University of Maine News
How does a normally peaceful agent break through a previously impenetrable barrier and become a potential killer?
Robert Wheeler has just received a five-year, $500,000 fellowship from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) to figure that out.
The University of Maine Assistant Professor of Microbiology will study how and why Candida albicans — the most common human fungal pathogen — transforms from an innocuous yeast in the digestive tract of a person with a healthy immune system to a potentially fatal fungus in vital organs of a person whose immune system has been compromised.
“This award marks a new high point in my research career,” says Wheeler, one of 12 scientists nationwide to receive the 2014 Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease Award. After internal competitions at colleges and universities, each institution may nominate two investigators; this year, 144 scientists were put forward.
“This provides substantial funding that we can use to pursue high-risk projects with the potential to change our perspective on how dangerous infections begin.”
The goal, he says, is to improve diagnosis and therapy of fungal infection due to better understanding of the interactions between host and pathogen cells.
Wheeler’s lab will explore the host-fungal dialogue at mucosal surfaces where C. albicans — the leading cause of hospital-acquired infection that annually kills several thousand patients in the U.S. — is normally kept in check. “We expect that this will allow us to understand how the healthy immune system normally inhibits infection and how C. albicans invades past the epithelial wall,” he wrote in his application.
What happens at the earliest stages of active infection is one of the biggest mysteries about opportunistic pathogens, he says. And solving that mystery is imperative as infections complicate treatment of diseases, including leukemia, that require suppressing the immune system.
Wheeler’s lab will use zebrafish models of candidiasis at multiple levels — holistic, cellular and molecular genetic — to investigate the interaction between fungal cells and host cells during the earliest stages of infection. The integrated approach will utilize a new set of tools to address questions that have previously been inaccessible, he says.
His lab already has conducted pioneering studies with transparent zebrafish, which model infections caused by bacterial and fungal pathogens of humans. The resulting findings, he says, “opened the door to a deeper understanding of host and pathogen activity at the beginning stage of infection.”
Wheeler credits the previous scientific breakthroughs, and the work on the grant, to the talented, highly motivated and hard-working students and post-doctoral fellows in the laboratory. “The award is based on the pioneering work that they have done to change our perspective on fungal infection over the last five years,” he says.
With this fellowship, Wheeler says his lab will seek to exploit “that opening to discover the mechanistic underpinnings of the dialog between C. albicans and innate immunity at the epithelial barrier.”
On a personal level, Wheeler says he’s humbled to join the creative group of scientists that have previously held or currently hold BWF grants. “It pushes me to further excel and tackle the most important problems in infectious disease,” he says.
Wheeler’s peers lauded both his prior research and his potential.
Aaron Mitchell, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, says Wheeler has “been an insightful innovator for his entire scientific career.”
This award, Mitchell says, will allow Wheeler to build upon his initial findings “to look at the way that the host manipulates the pathogen, and how the pathogen manipulates the host. The remarkable zebrafish toolbox will allow Rob to look for key features of host defense that we can strengthen to thwart the pathogen before it gets a foothold.”
Joseph Heitman, chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Duke University Medical Center, says Wheeler’s research on how “Candida albicans … shields its immunogenic cell surface from immune surveillance in a variety of ways, which can in part be circumvented by drugs that unveil immunogenic signals” has blazed trails.
Heitman says the award will allow Wheeler, a “highly creative and innovative” investigator, to continue to be a leader in the field.
Gerald Fink, the Herman and Margaret Sokol Professor at the Whitehead Institute/Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the award “recognizes [Wheeler’s] preeminence as a leader in the battle to combat Candida, a feared human fungal pathogen … for which we have no satisfactory protection.”
Fink anticipates Wheeler’s research will “provide critical insights into our natural immunity from Candida infections, which is the first step towards developing antifungal agents.”
And Deborah Hogan, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College, says, “Ultimately, this work is likely to provide important insight into better ways to prevent and fight these often dangerous infections” in babies, in people undergoing chemotherapy and in those with suppressed immune systems.
The first installment of the award will be sent to UMaine on July 15, according to BWF, an independent private foundation based in North Carolina that supports research to advance biomedical sciences.
Victoria McGovern, senior program officer at BWF, says Wheeler’s selection was “based on the scientific excellence and innovation” of his proposal, as well as the strength of the scholarship at UMaine and Wheeler’s accomplishments as a researcher.
Wheeler says he’s pleased the award showcases UMaine and the laboratory to the national research community and he’s excited for opportunities to be in “contact with a number of the best and brightest infectious disease investigators in the U.S., through yearly meetings and a number of networking opportunities at national conferences.”
