The Great Insect Fair – 2017

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,

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!).

Central Pennsylvania Carabids

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.

2nd Annual CarabidQ Meeting at the Stevens Institute of Technology

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!