. While detection mechanisms for longer-range cues like CO2 and odors have been widely studied, less is known about how mosquitoes sense the short-range heat and humidity gradients surrounding hosts. We recently demonstrated that heat-seeking in the malaria vector Anopheles gambiae is driven by cooling-activated neurons requiring the Ionotropic Receptor (IR) subunit IR21a.

Innovation in the Classroom: Moving toward Equity and Improving Student Skills

For two decades, I created new courses, developed new teaching strategies, and mentored
junior faculty and postdocs while teaching a wide range of Biology courses. Then in 2020 the
pandemic and stark racial injustices forced us to make drastic changes in how we teach, and to
rethink how we address students’ experiences of our coursework. I will describe how the
pandemic has been an opportunity for me to improve student experience and growth in my
courses: getting rid of high stakes exams where I can, creating student-centered policies and

Agile movement and embodied intelligence: Computational and comparative considerations

Our ability to study brain and behavior has long proceeded in lock-step with advances in technology. At the same time, understanding of neurobiological principles has continuously driven technological innovations, including serving as the inspiration for most of the major advances in artificial intelligence. Even so, engineered systems still struggle to achieve flexible behaviors that require interaction with the physics of the world. All animals excel at such sensorimotor behaviors within their natural contexts.


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