Institute funds 2 new collaborative research projects

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Colgate faculty members will collaborate with professors from around the world and the nation on research projects funded by the university’s Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute.

The institute director, biology professor Damhnait McHugh, recently announced the latest grants awarded by the institute.

“The institute is committed to supporting research by faculty members who combine their expertise from different areas of study to address otherwise intractable scientific questions,” she said.

The grants were awarded to:

— Krista Ingram, assistant biology professor at Colgate, who will work with Guy Bloch, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Rudolf Meier, National University of Singapore, on examining how ant workers in a nest organize all of their necessary behaviors or tasks when no single ant is in control.

People marvel at the efficiency of ant colonies — the tireless march of thousands of busy workers dedicated to their daily tasks, collectively forming a single nest that runs like clockwork.

It turns out that ants rely on the same mechanism that humans use to organize our daily activities — an internal molecular rhythm generator called the circadian clock.


• Contact Damhnait McHugh for additional information about the institute

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The scientists will investigate the genetic structure of the ant circadian clock, explore how genes that regulate circadian rhythms are associated with specific tasks, and reconstruct the patterns of change in rhythm regulation throughout ant evolution.

The team hopes to improve the understanding of the role of molecular clocks in the synchronization of animal behavior with external environments.

— Colgate faculty members James Watkins, a plant ecophysiologist, and Nancy Pruitt, a comparative cellular physiologist, are teaming up with Melvin Oliver, a molecular biologist at the University of Missouri, to examine how plants respond to desiccation.

Environmental changes in the coming decades will expose plants to extreme stress and will likely alter natural species’ distributions, upset ecosystem processes, and threaten the world’s food supply.

The scientists will focus on an ancient group of plants — ferns — that respond differently to desiccation at various stages of their life cycles.

In addition to lab work at Colgate and the University of Missouri, the project will bring the researchers and Colgate students to Costa Rica for fieldwork.

It will be one of the first studies to integrate ecological, physiological, and molecular approaches to understand the mechanisms by which plants have evolved to survive on dry land and how they are likely to behave under predicted global change scenarios.