Congratulations 2021 QBioS Award Recipients

QBioS Student Government Association.  Left to right = Will Ratcliff (QBioS Director), Tucker Lancaster, Aaron Pfennig, Pablo Bravo, Conan Zhao, Andreea Magalie

QBioS Student Government Association.  Left to right = Will Ratcliff (QBioS Director), Tucker Lancaster, Aaron Pfennig, Pablo Bravo, Conan Zhao, Andreea Magalie

Congratulations to the 2021 QBioS Award Recipients!

Daniel Muratore was selected for the “Best Paper in Ecology, Evolution and Population Biology” award of $500, for his paper, “Complex Marine Microbial Communities Partition Metabolism of Scarce Resources Over the Diel Cycle,” published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.  Paper description: Marine microorganisms serve as a critical component of the global carbon cycle, connecting atmospheric carbon dissolved into surface waters to the biological pump as organic particulates via photosynthesis. The astounding taxonomic diversity of such organisms sharing similar lifestyles despite competition for only a few key nutrients, the ‘paradox of the plankton’, remains an open question in marine microbial ecology. Our study presents evidence that temporal partitioning of nitrogen uptake over the daily light cycle may contribute to community coexistence. We analyzed an unprecedented dataset of simultaneous, high temporal resolution observations of cyanobacterial, heterotrophic bacterial, and eukaryotic gene transcripts as well as lipids and metabolites. We found pervasive oscillatory dynamics across diverse taxa and metabolic products that could be summarized by a few characteristic archetypes with distinct peak times throughout the day. We identified gene transcripts and biochemical products associated with nitrogen uptake and assimilation had unique peak timings split by different taxonomic groups despite unified diel oscillations in functions and molecules related to primary production and respiration. Temporal partitioning of nitrogen uptake may be a method of alleviating competition for a limiting nutrient, further facilitating coexistence. This study provides multiple lines of evidence (macromolecules, metabolic intermediates, gene transcripts) that provide insight on the paradox of the plankton and confirm the canonical model of the daily cycle of primary production in the ocean.

Kelimar Diaz Cruz was selected for the “Best Paper in Organismal Behavior and Physiology” award of $500, for her paper, “A minimal robophysical model of quadriflagellate self-propulsion,” published in Bioinsportation & Biomemetics.  Paper description: Despite the apparent simplicity, unicellular algae can exhibit various behaviors. In particular, algae with four flagella (quadriflagellate) are known to coordinate their flagella in patterns that are reminiscent to those seen at the macroscopic level1. Surprisingly, although these algae share similar morphology depending on the species the gait is distinct, swimming at different speeds. In this paper, we sought to study is differences in swimming speeds could arise solely due to differences in gaits. To this end, we developed a free-swimming macroscopic robophysical model of quadriflagellate algae. Our robot consisted of a 3D printed body (length and width = 8.5 cm, height = 2 cm) with four appendages (i.e., flagella) independently actuated by waterproof servo motors. Our robot achieved self-propulsion at a low Reynolds regime by swimming in a highly viscous fluid (mineral oil). We tested swimming performance of each distinct gait by independently actuating individual flagellum, varied the appendage orientation to study the hydrodynamic effects and compared the robot’s performance with that of the algae. We showed that phase coordination between appendages can lead to significant differences on hydrodynamic performance. This robot approach offered a complementary mode of insight to microscopic self-propulsion, allowing for repeatable testing and a controlled laboratory environment. By developing a the first robophysical model that can autonomously swim and successfully reproduce algal self-propulsion, this work paves the way for the design of future autonomous robots that navigate fluid environments.

Baxi Zhong was selected for the “Distinguished Paper in Organismal Behavior and Physiology” award of $250, for his paper, “Coordinating tiny limbs and long bodies: geometric mechanics of diverse undulatory lizard locomotion,” currently under review, PNAS.  Paper description:  The body morphology in lizards spans from fully limbed and short bodied to elongate and limbless. However, it remains a mystery how different lizards coordinate their body and limb movements to generate effective locomotion. We investigated the role of body movements for a spectrum of lizard morphologies in field and laboratory environments. We discovered that there is a diversity of body movements in lizards, exhibiting a linear combination of (lizard-like) standing wave body bending and (snake-like) traveling wave body undulation. The ratio of amplitudes of these two components is inversely related to the degree of limb reduction and body elongation. We hypothesized that snake-like gaits are advantageous when the thrust generation mechanism transitions from the limbs to the body. We tested our hypothesis by numerical/biological/robophysical experiments.

This year’s Community Outreach and Service Award was given to the leadership team of the QBioS Student Government Association ($1000 total).  The team consists of Conan Zhao, Tucker Lancaster, Aaron Pfennig, Andreea Magalie, and Pablo Bravo. Award Description:  Welcoming our newest cohort marks a major milestone for our community: we now have a program complete with both soon-to-be PhD graduates and first-year PhD students. As QBioS expands we find ourselves with an important question: how do we define who we are as a program, and as a community?  For me personally, and for many of my colleagues, the camaraderie of QBioS was what ultimately cemented our decision to come to Georgia Tech. And for the past few months, I’ve had the privilege of working with a team of colleagues dedicated to building and maintaining that camaraderie. Through organizing hikes and backyard barbecues (which you can read about here: to helping establish critical programmatic elements such as a mentorship program and formalized student feedback mechanism, the QBioS SGA has worked hard this semester to build and maintain the community that we joined QBioS for. We hope that the initiatives we’ve established will turn into long-lasting traditions within our program that will remain even after we graduate.