I topped off the Spring 2019 semester by discussing our desert research during two invited seminar talks; one for a seminar series by the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut, and another for our spring Faculty Scholars Forum here at Eastern. Both were a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed chatting with UConn faculty, postdocs, students, and my outstanding host Elizabeth Jockusch, all located right down the road from us at UConn. We really need to get some UConn/Eastern collaborative projects going!
Thank you to Brent Hendrixson for many of the beautiful desert and arachnid photographs used throughout the talks, and to Joshua Idjadi and Douglas Merkler for stunning, desert drone footage. And of course we are tremendously lucky that so many other people support our researchers as well. Family, friends, collaborators, and colleagues, we thank you!
Now time to finish up the semester and dive head first into camel spider research. Baja California here we come! What a great way to start a sabbatical, right?
Jockush Lab: https://jockusch.eeb.uconn.edu/
Our course on desert ecology and biogeography is gearing up for another trip. Here’s a map of our general locations from March 9 to March 17. Follow us in Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to get updates from the field!
Map – https://goo.gl/maps/FUCZVUm5qdp
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/eastern_ct_arachnology
Twitter – https://twitter.com/scorp_hunter
Facebook Group – Supporters of Desert Research (SDR)
This is WAY overdue, but the arachnology lab is happy to announce our newest team member, Dr. Carlos Santibáñez-López! Like the rest of us, Carlos has a passion for biodiversity, especially arachnids, but he also has years of experience as one of the foremost experts on Mexican scorpions. He’s studied scorpion systematics, evolution of venoms and morphologies, and developmental biology.
Here at Eastern, Dr. Santibáñez-López will be branching out a little, using genomics techniques like RADseq to study the North American camel spider family Eremobatidae as an NSF-funded postdoctoral scholar. Dr. Santibáñez-López will be mentoring undergraduate students, assisting with budgets, travelling to conferences, conducting field work, and pretty much running things in the lab. He comes to us after completing a postdoc at University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he gained some valuable new skills under the guidance of Dr. Preshant Sharma. His PhD was obtained at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México where he was advised by Dr. Oscar Francke.
Dr. Santibáñez-López joins us in Connecticut with his wife Saida and young son Iker. Welcome to Eastern everyone!
The Eastern Connecticut Arachnology Lab recently received four years of support to study North American camel spider family Eremobatidae using genomics. The project is a collaboration with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and the University of Colorado, Denver. More about the project can be found here:
Go Team Eremobatidae!
Left to right: Erika Garcia (PhD student), Jack Brookhart (senior research associate), Warren Savary (researcher/webmaster/photographer), Lance Herrara (REU student), Paula Cushing (co-PI), Matt Graham (co-PI) & Ryan Jones (MS candidate).
Photo by W. Savary.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hiking 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!
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?
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.
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!