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O’Brien Center for Student Success

Faculty Participation

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Jimmy Franco

Ph.D. Chemistry, University of California, Davis
B.S. Chemistry, Beloit College

Dr. Franco’s research interests are on identify novel chemical therapeutics to treat neglected diseases, such as tuberculosis. We are currently using computational methods to be more efficient at identifing biologically active compounds.  Our group also develops new chemical methodology, which will enable us to more efficiently synthesize biologically relevant compounds. Lastly, we are developing novel pedagogical methods to enhance the learning experience for our next generation of students.

At Merrimack, Dr. Franco’s teaching responsibilities will be in the areas of Biochemistry and Organic chemistry. His research interests will continue to be at the interface of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry. The emphasis of his research will be on drug discovery, continuing his collaboration with colleagues at The University of Toledo.

Jon Lyon-Biology/Environmental Studies

B.S. Biology, Beloit College
Ph.D. Interdisciplinary Program in Ecology, The Pennsylvania State University

I have also conducted research and been involved in conservation efforts in the northeastern US as well as in Belize, Mexico, Madagascar and Russia through my work with Community Conservation.  I am also an active member of Sustainable Merrimack.

My broad research interests are in applying ecological approaches to help understand, predict and ultimately solve real-world problems. I have active research interests in plant community ecology, the character of ecotones between communities and across landscapes, the impacts of human disturbance on plant community structure and dynamics, conservation biology and environmental management. I also have interest in freshwater, aquatic plant communities.

Riparian systems are of particular interest because of their species richness and variability in space and time, their impact on water quality, their importance as wildlife habitat, and the development and human utilization pressures on these systems. My primary focus is on elucidating patterns of plant diversity in relation to flooding regimes, topography, soils, physical characteristics of the landscape, and human disturbance. Much of this research has incorporated use of geographic information systems (GIS), multivariate statistics and spatial modeling in efforts to identify key environmental gradients and human impacts that are influencing these systems.

R. David MacLaren-Biology

B.A. Biology, University of Maine at Farmington, 1998
Ph.D. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Indiana University, 2004

I have three research foci: 1) The role of sexual selection in fish evolution; 2) Investigating the effects of environmentally realistic herbicide and pharmaceutical exposure on hormone concentrations, reproductive and aggressive behavior in fish; and 2) Behavior, ecology, and conservation of marine mammals in the Gulf of Maine.

Sexual selection in fish evolution: My research combines ethological, evolutionary, ecological, and phylogenetic approaches to investigate animal behavior.  Using experimental and observational methods, our interests focus on the elicitation, control, function, and evolution of behavior in fishes. Recent projects investigate visual signals and the mechanisms by which they control and mediate courtship, aggression, and other social behaviors. Much of my research to date involves experimental studies on mate choice, sexual selection and aggression in Poeciliid fishes.

Investigating the effects of environmentally realistic herbicide and pharmaceutical exposure on hormone concentrations, reproductive and aggressive behavior in fish: This project examines the hormonal and behavioral effects of two compounds (fluoxetine and atrazine) on the convict cichlid, Amatitlania nigrofasciata. Atrazine, a widely used herbicide, is the second most commonly used pesticide in the US and induces aromatization of testosterone to estradiol, thereby causing an estrogenic effect in exposed individuals. Several studies have demonstrated the feminizing effects of atrazine in amphibians, yet the number of studies with ambiguous and conflicting results contributes to preventing policy changes regarding the use of this pesticide. Fluoxetine, the active ingredient in Prozac, has been found in wastewater effluent at biologically relevant levels and bioconcentrate in fish. The presence of this type of drug in waterways has the potential to generate potent endocrine-disrupting effects as well. Fluoxetine is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that is used to treat depression and anxiety disorders in humans. SSRIs act by preventing the reuptake of serotonin from the synaptic cleft, which results in higher extracellular serotonin levels. The effects that SSRIs such as fluoxetine have on the behavior of exposed aquatic organisms likely mirror their intended effects in humans because the cellular receptors these chemicals target have been conserved over evolutionary history.

Experiments with A. nigrofasciata my students and I are working on in connection with this project include the following:

1. Effects of acute and long-term exposure to atrazine and fluoxetine on intraspecific aggression.

2. Effects of acute and long-term atrazine and fluoxetine exposure on female mate choice & fecundity (i.e. # of eggs laid per clutch).

3. Effects of acute and long-term exposure to atrazine and fluoxetine on 11-ketotestosterone and cortisol (a stress hormone) levels.