“The University of Maine is very proud of Dr. Wheeler’s achievement,” says Carol Kim, UMaine vice president for research.
“The BWF is a very prestigious award and identifies Rob as a leader in his field.”
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
The Department of Marine Resources’ annual spring sea urchin dive survey was mentioned in the Portland Press Herald article “Food & Wine declares urchin roe ‘the new bacon.’” The University of Maine and the Sea Urchin Zone Council work with the DMR on the eight-week survey traveling to more than 140 areas of possible sea urchin habitat to collect data to asses how much the fishery has rebounded.
Gloria Vollmers, an accounting professor at the University of Maine, spoke with the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News about a possible merger of graduate business programs at UMaine and the University of Southern Maine. Vollmers said a joint program would have benefits, such as allowing faculty to offer more electives. “We would end up with a more robust MBA and possibly could offer a specialty MBA (in health care, for example). Also, exposing students to more faculty is always good,” she wrote in an email to the Press Herald.
University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Piscataquis County will give away 300 cherry tomato plants as part of the One Tomato Project to increase the number of people growing food.
The One Tomato Project, which originated in Ontario, Canada, encourages people to plant, grow and eat more vegetables, and to give extra to food banks. The mission: “To grow healthier communities, one tomato at a time.”
Extension personnel will distribute tomato plants to county food cupboards June 13 and 20. And plants will be given away, while supplies last, the week of June 23, at the Cooperative Extension office, 165 East Main St., Dover-Foxcroft. Extension staff will provide information about container gardens and sign up those interested in receiving the Piscataquis & Penobscot Garden Newsletter.
More information is available online or by calling 207.564.3301, 800.287.1491 (in Maine).
Jake Ward, vice president for innovation and economic development at the University of Maine, was interviewed by Mainebiz for an article about how the state is being inventive with limited resources. Ward said continuous innovation is key to driving economic growth in Maine, and the state lacks the critical mass where innovation is seen as necessary. He said UMaine contributes to the state’s economic development by having 300–400 collaborations with private-sector companies that bring in about $4 million in revenue a year; signing seven or eight agreements a year to license its technology to companies such as Advanced Infrastructure Technologies of Orono, which is developing the university’s Composite Arch Bridge technology; and spinning out two to three companies a year, so far totaling 25–30.
Research by University of Maine’s Daniel Belknap, a professor of Earth sciences, and Daniel Sandweiss, a professor of anthropology and Quaternary and climate studies, was mentioned in a Scientific American podcast and a Spiegel Online blog post. The researchers studied how demographic and economic effects of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire altered landscape development on the Chira beach-ridge plain in northern coastal Peru.
Renee Kelly, director of Economic Development Initiatives and co-director of the Foster Center for Student Innovation at the University of Maine, wrote an article for Mainebiz on how to validate a business idea. Kelly wrote the first step to validate an idea is to give it more definition. She recommends writing out the elements, as opposed to only thinking through concepts.
The Morning Sentinel reported on Waterville-based chemical processing company, Cerealus Holdings LLC, unveiling an additive it says can save paper mills money by improving the papermaking process. The product — Cerenano — was developed in the University of Maine’s Process Development Center in Orono. Cerenano enhances the properties of nanocellulose — nano-sized wood fiber — providing a more efficient way to make paper, the article states. A statement from Mike Bilodeau, director of UMaine’s Process Development Center who worked with Cerealus as a chief scientific adviser, said Cerenano “represents a significant break-through in the ability to leverage the unique properties of cellulose nanofibrils in paper and paperboard products.”
Elissa Koskela, an assistant coordinator of the Signs of the Seasons program coordinated by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the Maine Sea Grant, wrote an opinion piece for the Bangor Daily News titled “Wondering how climate change is affecting us now? Citizen scientists have a role to play.” Signs of the Seasons is a phenology program that helps scientists document the local effects of global climate change through the work of volunteer citizen scientists who are trained to record the seasonal changes of common plants and animals in their communities.
Gretchen Faulkner, director of the University of Maine’s Hudson Museum of Art, was interviewed by the Portland Press Herald for the article about a photography exhibit on display at Harvard, titled “Thoreau’s Maine Woods: A Journey in Photographs with Scot Miller.” Jane Pickering, Harvard Museum’s executive director, and Janis Sacco, the museum’s director of exhibits, believe when the exhibit closes in February 2015 it should travel to Maine, according to the article. Faulkner, who has not seen the exhibit, said the story of Thoreau’s journey through the Maine woods with Penobscot guides is important. “We would probably be interested in it,” she said. “It is definitely something on topic for the Hudson Museum, as our collection includes Maine Indian holdings and we have a Maine Indian gallery. It is the path Thoreau took that is central to the native people of Maine. Katahdin is sacred to them. Mainers should learn about that.”
