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Gelder delivers worm identification course and seminar in Illinois as part of National Science Foundation-funded project

Friday, 28 September 2012

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Dr. Stuart R. Gelder, Emeritus Professor of Biology at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, recently traveled to Southern Illinois University Carbondale to give a three-day crayfish worm identification course and deliver a seminar on branchiobdellidan annelid (crayfish worms) biology as part of a National Science Foundation-funded project. Dr. Gelder is one of the world's leading researchers on this group of worms.

His visit to Carbondale came at the request of Associate Professor Frank E. Anderson, Department of Life Sciences, and his graduate student, Kevin Horn. Dr. Anderson is one of six international principle investigators participating in a project titled "WormNet II: Assembling the Annelid Tree of Life", which is funded through the National Science Foundation's Assembling the Tree of Life program. Money from this project was used to fund Dr. Gelder's visit.

The aim of the WormNet II project is to construct a phylogeny, or relationship tree, of segmented worms (annelids like sea worms, earthworms and leeches) using molecular sequencing techniques. These results will be connected with other Tree of Life projects to provide a greater understanding of the relationship between invertebrates (animals without backbones). SIU Carbondale recently became the leading laboratory on branchiobdellidans molecular sequencing with the recent appointment of Dr. Bronwyn W. Williams as a postdoctoral researcher, a long-time research colleague of Dr. Gelder's. She, together with faculty and graduate students like Horn, will be conducting the WormNet research.

This work requires that branchiobdellidans be collected and identified alive, then preserved, with a portion of the body removed for analysis and the remainder mounted on a microscope slide as a reference specimen. This protocol was developed during past research collaborations by Drs. Gelder and Williams.

The crayfish worm identification course Dr. Gelder delivered while in Illinois demonstrated the value of examining worms alive and the importance of critical microscopial use to make accurate, simple line drawings. Because researchers have to be prepared to describe new species when they are found, it is important to have comprehensive recording details. As Dr. Gelder explained during the course, photographs are a good supplement, but do not replace clear line drawings.

Also while he was at SIU Carbondale, Dr. Gelder delivered a seminar, "Review of branchiobdellidan biology," to the Department of Life Sciences. These seminars by visiting experts are very important in all universities for informing faculty and students about the latest developments on a topic which they may have only general knowledge.

"Our own Distinguished Lecture Series and guest lectures fulfill the same need," Dr. Gelder said.