Jill Oberski is in the third grade, stretched out on the classroom floor reading her "Audubon Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America." Another insect publication is within reach.
Fast forward to today: she's Dr. Jill Oberski.
She just completed her doctoral dissertation, studying with major professor Phil Ward, ant specialist and professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. She will present her exit seminar on "Phylogenetics and Biogeography of the Pyramid Ants" at 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, June 7 in 122 Briggs Hall The seminar also will be on Zoom.
"I've been fascinated by insects as long as I can remember," Jill said. "As a kid, I learned the names of the major taxonomic orders and created a small pinned collection, but I didn't realize it could be anything more than a hobby, so I shifted my sights toward becoming a medical doctor. But when I went to college, I met a professor who actually does study biodiversity and discover new arthropod species for a living. So after getting my start in research at Macalester College, and a year as an intern at University of Wisconsin-Madison, I started searching for suitable research programs across the country where I could train as a grad student doing those same things—biodiversity, evolution, and biogeography of insects or arachnids."
So, on June 7, she'll discuss her five-year research. "Ants of the genus Dorymyrmex, the 'pyramid ants,' exhibit an intriguing distribution that is most concentrated not near the equator, but instead in dry temperate regions of the Americas, such as deserts, shrublands, and beaches, and including Davis, California," Oberski writes in her abstract. "Although these ants are common, widespread, and ecologically significant, their diversity and evolutionary history are still poorly understood. My dissertation research introduces Dorymyrmex to modern phylogenomics and concerted biogeographic study by integrating classic and cutting-edge approaches: I performed targeted genomics with UCEs, inferred Bayesian phylogenies and fossil-calibrated divergence dates, and also employed traditional methods like morphometrics and visual species description."
Jill, who joined the Ward lab in 2017, received a bachelor's degree in biology and a bachelor's degree in German studies, sum laude, from Malacaster College, Saint Paul, Minn. Fluent in German, she completed a 2014 summer course, "Anatomie, Physiologie, und Evolution der Tiere" (Anatomy, Physiology, and Evolution of the Animals) at Universität Wien, Vienna, Austria.
Since enrolling in the UC Davis graduate program, Jill has been more active than the ants she studies! She's a past president of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association, and served in leadership roles in the Girls' Outdoor Adventure in Leadership and Science (GOALS).
She received a five-year Dean's Distinguished Graduate Fellowship award in 2017. In May of 2022, she was selected for a Professors for the Future Fellowship (PFTF) award, described by PFTF as "a year-long competitive fellowship program designed to recognize and develop the leadership skills of outstanding graduate students and postdoctoral scholars who have demonstrated their commitment to professionalism, integrity, and academic service. The program is designed to prepare UC Davis doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars for an increasingly competitive marketplace and a rapidly changing university environment." For her project, she recorded a series of interviews about mental and chronic illnesses and how they impact academic professional development.
Jill, who plays tenor saxophone at community events, performed in an entomology band at the 2018 UC Davis Picnic Day as Jill “Jillus Saximus” Oberski. She dressed as a “generalized heteropteran,” which she described as “most likely a member of the family Acanthosomatidae (shield bug) or Pentatomidae (stink bug). My family and friends have called me Jillybug, so I came to be the band's representative of Hemiptera.” (See news story on Entomology website, and feature in Entomology Today, published by ESA)
Future plans? After receiving her doctorate June 15 at a UC Davis ceremony, Dr. Jill will be moving to Washington, D.C. this summer for a brief stint as a visiting researcher at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Then, in January 2024, she will start a three-year independent postdoctoral research position in Frankfurt, Germany.
The Oberski seminar is the last of the spring seminars, all coordinated by urban landscape entomologist Emily Meineke, assistant professor. A pre-seminar coffee will take place from 3:30 to 4:10 p.m. in 158 Briggs. For technical issues regarding Zoom connections, she may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don't miss the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house on "Insects and Forensics," featuring UC Davis forensic entomologist Robert “Bob” Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
The open house, free and family friendly, is set for 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, June 3 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. “He will give a brief introduction to the field at the start of the event in the wildlife classroom (next door) and then we will move into our regular one-on-one, question-and-answer format,” announced Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator.
