03/08/2018 1:51 pm
Three Rockford University professors have received a $14,000 grant to study the spread of Lyme disease in northern Illinois from the Community Grants Program of the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois (CFNIL).
Associate professors of biology at RU — Troy Skwor, Ph.D.; James Marshall, Ph.D.; and Chemical and Biological Sciences Department Chair Sean Beckmann, Ph.D. — are collaborating on “Lyme Ecology in Northern IL: From Voles to Birds to Humans.” Funded for two years by the CFNIL, the project is an expansion of Dr. Beckmann’s research into how rodents can spread the disease, which yielded two previously unknown carriers of Lyme — meadow jumping mice and 13-lined ground squirrels.
“Ticks themselves are not born with Lyme disease,” Dr. Beckmann explains. “They have to acquire it by feeding on the blood of another animal that is infected. We call this a reservoir. For Lyme disease the traditional reservoir has been the white-footed mouse, Peromyscus leucopus. However, Lyme exists in areas and ecosystems outside of the range of this mouse.”
Reports of Lyme disease have doubled in northern Illinois in the last 15 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Beckmann describes the region as “one of the hotspots for the disease in Illinois.”
“This increase in cases alone demonstrates a need to identify the reasons,” says Dr. Skwor, who wrote the grant proposal. “People who spend any time outdoors with prairie or wooded areas are at risk of acquiring Lyme disease, and with climate change the numbers could increase even more.”
In the majority of Lyme cases affecting humans, patients develop a bullseye rash with a fever, headache and chills. However, in 20 to 30 percent of instances, the rash is not detected, allowing the disease to progress with severe complications in the heart and joints, as well as neurological damage. Traditional medical treatments currently have little effect in the chronic stage of the illness, with symptoms known to arise even six months after the use of antibiotics.
Most studies involving Lyme, including previous research done by Rockford University’s professors, focus on identifying the tick-borne illness’ first or second animal carriers — typically the white-footed mouse and deer, respectively. Very few have expanded to test animal reservoirs’ blood serum for the presence of antibodies against Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that indirectly causes the disease.
The University’s research team will broaden its focus to birds with the hope of understanding how Lyme spreads within northern Illinois — whether birds are bringing the disease into the area and infecting ticks, or are being bitten and infected after arriving in the region.
“Little is known about what other mammals can serve as reservoirs of Lyme, particularly the role of birds,” Dr. Beckmann explains. “This is important, as birds can move from place to place and cover long distances much better than mice and may serve as mobile reservoirs.”
The researchers will partner with undergraduate students to trap and obtain blood and DNA samples from hundreds of animals to test for
the presence of Borrelia burgdorferi in the spring, summer and fall months over the next two years. With Dr. Marshall leading efforts to capture, test and release birds and Dr. Beckmann continuing his focus on rodent carriers while analyzing DNA and blood samples for the presence of Lyme-causing bacteria, Dr. Skwor will search for antibodies against Borrelia burgdorferi in the animals’ blood. Trap sites will include Rockford University’s campus and Severson Dells Nature Center in Winnebago County, as well as Boone County’s Distillery Road Conservation Area.
Collaborating with Texas A&M University Lyme expert Dr. Jon Skare, professor and associate head of the Department of Microbial Pathogenesis and Immunology, Rockford University’s team will further explore whether robins — identified by the CDC as having only transient infections of Lyme — and potentially other species produce antibodies that could help make them immune to the disease. Dr. Skwor says although it’s “very hypothetical,” these birds’ natural ability to fight off Lyme could point to a potential human treatment.
“We are thrilled to receive funding for this exciting project. It addresses Lyme disease in a holistic fashion, researching multiple vectors involved in the transmission of the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi,” Dr. Skwor says. “Most studies analyze only one vector at a time from various parts of the world, making it difficult for scientists to understand the pathogen in a defined ecosystem. Our research study includes numerous vectors — some of them being new — as well as an additive feature assessing whether birds have been infected locally or outside northern Illinois.”
Rockford University is a four-year, co-educational institution founded in 1847 offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in traditional liberal arts and professional fields. The University offers approximately 80 majors, minors and concentrations, including the adult accelerated degree completion program for a B.S. in Management Studies. Through its Graduate Studies department, degrees are extended to include the Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) and Master of Education in Urban Education (MEd).
