Reed College’s Leilani Ganser follows her passion for biology, blogging and policy

Leilani Ganser loves biology, science policy and blogging. This Reed College student runs a blog called Academia in Color, which focuses on the scholarship and experiences of people of color working in academia, where historically they have been marginalized.

Leilani Ganser

Leilani Ganser (photo courtesy of Ganser)

Formerly of Atlanta and Miami, Ganser said she appreciates Portland’s sense of community and small-town feel, even though it’s a substantially sized city. She likes to connect with the local science community through lectures and other casual events. In fact, Science In Portland discovered Ganser during a Women in Science networking event at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in fall 2016.

And she aspires to one day be the director White House Office of Science and Technology.

“I would really like to have a hand in shaping science policy and would love to work as an adviser,” Ganser said.

Read on to learn more about Ganser.

Susannah L. Bodman

1. What is your field of science, and how did you find your way into that field and into science in general? Did you have a teacher, parent, mentor or other who inspired you?

My field of science is biology with a heavy focus on science policy, specifically environmental work. Science was a natural path for me because I had a lot of questions growing up that no one could answer. I was introduced formally when a professor, Sian Evans, brought me to the Dumond Conservancy in Miami, Florida, and showed me science as an arm of advocacy. Since then, I have all of my teachers and professors to thank for showing me a way to combine my passion for science with a knack for problem solving through policy.

2. You’re a student at Reed College. What’s your major or area of study, and what year are you in school? What’s your expected graduation date? And where are you from originally, e.g. your hometown?

I am in Reed College’s class of 2019 with a major focus on biology and political science. I moved to Portland from metro Atlanta, but I connect most closely to Miami, where I lived for 11 years.

3. What have you learned (from course work, internships, projects, etc.) so far that’s excited you in the area of science you’re focusing on? What have you found most challenging?

The best thing I have learned in my career so far is the power of mistakes — both my own and those that are natural. There’s this classic story of penicillin being created after Alexander Fleming noticed a mold on a discarded Petri dish of his was dissolving all of the bacteria on his dish. This story is fascinating, but it’s not uncommon. Adaptations often occur as a result of mutations — mistakes in our genetic code. My own mistakes in my career (dropping the last of a sample I needed to analyze, using the wrong type of buffer and subsequently losing a few fish, and more) have been hard to come to terms with, but it’s empowering to understand that some mistakes become purposeful and impactful in a positive way.

Ganser in the lab (photo courtesy of Ganser)

Ganser in the lab (photo courtesy of Ganser)

4. You also write a blog about people of color in academia. What can you tell us about the blog? How’d you get interested in blogging, and what are some of the most interesting things you’ve learned or most interesting people you’ve profiled? Why do you think blogging is important for people interested in science, research and academia?

I run a blog called Academia in Color that I use to put the scholarly advances and personal narratives of those who have been historically marginalized front and center. I got interested in blogging for passion projects in high school when I started a blog about famous foods in literature for a class project. Since then, though, I’ve read pieces about the importance of blogging in academia as a way to democratize knowledge. One of my favorite posts was a profile I did on Dan-el Padilla Peralta — a personal hero of mine. It felt important to center the narrative of a refugee succeeding in the academy to a wide audience. I was also lucky enough to watch Dan-el speak a couple weeks after that profile.

5. How do you like to connect to the science community around Portland? (“Community” can include peers in your field, other scientists and science fans in the general public.)

Portland has such a strong community. It’s a city with the heart of a small town, and scientists are no small part of that. My favorite thing to do is attend lectures at all of Portland’s fantastic universities as well as the more casual science events — especially those hosted by Science on Tap and National Geographic Live. Bringing science to such an accessible atmosphere has done wonders for encouraging conversation between myself and scientists at other universities or in the private sector, and I’m remarkably thankful for the qualities about Portland that encourage that.

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If you’d like to be featured in one our “Profiles in Science” posts, email your responses to the questions we posted earlier on this blog, along with a photo of yourself, to sciwhat@gmail.com, and we may choose to feature you on this blog.

Susannah L. Bodman
Twitter: @Sciwhat
Facebook: Sciwhat.Science

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Coming soon …

Dear readers, 

Another Q&A is in the works for our Profiles in Science series, which we hope to wrap up soon. Stay tuned …

Susannah L. Bodman
Twitter: @Sciwhat
Facebook: Sciwhat.Science

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Portland State biology professor talks about how Antarctic fish respond to temperature stress and why it matters

Antarctica is a continent of extremes, and for species that dwell there, it presents a simple problem: Adapt to the harshness, or die out.

And over millennia, species have evolved to cope with low temperatures and other extreme conditions around the southernmost continent.  However, now, in the face of warming waters brought on by climate change, species are confronted with new hurdles.

