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UF researchers analyzed potential designs for the Sierra Leone Trial

Published: Apr 20th, 2015

Development of a safe, effective Ebola vaccine is an important goal for bringing the current epidemic under control and minimizing future outbreaks. Before a vaccine can be given to at-risk populations, however, it must be tested to determine whether it is safe and assess the level of protection it provides. Ebola vaccine trials are currently underway in Guinea and Liberia, two of the three hardest-hit countries in the ongoing Ebola epidemic, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will soon be starting a vaccine trial in Sierra Leone. The Ebola epidemic has been declining in Sierra Leone and the rate of decline varies in different regions. A team of researchers led by Steve Bellan at The University of Texas at Austin, and including University of Florida researchers Juliet Pulliam and Carl Pearson, has analyzed potential designs for the Sierra Leone trial, taking into account recent trends in Ebola case numbers. They have found that the trial CDC had originally planned in Sierra Leone – a so-called ‘stepped-wedge’ design – would be unlikely to be informative, with a 6 months study leaving researchers uncertain as to whether the vaccine was effective. In contrast, a trial similar to the design that CDC announced on April 15 is much more likely to be able to detect an effective vaccine. This work also emphasizes that any trial implemented in Sierra Leone needs to begin as soon as possible, as the informative power of any trial is decreasing substantially as the epidemic continues to decline.  See the article here.


Systematic Reviews of Forestry & Landscapes Management Workshop

Published: Apr 13th, 2015

Biology’s Jack Putz and Claudia Romero organized a Systematic Reviews of Forestry & Landscapes Management Workshop in collaboration with the Florida Climate Institute and the REDD+ Forest Policy & Economics Working Group. The workshop’s goals were to use a hands-on approach, participants will be guided through the stages of preparing a systematic review to support policy questions for which evidence is required. Twenty people from ten different countries participated, with a spread of disciplinary and research interests. The keynote speaker was Gillian Petrokofsky from Oxford University’s Biodiversity Institute. Thank you, Jack and Claudia, for providing this wonderfully international workshop!


Congratulations to Robert Johnson and Bonnie Kircher!

Published: Apr 1st, 2015

Delighted to report that Robert Johnson of the Bjorndal lab, and Bonnie Kircher of the Marty Cohn’s lab for winning the NSF GRFP Award.

Great job, Robert and Bonnie!

Congratulations to Catalina Pimiento!

Published: Mar 30th, 2015

Please join me in congratulating Catalina Pimiento on winning an Online Education Excellence Award for her course BSC 2009L. The committee thought her class was particularly excellent with respect to engaging student learners. I’m particularly proud to see Biology’s tradition of teaching excellence continuing with our online efforts: last year Nicole Gerlach, this year Catalina!

Keep up the good work and thank you to all who work to make Biology a great department.


Kudos to Luke Trimmer Smith

Published: Mar 24th, 2015

Please join me in congratulating Luke on his Emerging Pathogens Institute (EPI), A Vertebrate Model System to Decipher Environmental Impacts on Viral Host Jumps ($40,000).

Great job, Luke!


Congratulations to Jake Ferguson and Jose Miguel Ponciano!

Published: Mar 18th, 2015

Grad student Jake Ferguson and Biology faculty member José Miguel Ponciano recently had an article appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

“Environmental stochasticity” is an important theoretical concept in Ecology that embodies the recognition that, over time, the environmental conditions for animal population growth vary widely, often in unpredictable ways. Here we propose a stochastic model that measures how such environmental variation affects competition among individuals. Previously, such effects remained poorly studied and consequences on extinction risks were generally unknown. We apply our model to a large database of time series of animal abundances and compare it to other models. The field evidence supported our modeling efforts. Coupling stochastic models with statistical inference allowed us to draw useful insights for the practice of conservation biology regarding the fate and regulation of these populations.

Our latest Biology grad student success!

Published: Mar 2nd, 2015

Catalina Pimiento is the winner of the 2015 Association for Academic Women Emerging Scholar competition which is held in conjunction with the Lockhart Dissertation Fellowship competition.  This recognition includes a cash award of $2000 from the AAW Emerging Scholar fund. Catalina was selected from a large and very strong group of applicants and we are pleased to recognize her achievement! Great job Catalina and congratulations to mentor Bruce MacFadden, too!

Congratulations to Fatma Kaplan!

Published: Feb 25th, 2015

Fatma Kaplan has just received a three year USDA-NIFA award ($450K) for “Role of Xenorhabdus bacteria on pheromone production by Steinernema nematodes: Impact on nematode fitness and formulation.” (in collaboration with Patricia Stock at the University of Arizona and Rebecca Butcher in the Chemistry Department at UF). Please join me in congratulating Fatma!


Congratulations to Charles Baer on recent paper “Scaling, Selection, and Evolutionary Dynamics of the Mitotic Spindle”

Published: Feb 25th, 2015

Mitosis, the precise division of the nucleus, is required for multicellular life. Unsurprisingly then, mitosis has remained essentially the same over approximately two billion years of evolution. However, the individual components involved in mitosis have not. For example, in order for the chromosomes to segregate properly during nuclear division, they require a scaffold known as the mitotic spindle. Reza Farhadifar of Harvard University, UF Dept. of Biology Associate Professor Charles Baer, and their collaborators show in a recent paper in Current Biology that the mitotic spindle exhibits extensive variation both within and between closely related species of nematodes in the genus Caenorhabditis. The effect of mutation on the spindle, together with stabilizing selection on embryo size, quantitatively explains the levels of within-species variation in the spindle and its diversity over 100 million years of evolution, despite conservation of the overall mitotic process.
Mitosis paper at

Biology Department Recognizes Graduate Student Excellence

Published: Feb 25th, 2015

There are three Awards categories: Paper, Service, and Teaching. Applicants for these categories were nominated by their peers and professors based on outstanding work that sets them apart. All of the nominees went “above and beyond” and the committee’s decision was a difficult one. Paper Award: Paul Corogin, New geographical and morphological data for Sideroxylon reclinatum subspecies austrofloridense (Sapotaceae), a taxon endemic to southeastern peninsular Florida, U.S.A. Service Award: Richie Hodel, co-led a trip for graduate student perspective weekend, was very active on the fundraising committee, judged URAP presentations, mentored several undergraduate students, and is also active within the FLMNH and greater botanical community. Teaching Award: Sarah Allen went above and beyond her normal teaching responsibilities. She re-wrote the labs for Plant Anatomy, she designed to new lab activities in Plants in Human Affairs, and received outstanding reviews from her students. Congratulations to our 2014 Award Winners!