The event, which will also include an address from NIU President Doug Baker, will be held at 6 p.m. Friday, April 11, in the Cathedral Hall of the University Club of Chicago. Registration for the event is now closed.
Baker will be attending the event with his wife, Dana L. Stover, and two young exchange students from the Southeast Asia Youth Leadership. The president and first lady are serving as a host family for the program.
“We’re looking forward to welcoming Congresswoman Duckworth, who is well known in the NIU community and has certainly served her country with valor, and to meeting many of our highly engaged public administration alumni, who work each and every day to improve the quality of life in our region,” Baker said.
Duckworth, a decorated Black Hawk helicopter pilot who was severely wounded in 2004 during the Iraq War, was elected in 2012 as U.S. representative for Illinois’ 8th congressional district.
Prior to her service in the Iraq War, Duckworth had been pursuing a doctoral degree in NIU’s Department of Political Science, where she studied comparative politics and international relations with an emphasis on Southeast Asia, a university-wide area of specialization. The daughter of a U.S. marine who fought in Vietnam, Duckworth herself was born in Thailand and is fluent in both Thai and Indonesian languages.
President Baker chats with Congresswoman Duckworth in Washington, D.C.
Duckworth’s doctoral studies were cut short when her Illinois Army National Guard unit was deployed to Iraq. During a mission north of Baghdad in 2004, her aircraft was ambushed and a rocket-propelled grenade struck the helicopter she was co-piloting. She continued to attempt to pilot the aircraft until losing consciousness from blood loss.
As a result of the attack, Duckworth lost both of her legs and partial use of one arm. She received many decorations for her actions, including the Purple Heart, the Air Medal and the Combat Action Badge.
Following her recovery, Duckworth dedicated her life to public service and emerged as a national figure, advocating on behalf of veterans and disability rights. NIU presented her with an honorary doctoral degree in 2010.
The gala dinner will culminate nearly a year’s worth of events marking the Department of Public Administration’s 50th anniversary year. The program has had a long history of success, playing a major role in efforts to professionalize municipal staffs statewide and advance the national good government movement.
The NIU MPA program produces about one-third of all Illinois municipal managers (view related interactive map), as well as administrative leaders in non-profits, park districts and police, fire, public works and economic development departments across northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.
The festival, now in its 13th year, is open to the public, and admission is free.
Screenings of student-produced films will be featured from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday, April 7, and Tuesday, April 8. Of the 90-plus submissions, 27 short films have been selected to be screened at this year’s festival, including five documentary and 16 fiction films, as well as three works produced by high school students.
Reality Bytes audience members will be able to vote for their favorite entries each night and have an opportunity to win a door prize. A “Best in Show” award will be given in each film category.
Voice actorJustin Barrett, the voice of AT&T commercials and TV Land, will close out the three-day festival with a special presentation titled, “Life on the Mic,” from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday. Barrett also will announce the winning films.
Barrett’s accomplishments include voice work on various documentaries and major advertising campaigns for McDonald’s, Amex, Dunkin Donuts and Dr. Scholl’s, along with work for CNN, NBC, Nickelodeon, BBC America and Showtime. Audience members will have the opportunity to learn more about his journey to success during a Q&A following his presentation.
The Reality Bytes Film Festival was established in 2001 by Laura Vazquez, professor of media production and theory in NIU’s Department of Communication. Vazquez serves as director of the festival, which was created to give high school and college film students the opportunity to competitively screen their work.
The Reality Bytes Film Festival is able to reach film students worldwide thanks to the online film submission system Withoutabox, which streamlines the submission and review process. This year Reality Bytes received nearly 100 submissions from high school, undergraduate and graduate students.
“I’m thrilled with the quality of work and variety in submissions we have seen this year,” Vazquez said. “From comedy to sci-fi, animation to drama, many of this year’s submissions really focused on strong storytelling. It will be interesting to see which films the audience votes ‘Best in Show’ at this year’s festival.”
More information about the festival is available via Twitter and Facebook or by contacting Jasmine Davis, Reality Bytes press coordinator, at [email protected].
