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SURF: Announcements of Opportunity

Below are Announcements of Opportunity posted by Caltech faculty and JPL technical staff for the SURF program. Additional AOs for the Amgen Scholars program can be found here.

Specific GROWTH projects being offerred for summer 2018 can be found here.

Each AO indicates whether or not it is open to non-Caltech students. If an AO is NOT open to non-Caltech students, please DO NOT contact the mentor.

Announcements of Opportunity are posted as they are received. Please check back regularly for new AO submissions! Remember: This is just one way that you can go about identifying a suitable project and/or mentor.

Announcements for external summer programs are listed here.

Students pursuing opportunities at JPL must be
U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents.

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Project:  Social Parasites: Evolution of Symbioses Between Beetles and Ants
Discipline:  Biology
Mentor:  Joseph Parker, Assistant Professor, (BBE),, Phone: 6263958729
Mentor URL:  (opens in new window)
Background:  Life on earth is a complex and evolving network of interactions between different organisms. In the animal kingdom, most, if not all, species are engaged in some kind of parasitic or mutualistic relationship with another animal species.

We are interested in how these interactions are governed at the molecular and neurobiological levels. To address this problem, we have developed a unique model system: rove beetles (family Staphylinidae), that live symbiotically inside ant colonies. These beetles embody evolution in the extreme, with dramatic behavioral, anatomical and chemical adaptations for life as “social parasites”—fiendishly deceptive intruders that are able to chemically trick the ants into allowing them into their colonies. Once inside the nest, the beetles may feed on the ants’ brood or receive food directly, mouth-to-mouth, from the worker ants.

We are interested in the core chemical, molecular and neural circuitry by which reciprocal signals are exchanged between ant and beetle, fostering their interaction. Our work is integrative, combining genomics and developmental biology with chemical ecology and behavioral neuroscience to explore all facets of the ant-beetle interaction and its evolutionary basis.
Description:  There is flexibility about the project based on the student's interests. Possible projects include:

1) Genetic dissection of interspecies interactions: Using RNAi or CRISPR to knock down, or knock out, gene products involved in chemical signal production, or chemical signal reception, between ant and beetle.

2) Behavioral profiling of interspecies interactions: Using behavioral assays and high speed videography to explore interactions between ants and beetles. Experimenting with odor and pheromone treatments to assess how different chemicals may control these interactions, possibly leading to studies of electrophysiological responses of beetle antennae and legs to ant-derived compounds (and vice versa).

3) Chemical and genomic basis of beetle-ant coevolution: Collecting beetles and ants of closely related species from different parts of California. Chemically profiling the beetles and ants using Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS). Preparing and sequencing high molecular weight genomic DNA for genome assembly.
References:  1) Parker, J., Eldredge, K.T., Thomas, I., Coleman, R., and Davis, S. (2017) Hox-logic of preadaptations for social insect symbiosis in rove beetles. bioRxiv, 198945

2) Maruyama, M. and Parker, J. (2017) Deep-Time Convergence in Rove Beetle Symbionts of Army Ants. Current Biology, 27, 1–7

3) Yamamoto, S., Maruyama, M. and Parker, J. (2016) Evidence for Social Parasitism of Early Insect Societies by Cretaceous Rove Beetles. Nature Communications, 7: 13658

4) Parker, J. (2016) Myrmecophily in Beetles (Coleoptera): Evolutionary Patterns and Biological Mechanisms. Myrmecological News, 22, 65–108
Student Requirements:  Good laboratory technique (sterile techniques, pipetting)
Understanding of or experience with molecular biology methods including PCR, cloning, gel electrophoresis
Understanding of methods of gene manipulation in insects, including RNAi, CRISPR/CAS9, transgenesis
Interest in evolution, genetics, behavior, insects and entomology
Good motor skills for dissections and microinjections
Programs:  This AO can be done under the following programs:

  Program    Available To
       Amgen Scholars    Non-Caltech students only  
       SURF    both Caltech and non-Caltech students 

Click on a program name for program info and application requirements.

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