2019 News Archive

Nancy Chen Seeks to Understand an Endangered Species, Bird by Bird

September 27, 2019

According to a recent analysis published in the journal Science, the number of birds in the United States and Canada has declined by nearly 3 billion—a shocking 29 percent of the total—since 1970. The study paints a bleak picture of avian loss among not only endangered species, but supposedly abundant birds like sparrows, and raises questions fundamental to evolutionary biology: What are the genes that influence survival and reproduction? What happens to the genetics of a population when it becomes threatened by extinction? Why do some individuals fare better than others? How do natural populations evolve over short time-scales?

Continue Reading

Jack Werren Says Genetics Models Move Beyond Drosophila and the Humble Lab Mouse

September 10, 2019

Geneticists tend to crowd around a few favorite organisms that have long histories in research and a wealth of practiced protocols for manipulating their genes. But those organisms aren’t always the best choice to answer a scientific question, leading some researchers to use other, less popular models. Organisms from elsewhere across the tree of life might offer unique genetic structures, physiology closer to that of humans, or faster generation times to accelerate investigations into gene regulation, evolution, and development.

Continue Reading

Anne Meyer says CRISPR Now Cuts and Splices Whole Chromosomes

September 3, 2019

Imagine a word processor that allowed you to change letters or words but balked when you tried to cut or rearrange whole paragraphs. Biologists have faced such constraints for decades. They could add or disable genes in a cell or even—with the genome-editing technology CRISPR—make precise changes within genes. Those capabilities have led to recombinant DNA technology, genetically modified organisms, and gene therapies. But a long-sought goal remained out of reach: manipulating much larger chunks of chromosomes in Escherichia coli, the workhorse bacterium. Now, researchers report they've adapted CRISPR and combined it with other tools to cut and splice large genome fragments with ease.

Continue Reading

Department of Biology Retreat, August 23, 2019

August 23, 2019

On August 23, 2019 the Department of Biology held our annual Department Retreat at the Glen Iris Inn at Letchworth State Park in Castile, NY.  Renowned as the "Grand Canyon of the East," Letchworth State Park is one of the most scenically magnificent areas in the eastern U.S. The Genesee River roars through the gorge over three major waterfalls between cliffs--as high as 600 feet in some places--surrounded by lush forests.

Continue Reading

Gloria Culver reappointed Dean of School of Arts & Sciences

May 30, 2019

Gloria Culver has been appointed to a new five-year term as dean of the School of Arts & Sciences. “Dean Culver’s dedication to the success of our students, faculty, and staff, and her tireless commitment to the School of Arts and  Sciences are reflections of the way she lives the University’s vision and values,” says Donald Hall, the Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Sciences & Engineering. “Her efforts to promote the humanities, celebrate scholarship, and ensure equity for underrepresented groups across the arts and sciences and STEM fields have contributed significantly to the continued growth and success of AS&E. I value her as a key member of the AS&E leadership team and I look forward to continuing our work together.” The Board of Trustees approved Culver’s deanship renewal at its May meeting.

Continue Reading

Amanda Larracuente Sequences the Genome’s Elusive Centromere

May 15, 2019

Researchers from the University of Rochester, along with their colleagues at the University of Connecticut, have now discovered the centromeres of the model genetic organism Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly), sequencing the most repetitive parts of genome and unlocking one of the “last frontiers of genome assembly,” says Amanda Larracuente, an assistant professor of biology at Rochester and co-lead author on the study. The research, published in the journal PloS Biology, sheds light on a fundamental aspect of biology, and shows that selfish genetic elements may play a larger role in centromere function than researchers previously thought.

Continue Reading

Brenna Rybak Receives Meliora Award for Outstanding Service

April 24, 2019

Colleagues say she’s an innovative and creative problem solver and her level of service to faculty, staff, and students in the department consistently exceeds expectations. Rybak is considered a thoughtful advisor to many members of the department and has helped counsel them through a variety of issues and questions.

“Brenna is a star, a terrific asset to the department and the University, and is a joy to work with,” wrote Michael Welte, chair of the Department of Biology, who nominated her for the award. “She communicates effectively in person and in writing, is an active listener, and a problem solver. She interacts well with all members of the department, has profound people skills, and is excellent at both managing conflict and encouraging people to do their best.”

Continue Reading

Researchers Say ‘Longevity gene’ Responsible for More Efficient DNA Repair

April 22, 2019

In a new paper published in the journal Cell, the researchers—including Vera Gorbunova and Andrei Seluanov, professors of biology; Dirk Bohmann, professor of biomedical genetics; and their team of students and postdoctoral researchers—found that the gene sirtuin 6 (SIRT6) is responsible for more efficient DNA repair in species with longer lifespans. The research illuminates new targets for anti-aging interventions and could help prevent age-related diseases.

Continue Reading

Amanda Larracuente Recipient of National Science Foundation’s Prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award

April 11, 2019

Amanda Larracuente, an assistant professor of biology, will investigate the function and evolution of centromeres in fruit flies. Centromeres, which vary in size and complexity across organisms, are regions of the chromosome that are essential in ensuring chromosomes separate properly during cell division. Variations in centromeres can have an impact on genome evolution, speciation, and human disease. Larracuente will study the variation of centromeres within and between species to gain insights into their DNA sequences. She will also examine how a class of selfish genetic elements called retrotransposons shape aspects of centromeres. (Read more here.)

Continue Reading

Gorbunova and Seluanov Labs Say ‘Selfish’ Genetics Amplify Inflammation, Age-related Diseases

March 15, 2019

Aging affects every living organism, but the molecular processes that contribute to aging remain a subject of debate. While many things contribute to the aging process, one common theme in animal aging is inflammation—and this may be amplified by a class of selfish genetic elements.

The human genome is littered with selfish genetic elements—repetitive elements that do not seem to benefit their hosts, but instead seek only to propagate themselves by inserting new copies into their host genomes. A class of selfish genetic elements called LINE1 retrotransposons are the most prevalent retrotransposon selfish genetic elements found in humans; approximately 20 percent of both human and mice genomes are composed of LINE1s.

Continue Reading

Amanda Larracuente Says the Male Y Chromosome is Not a Genetic Wasteland

February 7, 2019

Y chromosomes are sex chromosomes in males that are transmitted from father to son; they can be important for male fertility and sex determination in many species. Even though fruit fly and mammalian Y chromosomes have different evolutionary origins, they have parallel genome structures, says Larracuente, who co-authored the paper with her PhD student Ching-Ho Chang. “Drosophila melanogaster is a premier model organism for genetics and genomics, and has perhaps the best genome assembly of any animal. Despite these resources, we know very little about the organization of the Drosophila Y chromosome because most of it is missing from the genome assembly.”

Continue Reading

Daven Presgraves Explains What Makes A Species Different

January 7, 2019

Most evolutionary biologists distinguish one species from another based on reproductivity: members of different species either won’t or can’t mate with one another, or, if they do, the resulting offspring are often sterile, unviable, or suffer some other sort of reduced fitness.

Continue Reading