Welcome from the Chair

The close of the 2012-13 academic year is a good time to reflect on the great work that is being done in the Department of Biological Sciences. From ant research in Brazil to the study of wood decay’s impact on forest ecology to a landmark discovery of a new species of dinosaur, we have certainly been busy and have much to report! Please read on to find out more about what your alma mater has been up to over the past 12 months.

Diana Lipscomb

New Dinosaur Species Discovered

Fossil remains of Aorun zhaoi discovered by James Clark, Ronald B. Weintraub Professor of Biology, have recently been identified as a new species of small theropod, or meat-eating dinosaur from the Jurassic Period. Clark and his then doctoral student Jonah Choiniere unearthed the dinosaur specimen—the skull, mandible and partial skeleton of the dinosaur—in a remote region of Xinjiang in China. Their discovery was recently published in The Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, where it became the most highly cited paper in the journal’s history. Read more.

Turtle Ants: Shielded from Danger

Ants on a leaf

Scott Powell, Assistant Professor of biology, has spent a lot of time sitting in trees in eastern Brazil. He has passed many summer hours watching a remarkable little creature distinguished by a dish-like head that acts as a shield against intruders—the turtle ant. Much like a turtle, these ants have an outer shell under which they can pull their antennae and legs when danger lurks nearby. Many can also flatten themselves against the ground or even slide beneath bark to hide from predators. Read more.

What a Catch: Biology PhD Candidate First to Sequence Fish Genome

Daniela Campanella

Growing up in Argentina, Daniela Campanella, a doctoral candidate in biological sciences, fished the fresh lagoons of the Pampas Region with her father and grandfather, catching and eating the king fish Odontesthes bonariensis, commonly known as the pejerrey. What she didn’t know on those family fishing trips is that the pejerrey would not only nourish her body, but her mind as well. This spring, Campanella was the first person to successfully sequence the pejerrey genome—the first known genome of a fish with temperature-dependent sex determination—a discovery that will impact research around the world. Read more.

Power Behind the Pucker

Associate Professor of Biology Patricia Hernandez and her collaborators have discovered a new layer of complexity in goldfish puckering, one that has illuminated the role of a curious bone found in one-quarter of all freshwater fish species. The sight of goldfish lazily grazing, drifting, and puckering away in simple, rent-free space might make us feel a bit envious of the seemingly carefree freshwater creatures. But Hernandez sees something quite different behind a goldfish’s movement: velocity and hydrodynamics, and nature’s age-old obsession with streamlining design. Read more.

Cicadas 101 with Professor John Lill

They’re back. After 17 years maturing underground, Brood II cicadas have surfaced for a few short weeks. With their distinctive red eyes, unearthly mating calls—not to mention their plague-like quantities—cicadas are not your average insect. As the brood emerges, John Lill, associate professor of biology, recently talked about the mystery behind their 17-year cycle and what to expect this season. Read more.

Getting to the Bottom of Wood Decomposition

Assistant Professor Amy Zanne and graduate student Amy Milo in Biological Sciences, as well as Sean McMahon and Melissa McCormick from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, are doing novel research on forest ecology. The research weaves together disparate threads of climate change, forest ecosystem carbon storage and turnover, and emerging DNA sequencing of fungal genes and transcripts to examine fungal influences on wood decay over time. Wood is the largest terrestrial biological store of carbon and in many systems fungi are the main decomposers, breaking down the wood and releasing carbon back to the atmosphere. It is unkown when and under what conditions fungi do most of the decay. The team is trying to learn which fungi decay wood, and when. Read more.

Harlan Trust Continues to Aid Student Research

Scholarships supported by the Harlan Trust, which was established by a generous bequest from the estate of Wilber V. (Bill) Harlan, AA ’35, BS ’35 in 2011, are supporting exciting student research projects again this year. The scholarships, which include research stipends and tuition assistance, are merit-based and fund semester and summer research projects for about 10-12 undergraduate and graduate students each year, as well as specialized workshops and courses.

Some of the projects that this year’s Harlan Scholars are conducting include unraveling structure and composition of cell machinery regulating insulin release in type 2 diabetes, the ecology of species interactions and how they have shaped physical traits in animal communities, computational biology and whole genome analyses, and how the nervous system detects and processes chemical signals. They are also experiencing science in practice by visiting researchers working at the Smithosonian's Natural History Museum, the National Zoo and the National Aquarium in Baltimore. The students will be attending seminars throughout the summer that will inform them on how to create a poster, a presentation, a senior thesis proposal and a journal article. At the end of the program, the students will submit both a proposal and a poster that will be presented at our annual Harlan Graduate and Undergraduate poster session.

Thanks to Our Supporters

The Department of Biology gratefully acknowledges the following individuals and corporations who have supported the department from January 1, 2012 – December 31, 2012.

John R. Bacon, BS ’70, MD ‘74
Michael David Bedrin, BS ‘12
Steven Robert Bergmann, BA ‘72
Hung-Yen Chou, BS ‘12
Sheryl K. Colliver, BS ’81, MS ’85, MPhil ’91, PhD ‘91
Alan B. Constantin, BS ‘77
James Dirickson Cummins III, BS ’83, MS ‘85
Anita Sauveur Curry, AA ’50, BS ‘52
Patricia S. De Angelis, BA ‘90
Jean Thornton DeBell-O’Neal, PhD ‘77
Carlos A. Delgado*
Melissa Delgado, BA ‘12
Emerson Electric Company
Ernst & Young Foundation
Wendy R. Fott, BS ‘92
Alan R. Gold, BA ‘70
Lee Charles Heiman, BS ‘97
Frank J. Kane*
Robert Earle Knowlton**
Amy F. Koplovsky, BS ‘88
Diana L. Lipscomb**
Kenneth Brian Leonard, BS ‘80
Sarah Johnson Peacock, BS ‘09
Laura Marie Roccograndi, BS ‘12
Vishal Sharma, BS‘12
Lauren Stephanie Sherman, BS ’12, BA ’12, MS ‘13
Ira J. Singer, BS ’74, MD ‘78
Corinne M. Weeks, BS ‘12


Request for Support

We encourage your continued support of the Department of Biological Sciences. Gifts to the department allow us to provide support for faculty and student research and travel, graduate student fellowships, and academic enrichment activities including guest speakers, visiting faculty, and symposia. Each gift, no matter how large or small, makes a positive impact on our educational mission and furthers our standing as one of the nation's preeminent liberal arts colleges at one of the world's preeminent universities.

You can make your gift to the Department in a number of ways:

  • Securely online at www.gwu.edu/give2gw. Just choose “other” under designation and type in the name of the department
  • By mailing your check, made out to The George Washington University and with the name of the department in the memo line, to:

The George Washington University
2100 M Street NW, Suite 310
Washington, DC 20052

  • By calling the GW Annual Fund at 1‐800‐789‐2611

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