Our lab has been involved in three large projects through the summer, two on the main stem of the Susquehanna River and one on five headwater streams.
Although the students in my lab have particular responsibilities, we all work together as a team on days when multiple hands and backs are needed.
Eighth Year of the Byers Island Monitoring Project
We continue to monitor diatom biofilm communities and benthic macroinvertebrate communities at four sites on the Byers Island transect. Sites 1 and 2 are on the west side of Byers Island, and sites 3 and 4 are on the east side.
For both communities, we use passive sampling (rock baskets and Hester-Dendy Multiplate samplers for the macroinvertebrate communities and diatometers for the diatom biofilms; deployed on June 9) and active sampling (kicks and stone collections for macroinvertebrates and diatoms, respectively).
Active samples are taken at 100 meter intervals upstream from sites 1 and 2 for 500 meters. Site 1 is in the west branch plume while sites 2-4 are in the north branch plume. Still, each of the north branch plume sites show individual characteristics, especially during this low flow summer.
Diatom Community Monitoring for Young-of-Year Small Mouth Bass Project
The diatom community monitoring is a portion of a larger project that includes fish, macroinvertebrates and diatom biofilms at specified locations on the lower west branch, upper main stem, and tributaries of the Susquehanna River—11 sites in all.
Headwater Stream Multicommunity Project
This is the second year that we have studied the macroinvertebrate communities, diatom communities and water chemistry of five headwater streams that flow down the north face of Penns Creek Mountain into Penns Creek.
Last year we found that, although the chemistry is quite similar from one stream to the next, the macroinvertebrate and diatom communities are quite different from each other.
This summer we set out to repeat the samples and methods of last year. In addition to examining the upper reaches of the respective streams, we chose one stream, Green Gap, to examine in a longitudinal study to its confluence with Weikert Run.
Although we examined diatom communities on stone, sediment and plants in the summer of 2015, this summer we are restricting our investigation to diatom biofilms on stones.
Through live capture-release and recapture studies of small mammals, stomach content analyses of carnivores (coyote, foxes, minks), owls feeding ecology work (barn and long-eared) and quaternary vertebrate faunal reconstructions, my research interest has focused on the natural history, ecology, conservation and evolution of vertebrates (past and present) in the area.
My students help me develop new lines of research constantly and ways to ask questions and define hypotheses. Students in my lab start doing research during their sophomore year, first assisting juniors and seniors and later defining their own protocols and questions.
Eventually, we invest enough time in research to warrant the writing and presentation of results in local, regional, state, national and even international scientific meetings. I work side-by-side with every one of my research students in the long and tedious process of applying to graduate schools. And, when merited, we submit our final manuscripts to be considered for publication in a peer-review scientific journal.
As a scientist I love to combine the intellectual challenge of forming hypotheses with the physical challenge of testing these hypotheses using experiments and computer models.
Research in my lab focuses on answering the overarching question—why are invasive plants successful and what are the ecological consequences of their success?
There are dozens of invasive plants here in the Mid-Atlantic and many utilize a similar reproductive strategy. This strategy allows new individuals to be produced sexually by seed and asexually by belowground rhizomes.
Despite much research we still do not know if this mixed reproductive strategy is directly responsible for the tremendous success of these plants. Results from our research shed light on which biotic and abiotic conditions influence the success of sexual and clonal offspring.
Recently we have begun to investigate the invasive shrub Japanese knotweed ( Fallopia japonica), which is quickly spreading throughout riparian forest along the Susquehanna River. I am excited to have students of any stage and experience participate in my lab. If you are interested, please contact me.
I am an ecologist broadly focused on how human activities affect the life histories of animals, primarily amphibians. My research has examined core ecological questions concerning how populations are impacted by natural abiotic and biotic variation, as well as human-caused changes in land use, disease, chemical contamination and climate change in North and Central America.
I love to share my enthusiasm for biology with students by using the scientific process, from making those essential first observations to interpreting the final graphs that illustrate the answer to a question.