Date posted: April 2, 2014 | Author: Thomas Parisi | Comments Off on Three-day NIU Reality Bytes Film Festival opens Monday
NIU’s PI Academy for Research and Engagement will bring nine world-class scholars to campus next month for public presentations on their research efforts and to provide mentoring to select junior faculty.
“These scholars represent a considerable amount of intellectual firepower, and another 11 such scholars will be visiting campus throughout the year,” said PI Academy Director David Stone, NIU associate vice president for research.
The PI Academy program provides NIU junior faculty members with in-depth professional development opportunities in the areas of research and engagement, including how to become a successful principal investigator, how to work with external partners and how to develop engaged-learning opportunities for students.
“We hope that during this process the scholars and junior faculty form long-term relationships that build our faculty members’ networks in their respective fields and help them to advance professionally,” Stone said.
“This is the second consecutive year that the PI Academy has brought outside heavy hitters to campus to mentor our junior faculty,” Stone added. “Last year this program was hugely successful. Tremendous connections were made, and many of our faculty members are still in touch with their mentors. They formed real professional bonds, and that was our goal.”
About 20 junior tenure-seeking faculty members at NIU were selected for the program this year through a nomination process. The professional development component of the program provides information and insight on a wide range of activities related to becoming a successful investigator, including competitive positioning, grant writing, project management, research compliance, responsible conduct of research, working with sponsoring agencies and sustaining funding over the long-term.
Faculty members also learn how to develop and sustain successful working relationships with NIU units responsible for administration of grants and contracts, including the Office of Sponsored Projects and Grants Fiscal Administration. Additional training provides a framework for understanding the process of engaged learning, as well as specific information about accessing NIU resources for incorporating engaged learning into their research and teaching.
Open to all who are interested, the upcoming scholarly presentations will include the following:
Noon Tuesday, April 2, Wellness Center 2305 – Tom Talavage, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University. Talavage’s research interests include functional neuroimaging, statistical biomedical-image and signal processing, signal detection, audition, speech, language comprehension and neural prostheses. He is mentoring Matt Wilson in the School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders.
3 p.m. Thursday, April 3, Altgeld Hall 315 – Kirstin Grønbjerg, Efroymson chair in philanthropy at Indiana University. Professor Grønbjerg’s interests focus on the nonprofit sector. Her current work examines the scope and community dimensions of the Indiana nonprofit sector. Other research and publications have examined the American welfare system, nonprofit funding relations, nonprofit capacity and nonprofit data sources. Grønbjerg is mentoring Alicia Schattemanin the Department of Political Science.
6 p.m. Thursday, April 17, Anderson Hall 247 – Professor Chad McEvoy, graduate program director in the Department of Sport Management at Syracuse University. His research focuses on revenue generation in intercollegiate and professional sport. He is working on numerous research projects related to ticket-sales strategies, ticket pricing in sports and factors affecting sporting-event attendance, among other topics. McEvoy is mentoring Steven Howell in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.
11 a.m. Wednesday, April 23, Wirtz Hall 204 – Professor Tamar Heller, director of the Disability and Human Development Department at University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research interests include health and wellness, later-life family caregiving and public policy and programmatic interventions to improve the life of adults with developmental disabilities as they age. Heller is mentoring Jennifer Gray in Public Health.
Time and location TBA, April 22-23 – Gary Kreps, director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University. His areas of expertise include health communication and promotion, information dissemination, organizational communication, information technology, multicultural relations, risk/crisis management, health informatics and applied research methods. Kreps is mentoring Jimmie Manning in the Department of Communication.
Noon Monday April 28, Psychology-Computer Science building, Room 412 – Psychology Professor Victoria Banyard of the University of New Hampshire. Banyard conducts research on the long-term mental health consequences of interpersonal violence (including resilience in survivors) and on community approaches to prevention of interpersonal violence. She is mentoring Lisa Paul in the Department of Psychology.
