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Campus Beat

Faculty Findings


Wisp of a Wasp, Big Impact

Smaller than a pinhead, the parasitic jewel wasp already serves humans well by destroying such damage-inflicting insects as ticks and cockroaches, but expect even more from the tiny do-gooder now that its genome has been deciphered.

A female wasp from the <em>Nasonia</em> genus lays eggs in a fly pupal host. Photo by <br />Peter Koomen and MathIJS Zwier, Courtesy of Leo Beukeboom (University of Groningen).A female wasp from the Nasonia genus
lays eggs in a fly pupal host. Photo by
Peter Koomen and Mathijs Zwier, Courtesy
of Leo Beukeboom (University of Groningen).

SF State biologists were part of a team of researchers that mapped the complete DNA sequence for three of these wasp species in the Nasonia genus. Published in the journal Science, the newly mapped genome sequences lead researchers one step closer to unlocking the mysteries of why these wasps attack specific insects -- knowledge that could put these wasps to greater use in the fight against insects that carry human diseases and destroy crops.

"These genome sequences will be a major tool for agricultural pest control," says Assistant Professor of Biology Chris Smith, one of the study's authors. "Many people may not realize how dependent humans are on these tiny wasps, which protect our food crops and save the U.S. billions of dollars each year by reducing crop loss."

Smith and SF State students Henry Hunter and Jay Kim were part of the international team led by Professor John Werren of the University of Rochester. Their findings also stand to aid the analysis of complex genetic traits and human disease.

Brian Fisher, an expert in insect genetics at the California Academy of Sciences, told The San Francisco Chronicle, "It's a brilliant achievement. It's the first case where scientists can see how the genes of closely related species of an animal differ, and how evolution has rapidly changed them in varied directions."


The Search for Belonging
Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies Robert Keith Collins is co-curator of "IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas," a major exhibit on race and culture at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

Photo of Jimi Hendrix, by Graham F. Page, courtesy Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of FameJimi Hendrix, who spoke proudly of
his Cherokee grandmother, was one
of many famous African Americans
in the 1960s who cited family
traditions linking them to Native
ancestry. Photo by Graham F. Page,
courtesy of Experience Music Project
and Science Fiction Museum
and Hall of Fame.

Collins' own African-Choctaw heritage fueled his interest in the focus of the exhibit: the lives and experiences of people who share African American and Native American ancestry. Theirs is a complex and tangled history, Collins points out, as they intermarried and lived through common struggles. Some Native Americans were enslaved alongside African Americans. Later, runaway slaves found safe harbor within some Native communities, while other Native people themselves kept African American slaves.

Collins notes that the individuals of blended African and Native American parentage produced at these intersections have been subject to shifting rules and beliefs regarding their ancestry, both inside and outside their families.

"Fueling these decisions were desires for social mobility, the inclinations of tribal leaders and prevailing U.S. laws that limited the sovereignty of Native American nations and tribes to determine citizenry based on traditional kinship rather than racial lines," Collins says. "I hope that the results of my research offer a window into how people of both heritages arrive at self-understanding."

The exhibit will leave the nation's capitol and travel to museums across the U.S. starting in June.


A Psychological About-Face
Some psychological theories suggest that the ability to mimic others' facial expressions is essential to being able to recognize their emotions. But what if someone cannot smile, grimace or raise their eyebrows -- does the same hold true?

Kathleen Rives Bogart and her former professor are exploring how the human brain interprets facial expressions of emotionKathleen Rives Bogart and her former
professor are exploring how the human
brain interprets facial expressions of

The search for an answer led Professor of Psychology David Matsumoto and Kathleen Rives Bogart (M.A., '08) to study people with Moebius syndrome, a rare condition that causes facial paralysis.

The professor and Bogart, a doctoral student at Tufts University, found that despite not being able to mimic others' expressions, people with Moebius syndrome recognize facial expressions as well as people without facial paralysis do. "It's possible that our brains are fantastically flexible, with multiple systems of recognizing facial expressions, so that if one method fails there is an alternative," says Bogart, who has Moebius herself.

The study published in the journal Social Neuroscience, the largest investigation of Moebius syndrome to date, is based on Bogart's master's thesis that she conducted at SF State under the guidance of Matsumoto.

For more on these and other faculty findings, visit www.sfsu.edu/news


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