The questions I currently examine with my students include “How will climate change impact terrestrial salamanders and their invertebrate food sources?” and “How do roads and streams impact salamander movement across the landscape?”
We employ a variety of methods to answer these questions, including cover board arrays to find salamanders, marking techniques to identify individuals and berlese funnels to extract invertebrates from leaf litter samples.
Please contact me if you have any questions.
Trained as a plant ecologist, I am interested in understanding the biotic and abiotic factors that determine the abundance and distribution of plants in their natural environments.
Research in my lab primarily focuses on the ways in which biotic factors impact the growth, reproduction and survival of plants. Earlier research in my lab explored the role soil pathogens played in shaping seedling recruitment patterns near black cherry ( Prunus serotina) trees. I found that mature trees fostered the growth of host-specific pathogens that reduced survival of black cherry seedlings beneath mature trees, but did not have a similar effect on seedlings of other species. Distance- and/or density-dependent seedling survival has the power to shape species distributions, but also to impact community-level patterns of species diversity.
More recent research in my lab has explored the effect of plant-animal interactions on plant growth, reproduction and survival. In particular, we have looked at plant allocation to defense, growth and reproduction in both bean species and Prunus species.
These two groups both have multiple defenses against herbivory, including the ability to release hydrogen cyanide (HCN) in response to damage and the production of extrafloral nectaries (EFNs). While HCN offers plants a means of directly defending themselves against enemies, extrafloral nectaries provide defense to the plants indirectly—by rewarding, with nectar, those visitors that attack the plants’ natural enemies.
Further, EFNs are often an induced defense—meaning the plant responds to damage by investing in additional EFNs. My lab has explored the effect that herbivory, resource availability and the soil microbial community has on plant allocation to defense, growth and reproduction. Current work being done in collaboration with Dr. Matlaga, examines the effects of simulated herbivory on the goldenrod/gall fly interaction.
As a developmental biologist, my lab is interested in learning more about the ways in which cell communication and signaling are used to determine cell fate as an animal embryo develops from an unfertilized egg.
Our model system is the sea urchin embryo, which is easy to grow in the lab and is beautiful transparent, making observation of development very easy.
We are currently studying several different signaling pathways, one of which is the planar cell polarity (PCP) pathway. We have shown that a protein in this pathway, c-jun N-Terminal kinase, is needed for the formation of the archenteron, which is the embryonic digestive system (Long et al., 2015, genesis 53:762-769).
We are currently examining other roles for this protein during development, such as formation of the spindle during early mitosis. We have also recently initiated studies on the Hippo pathway, which is known in other systems to be a regulator of cell proliferation but has not been characterized in the sea urchin.
Using small molecule inhibitors of the Hippo pathway effector protein YAP, we are conducting loss-of-function studies to determine the role of YAP in the sea urchin embryo.
As a behavioral ecologist, I’m interested in understanding how animal communication and information use influences survival and reproductive success.
We use spiders as a model organism to ask questions about female mate choice, predator-prey interactions and kin-recognition. Our lab also uses spiders to address questions in the areas of chemical, physiological and community ecology, as well as neuroscience.
Current projects include:
- Measuring mercury accumulation in spiders and other arthropods near power plants, uncontrolled mine fire sites and mining-impacted rivers. Spiders are extremely efficient at concentrating mercury and mobilizing it across food webs but we don’t understand why.
- Identifying how wolf spiders learn to recognize predators even before they are born.
- Testing the tactics used by poor quality male wolf spiders to find a mate. Paradoxically, one strategy may be to seek out spider pairs that are already mating.
- Measuring the behavioral and physiological adaptations spiders use to respond to periodic flooding. Our work is identifying how many spiders can stay alive for hours underwater.
- Identifying the chemical composition of spider pheromones. While thousands of insect pheromones have been identified, only six spider pheromones have been characterized.
