Successful NASA Grant!

Drs. Murdoch and Graham were just awarded a grant from NASA to study scorpion microbiomes! Dr. Murdoch’s students have been busily studying the ‘culturable’ microbes from desert scorpions (Smeringurus mesaensis), so now it’s time to look for the ‘unculturables.’ To do this, Eastern undergraduates will be using a variety of techniques, including subcloning of bacterial DNA, as outlined in the figure below. We predict that ancient organisms like scorpions may harbor particularly old and novel suites of bacterial species in the microbiomes. Since most antibiotics in use today were isolated from bacteria, missions to discover new bacterial taxa could be paramount to combating the global antiobiotic resistance crisis.

We thank Dr. Murdoch for initiating this project and for providing expertise in this exciting new line of research for our lab. We also thank Dr. Elizabeth Cowles and members of the NASA CT Space Grant Consortium for their support.

“Antimicrobial resistance is not a future threat looming on the horizon. It is here, right now, and the consequences are devastating.”

Dr. Margaret Chan, World Health Organization, 2014.


Subcloning workflow for our scorpion microbiome project. The photograph of S. mesaensis (bottom scorpion) was kindly provided by Dr. Brent Hendrixson.


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Update on 2017

A lot has happened since our last post! Here are some highlights.

  • Dr. Paula Cushing (Denver Museum of Nature & Science) and Dr. Graham submitted a NSF proposal to revise an important and fascinating, yet neglected group of North American arachnids, camel spider family Eremobatidae. The proposal includes UCEs, RADseq, a post-doc, graduate students, REUs, and support for four years of field and lab work. Our fingers are crossed for this one!
  • Dr. Shahan Derkarabetian of Dr. Marshal Hedin’s lab at San Diego State University trained Drs. Cushing and Graham in UCE (ultra-conserved elements) sequencing. Thanks Shahan and Marshal!
  • We began to shift the lab from Sanger sequencing to the more powerful restriction-site associated DNA sequencing (RADseq)… and we are almost done with our first plate. Thanks again to Shahan Derkarabetian for help with the process!
  • Two Eastern students, Ms. Haley Grimason and Ms. Alexsis Powell, were awarded Freeman Scholarships to work in the lab over the summer. Both presented their research during our Biology Department seminar series in November (presentation titles are below).
  • Drs. Murdoch and Graham submitted a NASA Space Grant to study the ‘unculturable’ components of scorpion microbiomes. Do scorpions harbor ancient microbes in their guts and tissues? Do these microbes possess novel antibiotics? We shall see.
  • Under the guidance of Dr. Murdoch, two Eastern students, Lauren Atkinson and Yunsung (David) Cho, generated preliminary sequence data from bacteria cultured from Hadrurus arizonensis and Smeringurus mesaensis. The results are exciting!
  • Drs. Cushing and Graham collected camel spiders and scorpions along the Colorado River over the summer.
  • Dr. Graham collected black-clawed scorpions in the western Mojave, filling in some important sampling gaps for our ongoing study.
  • Dr. Graham and colleagues published two new papers (see Publications page). One describes a new scorpion genus, Catalinia, from southern California and northern Baja. The other documents medically significant scorpion envenoming from scorpions of the Tityus obscurus complex in Amazonian Ecuador. Several additional manuscripts from our lab are slated for publication in early 2018.

Poster Titles

Grimason, H.C., A.M. Powell, J.R. Jaeger, & M.R. Graham. Post-glacial expansion of the black-clawed scorpion, Anuroctonus phaiodactylus (Wood, 1863). Biology Department Seminar, Eastern Connecticut State University. November 17, 2017.

Powell, A.M., H.C. Grimason, W. Flint, & M.R. Graham. 2017. Phylogeography of a mountaintop salamander, Plethodon punctatus (Plethontidae). Biology Department Seminar, Eastern Connecticut State University. November 17, 2017.


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Another successful desert trip!


The class at Salt Creek, home of the Salt Creek pupfish (Cyprinodon salinus), in Death Valley National Park.  Thanks for the bunny ears Justin!


An Arizona hairy scorpion (Hadrurus arizonensis) at Afton Canyon, California.


A panoramic of our campsite at Tuttle Creek Campground near Lone Pine, California. The snow-covered Sierra Nevadas are in the background on the left and the famous Alabama Hills are in the distance on the right.

FullSizeRenderHiking through a rare wildflower ‘superbloom’ at Amboy Crater, California.

Stay tuned for a write-up on the trip by Eastern’s Office of University Relations!


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2017 Desert Course Itinerary!

Dr. Brett Mattingly and I are excited to announce the itinerary for our 2017 Desert Ecology & Biogeography course!  The field component of the class will begin with a flight from Bradley International Airport (BDL) in Hartford, CT to McCarren International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, NV. We’ll then jump in passenger vans and make a big loop through spectacular landscapes of the Mojave and Great Basin deserts.  The itinerary includes hikes in famous sand dunes, nocturnal scorpion hunts, up close and personal (it’ll be the start of the breeding season) encounters with desert pupfish, a stop at the lowest point in North America, lots of desert camping, and much more!  The deserts have had a lot of rain lately, which is usually a good thing when looking for arid-adapted animals.  I wonder how many rattlesnakes we’ll find this year?

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A new scorpion genus from California


I was recently lucky to be part of a team, led by Michael Soleglad, that described a new scorpion genus from California, Graemeloweus. The genus includes three species previously placed in genus Pseudoructonus. Interestingly, male reproductive structures (hemispermatophores and mating plugs) suggest that the new genus is more closely related to Kovarkia, a primarily rock-dwelling species in southern California. I look forward to seeing if ongoing genetic work on these genera supports our sister lineage hypothesis.

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More Student Presentations!

Senior lab members Jon Henault, Sabrina Couceiro, and Ronald Kaiser presented posters on their scorpion research at the HL-SCI Bioscience Careers Forum II presented by The Genomics Workforce Consortium at The Jackson Laboratory in Farmington, CT on March 11.  Nice job team… looking sharp!


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CT Entomological Society

Eastern students Sabrina Couceiro and Ronald Kaiser successfully presented 10 minute talks at the University of Connecticut (UConn) during a student symposium hosted by the Connecticut Entomological Society on February 19, 2016.  Congratulations to them both!  Sabrina won first place in the student competition. Titles of their talks are listed below.

Couceiro, Sabrina & Matthew Graham. Phylogeography of the California Dune Scorpion, Smeringurus mesaensis (Scorpiones: Vaejovidae). Connecticut Entomological Society, Storrs, CT, February 2016

Kaiser, Ronald, Matthew Graham & Kurt Lucin. Scorpion venom: the yin and yang of toxin applications to N2a cells. Connecticut Entomological Society, Storrs, CT, February 2016



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