Studying some of those Antarctic species is Portland State University biologist Brad Buckley. He spoke recently (Nov. 7, 2016) at his alma mater, Oregon State University in Corvallis.

Buckley’s seminar, “Life in the Freezer: Cellular Responses to Temperature Stress in Antarctic Fishes,” covered his work with goby and rockfish species, as well as some of Antarctica’s natural history.

As our climate continues to warm and change, biotechnologies may provide tools needed to help deal with its impacts and continue to feed Earth's human population. | Freeimages.com

Antarctic fish are truly adapted to extreme cold. Small amounts of heating above freezing can induce cellular stress. Higher temperatures can be lethal. | Freeimages.com

The following are various noteworthy points from Buckley’s presentation:

  1. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current is the largest ocean current on Earth. It became established around 22 to 25 million years ago, well after the continent of Antarctica drifted to the South Pole. The current now acts as a barrier to the influx of new species. Winter sea ice’s formation can double the size of the continent, and the seasonality of the ice helps structure the ecosystem there.
  2. Life has been associated with Antarctica for around 400 million years (minimum), from the period when it was more temperate. Of some 28,000 to 30,000 extant species found around Antarctica, only about 320 (possibly just the animal species) are found south of the Antarctic polar front. These are truly cold-adapted species and not just cold-tolerant ones; for them, 6º to 8º C is too hot. You find few animal types around Antartica but many variations on these forms, e.g. lots of rockfish. (These guys don’t move very far over the course of their lifetimes, and what little swimming they do is by sculling.)
  3. As far as Antarctic food chains go, krill attract fish, which in turn attract seals, penguins and whales.
  4. Of the fish, Buckley became interested not just in lethal levels of stress but also responses to stress that affect growth and can shut it down.
  5. Why should scientists be interested in studying temperature stress? Because animals living today will have to deal a changing climate. For example, rockfish live about 30 years, and some born or young today will see and have to cope with years of warming waters in their lifetimes.
  6. What happens with temperature stress from too much heating? From biology, we know cellular membranes can melt, proteins can deform, reactive oxygen species can form, and DNA can become damaged.
  7. In response to the threat of temperature stress, cells have evolved a number of mechanisms to cope with heat — up to a point. Called the heat-shock response, a cell under stress from rising temperatures will increase its output of certain proteins that chaperone other proteins in the cell that have become deformed/damaged. These chaperones (called heat-shock proteins, or hsps) can help stabilize, reform/reshape/refold or degrade damaged proteins. Doing so prevents the damaged proteins from becoming a sticky mess that would clog up the cell and hinder all the things it must do to stay alive.
  8. Antarctic fish make hsps constantly, and you find them in various tissues, but the fish don’t have classic heat-shock responses. So Buckley was interested in heat stress experiments, but not using lethal levels of temperature stress. Instead, he looked at smaller increases in temperatures, along the lines of what the fish will experience under climate change — temperatures of 0º, 2º and 4º C (32º, 35.6º and 39.2º F). (Southern Ocean water temperatures can range from -2º to 10º C, or 28.4º to 50º F.) During field seasons, fish were caught, sacrificed, organs harvested and tissues tested for hsps.
  9. An accidental experiment occurred during this field work regarding the impact of temperature stress on reproduction. Female fish were regularly separated from males in tanks to control any spawning during testing. Females in one tank were mistakenly exposed to warming water. The fish behaved normally until 2º C, when all the females released their eggs. More research is needed to understand whether 2º C is a significant threshold and, if yes, why. (In a question-and-answer session after the talk, an audience member suggested that for a long-lived fish, like rockfish, with a 30-year life expectancy, spawning at a certain level of heat stress may be a survival tactic of jettisoning eggs that are costly metabolically to maintain. Doing so may help the adult live to spawn another day. And that’s in contrast to other strategies in which organisms that are dying make one last attempt at reproduction before the end, e.g. as in some plants and other organisms that produce large numbers of offspring with little parental care.)
  10. In cellular stress responses to heating, you can see several coping strategies occur, including the protection of cellular proteins (as in the classic heat-shock response and hsps). In addition, there can be increased metabolic output from cells, temporary arrest of the cell cycle and apoptosis (or induced or programmed cell death). The response to the stress can vary in two phases, whether acute (lasting hours to days) or chronic (days to months).
  11. While warm-water fish would undergo classic heat-shock response, Antarctic fish may have adapted to cope with heat by using cellular stress responses that involve cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. That’s what Buckley hypothesized in his work.
  12. Buckley and colleagues looked at the genes expressed during heat stress in emerald rockcod (Trematomus bernacchii) and found 210 genes expressed differently than in a warm-water goby. Ninety-four genes associated with cellular homeostasis were upregulated (their output increased) during the recovery phase from stress; this represented a signal for genes involved in DNA repair and apoptosis to be active.
  13. In testing his hypothesis, Buckley’s team used -2º C as a control temperature for the water that T. bernacchii specimens were in, and treatments were small incremental steps up from there (recall the 0º to 4º C of climate change above). After 24 hours in 2º C water, a statistically significant rise in apoptosis in T. bernacchii was observed. This is the lowest upper level of heat-stress-induced apoptosis recorded in any species, Buckley said.
  14. The 2º C level is also noteworthy because of the accident that occurred earlier with female fish, which were also rockfish. It indicates some kind of temperature threshold may exist for these Antarctic fish.
  15. Eventually, Buckley and team zeroed in on a regulatory protein  (and the gene that codes for it) that appears to be important in the fish’s the stress response: C/EBP-δ (or CCAAT/enhander binding protein delta). This protein acts as a brake on the cell cycle (inducing cell cycle arrest, which was part of Buckley’s hypothesis) and was found to be strongly expressed in the fish’s white muscle. During times of stress, the presence of C/EBP-δ was turned up, and during the recovery phase after stress ended, production of the protein dropped.
  16. C/EBP-δ also may be important in mammalian cancers. Cancer generally is the product of unchecked cellular growth and profileration that occurs when the normal mechanisms that keep cells from freely multiplying are turned down or off. Therefore, understanding how C/EBP-δ works in Antarctic fishes’ responses to stress could provide insights into how it could be used to put a brake on cancer cell cycles.
  17. And this leads to a question often asked about basic research: Why study this? Why study Antarctic fish? Because it can lead to an understanding of something that can benefit people. In this case, the gene for C/EBP-δ also is turned down in breast tumors, so seeing how it works in Antarctic fish could generate new ideas for cancer treatments, such as using heating or cooling therapies that trigger the gene to be turned back up in breast tumors.
  18. Buckley said he’d like to get someone from Oregon Health and Science University interested in pursuing research about such potential therapies.