The Bangor Daily News published an opinion piece titled “Maine inventors have a natural advantage,” by David Kappos, a partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP in New York who also served as under secretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office from 2009 to 2013. “Continued promulgation of fabrication labs is crucial to Maine’s ascent in innovation. The University of Maine has wisely made bold investments in such facilities,” the article states. The complete version of the article first appeared in Maine Policy Review, published by UMaine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center.
Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine, spoke with the Maine Public Broadcasting Network and the Portland Press Herald about current political campaigns. MPBN interviewed Brewer for a report about the National Rifle Association endorsing Kevin Raye, a candidate in the Republican primary in the 2nd Congressional District. Brewer said the state’s 2nd Congressional District is relatively rural and has a high percentage of gun owners. He said primary voting turnout is likely to be low, and “anything that might possibly make a difference,” such as an NRA endorsement, could work in Raye’s favor. The Press Herald quoted Brewer in an article about U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democratic candidate for governor, facing criticism over the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal. Brewer said he’s not surprised Michaud’s opponents are using the scandal against him. “It’s clear that, for Michaud, veterans issues has been his No. 1 priority since he’s been in Washington,” Brewer said. “It’s also safe to say he recognizes how important veterans are to elections here in Maine. They are a big voting group and he thinks he has a fair amount of support from them. Anything that could weaken that could potentially be problematic.”
University of Maine President Paul Ferguson has appointed Emily Haddad as the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, effective July 28. Haddad comes to UMaine from the University of South Dakota, the state’s flagship institution, where she has served for three years as associate dean for academics in the College of Arts & Sciences.
“We are pleased to have Emily join the UMaine community to lead the state’s largest and most diverse liberal arts and sciences college,” says President Ferguson. “Her record as an academic administrator, and a faculty member involved in teaching and research make her an excellent fit for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and its vital role in students’ educational experiences.”
As associate dean at the University of South Dakota, Haddad works closely with faculty and staff on curriculum development, course scheduling, program assessment and academic policies. She also assists students with academic issues and participates in college financial decisions. She co-led the University of South Dakota’s strategic planning process and participated in the college’s implementation of a new, responsibility-centered management budget model. She has recently been involved in projects to increase student success in remedial mathematics, establish an academic program in sustainability, revise the college degree requirements to improve graduation rates, and create a workforce development program for information technology. She has chaired the South Dakota Board of Regents’ English Discipline Council and is an elected regional delegate to the Modern Language Association.
Haddad joined the University of South Dakota faculty in 1997 and was promoted to full professor in 2008. Before moving to the dean’s office, she chaired the Department of English for six years. She continues to teach a course each semester and to mentor graduate students in English. Her research focuses on intercultural contact in 19th-century British literature. She is the author of a book, Orientalist Poetics: The Islamic Middle East in Nineteenth-Century English and French Poetry (Ashgate 2002), as well as articles and other publications. She earned her Ph.D. at Harvard University in comparative literature. Prior to entering graduate school, she spent two years studying Arabic at the American University in Cairo, Egypt.
Originally from Massachusetts, Haddad lives in Vermillion, South Dakota with her husband and three sons.
The May issue of Down East magazine carries a story titled “Seeing Double” that explores the possibility that a carved Northwest Coast transformation mask in the University of Maine’s Hudson Museum is the model for the logo of the 2014 Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
Hudson Museum Director Gretchen Faulkner said Richard Emerick, the late UMaine anthropologist and founder of the Hudson Museum, told her years ago that the brightly painted wooden mask was the inspiration for the logo. The mask has been attributed to the Kwakwakaëwakw — Indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast.
When the Seahawks’ logo was unveiled in 1975, John Thompson, then-general manager of the team, was quoted saying the logo designers referenced books about Northwest Coast art for inspiration.
And then, in a blog post prior to Super Bowl XLVIII, Robin K. Wright, curator of Native American art at Burke Museum at the University of Washington, included a photo of the mask that was likely the inspiration for the logo. The photo, published in a 1950s book on Northwest Coast art, is a picture of the mask in the Hudson Museum.