Understanding not only individual, but the population level effects of EDC-altered reproductive and aggressive behavior is important to conservation biology. Many contaminants are persistent and remain in the environment at substantial concentrations for several years, spanning multiple generations of short-lived species. Multi-generational disruption of traits used for reproduction such as territorial aggression and mate choice can alter evolutionary trajectories and threaten the species continued existence in the polluted environment.  

Behavior, ecology, and conservation of marine mammals in the Gulf of Maine: I also hold a strong interest in marine mammal behavior, ecology, and conservation. In Spring 2009 I established a partnership in research and education with the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation (http://www.blueoceansociety.org/), a non-profit organization dedicated to marine mammal research, conservation, and education centered in Portsmouth, NH. During the summer months I serve as “Naturalist” aboard whale watch vessels, collecting behavioral and physical data on the whale, dolphin, and sea bird populations in the Jeffreys Ledge region of the Gulf of Maine while educating the public on marine mammal ecology and conservation. This work involves mentoring undergraduate students conducting summer research at Merrimack and/or interning with BlueOcean. All the data collected are added to BlueOcean’s data base, which we then analyze during the off season.  As part of this collaboration, BlueOcean provides competitive internship/research opportunities to Merrimack students interested in marine mammal ecology, behavior & conservation.

Charlotte Berkes-Biology

B.S. Pennsylvania State University
Ph.D. University of Washington

I am currently working on projects related to fungal pathogenesis and innate immunity in my lab:

1) Antifungal drug development.  Antifungal medications currently in use are either highly toxic and/or of limited efficacy due to the development of resistant strains.  Therefore, there is a great need to develop novel antifungal compounds.  In collaboration with Jimmy Franco (Chemistry, Merrimack College) and David Toth (Computer Science, University of Mary Washington), my students and I are working at the interface of biology and chemistry to develop compounds that will bind and inhibit novel targets in pathogenic fungi.  In 2013 we identified a compound that strongly inhibits growth of Histoplasma capsulatum, the fungal pathogen that causes histoplasmosis.  This project as well as related projects allows students to use their knowledge of biology and chemistry to attack neglected diseases.

2) Genetic analysis of microbial sensing pathways in amoeba.  Work in recent years has uncovered evolutionarily conserved protein families that play an important role in the ability of immune cells to detect the presence of bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.  However, these proteins (generally referred to as “pattern recognition receptors” are not restricted to vertebrate organisms.  The genome of the simple social amoeba Dictyostelium discoidium contains genes whose sequence suggests they may play a role in the ability of the amoeba to sense, eat, and/or destroy microbes.  My research in the molecular mechanisms of microbial sensing offers students at Merrimack College the opportunity to immerse themselves in the fields of immunology, cell biology and genetics.  

3)  Image cytometry in research and the classroom.  Sophisticated algorithms allow both visualization and rapid quantification of cells.  I work with Nexcelom Bioscience (a partner of the Center for Biotechnology and Biomedical Science) to develop new ways to use this technology for research and in the classroom.

Stephen M. Theberge- Chemistry

Ph.D. Chemistry University of Delaware 1999
M.S. Marine Science (Oceanography) University of Delaware 1996
B.S. Chemistry University of New Hampshire 1993

Courses taught:

  • General Chemistry
  • Chemical Principles of Forensic Science
  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Investigations in Physical & Life Science (for Education majors)

Research Interests:

Analysis of geochemical processes and environmental pollutants and tracers by a variety of analytical techniques.

Anthony Fernandez-Chemistry

Ph.D. Chemistry, Boston University
M.S. Chemistry, Boston University

My research interests are in organometallic chemistry and current projects involve:

  • Investigating C-N oxidative addition reactions in pincer complexes of Rh which occur both in solution and in the solid state.
  • Probing the interactions of transition metals with phosphorus(III) ligands and using correlation analysis of physiochemical data to quantify the effects that such ligands exhibit on attached transition metal centers.
  • Studying the activation of organometallic molecules occluded in the pores of zeolites.

In this work, my students and I use many different experimental and instrumental techniques including:

  • inert atmosphere synthetic techniques
  • multinuclear NMR spectroscopy (1 H, 13 C, 19 F, and 31 P)
  • infrared spectroscopy
  • ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy
  • kinetic analysis
  • x-ray diffraction (in collaboration with B. Foxman)
  • cyclic and square-wave voltammetry

I have on-going collaborations with Professors Bruce Foxman (Brandeis University), Oleg Ozerov (Texas A&M University), and Anthony J. Poë (Emeritus, University of Toronto).