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!
What do we do?
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.
Tanya visits with Wendy Moore’s lab at the University of Arizona for some ‘beetling’ in the eastern foothills of the Santa Catalina mountain range for our collaborative NSF project. Our goal was to find some quinone-producing Chlaenius and the bombardier beetle Brachinus. Pictured: Reilly McManus (Moore Lab, U. Arizona) holds up a vial of Chlaenius near the edge of a stream, rimmed with loose rocks. The perfect habitat for these beetles.
The Renner Lab provided content related to carnivorous plants and their digestive fluid for Atlas Obscura‘s article featuring man-eating plant myths: “Once the idea of a giant, flesh-eating plant enters the imagination, it can be hard to dislodge. Imagine this: you’re in the jungle, and you discover a plant with surprisingly large, tentacle-like leaves. The clearing is full of a heavy, sweet smell. Maybe there’s an animal skeleton under the plant. Did the leaves move? Was that just the wind? You move closer, and the plant seems to yearn towards you….” Read the full article on Atlas Obscura’s webpage.
“Insects invade Student Union for annual festival… Buzz, buzz, buzzzzzz. Most people run at the slightest detection of a buzzing bug, but people will be flocking to them this Sunday at the Student Union Memorial Center Grand Ballroom to attend the fourth annual Arizona Insect Festival.” – By Patrick O’Connor / The Daily Wildcat. Read more about it here.