Time and location TBA, Sunday, April 30 – Professor Carla Hudson Kam in the Department of Linguistics at the University of British Columbia. Her areas of expertise include first- and second-language acquisition, developmental language production and processing, gesture and language learning and processing and non-linguistic constraints on language learning. Hudson Kam is mentoring Karen Lichtman in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature.
From left: Yanelly Villegas, Andy Robisnon, Bernard Chestleigh, Steven Cyhaniuk, Jimmy Clark, Ben Donovan, Kyle Larson and Lisa Roth.
The NIU Forensics team continues to enjoy success this spring semester.
The duo of junior Jimmy Clark and sophomore Steven Cyhaniuk placed among the top four nationally in the junior varsity debate category of the annual Pi Kappa Delta National Forensics Tournament, held in Indianapolis earlier this month. The two competed as a team.
The scores of Clark and Cyhaniuk propelled NIU to the semifinals of the competition. Senior Kyle Larson also was among the top 16 individuals in junior varsity debate. And, in the novice division for first-time competitors at the tournament, senior Bernard Chestleigh and junior Andy Robinson placed among the top 16 overall for debate.
“It was a great achievement for our program and for debate coach Lisa Roth, who has worked very hard with the students,” said Judy Santacaterina, forensics coach. “This is our own brand of March Madness. We have not had this strong a showing at Pi Kappa Delta since the late ’80s.”
NIU freshman Miracle Diala placed second in informative speaking, while freshman Margaret Koll finished third in extemporaneous speaking, fourth in impromptu speaking and sixth in persuasive speaking. The points accumulated by the pair gave NIU a third-place team finish in its division.
The NIU workshop is designed to promote awareness of and stimulate more interest in these world-class user facilities, which benefit NIU’s research and student education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Many faculty and students already participate in a wide range of Argonne research endeavors.
Representatives from the Argonne user facilities will be on hand to speak about resources available to outside users and the proposal process for using the facilities. They also will answer questions on potential collaborative projects.
In addition, NIU faculty and students who worked at Argonne user facilities will share their stories stemming from their exciting research projects.
“These user facilities provide users with an extraordinary range of cutting-edge scientific tools that support in-depth research, drive technological breakthroughs and improve our quality of life,” says Zhili Xiao, the workshop organizing committee chairperson.
The Argonne Tandem Linear Accelerator System. The facility is the world’s first superconducting linear accelerator for heavy ions at energies in the vicinity of the Coulomb barrier. The accelerator is used by researchers to study the properties of the nucleus, the core of the atom, representing 99 percent of its mass.
The Center for Nanoscale Materials. The center provides expertise, instruments and infrastructure for interdisciplinary nanoscience and nanotechnology research.
The Electron Microscopy Center (EMC). The EMC conducts materials research using advanced microstructural characterization methods.
Thomas will present, “Alpine Archaeology in the American West: Indians in Unexpected Places” at 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 9, in Cole Hall. He also will present “Repatriating Science, Race and Identity: Are We Still Fighting the Skull Wars?” at noon Thursday, April 10, at the Center for Latino and Latin American Studies.
Both talks are free and open to the public. Students are encouraged to attend the lectures, where they will learn more about careers and professional ethics in anthropology, archaeology and museums.
A member of the National Academy of Science, Thomas has organized and directed more than 100 archaeological excavations in the American Southeast, Southwest and Great Basin, including the discovery of Gatecliff Shelter in Nevada, the deepest archaeological rock shelter in the Americas.
Thomas is one of the founding trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian. His scholarly research focuses on redefining the relationship between the Native American and anthropological communities.
NIU Presidential Research Professor Jeff Kowalski stands in front of the jaguar throne in the Lower Temple of the Warriors at Chichen Itza, Mexico.
Is that the Maize God or an ancient image of Elvis? What kinds of dog breeds were common to the ancient Maya area? How did the diets of the high and mighty differ from that of the hoi polloi in the Maya city of Palenque?
