William and Mary Digest for Feb. 27

The science of a perfect strawberry

The old-fashioned strawberry is having a renaissance thanks to new genetic research.

“I always hear, ‘Oh these strawberries today aren’t like the ones from my grandma’s garden,’ ” said College of William and Mary assistant professor of biology Josh Puzey. “So we built a tool by sequencing its genome. Now we can drill down and understand how flavor is produced, how texture is produced, how size is produced. It will help us understand other crops, but one outcome would hopefully be that you could find strawberries in the store that actually taste like your grandmother’s strawberries.”

Puzey and two of his students joined a team of researchers to complete the first chromosome-scale assembly of the strawberry genome. The newly sequenced genome offers a window into global crop development and highlights the lesser-known power of “junk DNA” to influence gene expression.

Their work, recently published in the journal “Nature Genetics,” traces the origin of the North American strawberry and identifies a quirk in the genome that could fundamentally change how the fruit is bred.

Trumpet instructor’s album expands on soundscapes

Victor Haskins would like listeners to experience music as a story, picture or emotion that can’t be limited to being called jazz — or even music.

Haskins, an instructor of trumpet and director of the Jazz Ensemble at William and Mary, further heightens his composing and improvisational work with his trio Victor Haskins’ Skein on his new album, “Showing Up.”

“I’ve mostly been working on the concept of how the group works and what the sound profile is, what kinds of textures and sonic environments we can create,” Haskins said. “And a huge part of that is the sound design that I’ve been doing with the electronic wind instrument. So that’s become a really important part of the sound of the group as far as how we are able to play these tunes and what kind of energy the tunes have.”

Haskins wrote the music specifically for the personalities of his bandmates and the way the Skein group works, he said.

“The tunes are each akin to a board game,” he said. “So maybe like Monopoly or Sorry, they’re two different kinds of board games. They’re both board games, but you play them very differently and they have very different objectives. The difference between board games and music is that we obviously don’t win; we’re not competing with each other.”

Rowan Lockwood receives Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award

Rowan Lockwood studies extinct animals, and she is perfectly willing to tap your childhood fascination with them if it will kindle your interest in geology.

Lockwood, a professor in the Department of Geology, is a 2019 recipient of a Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award. The awards, which “recognize excellence in teaching, research and service among the faculties of Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities,” are administered by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and sponsored by Dominion Foundation.

“The vast majority of students come into William and Mary not thinking they want to major in geology,” Lockwood explained. “It’s my job — and my colleagues’ job — to show them how amazing geology is. The idea is to recruit them, get them excited about earth science in general.”

Lockwood’s research specialty is paleobiology. She teaches GEOL 303, Age of Dinosaurs, which often serves to close the deal with any undergraduate who has thought about majoring in geology.

“I tell students it’s everything you ever wanted to know about dinosaurs and much, much more,” she said. “It gives students a chance to get in touch with their inner 8-year-old.”

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