- Testing the role of octopamine in shaping spider personalities. Octopamine is an arthropod “fight or flight” hormone that functions like norepinephrine in vertebrates. We are examining how increased levels of octopamine modify spider aggression level across multiple contexts including diet choice, courtship, predator avoidance and prey capture tactics. Some wolf spiders show seemingly maladaptive levels of aggression-like killing prey they don’t eat or killing all their prospective mates and dying unmated. Octopamine regulation may be a key to understanding why these behaviors persist.
I study a problem that was first identified more than 60 years ago but remains unsolved. Thalidomide can be considered the most notorious teratogenic (causing birth defects) drug ever. The drug was promoted as a safe alternative to many of the therapeutic alternatives at the time. When researchers realized that it caused birth defects, it was immediately removed from the market and stayed off the market for decades.
Thalidomide returned to the market place because it provides many significant therapeutic solutions for several diseases due to its immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties. The exact mechanism whereby the drug harms the developing fetus has never been completely understood, although over 30 theories have been put forth.
One of the problems associated with understanding thalidomide is that it does not seem to have same effects in pregnant laboratory rodents as it does in humans, making the search for a teratogenic mechanism of action more complicated.
Our laboratory found that thalidomide affects developing sea urchin embryos and started using them as a model organism for trying to uncover the drug’s mechanism of action in embryos. We use techniques such as embryo culture, immunohistochemistry, in situ hybridization, light microscopy and other cell biology techniques to try to unravel the drug’s mechanism of action.
Recently, we started looking at the epigenetic effects thalidomide may have when thalidomide treated sperm fertilize the sea urchin eggs.
The research in my laboratory is focused on the impact of developmental environment on the physiology and behavior of adult offspring.
A wide array of experimental studies in species from fish to humans have convincingly demonstrated that the early developmental environment has a significant and long-lasting effect on offspring as adults.
The long-term consequences of one’s developmental environment have been termed gestational programming or maternal effects.
One of the initial findings to support the existence of gestational programming was from humans exposed to famine during gestation during the Dutch hunger winter in 1944-45.
These offspring were born with low birth weight and had a much higher rate of developing obesity, diabetes, heart disease and a number of other pathologies.
Findings from this and subsequent studies showed that low birth weight could be used as a marker for impaired gestational environment.
In my research, we use a gestational nutrient restriction rodent model to produce low birth weight offspring. The low birth weight offspring are used to study the effects of impaired gestational environment on the brain, reproduction and motivated behaviors.
Information gained from this research should have a significant impact on our understanding of the underlying mechanisms responsible for gestational programming and will hopefully provide insight into new potential interventions for low birth weight humans.
The role of the endocrine system in the development of eggs in insects represents an important gap in our understanding of these processes.
Previous work suggests that the production and deposition of yolk into developing oocytes relies upon a balance between the ecdysteroids, the insect-specific juvenile hormones (JHs) and the insulin-signaling (ILS) pathway. Furthermore, egg development arrests when insulin signaling is disrupted by mutation, such that the trafficking of yolk proteins across the oocyte membrane is disrupted. Interestingly, these mutants are also smaller than wild-type animals and live considerably longer, indicating links between cell division and growth, fecundity, carbohydrate intake, and oxidation and aging.
Recently, I have become interested in the effects of oxygen levels on biological systems. Exposure to low partial pressures of oxygen induces the expression of hypoxia-inducible transcription factors (HIFs) that then appear to regulate a wide range of pathways including those associated with aging, growth and insulin signaling.
My hypothesis is that the exposure of insects to low partial pressures of oxygen will affect egg development by stimulating HIF production, thus disrupting the ILS pathway and the expression of yolk protein genes and those genes involved in protein trafficking.
In addition, we hypothesize that reduced ambient pressure (simulating changes in altitude) will affect the expression of these genes and downstream egg development. Anecdotal observations in the Himalayas suggest that the geographical range of some insect species is extending to higher altitudes, possibly as a result of climate change in the region.
Given that some insects in low-lying areas of Asia are vectors for diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, an understanding of the effects of altitude and oxygen availability on insect reproduction may inform our understanding of the possible outcomes of climate change.