Kimsey, who received his bachelor's degree and doctorate from UC Davis, focuses his research on public health entomology, arthropods of medical importance, and zoonotic disease, as well as the biology and ecology of tick-borne pathogens, and tick feeding behavior and biochemistry.
Kimsey staffs the annual “Dr. Death” booth at Briggs Hall during the campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day. He pin-mounts and identifies flies from various cases and research efforts, and displays studies on the sequence of development of individual maggots, calling attention to the development and sequence of communities of insect maggots. "By these means, approximations about how long a person has been dead can be made," he told the crowd. He also discussed recently adjudicated cases.
Kimsey wears a number of hats. He's the master advisor of the Animal Biology major; an assistant adjunct professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; and the faculty chair of the department's Picnic Day. He's also the advisor to the UC Davis Entomology Club and that includes guiding students to such venues as Alcatraz Island to see the flies and other insects. He's also known as "The Fly Man of Alcatraz" for his fly research.
Known as an outstanding teacher, advisor and mentor, Kimsey won the 2020 top faculty academic advising award from the international NACADA, the “global community for academic advising.”
Kimsey is also a 2019 winner of a faculty advising award from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the Eleanor and Harry Walker Advising Awards. He previously won the UC Davis Outstanding Faculty Advising Award, and the Distinction in Student Mentoring Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America.
The Bohart Museum, directed by UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey (wife of Bob Kimsey), is the home of a global collection of eight million insect specimens, plus a live "petting zoo" (including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas) and an insect-themed gift shop, stocked with T-shirts, hoodies, jewelry, posters, books, pens and collecting equipment.
They really weren't red ants, but children wearing ant headgear, created during the family arts-and-crafts activity at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house on ants. The Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, organized and presented the open house.
The ant headgear was the brainchild of Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator, and student intern Jakob Jess of MET Sacramento High School. He completed his two-year internship at the Bohart Museum this week, and starting this fall, will begin his studies at UC Berkeley.
"This was an art project inspired by leafcutter ants," Yang said, "and was meant to be both whimsical and colorful, thus the bright red. We had a template for folks to use, but they could also create their own from looking at the ant illustrations."
Myrmecologist Eli Sarnat, who received his doctorate at UC Davis, studying with Professor Ward, brought his sons, Benjamin, 7 and Evan, 3 to the event. They delighted in creating the ant headgear and checking out the ant displays.
UC Davis senior entomology major Morgan Myhre helped her children, Galileo, 5, and Esmeralda, 2, with their creations.
First-year entomology major Kat Taylor staffed the arts-and-crafts table, assisting the youngsters with their ideas. She also stapled the finished projects.
"The questions were mostly about the habits and behavior of ants, how many species are there, etc.," Ward related. "And how can I obtain live colonies for my kid? I received almost no queries about 'how do I get rid of them in my kitchen?' and that was refreshing."
"We had live colonies of a centipede-hunting ant (Stigmatomma oregonense) and a generalist omnivore (Aphaenogaster occidentalis)," Ward said. "The displays also included collections of common California ants; the world's smallest ant (Carebara) and the world's largest ant (Myrmecia)."
Oberski, who received her bachelor's degree in biology and a bachelor's degree in German studies (summa cum laude) in 2016 from Macalester College, Saint Paul, Minn., finished her dissertation earlier this month. She will present her exit seminar on "Phylogenetics and Biography of Pyramid Ants" at 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, June 7 in 122 Briggs Hall. It also will be on Zoom.
Oberski fielded such questions as "What do ants eat?" and "Are ants specialized or generalized in their feeding habits?" The answer can vary a lot, Oberski told them. "Some ants are generalists that eat any food they come across, but others are extremely specific, like ants that are fungus farmers or specialized predators of springtails, spider eggs, or centipedes."
