As a newly hired assistant professor of genome-enabled biology, the first thing Matt MacManes plans to do is add some mice to the basement of Rudman Hall. Not your average household pests, these mice are of the desert variety – or Peromyscus eremicus, better known as cactus mice – and their mating systems, immunogenes, and ability to survive extreme heat and drought have been the focus of MacManes’ research for the last few years at the University of California, Berkeley. MacManes will work with the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) veterinarian Dean Elder and facilities project manager Paul Henry as they consult with Harris Environmental on how to retrofit a walk-in refrigeration unit to create a desert habitat with temperatures as high as 110°F and relative humidity at less than 10%.
MacManes is the first professor to arrive on campus from the cluster hire in genome-enabled biology at the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture (COLSA). He’s an evolutionary biologist who works at the intersection of genomics, field biology, and evolutionary biology and has an abiding interest in using genomics to understand complex phenotypes in wild animals. While that may be unique in itself, the science-minded MacManes is also a bit of a social media buff. In fact, he found his position at UNH via a tweet.
“Social media has become a very legitimate way to distribute and find research, and communicate with the public,” says MacManes who has built relationships with scientists all over the world through Twitter. As a professor, MacManes will incorporate social media as a means to engage his students in a very active process of learning. “The ways we used to communicate with students doesn’t work as effectively anymore – handouts, emails, blackboard messages. It’s all social media now,” says MacManes of his interest in embracing the opportunities inherent in ever-evolving technology.
With his engaging style and approachability, MacManes understands how to ignite a student’s spark of interest in science and let it shine on their own path of discovery. “My first love was disease,” says MacManes in recalling his early passions that led to an initial career as a nurse. While immensely fulfilling, the profession lacked the opportunities for conducting research for which he yearned. To embark on a new journey MacManes asked himself, “What kind of research do I want to do that ties into disease” and zeroed-in on the fascinating combination of evolutionary biology and genomics.
In the coming year, MacManes will find himself in the good company of four new colleagues who share his background in genomics. For all of the scientists in the cluster hire, the decision to come to UNH was aided by having access to the new high-throughput sequencer at COLSA’s Hubbard Center for Genome Studies. “The ability to have access to the Illumina HiSeq is absolutely essential to my research,” says MacManes who expects to be a frequent user of the $1M machine, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation in 2012.
“The addition of these new faculty from the genome-enabled biology cluster hire will significantly increase our abilities to address student enrollment demands, build upon our research excellence, and enhance our services to the institution, profession, and stakeholders,” says dean of COLSA, Jon Wraith. The faculty start dates will span the coming year, beginning with MacManes’ arrival this past August. At the end of October, UNH will welcome Dr. Sandra Rehan from the University of Pennsylvania who combines comparative genomics, life history evolution, behavioral ecology, population genetics, and molecular phylogenetics to answer questions on the ecological constraints and genetic underpinnings selecting for social behavior. As a behavioral ecologist, Rehan studies the evolution of social behavior in solitary bees and will teach courses relating to the genetic basis for the evolution of social behavior. This winter, Dr. David Plachetzki from the University of California, Davis, will continue his research at UNH on the sensory biology of marine animals known as Cnidarians. Plachetzki, who has an interest in the origins of animal vision and how the visual genes that underlie animal vision have evolved, will teach genomics-related courses next fall along with his new colleagues. Finally, in August 2014, Dr. Jeff Foster of NAU will arrive at UNH to expand upon his use of population genetics and phylogenetic analyses of Next-Generation sequence data to conduct research on pathogen evolution and disease ecology.