Blog

Andreia’s Notes From the Field

Andreia just returned from a full summer of driving (from Missouri to Florida and back!), several hours in the sun, long hikes in search for female orchid bee colonies and, more importantly, lots and lots of beautiful male orchid bees! These metallic green bees are major pollinators in tropical forests, which makes them an essential part of the ecosystem. Orchid bees are closely related to bumblebees and honeybees, but unlike their relatives, orchid bees do not form hives or colonies and do not show a true division of labor. That implies in one bee being responsible for foraging for multiple resources. All orchid bees need nectar, which is their food source, but males also visit flowers to collect scents (that they probably use to attract females), while females visit flowers to collect resin (which they use to build their nests) and pollen (which they use to feed their young). Because male and female bees have different needs, they end up visiting and pollinating different flowers from different species. In other words, multiple species of plants depend on these bees for pollination and the plant’s survival is dependent on the bees finding the flowers and moving pollen from one flower to another. Andreia’s work focuses on how male and female orchid bees learn about floral cues (color and scent), and she is currently continuing her experiments with bees that she shipped from Florida to the St. Louis Zoo.

It was a busy summer, and Aimee joined Andreia for the last part of the field season and the drive back (when they both memorized the soundtrack for The Lion King Broadway musical).

The Fly Band is Breaking Up

With sadness, we said our farewells to Pablo as he left for his new adventure as a PhD student in neuroscience at Brown University. Its been a productive and fun time during his time here. Looking forward to seeing his future work, as well as what our new fly team puts together this fall!

 

Pablo’s Successful Defense

Lots of congratulations for Pablo Iturralde, who defended his MS thesis, “Transcriptomics of Learning,” this week. Pablo has been extremely busy during his time in the lab: running selections, collecting huge amounts of t-maze data, building automated t-mazes (including machining the parts himself), making libraries for RNA and DNA sequencing, analyzing sequencing data, working on more qPCR samples than we even want to count, and importantly, mentoring undergrads and high school students. We will miss Pablo and his many contributions when he leaves to start a PhD program in neuroscience this August at Brown.

IMG_8770
We didn’t manage a picture at the defense, so here’s one from last month of Pablo processing samples.

Rest in peace, Lucas

We were all extremely shocked to learn that Lucas Shanker died in an accident at school this week. Lucas was a math and computer science major at Purdue, but we knew him from his time working in the lab as a high school student as part of the Students and Teachers as Research Scientists (STARS) program. During his summer in our lab, Lucas worked on two experiments testing aspects of decision making in bees (sampling and tracking, and social information use). We all quickly learned that Lucas was very smart, but also had a strong sense of intellectual curiosity about all kinds of topics. Equally important, Lucas was a kind, thoughtful, and truly good human being.

That fall, Lucas was featured in the Science Matters show on our local public television, KETC. He was interviewed during the summer by Jim Kirchherr about the bees and his work in the lab, and at that moment we knew he had not only understood the work at a deep level, but could also explain it with such eloquence. He could explain every single experiment running in the lab. Those of us watching behind the scenes agreed he did a better job than the rest of us probably would have on that day. UMSL Daily did a little story about his interview

STARS_KETC_shanker_16x91
Lucas being interviewed by the KETC crew in July 2015. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Our condolences go out to Lucas’s parents, family, and friends. He was well-loved in our lab, and I am certain that our response is a universal one for everyone who knew him.

Congratulations to Andreia

Lots of congratulations to Andreia for receiving her first research grant for her dissertation research. The Harris Center for World Ecology is funding her new work on orchid bee cognition at the St. Louis Zoo.