Professor Ward and ants are showcased in a Bohart Museum of Entomology video on YouTube, https://youtu.be/d8eRNsD8dxo. Ants, he related, originated about 120 million years ago (early Cretaceous), evolving from "wasp-like creatures."
Next Open House on June 3. The next open house at the Bohart Museum is themed "Insects and Forensics," and will feature forensic entomologist Robert "Bob" Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Free and family friendly, the open house will take place from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, June 3 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane. The arts-and-crafts activity will be "maggot-inspired art," Yang announced.
The Bohart Museum, directed by UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, houses a global collection of eight million insect specimens. It also maintains a live "petting zoo," complete with Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects, and tarantulas, among others; and an insect-themed gift shop, stocked with books, posters, jewelry, pens, T-shirts, hoodies, and collecting equipment.
Infected Ae. aegypti mosquitoes can transmit dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika fever, Mayaro and yellow fever viruses, and other disease agents.
Mack will present her exit seminar on "Genetic and Molecular Factors Influencing Pyrethroid Response in Aedes aegypti from California" at 3:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 6 in 366 Briggs Hall. It also will be on Zoom.
Mack studies Ae. aegypti with a focus on analysis of transcriptomic datasets and 3D imaging datasets. "Throughout my time in graduate school, my projects have considered pyrethroid resistance in Ae. aegypti; examining the genetic response to this insecticide. As I finish up my dissertation, I hope to pursue a career in industry using the skills I've developed to continue to analyze large datasets!"
Insecticide resistance is a global issue, Mack says in her exit seminar abstract. The mosquito was first colonized California in 2013 and arrived resistant to pyrethroids. "The pyrethroid target site genotype differs geographically in California and partially infers resistance phenotype, indicating that other mechanisms are at play as well."
Mack is the co-lead author (with doctoral candidate Erin Taylor Kelly of the Attardo lab) of Frequency of Sodium Channel Genotypes and Association with Pyrethrum Knockdown Time in Populations of Californian Aedes aegypti, published in March 2021 in the journal Parasites and Vectors. The eight co-authors, in additioin to Attardo, included Anthony Cornel, Mosquito Control Research Laboratory, Kearney Agricultural Center, and Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"Since their detection in 2013, Aedes aegypti has become a widespread urban pest in California," the co-authors wrote in the abstract. "The availability of cryptic larval breeding sites in residential areas and resistance to insecticides pose significant challenges to control efforts. Resistance to pyrethroids is largely attributed to mutations in the voltage gated sodium channels (VGSC), the pyrethroid site of action. However, past studies have indicated that VGSC mutations may not be entirely predictive of the observed resistance phenotype."
"To investigate the frequencies of VGSC mutations and the relationship with pyrethroid insecticide resistance in California, we sampled Ae. aegypti from four locations in the Central Valley, and the Greater Los Angeles area. Mosquitoes from each location were subjected to an individual pyrethrum bottle bioassay to determine knockdown times. A subset of assayed mosquitoes from each location was then analyzed to determine the composition of 5 single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) loci within the VGSC gene."
"Resistance associated VGSC SNPs are prevalent, particularly in the Central Valley. Interestingly, among mosquitoes carrying all 4 resistance associated SNPs, we observe significant heterogeneity in bottle bioassay profiles suggesting that other mechanisms are important to the individual resistance of Ae. aegypti in California."
Mack, who holds a bachelor of science degree (2018) in biology from Creighton University, Omaha, Neb., enrolled in the UC Davis graduate school program in 2018.
Active in the Entomological Society of America, Mack scored second place in student competition at the 2022 joint meeting of the Entomological Societies of America, Canada, and British Columbia, held last November in Vancouver, British Columbia. She entered her presentation, "Three Dimensional Analysis of Vitellogenesis in Aedes aegypi Using Synchrotron X-Ray MicroCT,” in the category, "Graduate School Physiology, Biochemistry and Toxicology: Physiology.