The conference opens at 6 p.m. Friday in Room 100 of Jack Arends Hall with a keynote address by NIU Presidential Research Professor Jeff Kowalski. Presentations will continue from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday in Room 100 of Cole Hall. All presentations are open to the public. Parking is available in the Visitor Lot.
Students are encouraged to attend the conference and meet the speakers. Anyone considering a career in Latin America will enjoy this sampler of the cultures of ancient Mexico and Central America.
Professor Kowalski’s keynote address will explore the ways in which political leaders in ancient Mesoamerica used references to the past, particularly events associated with divine creativity and the deeds of distant founding ancestors, to provide a sense of divinely ordained legitimacy for contemporary sociopolitical organization.
The NIU Department of Anthropology’s Kerry Sagebiel, laboratory director and ceramic analyst for the Ka’Kabish Archaeological Research Project, will present her research at the ancient Maya site of Ka’KaBish in Belize.
Sagebiel offers NIU students the opportunity to participate in her ongoing archaeological investigations in Belize, where they learn archaeological skills while excavating an ancient Maya site.
The theme of the night will be “green chemistry,” in post-celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, featuring chemistry with fire, colorful reactions and creative changes and effects.
“This semester’s chem-demo night will display the magical qualities of chemistry,” says Marquis Stephenson, Chem Demo coordinator. “I’m sure the night will be one to awe and amaze–we’re putting on a show to remember.”
“The chem demo night is a great tradition in our department,” says Jon Carnahan, chair of the Chemistry Department. “We are proud of our chemistry students for organizing this event and look forward to putting on an exciting show for the community.”
This semester’s demonstrations include levitating magnets, colored fire, making gold pennies, color-changing bottles and making solid water. The evening also will feature a Chem Club specialty – liquid nitrogen ice cream.
The experiments for the evening will include loud bangs, bright flashes of light, fire and heat, and intermittent periods of low light and/or darkness. For safety precautions, members of the audience are asked to not sit in the bottom row of seating in Faraday Hall 143.
Parking will be available in the NIU Parking Deck along the west side of Normal Road, about one block north of Lincoln Highway (Route 38). The first floor of the parking deck will be available for general parking after 6 p.m., except for reserved and handicapped spaces.
He’s a prime example of what President Doug Baker terms “student career success,” having parlayed his experiences and opportunities at NIU into working-world achievements.
The newly published research is based on Fraley’s master’s thesis.
Through experiments done at NIU, Fraley and Frank determined constraints on the physical chemistry of gold at high temperatures and pressures. The research can be used in the exploration of gold-bearing ore deposits.
“This is the most important peer-reviewed journal in the economic geology community,” Frank says. “The work has received high praise in both academic and corporate circles.”
As a graduate student, his thesis project required him to master a wide variety of analytical and hands-on scientific skills, ranging from soldering platinum capsules, to operating and troubleshooting the geology department’s electron microprobe, to running high pressure and temperature tube furnaces.
This broad background led to an internship in Winnemucca, Nev., with Barrick Gold Corp., the world’s biggest gold miner by production. He was offered a job with the company following graduation.
“As an intern, I participated in many of the same job tasks a starting geologist would, including logging core and cuttings, cross-section interpretation, data validation and geochemical modeling,” Fraley says.
He also presented his work to senior staff members and corporate leaders at the company internship convention. And his persistence, both in successfully landing the internship and making the most of the experience, paid off.
“I knew I had to get my foot in the door with an internship to be successful in acquiring a job,” Fraley says. “Mark pointed me in the direction to achieve this, but my determination and networking ultimately landed me my internship. Students need to pursue career opportunities while they are still in school. Employers want motivated, determined applicants.”
Fraley adds that he’s grateful for the strong foundation he built at NIU.
“My education did not teach me how to complete my daily job tasks; instead I learned how to think critically, communicate and quickly evaluate information to make effective decisions,” he says. “These skills have been recognized by senior management and will help fast track my career into a leadership position.”
The two honors students, who coordinate the University Honors peer mentoring group, are now spearheading a Peer Mentor Summit for NIU students, faculty and staff. The event will provide an opportunity to learn more about peer mentoring and how to get involved in efforts on campus.
