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Campus Beat

Faculty Findings


Unlocking the Mysteries of Ant Life

Similar to bees, ants have sophisticated social structures. Queen ants typically have larger bodies, wings and fertile ovaries, and are responsible for reproduction in the colony. Worker ants -- smaller, wingless and infertile -- are tasked with foraging for food and caring for the queen's offspring. How might genetics determine these very different destinies?

An ant carrying a leaf, photo by Alex WildPhoto by Alex Wild

SF State's Christopher D. Smith is one step closer to the answers. Earlier this year, the assistant professor of biology helped an international research team decipher the genome of three invasive ant species -- the Argentine, the red harvester and the leaf-cutter.

"We now know that ants have the genes and genome signature of DNA methylation -- the same molecular mechanism that published honeybee studies have shown is responsible for switching whether the genome is read to be a worker or queen," says Smith who helped crack the trio of genomes. The findings were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Public Library of Science Genetics.

Why should we care? Tiny brown Argentine ants, for one, have spread to nearly every Mediterranean-type climate in the world in the last century, where they are eradicating native species and disrupting agriculture. A better understanding of how larvae develop into either queens or workers could support the development of new control methods including a limit on the number of queens per colony.

The Lowdown on Our Atmosphere

The latest research assistant to arrive on SF State's campus is tall, sophisticated and willing to go the distance in search of the facts. Meet CSU-MAPS (short for the California State University Mobile Atmospheric Profiling System), a new portable weather- monitoring device with a unique set of capabilities.

Photo of a thunderstorm cloud

"This is much more than a weather station," says Andrew Oliphant, associate professor of geography. "This sophisticated suite of instruments allows us to profile the structure of the lowest two kilometers of the atmosphere in great detail and measure exchanges of carbon dioxide, water and energy between the surface and the atmosphere."

Oliphant is using the new device in neighborhoods across San Francisco to explore the impact of urban construction on pollution and climate change. "When we build cities and change land use, we alter the micro-scale dynamics of the atmosphere," he says. His findings could assist city planners with allotting enough green space to help cool down hot neighborhoods and absorb air pollutants.

Oliphant and Craig Clements, a meteorologist at San Jose State University, obtained CSU-MAPS with stimulus funds. The researchers will send the portable system across the state to retrieve new information about air quality, wildfire behavior and potential wind energy sites. It will also make stops at a number of CSU classes to help train tomorrow's weather forecasters and other students studying oceanography, geography and engineering.


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