Rockford University is home to one of only 11 Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) chapters in Illinois, the most prestigious honor society in the United States. RU is ranked as a Best Regional University – Midwest Tier One by US News & World Report and was named by the Princeton Review as a Best in the Midwest institution. The University currently serves approximately 1,260 full-and part-time students.
The mission of the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois is to serve as a catalyst for giving in order to attract, preserve, and grow and endowment for the current and future needs of the people of Northern Illinois. Since its founding in 1953, CFNIL has granted more than $65 million for charitable purposes in the region.
03/01/2018 5:12 pm
Dr. Tay received the Local Section Outreach Volunteer of the Year Award for the Rock River Section of the ACS, nominated both for her chemistry demonstrations at after-school centers and public libraries as well as her series of “educational videos that combine dance and chemistry to explain concepts that students find difficult,” according to the ACS.
Dr. Tay, who was a dance minor as an undergraduate, collaborated with Rockford University Performing Arts faculty and students to produce the latest video on her DanceChemistry YouTube channel. Her videos have tackled topics including stereochemistry, reaction rates, distillation and solubility, with the hope that this free content will “inspire a younger generation of future scientists” and “be used to improve scientific understanding from a creative viewpoint.”
Dr. Bork earned a Salute to Excellence Award from the Affiliated Chemical Society for his work revitalizing an annual Chemistry Olympiad for the Rock River Section of the ACS. Dr. Bork has coordinated the event for five years, adding a banquet to the yearly meeting and working to build relationships with local high schools.
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Looking for some help in chemistry or biochemistry? Visit our CBS Student Lounge in Starr 416 for free tutoring assistance. The lounge is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the exception of university-wide breaks, including approved holidays.
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The Hutchcroft Prairie, located just west of the Rockford University main entrance, is a project to reconstruct two acres of native tall grass prairie habitat for use as a “living laboratory” and “biological sanctuary.” Initial work on the project began in 2003, and the first stage of planting was done in May of 2006.
This all-volunteer project has been assisted by Rockford University students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the greater Rockford community. Major contributions to the effort have come from Rockford Area Boy Scouts. Boy Scout Matt Holm of Rockton, along with several troop mates and family assisted in the seeding in May 2006 as part of an effort to earn the Hornaday Conservation Award, and two Eagle Scout projects by brothers Daniel and John Lieb of Rockford resulted in the construction of planter beds for a butterfly garden and benches that will be placed around the prairie.
Though in its early stages, the prairie has already been the site of a Rockford University biology student research project, and has been used as a resource for several biology classes.
08/05/2016 3:41 pm
Alpha-Helix at Rockford University exists to bring students interested in all areas of science together to talk, learn more about their future careers and schools, and to help give back to the community. We seek to unify our students and work together to make Rockford University a better place. We welcome students from all sciences, of all ages, and working on any degree.
Alpha-Helix promotes the sciences within the Rockford University community and provides programs, services, and events of interest pertaining to the sciences. This group is dedicated to advancing the educational opportunities and experiences for students interested in pursuing health and science professions. Whether you’re familiar with science or just want to learn a bit more about us, Alpha-Helix is the place to be! The club meets on the third floor of Starr. We welcome everyone!
Advisors: Professor Sean Beckmann
08/05/2016 3:40 pm
Sean Beckmann joined the department of Chemical and Biological Sciences in 2011 as Assistant Professor of Biology. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from Stetson University (DeLand, FL). In the following years he received training in a number of areas of biological research, as well as veterinary medicine, before beginning graduate school. He holds a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Miami with focuses in molecular ecology, evolutionary biology, and population genetics. While in graduate school he taught a number of laboratory courses as well as a lecture in ecology.
Following graduate school he joined the faculty of Rockford University where he teaches a number of major courses in both organismal and cellular/molecular biology, as well as non-major and interdisciplinary courses. His courses include: Principles of Biology, Cell Physiology, Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy, Vertebrate Physiology, and Mammalogy. He also co-teaches the Introduction to Research class for Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Biology majors. In addition to teaching Sean serves as a member of the first year advising team, which mentors incoming first year students, and is also the faculty advisor for Alpha Helix, the student science club on campus. He is a member of the National Association for Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP), Sigma Xi, Beta Beta Beta, the American Society of Mammalogists, and the Ecological Society of America.
