Alumni Story: Jonathan Kolby (CC’03) – Friend of the Frogs

Jonathan Kolby with frog.

Jonathan Kolby with frog.

When he was a young boy, Jonathan Kolby spent most of his free hours outdoors “running around in the woods, catching frogs and turtles.” Not much has changed since then, although now he spends his time in the wetlands of such places as Honduras, Nicaragua, Australia and Kenya, studying the diseases that are threatening the very existence of amphibians worldwide.

Growing up in Union, New Jersey, Jonathan got an early start on his work with amphibians. At age 15, he had the opportunity to join James Lazell of The Conservation Agency, a Rhode Island-based 501(c)(3), on an expedition to survey reptile and amphibian biodiversity in Hong Kong and China. That experience cemented his interest and directed his future career in research.

He chose Rutgers and the George H. Cook Campus for college because “it is in a really green spot in New Jersey and offered the courses in biological sciences that would advance my personal interest in amphibians,” he says.

After graduating in 2003 with a degree in biological sciences, he went to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and came across the National Geographic Young Explorers program, which awards scientists between the ages of 18 and 25 grants of up to $5,000 for field research around the globe. Successful in his grant application, Jonathan used the funds to travel to Honduras to determine whether endangered frogs were infected by the pathogenic chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or Bd), a scourge that is wiping out amphibian populations around the globe. [Read more…]

Professors Bhattacharya and Falkowski Lead International Team in Analysis of Coral Genes

Professors Debashish Bhattacharya and Paul Falkowski. Photo by Todd B. Bates

Professors Debashish Bhattacharya and Paul Falkowski. Photo by Todd B. Bates

An international team has conducted a comprehensive analysis of coral genes, focusing on how their evolution has allowed corals to interact with and adapt to the environment. Professors Debashish Bhattacharya and Paul Falkowski led a coral gene database study that was published in the journal eLife. The study stems from an international coral genomics symposium and workshop held at Rutgers in February 2014 that was funded by the National Science Foundation. Also, a stony coral study was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences last month. Read more at Rutgers Today.

Historic Achievement for Rutgers Oceanographers as First Autonomous Underwater Robot Circumnavigates Ocean Basin

Recovery of the Rutgers "Challenger" glider following its historic circumnavigation of the South Atlantic Ocean.

Recovering the Rutgers “Challenger” glider following its historic circumnavigation of the South Atlantic Ocean. (Click here to watch the video.)

After a historic circumnavigation of an ocean basin by the Rutgers “Challenger” glider, it was recovered on March 31 by an international team anchored by faculty and student oceanographers from Rutgers, and international partners that include the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, University of Sao Paulo, University of Cape Town, and the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

The 282-day circumnavigation of the southern Atlantic Ocean basin by an autonomous underwater robot was completed in stages by the Rutgers glider, which was first deployed in January 2013 off of Cape Town, South Africa. It was recovered and redeployed off of Ascension Island in November of the same year, and landed in Brazil. Following its recovery off the coast of Ubatuba, Brazil, in May 2014, the glider began its history-making trek back to South Africa, completing another major achievement in modern oceanography. [Read more…]

Beyond Words: Carl Safina, GSNB’82,’87

This wolf, known as 755 and the object of study in Yellowstone National Park, was shattered when humans killed his brother and mate. His new mate was then killed by his jealous daughters, who attracted hostile males that he couldn’t handle. Once a proud alpha male, he was desolate. Photo credit: Alan Oliver

This wolf, known as 755 and the object of study in Yellowstone National Park, was shattered when humans killed his brother and mate. His new mate was then killed by his jealous daughters, who attracted hostile males that he couldn’t handle. Once a proud alpha male, he was desolate.
Photo credit: Alan Oliver

Note: This article first appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of Rutgers Magazine.

Years of studying animals at sea and on land convinced scientist Carl Safina that many creatures in nature think, express emotion and communicate. In his new book, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel (Henry Holt and Company, 2015), Safina GSNB ’82, ’87 couples personal observations of wildlife with the best field research available to create a thought-provoking portrait of the distinct and complex lives of animals.

For the project, Safina, who earned a Ph.D. in ecology from Rutgers, visited elephant herds at Amboseli National Park in Kenya, wolf packs at Yellowstone National Park, and orca pods in the Pacific Northwest. A clear pattern emerged. These animals know who they are, he says. “We have the same imperatives: take care of our babies, find food, try to stay alive.” [Read more…]

China hates GMOs. Problem is, China really needs GMOs

China has a fifth of the world’s people, but only about 7 percent of its arable land. Food security is a national obsession – so it only seemed natural when, earlier this month, state-owned ChemChina announced its bid to buy the pesticide- and seed-producing giant Syngenta, in what is likely to be the biggest acquisition in the country’s history. Technology, the Party seemed to say, and especially genetically modified crops, are the key to a sustainable future. "There was a widespread public fear that, ‘Oh, maybe they’re trying to sneak this through too!’" says Carl Pray, an economist at Rutgers who has researched Chinese attitudes toward GMOs.