My work is in the field of epitranscriptomics. Epitranscriptomics is the study on how RNA modification impacts cellular function. My work specifically focuses on the evolutionarily conserved RNA methyltransferase METTL3. METTL3 adds the m 6 A modification to RNA. METTL3 has homologs in many eukaryotic organisms. In humans, the m 6 A modification has been link to a variety of different pathological conditions such as cancers, developmental disorders and metabolic diseases. This modification has also been shown to be essential in the replication cycle of viruses such as HIV and Zika. My lab is currently studying the role of the METTL3 homolog Dm ime4 in Drosophila Melanogaster.
We are currently working to characterized Dm ime4 in Drosophila neurogenesis and gametogenesis. Neurogenesis and gametogenesis are powerful systems in answering developmental and cell biological questions. We are using a combination of molecular tools including Immunostaining, RT-PCR, western blot analysis, northern blot analysis and RNA sequencing to characterize our gene and subsequently protein of interest. We have narrowed down a potential mechanism of Dm ime4 using a forward genetics approach. This work has the potential to improve our understanding of m 6 A in metazoan development and disease.
The research interests in my lab is to investigate the biological effects of gold nanoparticles. Gold nanoparticles can be synthesized using either traditional chemical reagents or using plant derived extracts to act as reducing agents. My students synthesize and characterize gold nanoparticles in collaboration with Dr. Swarna Basu and his students in the chemistry department.
One of the projects is to determine whether gold nanoparticles synthesized using honey can modulate the immune response. While an acute inflammatory response is critical to mount an effective immune response to an infection, chronic and inappropriate inflammation has been implicated in a number of human diseases. My research students use the THP-1 cell line, a human monocytic cell line that was obtained from a male patient with acute monocytic leukemia. THP-1 cells are first differentiated into macrophages and then exposed to Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) to mimic an infection with gram negative bacteria. LPS treatment activates signaling by TLR4 and results in production of pro-inflammatory cytokines by macrophages. The production of pro-inflammatory cytokines activates the innate immune system by effecting a variety of systemic and local changes to mobilize macrophages to fight the infection. Our preliminary results show that THP-1 cells treated with gold nanoparticles exhibit a reduction in pro-inflammatory cytokines. We are currently examining the mechanism by which TLR4 signaling is inhibited by honey gold nanoparticles.
The second project is to examine whether gold nanoparticles exhibit anti-cancer properties. We recently demonstrated that gold nanoparticles synthesized using a variety of plant extracts, such as lemongrass and green tea have both cytotoxic and anti-proliferative effects on cervical and melanoma cancer cells. We are currently examining whether inclusion of halide ions during the synthesis of gold nanoparticles with lemongrass extract alters the anti-cancer effects.
Dickson J*., Weaver B*., Vivekanand P, Basu S. Anti‑neoplastic effects of gold nanoparticles synthesized using green sources on cervical and melanoma cancer cell lines. BioNanoScience 2023 https://doi.org/10.1007/s12668-022-01056-z
Follmer M*., Shrawder B*., Eckert K*., Heinky B*, Vivekanand P. The effectiveness of EGFR knockdown by RNAi lines varies depending on the tissue. micropublication Biology 2022 10.17912/micropub.biology.000612
Castner E*., Dickson M*., Mykytyn A*. Seeram N., Henry G., Vivekanand P. Synthesis and evaluation of apoptotic induction of human cancer cells by ester derivatives of thujone. Medicinal Chemistry Research 2019 https://doi.org/10.1007/s00044-019-02481-8
Vivekanand P. Lessons from Drosophila Pointed, an ETS family transcription factor and key nuclear effector of the RTK signaling pathway. Genesis 2018 https://doi.org/10.1002/dvg.23257
Bartoletti R.*, Capozzoli B.*, Moore J.*, Moran J.*, Shrawder B.*, Vivekanand P. Short hairpin RNA is more effective than long hairpin RNA in eliciting pointed loss-of-function phenotypes in Drosophila. Genesis 2017 https://doi.org/10.1002/dvg.23036
* indicates SU student co-authors