UMD & Smithsonian 2016 Seed Grant Program

Bridging Biomechanics and Macroevolution: Spider Cheliceral Function and Diversification
Jeffrey Shultz (UMD Department of Entomology) and Hannah Wood (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History)

In the field of arachnology, there is a large gap, in that virtually no researchers work at the interface between chelicerae function and spider diversification. While research involving the biomechanics and evolution of spider silk has dominated the field, an important and necessary facet of spider evolution and life history has been largely ignored, that of the function of chelicerae (similar in function to jaws or mandibles) to capture and envenomate prey. This exploratory project seeks to fill in this gap by addressing the following questions:
1) how does cheliceral function change in the “primitive” spiders compared to the more-derived spiders?;
2) how does cheliceral function change among different sized spiders?
These questions will be addressed through the use of micro-CT scanning, high-speed videography, and measurements of force production among different groups of spiders. This research will be novel to the field of arachnology and furthermore, will also be significant to field of evolutionary biology regarding fundamental hypotheses about trait adaptation and diversification. The implications of this research are abundant. Regarding silk biomechanics, the research has been important for developing materials that are strong and elastic. Research examining spider venoms has been fruitful for medical science. We expect the research we propose here to also have important implications involving the science of designing robots based on animal movements, as well as for understanding of the feeding functions and ecology in animals that prey on agricultural pests.

Investigation of the Use of Atomic Layer Deposited Films to Prevent Glass Disease
Raymond Phaneuf (UMD Materials Science & Engineering) and Edward Vicenzi (Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute)

Of the materials used throughout the ages for crafting cultural heritage objects, glass seems the most nearly immutable – however glass objects degrade with time due to the destructive phenomenon known as glass disease. This corrosive effect threatens not only the appearance, but also the physical integrity of objects made from glass, and at present there is no cure for glass disease. Existing conservation practices, consisting of environmental control and/or polymeric-based coatings are ineffective in preventing or mitigating the irreparable damage glass disease does to cultural heritage objects over long periods of time. Recent scientific investigations make it clear that prevention of the destructive effects of glass disease is only possible if moisture is kept away from the surface. In this project we propose to address the question of how to do so for the centuries to millennia which characterize the age of many objects in museum collections. We will adopt a revolutionary approach, using atomic layer deposition (ALD) to create transparent, amorphous, exceedingly conformal oxide films onto glass objects. Our recent results suggest that these coatings can keep water from contacting the underlying glass objects for centuries or longer. In developing our ALD-based glass conservation process we will test it, and adapt it, for consistency with the standards set by the conservation community: that the result should be visually acceptable, that the performance should exceed that available based upon existing treatments, and that the process should be reversible – i.e. that it should be possible to remove the ALD films without degrading the underlying objects. The project will be carried out in two major thrusts: in the first the goal will be to investigate prevention of glass disease, using uncorroded glass objects as our substrates. In the second thrust we will investigate a much more daunting challenge to glass conservators: mitigation of existing glass corrosion.

Zika, Sex, and Seasonality
William Fagan (UMD Department of Biology) and Justin Calabrese (Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

Zika virus (ZIKV) is an emerging infectious disease with significant public health implications, both internationally and here in the United States. Recent studies suggest that sexual transmission of ZIKV is more common than initially realized, meaning that ZIKV has the potential to become problematic even in regions without abundant mosquito vectors.   Predicting the spread of ZIKV in temperate North America requires an understanding of insect ecology, insect phenology (i.e., the seasonal timing of insect life-history), and disease dynamics.  Using mathematical modeling approaches, we aim to determine:

  • the degree of sexual transmission necessary for multi-year ZIKV outbreaks
  • how this is expected to vary with regional climate
  • the role of continued ZIKV importation due to travel from tropical regions
  • the combined effects of sexual behavior, ZIKV importation and regional climate on the incidence of ZIKV.

Unraveling these issues will allow us to explore whether human sexual transmission can allow sufficient disease spread in the absence of mosquito vectors, which could then allow ZIKV to sustain through U.S. winters, creating a major risk for outbreaks where climate data and vector phenology would suggest that there is none.  This information, which is best quantified using synthetic models, will inform decision-making and strategies to reduce the disease's impact on human populations.

Creating a Bioengineered Ovary for Restoring Follicle Functions and Development in Domestic Carnivore Models
John Fisher (UMD Fischell Department of Bioengineering) and Nucharin Songsasen (Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

One of the major challenges in preserving the genomes and fertility of females, including women, is the rarity of mature oocytes (eggs) capable of fertilization. The overall goal of this project is to establish a bioengineered ovary that consistently promotes the production of oocytes from cultured ovarian follicles in domestic carnivore models. The findings of this project will lead the establishment of an improved method for fertility preservation, especially for (1) endangered carnivores where genetically valuable females often die before contributing their genes to the population and (2) women patients scheduled for cancer therapy where treatments are likely to destroy ovarian function. Finally, the bioengineered ovary can serve as an in vitro platform to assess the effect of contaminants and environmental toxins on ovarian follicle development, and thus, eliminating the use of live animals.

The U.S. Latina/o Health History Project: Developing Digital Resources to Engage Public Learning and Inspire Innovative Scholarship
Chantel Rodriguez (UMD Department of History) and Katherine Ott (Smithsonian National Museum of American History)

As the U.S. Latina/o population continues to grow, there is increasing urgency not only to identify their health issues but also the culture and history that inform their health practices. The UMD History Department and Smithsonian National Museum of American History recognize that the lack of resources on U.S. Latina/o health practices poses a serious problem both for scholars working in this field and, more generally, for those interested in the improvement of Latina/o health. To address this need, we will pilot a groundbreaking project on the history of U.S. Latina/o health by collecting material objects and documenting personal stories related to traditional Latina/o health practices. This UMD-SI collaboration is a crucial step toward the ultimate goal of launching a national-level digital project to establish an invaluable cache of primary source materials that will engage public learning and inspire innovative scholarship.


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Did You Know

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, is an alumnus of UMD's College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences.