New Grand Challenges Postdoctoral Program Cohort Announced

August 02, 2017

Four postdoctoral researchers launch cross-disciplinary projects that ask questions relating to the environment, health and education

Project Title: Examining the influence of fungal community composition and substrate chemistry on the soil carbon response to N fertilization.
Postdoctoral Researcher: Allison Gill
Faculty Advisors: Sarah Hobbie and Jonathan Schilling

What causes discrepancies in soil carbon storage following fertilization? Allison Gill and faculty advisors Sarah Hobbie and Jonathan Schilling aim to find out. The researchers will look at soil carbons’ response to nitrogen fertilization at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in an effort to identify an answer. They will gauge the influence of nitrogen during the decomposition processes in fungal cultures. Says Gill: “Ultimately, this information can be used to improve our representation of carbon and nitrogen cycle interactions within Earth System Models, which we use to understand the trajectory of atmospheric carbon concentrations and our influence on the climate.” Gill will build on Hobbie’s nitrogen fertilization experiments at Cedar Creek and work with Jonathan Schilling’s fungi collection for lab-based culture experiments.

Project Title: Understanding the relative role of genetic and environmental factors controlling the microbiome of wild baboons.
Postdoctoral Researcher: Laura Grieneisen
Faculty Advisors: Ruth Shaw and Ran Blekhman

Laura Grieneisen
Laura Grieneisen uses the similarities between the human and baboon digestive tract to study disease. Her graduate work focused on how social behavior, evolutionary history and habitat impact baboons’ gut microbiome composition. Her results suggested a genetic signature on the baboon microbiome controlling for environmental factors. Now, Grieneisen plans to test which aspects of the gut microbiome are heritable and if they affect the health of their host. She will collaborate with Ran Blekhman and Ruth Shaw on the project. “Outside of the University, we will collaborate with the Amboseli Baboon Research Project, which has over 45 years of individual-based data on the demography, social behavior, kinship and ecology of a wild baboon population in Kenya, as well as over 20,000 baboon gut microbiome samples,” says Grieneisen.

Project Title: Mechanisms of endocrine control of developmental processes and integration into educating the next generation of biologists.
Postdoctoral Researcher: Jennifer (Richter) Hicks
Faculty Advisors: Michael O’Connor, Ann Rougvie and Anita Schuchardt

Jennifer (Richter) Hicks
Jennifer Hicks combines lab- and classroom-based research to better understand how integrating data into the undergraduate biology curriculum boosts quantitative reasoning and biology concept comprehension. Hicks will study how hormone signals impact development of C. elegans, then bring that data into the classrooms. “This project combines my two research interests: signaling biology during development, and integrating real data into biology classrooms to increase student comprehension of biology,” she says. Hicks will work with Michael O'Connor, whose lab published the paper that originally described the novel mechanism of steroid hormone signaling, Ann Rougvie, whose research expertise is in C. elegans development, and Anita Schuchardt, who specializes in integrating qualitative and quantitative modeling into biology classrooms.

Project Title: Evaluating the roles of ecological and historical processes in biological invasions.
Postdoctoral Researcher: Jesus Pinto Ledezma
Faculty Advisors: Jeannine Cavender-Bares and Daniel Larkin

Jesus N. Pinto Ledezma
Since his days studying biology at Bolivia’s Universidad Autónoma Gabriel René Moreno, Jesus Pinto Ledezma has been interested in investigating and addressing the environmental changes brought on by the rising human population. Beginning this August, he will evaluate the roles of ecological and historical processes in biological invasions, a topic he believes has the potential to mitigate global declines in biodiversity. Pinto Ledezma will work with Jeannine Cavender-Bares and Daniel Larkin on the project, drawing on their respective expertise in how historical and ecological processes influence community assembly, species composition and ecosystem function and invasive species management, biodiversity conservation and ecological restoration.