Her abstract: "Traditional methods of viewing the internal anatomy of insects require some degree of tissue manipulation and/or destruction. Using synchrotron-based x-ray phase contrast microCT (pcMicroCT) avoids this issue and has the capability to produce high contrast, three dimensional images. Our lab is using this technique to study the morphological changes occurring in the mosquito Aedes aegypti during its reproductive cycle. Ae. aegypti is the primary global arbovirus vector, present on all continents except Antarctica. Their ability to spread these viruses is tightly linked with their ability to reproduce, as the production of eggs in this species is initiated by blood feeding. Amazingly, this species produces a full cohort of eggs (typically 50-100) in just 3 days' time following a blood meal. This rapid development represents dramatic shifts in physiological processes that result in massive volumetric changes to internal anatomy over time. To explore these changes thoroughly, a time course of microCT scans were completed over the vitellogenic period. This dataset provides a virtual representation of the volumetric, conformational, and positional changes occurring in tissues important for reproduction across the vitellogenic period. This dataset provides the field of vector biology with a detailed three-dimensional internal atlas of the processes of vitellogenesis in Ae. aegypti."
"As for career plans, I am applying to computational biology positions in industry," Mack said. "I'm not filing my dissertation until July so I am still working on this."
The soldiers called the mosquitoes "gallinippers."
Physicians had not yet linked malaria to Anopheles mosquitoes. They believed "humidity" or “swamp effluvia" caused what they called "intermittent fever."
Soldiers who contracted "intermittent fever" complained of "ague" (fever and chills) or "the shakes."
Sam, a towering farm boy from Linn., Mo., was 18 when he enlisted in the Union Army. Company commanders selected him as the color bearer for three reasons: his height (6' 3"), his strength (hoisting the flag and flying it high) and his courage (front lines)
"Being a color bearer (aka carrying the flag), was a prestigious and important role in the Army. Not only were you carrying the symbol of what you were fighting for, the flag was any easy mark for soldiers to organize around," according to an article written in a National Museum of Civil War Medicine post by Amelia Grabowski, the outreach and education coordinator at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum.
"When one color-bearer fell, another immediately took his place. For instance, Colonel D. K. Mcrae of the 5th North Carolina Infantry, Commanding Brigade recorded this about the Battle of Williamsburg: My color bearer was first struck down, when his comrade seized the flag, who fell immediately. A third took it and shared the same fate; then Capt. Benjamin Robinson, of Company A, carried it until the staff had shivered to pieces in his hands."
"...The flags made them (color bearers) easy and enticing targets," Grabowski wrote.
Young Samuel carried the flag in three of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War: the Battle of Lookout Mountain, and the battles of Chicamauga and Chattanooga. A musket tore a hole in his flag but he emerged from the Civil War physically unscathed.
"The diagnosis of malaria at the time of the Civil War was made by symptoms and not the laboratory tests we use today," wrote Lloyd Klein and Eric Wittenberg of San Francisco, in Hektoen International, a Journal of Medical Humanities. "Nineteenth-century physicians diagnosed malaria as a recurrent, intermittent, or 'periodic' fever and categorized it according to how often fever spikes or 'paroxysms' occurred. A 'quotidian' fever occurs once every twenty-four hours, a 'tertian' every forty-eight, and a 'quartan' every seventy-two."
The authors related that malaria killed some 30,000 Civil War soldiers. Among Union soldiers, some 10,000 died of malaria, and records show more than a million cases of the disease.
Ironically, after surviving the Civil War, Samuel Davidson Laughlin died from blood poisoning when a splinter lodged in his hand when he was carrying an armload of firewood into the family home in Castle Rock, Wash. The color bearer, the husband, the father, and the grandfather died Feb. 24, 1910 in an Oregon hospital. He is buried on a knoll overlooking the historic round barn (now in the National Register of Historic Places) that he built in 1883.
His gravestone reads simply: "Gone, but not forgotten."