Faculty Family Fun Day

Yearly, the Faculty Family Fun Day is organized in UCF’s Arboretum. Here, UCF’s Faculty can visit with their family and friends for a Sunday filled with fun activities. This year, there was the chance to participate in oyster reef yoga, get your face painted, hold and admire bugs, snakes and frogs, participate in physics experiments, and much more. Our lab participated as well so UCF’s faculty and their kids could get an up close encounter with our ants! We had a blast and hope to be part of this event next year.

New publication: Daily rhythms in Ophiocordyceps

In our newest publication, published in PLOS ONE, we show that the zombie ant fungus Ophiocordyceps kimflemingiae has a functional biological clock and that this results in the oscillation of a whole suite of genes. Interestingly, certain genes are mainly expressed during the daytime, while others are active during the nighttime.

UCF’s College of Science News wrote a short piece about it. This work was also mentioned by Gizmodo and C-Net.com, which covered the latest publication in PNAS from our colleagues from the Hughes Lab at Penn State.

STEM Day at UCF

Our lab hosted about 50 visiting middle school students for STEM Day to learn about behavior-manipulating parasites and get their hands on some zombie ants. We got a great crowd of excited students (and a few grossed-out ones) that were full of questions and ideas as they took a peek at our healthy ant colony, studied zombified ant and fungal samples under a microscope, or searched for cadavers still clinging to their plants in our various displays.

New publication: 

 

First ant collection in the books!

This week, we went on our first ant collection trips here in Central Florida. Being interested in parasitic manipulation of animal behavior, we mainly study the local Carpenter ants and how they get affected by a fungal parasite that turns them into so-called zombies. The fungus (Ophiocordyceps camponoti-floridani) slowly hijacks the behavioral program of the ant host (Camponotus floridanus) and makes her leave the nest to climb up the vegetation where she latches on in a final death-grip. Using a combination of genetics, genomics, behavioral ecology and neurobiology we want to find out how the fungal parasite is able to manipulate the ant’s brain. In order to study this in the lab, we needed to collect both the live ants and fungus-infected ants. A few long days in the hot Florida sun and many mosquito bites later, we have collected enough to start the Fall semester with a bang.

Thienthanh and Biplabendu collecting an ant colony Carpenter ants in their new home Biplabendu and Ian sorting ants from dirt Thienthanh shaking ants out of a decomposing log zombie ant through a hand lens Ian excavating a decomposing log

 

 

Microbe Post: The fungus that makes ‘zombie ants’ could use biological clocks to control their minds

In April, Charissa presented some of our work at the Microbiology Society conference in Edinburgh, UK. Afterwards, she had a chat with Anand Jagatia, the writer of the Society’s blog “Microbepost”. Here is what they talked about.

Waves of Wonder Night at Lake Sybelia Elementary PTA

Charissa had the honor to attend the science fair at the local Elementary PTA Lake Sybelia. The school’s hallways were packed with young scientists presenting their projects with a lot of enthusiasm! You can find out more about this event and the scientist’s projects here.

Master’s and PhD student positions available for Fall 2017

Are you interested in fungi, ant behavior, and parasitic manipulators? Would you like to do research in an interdisciplinary environment? Consider joining our team! De Bekker Lab is now recruiting for Fall 2017. For more details click here.

“The Story of Zombie Ants” part of the Distinguished Speaker Series Program

Live in the Orlando area and want to learn more about various topics of exciting research? The College of Sciences invites you to join for an evening of food, drink and intellectual stimulation by organizing the Distinguished Speaker Series Program. Topics range from computational sciences to social – and natural sciences. As part of this year’s program you can learn about parasites that manipulate the behavior of their hosts and turn them into so-called zombies. Interested? Have a look here and RSVP. Hope to see you there!

Spring Semester 2017: New parasitic behavioral manipulation lab joining the Biology Department at UCF!

Super excited to announce that soon our research will be resumed at The University of Central Florida! This vibrant university is located in Orlando, FL and has a very diverse Biology Department. Moreover, our study system, the “zombie ants”, are part of the local ecosystem creating a plethora of research and teaching opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students! Official start date: January 2017.