In 1982, avid baseball fan William Palmer of Falmouth Foreside, Maine, bequeathed the mask, as well as other Northwest Coast art and a collection of Pre-Colombian artifacts, to UMaine.
John Jemison, a soil and water quality specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, spoke with WVII (Channel 7) for the latest installment of its “Backyard Gardener” series. Jemison spoke about how to prepare soil for gardening.
The Free Press reported Paul Mayewski, a University of Maine professor and director of UMaine’s Climate Change Institute (CCI), will appear June 9 on the series finale of the Showtime series “Years of Living Dangerously.” The show is a nine-part documentary series about the impact of climate change on people and the planet. Mayewski was filmed gathering ice cores 20,000 feet atop a glacier on Tupungato, an active Andean volcano in Chile. He also was filmed at home, where he enjoys his family, dogs and sailing. Mayewski said climate change is causing and will continue to cause destruction, and how scientists and media inform people about the subject is important.
A bill proposed by Rep. Mick Devin of Newcastle, who is also a researcher and shellfish hatchery manager at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center, was mentioned in a column published in the Working Waterfront, titled “Gulf of Maine uniquely susceptible to ocean acidification.” Devin, who has shown concern about the vulnerability of Maine’s marine ecosystems and fisheries-dependent communities, proposed a bill last fall to establish a commission that would study the effects of coastal and ocean acidification on species that are commercially harvested along Maine’s coast, according to the article. The bill gained support from diverse interest groups and became law April 30. Global Ocean Health also carried the column.
The University of Maine has become the newest member of HathiTrust, a partnership of major academic and research libraries collaborating in a digital library initiative to preserve and provide access to the published record in digital form.
Launched in 2008, HathiTrust currently has more than 90 partners. Over the last five years, the partners have contributed more than 11 million volumes to the digital library. More than 3.7 million of the contributed volumes are in the public domain and available online.
By joining HathiTrust, UMaine’s Fogler Library is taking steps to assure the preservation of its digital copies and contribute or sustain those volumes in a comprehensive digital archive.
“We are very pleased to have the University of Maine join us in this important enterprise,” said Mike Furlough, executive director of HathiTrust. “The University of Maine has been a significant player in shared print initiatives, an area of particular focus for HathiTrust. It is the combined expertise of our members that helps us thrive, and we look forward to working with the University of Maine to pursue our collective goals.”
The University of Maine Counseling Center and Touchstone Resources has been reaccredited by the International Association of Counseling Services Inc. (IACS), an Alexandria, Virginia-based organization of United States, Canadian and Australian counseling agencies.
The UMaine services were evaluated by IACS using high standards of counseling practice and were found to be competent, reliable and professional. IACS approval also depends on evidence of continuing professional development as well as demonstration of counseling performance excellence.
The UMaine Counseling Center and Touchstone Resources is directed by psychologist Douglas Johnson, and offers a range of mental health counseling services to students.
IACS was established to encourage and aid counseling agencies to meet high professional standards through peer evaluation and to inform the public about dependable agencies.
Effective July 1, Lucille Zeph will resign as associate provost and dean of the Division of Lifelong Learning (DLL) to allow her to focus solely on her duties as director of the Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies at the University of Maine. For the past three years, Zeph has held both positions.
“I am extremely grateful to Lu for her leadership of the Division of Lifelong Learning these past three years,” says Jeff Hecker, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. “Few people could have stepped in to lead an organization as complex as DLL. While I will miss the wisdom and creativity she brought to the Provost’s leadership team, I support her decision to turn her full attention to the Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies.”
Zeph was tapped to serve as interim associate provost and dean of the Division of Lifelong Learning in 2011 upon the retirement of longtime dean Robert White. She was appointed associate provost and dean on an ongoing basis last July, all the while continuing to serve as director of the Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies (CCIDS).
During her tenure, she managed the complex operations of DLL that include the Hutchinson Center in Belfast, Conference Services, the Continuing Education Division, Summer University, UMaine’s online programs and several centers and interdisciplinary academic programs. Her benchmarks in DLL include implementation of UMaine’s 24–7 initiative offering online certificates and degree programs, and creation of the Lifelong Learning Advising Center specifically for adult and nontraditional students who aspire to complete their degrees at UMaine.
Zeph, a UMaine associate professor of education, joined the College of Education faculty in 1979 and founded CCIDS in 1992. The center is Maine’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, part of a national network of centers congressionally authorized under the Development Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 2000. CCIDS conducts interdisciplinary education, research, and community engagement to positively affect the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families throughout Maine and beyond.