Here is the science news, relating to George Mason University and the College of Science for the month of March 2017: (more…)
George Mason University researchers have developed a new bioprospecting tool to help them find promising Komodo dragon peptides that are germ-fighting powerhouses, according to new research in the Journal of Proteome Research.
The federal government’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) funded the research with a $7.57 million contract for the George Mason team to analyze peptides used by such “extreme animals” as Komodo dragons and American alligators to defend against infection, potentially leading to new drugs and strategies to fight infection and protect the warfighter from bacterial bioweapons.
Alumna Katharine Dickson chats about her published research and what led to her PhD pursuit at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Mason Degree: BS, Biology 2014
Career Goals: Ideally, I’d like to be a professor, though in the current job market I am also considering spending time in biotech (maybe even starting my own biotech company), investigating patent law and science policy, and consulting as a biology expert.
Favorite Mason Memory: Besides graduation, with “Happy” by Pharrell Williams as the soundtrack? Probably [participating in Mason’s] Biology Research Semester.
Professionally, I’m most proud of…my research publication. Also, right now I’m working on a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship application with a prospective advisor. It looks to be evolving into my dissertation topic.
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Graduate research and graduate teaching in the sciences will receive a big boost through a precedent-setting gift from Richard and Catherine Becker ’96 MS Environmental Science and Policy. A $500,000 commitment from the Alexandria, Va. couple will support two graduate research assistant positions in the College of Science for each of the next 10 years.
Both Cathy and Dick served as U.S. Naval officers after getting their undergraduate degrees in California—Dick aboard ships as a Surface Warfare Officer, and Cathy stationed ashore doing data management. Always interested in protecting the environment, Cathy enrolled at Mason to pursue that passion after she retired from the Navy. “When I came to George Mason I was so impressed,” she recalls. “I loved spending time in classes and labs, learning from outstanding instructors, and interacting with other students.” Cathy completed a master’s degree that led to a rewarding second career in the private sector in environmental services consulting.
Wanting to help other Mason students as their means grew, the Beckers began supporting student scholarships. A turning point, says Cathy, was hearing from and meeting students they had helped. That inspiration led to their decision to support master’s candidates in the department of environmental science and policy, which has nearly 200 active graduate students.
The impact of the couple’s generosity will be widely felt. The Becker Research Assistantship is the largest alumni contribution to science at Mason and among the largest alumni gifts yet to the university’s comprehensive Faster Farther campaign.
Mason doctoral student Blake Klocke has been interested in amphibians for as long as he can remember. He talks about growing up in Minnesota, where he shared his bedroom with a few dozen frogs, snakes, and geckos, as well as the insects he cultivated to feed them.
It was a National Geographic article titled “The Vanishing,” which detailed the decline in amphibian populations around the world caused by the disease chytridiomycosis, that set Klocke on his career path.
“In this article, there were several photos of ‘amphibian arks,’ which are captive assurance colonies where highly susceptible species are kept and bred in captivity—safe from the chytrid fungus—to mitigate the threat,” says Klocke, who is a PhD in environmental science and policy. “I searched for opportunities on the internet and discovered that there was an ark in Panama. I knew that I had to go.”
During his first trip to Panama before his senior year at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls, Klocke met conservation biologist Brian Gratwicke, who leads the amphibian conservation programs at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). Gratwicke encouraged the aspiring herpetologist to consider Mason for his graduate work.
“After returning from Panama, I was able to travel to Washington, D.C., and visit the Smithsonian National Zoo, SCBI, and Mason, which solidified my decision to attend,” says Klocke.
Klocke recently returned from his fourth trip to Panama, where he works with the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. This summer he introduced captive-bred limosa harlequin frogs to the wild.
“This was my second field season working with this species,” says Klocke, who is pursuing his degree while working as a graduate student researcher at the SCBI’s Center for Conservation Genomics. “We equipped several [frogs] with tiny radio transmitters that weigh 0.31 grams. It’s truly fascinating.”
The radio transmitters allow researchers to find the frogs, which are swabbed once a week to identify whether the animal has become infected with the chytrid fungus.
“The most unforgettable moments are the first time you see a species in the wild. We call these moments ‘lifers,’” Klocke says. “Every day is a new adventure, and we always see the unexpected.”