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If you were outside in front COAD this past Tuesday, you may have seen students behaving rather oddly, hanging out next to lampposts dueling with one another. These students are in Dr. Rosie Bolen’s Evolution class, and they were conducting a simulation of territorial contests. In the wild, males of many species fight with one another to obtain territories with valuable resources (e.g., food, water, shelter, or mates). Males who succeed in obtaining high quality territories will have more offspring. However, instead of engaging in physical fights over territories, males often exchange ritualistic display behaviors to signal their ability and/or willingness to escalate to physical combat (also called “resource holding potential”, or RHP). That way males who are not likely to win a physical fight (e.g., small, weak, or inexperienced males) can bow out before any injuries are inflicted.  

Evolutionary theory suggests that there are constraints that keep these territorial contest signals honest. A weak male could bluff a high RHP (willingness to fight), which may gain him a territory he wouldn’t have otherwise obtained. But, if the other male calls his bluff and persists in the contest, the dishonest male is likely to suffer negative consequences (injury, lowered reproductive success, etc.). The idea is that individual males will produce more offspring if they signal their RHP honestly. The simulation the students performed tested this hypothesis that honest signaling can evolve by natural selection.

In the simulation, “territories” of low, medium, and high quality were set up by the lampposts in front of the Science Building. The students were randomly assigned different amounts of “energy units” and set out to obtain a territory. A student could challenge a territorial owner to a contest, at which point each student would spend one energy unit at a time, back and forth until one person gave up and left the territory. At the end of a trial, students who successfully obtained territories then had a number of “offspring” based on the quality of the territory they obtained and the number of energy units they had left. Students who didn’t obtain a territory produced no offspring.

The students conducted two different versions of the simulation. The first version simulated dishonest signaling, in which students were assigned energy units on a piece of paper they didn’t reveal to anyone else. Students could use nonverbal gestures to indicate their RHP and could bluff if they wanted to. In the second version, energy units were represented by pennies in a paper bag. Students shook their bags during the contests; the sound of the bag shaking could only be an honest signal of their RHP.

After conducting five trials of each version of the simulation, we analyzed the data and found that the results supported our hypothesis. On average, in the honest signaling trials the student had more energy remaining and produced more offspring than in the dishonest signaling trials. This experiment demonstrated that honest signaling can evolve by natural selection. This finding is supported by many field and laboratory studies of non-human animals, but the Evolution students discovered this result by experiencing it themselves in a fun and entertaining simulation of territorial contests.


-Matthew R. Rittler, Ph. D., Director, Masters Biotechnology Management

The topic of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is of significant public and scientific interest. Discussions of GMOs are fraught with strong feelings, a wide range of social and scientific values and knowledge, and much ongoing confusion. A lot of the conversation surrounding GMOs is centered on the topic of food safety. To what extent do GMOs bring an inherent “goodness” or “badness” into the food chain we consume? The topic of food safety is an important one, of course, but there is a much wider-range of potential ethical issues related to GMOs that has been under-examined. What are some other important ethical issues surrounding GMOs?

Information on panel discussion focused on GMOs - April 9 at the Mount

First, there is the tight link between genetically modified crops and the input traits which are selected for these plants. The overwhelming majority of genetic modification in plants has been to alter the way we are able to use chemical herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. As a result of genetically-engineering the crops to withstand chemical application, there is increasing incidence of those same chemicals failing to produce the desired results. Nature always finds a way, and some plants considered weeds have started to develop a resistance to the chemicals meant to eradicate them.

As a result of this resistance, there is an increased need for more and more chemical applications. Pesticide use is increasing by almost the same amount. If a potential problem with GMO use may lead to pesticide resistance (e.g., “superweeds”) are there viable alternatives that can offer solutions to this cycle—to help us break out of this system of growing chemical use to increase crop yields? Likewise, what will ultimately be the impact to farmers in developing countries? In many cases the ease with which weeds and pests can be controlled has led to booming agricultural markets in developing countries.

Another ethical issue with GMOs gaining more traction of late is the issue of labeling foods. In the 2014 election cycle, both Oregon and Colorado citizens voted "no" on ballot initiatives requiring certain labels on food products that contained GMOs. Voters may have had more pressing concerns on their minds, like jobs, healthcare, or the economy. Or perhaps, like many people new to this topic, those voters were unclear about what these regulations would actually mean to them, as a consumer. A frequently cited problem with GMO labels is that they may not offer clarity or specifics about which ingredient is genetically modified in a final food product they are purchasing. For example, on a bag of pretzels, is the GMO ingredient the wheat, or is it the vegetable oil or corn syrup used to flavor them? Adding to the confusion, without mandated standards for labeling, an item considered as a GMO in one state might not be categorized as GMO in another. This means consumers will be given non-specific and sometimes unreliable and incomplete information. Very obviously, this is a topic that needs to be further debated. More broadly, this issue deals with a person’s ability to control what they eat and grow, an issue that resonates with us all.