Susannah L. Bodman
Twitter: @Sciwhat
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What’s that weird noise? Oregonians for Science and Reason event debunks odd and eerie recordings

Hmm. What’s that sound? A ghost speaking? A broadcast from outer space?

Doubtful.

For every weird audio recording, there’s often a backstory and science-based evidence to debunk any claims of a paranormal or supernatural origin.

Wait. What's that sound? Is it a ghost speaking? Probably not. Learn more about why at an upcoming Portland State University talk. Freeimages.com

Wait. What’s that sound? Is it a ghost speaking? Probably not. Learn more about why at an upcoming Portland State University talk. Freeimages.com

To hear some of these recordings and learn how they can be critically and scientifically analyzed, join Oregonians for Science and Reason Nov. 21 at Portland State University.

Speaker Brian Dunning — a science writer, member of the National Association of Science Writers and host of the Skeptoid podcast — will play recordings and share the details behind each one.

The event is free and starts at 7 p.m. in PSU’s Cramer Hall, Room 271.

For more information, contact O4SR.

Susannah L. Bodman
Twitter: @Sciwhat
Facebook: Sciwhat.Science

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Technology and training grant deadline may have archaeologists, preservationists dashing to the finish line

Ah, the rush of a grant application deadline: The adrenaline. The anxiety. The sweet, sweet relief when it’s over.

If you’re an archaeologist or historic preservationist in the Portland area, you might still be in the thick of it if you’re applying for the National Park Service’s 2017 Preservation Technology and Training Grants.

In case you didn’t already know or needed a reminder: Deadline for those grants is 11:59 p.m. Eastern time Nov. 3.

Yeah, grant application deadlines can feel like that. Freeimages.com

Yeah, grant application deadlines can feel like that. Freeimages.com

And in case you’re not an archaeologist or preservationist in the midst of the grant deadline rush, these grants aim to help researchers develop better tools, materials and techniques for conserving buildings, historic landscapes, historic and prehistoric archaeological sites, artifact collections, and other cultural resources. The grants are administered by the innovation center for the preservation community: the park service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.

For 2017, the center has allocated $300,000 for the technology and training grant program, pending availability of funding (ahem, Congress, you better fund it).

Here's a hint as to why I love the topic of zooarchaeology. These are the bones of a single deer from an archaeology site that I analyzed as part of my master's thesis, which dealt with zooarchaeology topics. Susannah L. Bodman | Science In Portland

These are the bones of a single deer from an archaeology site on the Oregon Coast associated with the Coquille Indian Tribe. Susannah L. Bodman | Science In Portland

Grants from the program typically go to applicants from federal agencies, states, tribes, local governments, universities and nonprofit organizations (e.g. museums, professional societies and research labs) and can fund projects in the following areas:

  • Innovative research that develops or adapts technologies to preserve cultural resources. Typically, grants in this category range from $25,000 to $40,000.
  • Workshops or symposia that address national preservation needs. Grant range: $15,000 to $25,000.
  • Educational videos, mobile apps, podcasts, webinars and publications that share information about preservation methods and tools. Grant range: $5,000 to $15,000.