It’s slated for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, March 28, in the Altgeld Hall Auditorium.
“We just thought the summit would be a good idea because there are so many mentoring programs on campus, yet a lot of students don’t know about them,” says Nale, a senior health sciences major from New Lenox.
“The peer aspect of mentoring is very important because we’re all students, so we’re all on the same level,” Nale says. “Mentors help new students feel welcome and guide them through the nooks and crannies of transitioning to college.”
“One of the strengths of NIU is its many resources, particularly in the area of mentoring,” said Lopez, an electrical engineering major. “I’ve had multiple mentors, including faculty, alumni, peers and people off campus. They really helped me, so I want to make sure all students have a chance to have a mentor and become a mentor.”
The summit will consist of presentations and interactive breakout discussions on topics related to professionalism, diversity, mentor-mentee relationships, the freshman experience and more. Representatives from mentoring programs across campus will be on hand to answer students’ questions about how to get involved.
“It’s important to reach out to younger students to let them know what NIU has to offer,” Nale says. “When I was a freshman in the Honors program, I built strong relationships with Honors House leaders, who encouraged me to get engaged in campus activities and provided me with resources that helped to enrich my undergraduate career.”
Weldy, who is scheduled to speak from 10:15 to 11 a.m., has extensive experience working as a university administrator and a strong background in student affairs. He will share insights on the role mentoring has played in his journey and how it pertains to students right now.
“This summit will bring together peer mentors from across campus to share best practices and discuss challenges associated with peer mentoring,” said Laurie Elish-Piper, acting deputy provost and a professor in the Department of Literacy Education. “This is a great opportunity for students, faculty and staff to network, share and learn about the many excellent peer mentoring programs at NIU. It’s even more impressive that students took the initiative in putting this all together.”
In response to President Doug Baker’s call to offer peer and alumni mentors to all students, NIU is in the midst of expanding its mentoring efforts.Elish-Piper, Associate Vice Provost Julia Spears and English professor Michael Day are leading the pilot First-Year Composition Peer Advocate Program, launched this semester in tandem with a pilot NIU Student-Alumni Mentoring Program.
The pilot programs are directed by a task force that also is inventorying the many existing mentoring programs already offered on campus, with an aim not to replace those programs but to build upon them.
After seeking feedback from students in the pilot programs, the task force will report its findings to the president in April. Findings will likely include recommendations for permanent campus-wide programs to launch next fall, in addition to existing programs.
Lauren Grabstanowicz, who is pursuing her pursuing Ph.D. in nanochemistry, and Robert Rickard, who recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, won first place for their poster in the Physical Sciences category. The poster depicted their research on photocatalysis in the purification process of wastewater.
Both Grabstanowicz and Rickard are associated with the research group led by NIU chemistry and biochemistry professor Tao Xu.
She says the advising of Professor Xu and her education in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry made her well prepared to present research before an audience of top scientists and the general public.
“After an hour or so, you forget that you are at a major conference and start to feed on the excitement that your research is generating from the audience,” Grabstanowicz says. “The best aspect of presenting is the wide variety of scientists you encounter and realizing the potential impact we have as scientists.”
Grabstanowicz and Rickard will receive a cash prize from AAAS, along with certificates of recognition. They will also be recognized in a spring issue of Scienceand receive a one-year AAAS membership, which includes a subscription to the journal.
The AAAS Student Poster Competition recognizes the individual research efforts of students who are actively working toward an undergraduate, graduate or doctoral degree. Posters were judged at the meeting.
Several other NIU students also were recognized for their work.
Graduate student Shannon Boi and two undergraduates, Joel Dennison and Bailey Rhoads, were awarded honorable mention in the category of Developmental Biology, Physiology and Immunology. They are researching ways to identify and characterize novel mediators of the inflammatory response in the human body. The trio works under the supervision of Sherine Elsawa, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences.
Disa Patel with her adviser, profesor Tomoyuki Shibata
Additionally, Disa Patel, an NIU graduate student in public health, received an honorable mention award in the category of Medicine and Public Health.
