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Bio. Sci. Graduate Seminar - Prajakta Kokate & Sarah Lewallen

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Thursday, December 5, 2019, 3 pm– 4 pm

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Prajakta Kokate 
PhD Student 
Biological Sciences  
Advisor: Thomas Werner 

Presentation Title: Quantifying the Genetic Variation and identifying the Genetic mechanism(s) of mushroom toxin resistance

Abstract: Drosophilids are model organisms used in various studies ranging from ecology to evolutionary genetics. About 2000 known species of drosophilids use a myriad of hosts, including fruits, vegetation, cacti, and mushrooms. This radiation of drosophilids that allows the use of these chemically distinct hosts involves a series of genetic adaptations. One such adaptation is found in the mushroom-feeding (mycophagous) drosophilids. The mycophagous drosophilid species studied so far are found to be resistant to α-amanitin, a lethal toxin present in certain mushroom species.  This is intriguing because the provision to be able to tolerate the toxin seems to be an overkill as only 1-2% of the mushroom species possess the lethal toxin. Also, when a species changes its host from mushrooms to vegetation, the trait of toxin resistance is lost, which suggests that it must be a costly trait. 

The first aim of my project is to quantify the standing genetic variation in mushroom toxin resistance in four different species across three geographically distinct locations.  The fitness costs of the toxin resistance will also be studied. The second aim is to identify the genetic mechanisms that confer resistance to the toxin in these species.


Sarah Lewallen
MS Student 
Biological Sciences  
Advisor: John Durocher

Presentation Title: Decentering and Arterial Stiffness

Abstract: The stiffening of arteries is an independent predictor of cardiovascular disease which can be negatively impacted by stress and anxiety. Previous studies with very large sample sizes indicate that there is a moderate correlation between aortic augmentation index (AIx; an overall indicator of arterial stiffness) and cardiovascular disease risk factors. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a method that has been implemented for centuries in ancient cultures to support relaxation. MBSR promotes kind awareness of thoughts by teaching the practitioner to be present in the current moment without judgment. Decentering, a mindfulness-related quality, involves an individual’s ability to recognize thoughts as simply psychological stimuli and accept a distant perspective. Currently, it is unknown how decentering might influence arterial stiffness (assessed as carotid-to-femoral pulse wave velocity) and aortic wave reflection. Understanding how decentering may impact these cardiovascular variables presents new potential strategies of maintenance or remediation of elevated blood pressure and/or stage I hypertension. The current study investigated the relationship between the fundamental ability to decenter and cardiovascular variables such as AIx and arterial stiffness in both normotensive and hypertensive individuals.


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