Projects within those areas can fall under several disciplines: archaeology, architecture, collections management, engineering, historic landscapes and materials conservation.

This year, the center is particularly hoping to see proposals for funding in which science and technology are applied to historic preservation that touches on climate change impacts, disaster planning and response, modeling and managing big data, innovative techniques for documentation, and protective coatings and treatments for artifacts and other cultural resources.

A guide is dressed in period costume, ready to answer visitor questions, at Albany's Monteith House Museum. The 1849 pioneer home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of Oregon's cultural and historical heritage. Susannah L. Bodman | Science In Portland

A guide is dressed in period costume, ready to answer visitor questions, at Albany’s Monteith House Museum. The 1849 pioneer home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of Oregon’s cultural and historical heritage. Similar historic homes and museum abound in the Portland-Vancouver area. Susannah L. Bodman | Science In Portland

The Portland-Vancouver area — with its long record of tribal occupation beginning in prehistory, Hudson’s Bay Co./Fort Vancouver presence since the 18th century, and other historical elements — is loaded with cultural resources worth preserving. It’s also home to a number of local  companies, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, museums, and other entities concerned with archaeology and historic preservation. Some of these groups may be pursuing these grants.

And for those that are, remember that applications must be submitted using Grants.gov, under Funding Opportunity No. P16AS00579, Catalogue of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) number 15.923 or 2017 Preservation Technology and Training Grants.

Applicants who receive grant funding will be able to begin their proposed work no sooner than July 2017.

And don’t fret if you’re a prospective applicant who’s going to miss out on this year’s opportunity: Check with the center and NPS about grants for 2018 and beyond.

Susannah L. Bodman
Twitter: @Sciwhat
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Women in Science-Portland hosts annual networking event at OMSI

Women and allies who love science, it’s time to mix it up.

Women in Science’s Portland chapter will hold its annual social and networking mixer Nov. 2 at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

Representatives of Yellow Scope, a Portland-based maker of science kits, chat with attendees of the Nov. 11, 2015, Women in Science mixer at Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Kit components are displayed on the table. Susannah L. Bodman | Science In Portland

Representatives of Yellow Scope, a Portland-based maker of science kits, chat with attendees of the Nov. 11, 2015, Women in Science mixer at Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. The WIS Portland chapter is holding its 2016 mixer on Nov. 2. Susannah L. Bodman | Science In Portland

The event will run from 5:30 to 8 p.m. in OMSI’s Turbine Hall, and cost will be $10 for general attendees and $5 for students and post-docs. Additional processing fees apply. Appetizers will be catered by Bon Apetit, and drinks will be available for purchase.

The evening will feature networking games and prize drawings. Additionally, exhibits in Turbine Hall will be open for exploration. The event aims to help women network and find mentoring in the sciences — part of the WIS mission.

For registration, see the event page on EventBrite. No deadline was specified for online registrations, only that registration be done in advance of the event. If registration cost is a concern, email Trish Pruis, of WIS-Portland, pruist@ohsu.edu, as the organization doesn’t want price to discourage anyone from attending.

For more information, go to WIS-Portland’s website.

Susannah L. Bodman
Twitter: @Sciwhat
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Take a lunch break and fill up on science at Portland State seminar

The relationship between plants and fungi and the crazy life of killifish are on the menu for the Nov. 1 Better Know a Lab seminar at Portland State University.

The Better Know a Lab seminar series features graduate students from PSU’s biology, chemistry and physics department, plus the occasional invited speaker.

Portland State University is a lovely campus to visit not only for the tree-lined Park Blocks that cut through it but also for the many science talks and seminars that are on offer. Susannah L. Bodman | Science In Portland

Hungry for some science? Head over to the Portland State University campus for the lunchtime Better Know a Lab seminar series. Susannah L. Bodman | Science In Portland

Presenting this time will be Brett Younginger, from the Ballhorn Lab, and Claire Riggs, from the Podrabsky Lab. Both labs are in PSU’s biology department. Younginger will tell plant-fungi tales, while Riggs will share stories of Brazil and killifish — both aiming to entertain, inspire and educate seminar attendees.

The event will begin at noon in Room 107 of Science Building 1, per the organizers, and is open to students, faculty and the public. The series are brown-bag-style lunchtime affairs, but some free food also will be available.

For more information, contact Biological Investigation and Outreach, the graduate student organization for PSU’s biology department, via its webpage, where you can find a link to a contact form.

Susannah L. Bodman
Twitter: @Sciwhat
Facebook: Sciwhat.Science

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