On a bitter cold day this past January, professor Tom Sims is surrounded by signs of spring – hundreds of delicate blossoms in shades of purple and pink and white sprouting in an old greenhouse on campus at NIU’s Montgomery Hall.
This is petunia central, and the spadework done here could help usher in a new era in floriculture, one producing varieties of flowers with color schemes, fragrances and robustness never before imagined.
Less apparent but just as important: A new generation of 21st century molecular biologists is being raised here as well.
Sims, a professor of plant sciences in the NIU Department of Biological Sciences, who thinks of the petunias as “purple and green rats,” heads up NIU’s Plant Molecular Biology Center. He also leads a large international research effort that one would more likely associate with the world flower capital of Aalsmeer, Netherlands, than corn-is-king DeKalb.
For the past two years, Sims has been coordinating the Petunia Genome Project, which has nearly completed sequencing the DNA of two wild varieties of petunia. About 20 universities and institutes worldwide are collaborating on the project, including Cornell, Michigan State and Purdue, along with the Free University of Amsterdam, University of Verona in Italy and University of Bern in Switzerland.
Why pick petunias?
Petunia hybrida, the garden variety of the flower, is the top floriculture bedding plant in the United States, with total wholesale sales of $132 million in 2011, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.
“Unlike agricultural and vegetable crops, the application of genomics-related technologies to floricultural crops has lagged significantly,” says Alan Blowers, biotechnology project manager for Ball Horticultural Company in West Chicago. “The availability of the petunia genome sequences will play a major role in ushering in the genomics era for floriculture.”
Experts say the sequencing information will lead to identification and isolation of genes that confer traits such as fragrance, petal color, time to flower and flower longevity. But what makes the petunia particularly interesting to scientists is the fact that it is a model species for basic research in plant biology.
“It’s easier to figure out genetic processes in model systems than in others,” Sims explains, adding that understanding the plant’s genetics will help scientists better understand other plants.
Information gained from the Petunia Genome Project, for example, will be applicable to closely related crops such as tomato, potato, pepper and eggplant. So data from the project could help scientists eventually produce better-tasting and hardier fruits and vegetables.
Researchers also believe the sequencing will lead to an illumination of the phenomenon of self-incompatibility, which prevents many species of plants from fertilizing themselves.
“Self-incompatibility is an important trait that we’d like to better understand in a lot of fruit-bearing trees as well,” Sims says. “But it’s much easier to conduct genetic research on annual flowers than on trees, which can’t be easily manipulated in a laboratory and have a much longer growth cycle.”
Conventional vs. genetic breeding
Of course, humans have been manipulating the breeding of plants for more than 10,000 years.
NIU student Hanna Dunlap carries out genetic crosses in the greenhouse.
Just about all fruits and vegetables found in grocery aisles are the products of conventional breeding. Modern day corn, for example, does not even grow in the wild. It is believed to be derived from a Mexican grass called teosinte, which produces small ears with only about a dozen kernels encased in a hard outer shell. You wouldn’t touch it at a picnic.
“Conventional breeding recombines genomes, but you don’t know how the changes occur at the genetic level,” Sims says. “With current technology, we could put in or rearrange just a small number of genes in a specific region of the genome and know exactly what we’re getting.”
Most garden-variety petunias are the result of cross-breeding and are not found in the wild. The first hybrids were produced in the 1800s by crossing two wild species native to Brazil: Petunia inflata, abee-pollinated plant with purple flowers; and Petunia axillaris, a moth-pollinated plant with white flowers that open only at night. The Petunia Genome Project targets those two parent species.
Sims has long been part of an international community of scientists and commercial breeders specializing in the plant, and his peers asked him to coordinate the sequencing project when it became more financially feasible two years ago.
The sequencing project is being accomplished at a cost of about $75,000, using the shared might of high powered computers and sequencing machines at research institutions worldwide. Roughly five years ago, the same sequencing project would have cost at least $500,000, Sims says.
