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, mschneck@pennlive.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!).

Don’t Bug this Beetle

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.’

Read the full SDSU NewsCenter Article here.

International Carnivorous Plant Society

The 2016 ICPS conference was held at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in England this August 2016. It was a fantastic meeting spanning topics in carnivorous plant systematics, evo-devo, molecular evolution, ecology, biomechanics, and horticulture. We had a chance to visit the famous Kew Herbarium, view a type specimen ofNepenthes rajah, and see some original correspondences with Joseph Hooker. Sir David Attenborough even visited us for a short but glorious moment to receive a painting of Nepenthes attenboroughii! We ended our meeting with a visit to Down House, the home of Charles Darwin. All in all, a great meeting. See you at the next meeting!

Successful first NSF CarabidQ meeting completed!

Here’s to a successful first NSF PI meeting with (from the left): Sihang Xu (Ph.D. student, Stevens Institute of Technology), Dr. Athula Attygalle (PI, Stevens Institute of Technology), Dr. Wendy Moore (PI, University of Arizona), Dr. Kipling Will (PI, UC Berkeley), Dr. Tanya Renner (PI, San Diego State University), Dr. Aman Gill (Postdoctoral Researcher, UC Berkeley), Reilly Mcmanus (Master’s Student, University of Arizona).

James Crouch Lecture

Dr. Chelsea Specht (Associate Professor, University of California, Berkeley) gives SDSU’s first James Crouch Lecture on Monday, May 9th 2016: “PETALOIDY AND POLLINATION: THE EVOLUTION OF FLORAL FORM IN THE ZINGIBERALES.” A fantastic mix of phylogeny, molecular evolution, a comparative morphology! We had a chance to visit the Torrey Pines State Reserve with Dr. Mike Simpson.

‘The Bombardier Beetle And Its Crazy Chemical Cannon’ featured on KQED Science’s Deep Look

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Elliott Kennerson reports on ‘The Bombardier Beetle And Its Crazy Chemical Cannon‘ for KQED Science’s Deep Look program. Learn about the bombardier beetle, what we know about it’s explosive chemistry, and some of our hypotheses as to how this system may have evolved. Collaborator Dr. Kip Will (UC Berkeley) stars in this video (alongside the bombardier Brachinus)!

Dr. Ulrike Bauer Visits The Renner Lab

We were very lucky to have Dr. Ulrike Bauer visit the laboratory the past 10 days to collaborate on a Nepenthes transcriptome project. On October 26th, she gave a wonderful departmental seminar ‘Springboards, water slides and sticky pools – How carnivorous pitcher plants catch their food’. Dr. Ulrike’s research uses carnivorous plants as a model to investigate mechanical defense strategies of plants. Her work combines the study of functional plant morphology with elements of biomechanics, ecology and developmental biology to address both ecological and evolutionary questions. I invite you to read about her current research that was featured on BBC.com this October (http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-34414284) and to watch a short video (http://tinyurl.com/ndt3o2b). Of course, between lab work and brainstorming, we had to visit some great San Diego wilderness areas.

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Collaborative research featured on BacterioFiles Podcast

Our collaborative research (with Kevin Hockett and David Baltrus, U. Arizona) was featured on a recent BacterioFiles Podcast: “Bacteria have repeatedly captured and used the tails of phages to fight each other!” Listen to us talk about the Independent Co-Option of a Tailed Bacteriophage into a Killing Complex in Pseudomonas.

Listen to the podcast here.

‘Spiraling Into History’: Molecular Phylogeny, Biogeographic Origins, And Floral Evolution Of Spiral Gingers Published!

Our collaborative manuscript on the evolution of Costus has been published in Systematic Botany. Congratulations Shayla Salzman, Heather Driscoll, Thiago André, Stacy Shen, and Chelsea Specht

See the full paper here: http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.1600/036364415X686404Picture