A third issue that frequently comes up in discussions of GMO usage is the “naturalness” of GM plants. When you look at the environment, is it “natural” that there are GMOs in a field? It is a question you could ask of any plant in a field. For thousands of years the human race domesticated plants. Now, suddenly, there are these plants called GMOs which are perceived to be a problem. It could be argued that the concept of genes is constantly changing. In the course of scientific progress earlier knowledge is always becoming outdated and replaced. If we say that the inherent “naturalness” of a plant is connected to their genes, then so our concept of naturalness will also change and evolve. Could the current genome of a plant be considered “sacred?” In many ways GMO production is simply a form of evolution, which is not an unnatural process. That being said, the more broad issue here is an issue of integrity. Should we, as humans, be allowed to open up the genome of plants and insert things into them that would never have been inserted? Often, because of more deeply-held spiritual views, this issue is much more difficult to address.

The use of GMOs is a very complex topic. In many cases, debate on the issue brings about more questions than answers. No longer is this issue a conversation between molecular biologists, because as the world’s population continually grows, there is considerable pressure on the agriculture industry to meet the growing demands on food and nutrition — an issue that truly affects humanity in its global context. It is incumbent on the scientific community to not position the food security debate as one of science versus anti-science, and thereby driving a wedge in public policy decisions.


SANS has launched the third SANS CyberTalent Fair (formerly called the National Cybersecurity Career Fair), a two-day virtual event that attracts thousands of online attendees seeking career and job opportunities in cybersecurity. The SANS CyberTalent Fair (SCTF) will be held May 14-15, 2015, and provides jobseekers and students with the opportunity to market themselves to leading companies in cybersecurity and engage with employer representative in a unique virtual setting. SANS held the first two career fairs in partnership with Cyber Aces in 2014, with approximately 6,700 total registrants connecting with 27 unique employers at the two events. To register go to

Email/ Facebook/Blog/Website/LinkedIn

Take a minute and check out the SANS CyberTalent Fair (SCTF), a virtual career fair hosted by the SANS Institute that will allow you to directly connect with employers about cybersecurity job opportunities in an online setting two days this May! SCTF will be held May 14-15, please don’t wait to register – sign up now at

SCTF uses an innovative event platform that will allow for dynamic one-on-one chats with company representatives and groups chats in each employer booth. In the event, candidates can also view and apply for jobs. Past companies participating include Palantir, Cisco, American Express, Solutionary, NBC Universal, Juniper, CBS, Mayo Clinic, Partners Healthcare, Stroz Friedberg, United Health Group, PwC, Accenture, the US Army’s INSCOM, and more!

Registrants are also invited to take the SANS CyberTalent Assessment exam at no cost. Register now at and connect with SANS CyberTalent on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn


Handle: @SANSCyberTalent

Hashtag: #SANSCTFair


John Andjaba presented research at the 249th Spring American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting in Denver Colorado, March 22-26, 2015. John presented a poster on the work he has done in the Bradley Group over the past two and a half years. John also attended several events related to our ACS student chapter development, applying to graduate school, and talks by premiere national and international chemical researchers. Keep up the good work John!


Motivated and talented students are invited to apply for paid summer research internships to gain hands-on research experience in cyber security and forensics, in particular, the security and forensics problems in mobile computing, cloud computing, and social computing. This opportunity is open to only ten students across the country.

- Eight week paid program (May 25 to July 17, tentative) - $4,000 stipend in total
- Travel, housing, and meals will be provided as necessary
- Open to all academic level (Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, & Senior) students in computer science or related majors
- Students in Math, Physics, or Engineering are also encouraged to apply

Where: NSF REU Site at UALR - Project Lead: Dr. Mengjun Xie
When: May 25 - July 17, 2015
Application Deadline: March 31, 2015
Requirements: Students must be U.S. Citizen or Permanent Residents
Qualifications: GPA of 3.0 or above
Further details and information, please visit:  

Dr. Bradley

Dr. Chris Bradley presented today in our Undergraduate Seminar Series, giving his presentation titled: Reverse Alchemy: Replacing Precious Metals with Rust in Chemical Transformations. The chemical industry is currently dominated by processes which rely on expensive and toxic precious metals. The Bradley research group works on methods to transition the reactivity of these transition metals to more abundant and environmentally friendly metals, such as cobalt and iron. The seminar focused on their strategies to isolate, characterize, and study reactive cobalt intermediates believed to be essential in carrying out the desired catalytic reactions.

Jonelle Hook

Assistant Math Professor Jonelle Hook gave a presentation to students in grades 1-5 through the Fort Detrick Alliance “Think with BINK” program at C. Burr Artz Library in Frederick on March 3, 2015! This program is design for students to explore some very interesting 3D objects called Platonic solids, and then build some for themselves! These students got to learn about their structure, mathematical properties, and where they occur in nature. Finally, they got to find out whether or not the soap bubbles are always round.

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