Read the entire article at Wired »

Do Pathogens Hold The Key to Understanding the Origin of Eukaryotes?

A new paper in Science, co-authored by evolutionary biologist Debashish Bhattacharya, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, helps to answer the question.

Debashish Bhattacharya

Debashish Bhattacharya

A major turning point in the history of life on Earth occurred about two billion years ago – the evolution of complex cells, the so-called eukaryotes. This was the foundational lineage that contained the first nucleus, an elaborate internal membrane system, and energy producing organelles referred to as mitochondria that powered the rise of algae, fungi, plants, and ultimately humans. But how did this quantum leap in evolutionary complexity happen?

This question has long been a source of controversy among “deep time” thinkers but has finally been clarified to a great extent, and the story goes as follows. Before eukaryotes, our planet belonged to morphologically simple prokaryotic forms that lacked the nucleus and the mitochondrion. Prokaryotes are divided into two domains of life, bacteria and archaea, which are distinguished by their genetic make-up and the type of membranes that surround their cells. Most scientists now believe that eukaryotes evolved from prokaryotic ancestors in a unique event. The consensus view is that the mitochondrion traces its origin to an alphaproteobacterium that was captured by an archaeal cell. Major questions that remain are how the ancestor of the mitochondrion entered the archaeal cell and how it managed to survive in the well-protected host cell cytoplasm. [Read more…]

Prof. Benjamin Horton Wins European Geosciences Union Award

Prof. Ben Horton teaching a Byrne Seminar, a one-credit course designed to introduce first-year students at Rutgers-New Brunswick to academic life.

Prof. Ben Horton teaching a Byrne Seminar, a one-credit course designed to introduce first-year students at Rutgers-New Brunswick to academic life.

Benjamin Horton, professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences, was named the winner of the Plinius Medal by the European Geosciences Union (EGU). The award, which honors scientists for their important contributions to the Earth, planetary and space sciences, will be presented at the EGU 2016 General Assembly to be held in Vienna in April.

Horton’s research concerns sea-level change. He aims to understand and integrate the external and internal mechanisms that have determined sea-level changes in the past, and which will shape such changes in the future.

“It’s such a big moment for me,” said Horton. “As an American scientist, to be recognized by the European Geosciences Union is a great honor.” [Read more…]

With China’s GMO Sector in Limbo, Local Seed Firm Targets U.S.

A Chinese biotech seed firm is aiming to launch the country’s first genetically modified corn products overseas on the home turf of the world’s top agricultural companies, as Beijing’s reticence over GMO food keeps the domestic market off limits… The plan by Beijing-based Origin Agritech to test its technology in the United States, which has dominated the sector with GMO giants such as Monsanto, is the latest effort by a Chinese firm to enter the global industry… "The only way they might be able to break into the market is if their technology fees are going to be cheaper than Monsanto," said Carl Pray, professor at Rutgers University’s agricultural, food and resource economics department… Referring to seed firm Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group’s agreement to test its technology in Argentina, Pray said competition was tougher in the United States. "It’s one thing to do this in Argentina, and another to go into the U.S."

Read the entire article at www.nytimes.com »

Technology Comes to the Aid of Famed Kashmiri Apples

Imagine Kashmiri apple with an American twist! Jammu and Kashmir government is starting a trial test of a US patented technology to increase the shelf life of the apples in the non-controlled room temperature environment… Jammu and Kashmir is targeting to transform its Rs.3000 crore apple industry into a whopping Rs.15000 crore business over the next five years by rejuvenating orchards and adopting the high-density plantations… Prof Nazir Mir, a Kashmir-born scientist working in Rutgers University, New Jersey, who has done a pioneering research in 1-MCP, said given the volume of production, this technology is going to be very cost-effective.

Read the entire article at www.dnaindia.com »

Brittany Graf (GSNB ’14) Will Host RUAA Tour of Cuban Natural Medicine Research Facility

Brittany L. Graf

Brittany L. Graf

Now that diplomatic relations have been restored between the United States and Cuba, Rutgers University Alumni Association is planning to explore the mystique of the island nation, with two trips planned for 2016.

Among the many activities on the agenda, travelers will visit Cuba’s natural medicine research facility, managed by Fulbright scholar Brittany Graf GSNB’14 who is working with Cuban natural medicine specialists to explore potentially life-saving botanicals as part of Rutgers-GIBEX. The Global Institute for BioExploration is a global research and development network that promotes ethical, natural product-based pharmacological bioexploration to benefit human health and the environment in developing countries. Rutgers professor Ilya Raskin’s laboratory serves as the headquarters for GIBEX. Read more at Rutgers Magazine.