A very big jigsaw puzzle
A genome contains a full set of chromosomes (seven for petunia) with all the inheritable traits of an individual organism. Chromosomes are made from double-helix-shaped DNA, which carry all of a cell’s genetic information.
Sequencing requires determining the order of nucleotide bases – the As, Ts, Cs and Gs (for Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine and Guanine) that make up an organism’s DNA. The entire petunia genome has 1.3 billion base pairs (A always pairs with T, and C with G), compared to the human genome’s 3 billion.
DNA from each chromosome must be sequenced, and hidden along the seemingly endless strings of genetic letters are sections that make up genes, which provide instructions leading to hereditary characteristics, such as blue eyes, dark skin or long legs.
Using basic techniques, NIU researchers extract DNA from petunia leaves. Because it’s not possible to sequence DNA in a linear fashion from beginning to end, the NIU scientists and their collaborators use a “shotgun method,” sequencing small DNA pieces hundreds of millions of times. A sequencing machine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign generates the raw data, and high end computers and sophisticated programs are used to reassemble the genome.
“It’s like putting together a very, very big jigsaw puzzle with hundreds of millions of pieces,” says NIU biology professor Mitrick Johns, a member of the research team who specializes in computer-based analyses of DNA sequence information.
30 trillion calculations per second
Johns is working to discover how the genes in the two different petunia varieties differ. He also is searching for the genes that make one plant become a petunia and another a tomato, potato or eggplant. Though the plants seem widely different, about 85 percent of their DNA is the same, Johns says.
Tom Sims and doctoral student Qinzhou Qi
Although NIU does not have an expensive sequencing machine, portions of the sequencing are being done on campus, along with annotation, which involves finding genes within the sequence and determining their detailed structure.
Johns relies on NIU’s hybrid GPU/CPU supercomputer, or cluster of computers, known as “Gaea” (pronounced GUY-uh), for the mythological Greek goddess who was the mother of all. The cluster, which came online in 2012, has a capacity of more than 30 teraflops, meaning it can do more than 30 trillion calculations per second.
That kind of computing power comes in handy when comparing two species of petunia with billions of base pairs.
“It’s primarily a matter of speed,” Johns says. “I could do sequencing on a regular personal computer, but the cluster is several hundred times faster.”
Next generation biologists
Two of Johns’ graduate students also are working on the sequencing project, along with three of Professor Sims’ students.
Professor Mitrick Johns and doctoral student Jennifer Hintzsche
“They are being trained for the genetics of the 21st century, which is based on DNA sequencing,” Johns says. “The general principles in sequencing apply to any organism. Progress in medicine and agriculture will come from sequencing projects like this.”
Jennifer Hintzsche, a doctorate student in biology, plans to make a career in the area of bioinformatics, the blending of biology and computer science.
Using a variety of software, the Hinckley native is creating a database of the DNA sequences for assembly and annotation of the petunia genome. “It’s exciting to be part of the entire sequencing project from start to finish with such a large collaboration of great scientists,” Hintzsche says.
“The sequencing of DNA has increased exponentially in the past few years,” she adds. “Consequently, the need for bioinformatiticians to analyze this data is also increasing. The knowledge, experience, skill set and guidance Dr. Johns has given me are invaluable.”
Allison Makulec loads a DNA gel.
Allison Makulec, a master’s student in biology from Cherry Valley, is beginning work on a thesis that also will rely heavily on the Petunia Genome Project. Makulec will map the S-locus,an area in the genome thatspans about 6 million base pairs and encodes many of the genes (at least 12) involved in the self-incompatibility response of petunia species.
Makulec aims to learn how a self-incompatible plant recognizes and rejects its own pollen.
“We’re still in beginning phases, but hopefully we will be able to determine the structure of that specific area of the genome,” says Makulec, who clearly loves the detective work involved in molecular biology. “It’s the whole idea of being able to find and decode things that are invisible but you know are there.”
Date posted: March 17, 2014 | Author: Thomas Parisi | Comments Off on DNA-sequencing in full bloom at NIU