We explore evolutionary patterns and processes that drive functional diversification. We are particularly interested in how multi-species interactions shape diversity on a genome-wide scale and influence form and function. Our research combines applied molecular biology with next-generation sequencing, bioinformatics, and phylogenetics. We use plants and insects as models to study adaptation and current projects focus on the evolution of chemical and structural defenses.
Doctoral candidate Adam Rork was interviewed by CBS affiliate WTAJ about our research recently published in Arthropod Structure & Development. We found rubber-like resilin inside a beetle defensive system, which could be protecting the insects from the toxic chemicals they produce.
The editors and authors of Carnivorous Plants are excited to announce that our book is now available for pre-order! The volume summarizes the latest research into the physiology, ecology, and evolution of carnivorous plants, provides an agenda for future research, and includes contributions from the world’s leading researchers in the field.
For more information on how to order, follow this link or click the image below. Books will ship on February 15th, 2018. Oxford University Press.
This September, the Renner Lab participated in The Great Insect Fair, hosted by the Department of Entomology at Penn State. The fair celebrates insect (and some arthropod!) biodiversity and showcases pollinators, morphological and physiological adaptations, parasite manipulation of host behavior (Zombie ants!), vector-born disease, among other areas (see faculty pages and interests here). This year, we developed a new booth named ‘Centre County Carnivores!’, which introduced the public to carnivorous plants (and their relatives) that grow natively in bog ecosystems surrounding State College, PA. Participants learned about these amazing plants’ unique morphologies for trapping prey (concepts: adaption, convergent evolution, homology, are traps leaves or flowers – why or why not?) and how these amazing plants digest their insect prey (concepts: pH, enzymes, microbial communities). We also demonstrated the activity of cysteine protease, an enzyme used by independent lineages of carnivorous plants to digest prey. It was a great day and our new booth was even featured in a PennLive article!
Image of our Centre County Carnivore! booth. Marcus Schneck, email@example.com
Cysteine protease experiment using pineapple juice (contains bromelain) and gummi worms (contains gelatin protein). Results after 12 hours, L to R: worms, worms + H2O, worms + pineapple juice (worms are almost completely degraded!).
On Sunday, PhD student Adam Rork and I headed out to Penn State’s Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center, which is about 10 miles southwest of University Park and comprises 2,000 acres of land. Our hearts were set on assessing which carabids are active this time of year near the margin of the plots. It’s been getting a little cooler in central PA as we head into Fall (earlier than normal, so we’ve heard), so we weren’t quite sure what we’d find! To our delight, we found more than we expected. To read more about ground beetles that are common in our area of PA, see this article. Many are important biological control agents in agroecosystems.
Our NSF-funded CarabidQ team held its 2nd annual meeting at the Stevens Institute of Technology, hosted by Dr. Athula Attygalle’s laboratory. We had three productive days sharing recent results and learning the methods behind GC-MS. We were excited to welcome Adam Rork, a new Ph.D. student in the Renner Lab, to the CarabidQ team!
Our carnivorous bladderwort genome paper came out today in PNAS!
“Carnivorous plants capture and digest animal prey for nutrition. In addition to being carnivorous, the humped bladderwort plant, Utricularia gibba, has the smallest reliably assembled flowering plant genome. We generated an updated genome assembly based on single-molecule sequencing to address questions regarding the bladderwort’s genome adaptive landscape. Among encoded genes, we segregated those that could be confidently distinguished as having derived from small-scale versus whole-genome duplication processes and showed that conspicuous expansions of gene families useful for prey trapping and processing derived mainly from localized duplication events. Such small-scale, tandem duplicates are therefore revealed as essential elements in the bladderwort’s carnivorous adaptation.” Read the entire manuscript here.
Recently, our research was featured on SDSU NewsCenter: ‘Don’t Bug this Beetle’.
‘Brachinus elongatulus, more commonly known as the bombardier beetle, is a fellow you do not want to agitate. When this beetle feels threatened, it blasts boiling hot, noxious chemicals from its body in rapid-fire fashion. And the smell is not pleasant either.
“It’s a foul-smelling liquid that is quite shocking and distasteful to predators such as toads,” said Tanya Renner, an assistant professor in San Diego State University’s biology department. If a predator tries to eat the bombardier, it gets a mouthful of this unpalatable liquid.’