His research interests focus on the intersection of molecular biology, evolution, and ecology. Students are currently working with him to study the effects of controlled burns and prairie restoration on the species and genetic diversity of small mammals. Other research areas include the impact of urbanization on migration and gene flow in small mammals, as well as the phylogeography of a number of species.
Dr. Marshall teaches evolution, ecology, animal behavior, conservation biology, marine science, geology, ornithology, and plant biology. His primary research interests are the ecology and population biology of passerine birds. He is also program director of the Rockford Writer's Guild, director of the Honors in Liberal Arts and Sciences program, and a board member of the Severson Dells Nature Center.
Dr. Troy Skwor is a native Midwesterner from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He joined Rockford University CBS Department in Fall 2011 and teaches a variety of courses including Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (BIOL 230), Microbiology (BIOL 308), Genetics (BIOL 333), Immunology (BIOL 358), Virology (BIOL 360), Molecular Biology, Oncology, Molecular Mechanisms of Microbial Pathogenesis, and Principles of Biology lab (BIOL 150).
His research primarily focuses on bacteria associated with human diseases. One aspect of his research is analyzing the prevalence of antibiotic resistance from bacterial populations within the Rock River and the effect of different human and agricultural contaminants on resistant levels. These studies utilize microbial and molecular techniques identifying molecular genes associated with antibiotic resistance and furthermore determine if these bacteria can potentially cause human disease. Another research area of Dr. Skwor's lab is developing alternative treatments to combat multiple drug resistant bacterial populations and cancer using visible light with different photosensitizers, also known as photodynamic therapy.
08/05/2016 3:40 pm
The Chemical and Biological Sciences Department maintains an extensive instrumentation lab including the following Instruments:
The GC/MS Instrumentation is Provided in Collaboration with the following Groups:
Monitoring of Instrumentation Computers and Equipment by:
Alchemists and Biophiles
The CBS Department publishes and annual newsletter for Biology, Chemistry, and Biochemistry alumni. If you would like to update your fellow alumni, please email the department chair or contact the Rockford University Alumni Office.
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American Chemical Society (ACS) Award in Analytical Chemistry
Sponsored by the Analytical Chemistry Division of the ACS, this award is given to the outstanding student in the field of analytical chemistry.
American Chemical Society (ACS) Award in Organic Chemistry
This award is given for outstanding performance by an undergraduate chemistry major in the two-semester organic sequence offered by the POLYED division of the ACS.
Chemical Rubber Company (CRC) Award for Achievement in Freshman Chemistry
The CRC Award recognizes outstanding achievement during the first year of chemistry.
C. Robert and Elizabeth Hutchcroft Award for Achievement in Organic Chemistry
The award was established by Professor Alan Hutchcroft of the Rockford University Chemistry Department to honor his parents for their inspiration as teachers and for their belief in the importance of reading.
Alan Hutchcroft Endowed Scholarship for Chemistry/BioChemistry
This scholarship is to honor the memory of Alan Hutchcroft, who passed away in 2005. A 3.0 or higher GPA, or a 27 or higher ACT score is required plus the student must show an expressed interest in the field of study.
Justine S. Walhout Scholarship
Inaugurated in 1998, this scholarship honors the outstanding junior or senior chemistry student (or one who will be a junior the following fall). The scholarship was funded by friends and alumnae of Rockford University to honor Dr. Walhout, professor emerita of chemistry.
Larry Forman Memorial Biology Scholarship
The Forman Scholarship is given in memory of Larry Forman, professor of biology at Rockford University from 1969 until 2003. Scholarship recipients must be full-time students, majoring in biology, with a grade point average of 3.0 or higher, and in good standing with the University.
For more information on scholarships relevant to this department, please visit the Academic Catalog (pdf).
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Rockford University chemistry and biochemistry graduates experience success in a wide variety of careers: in industry, as instructors at the high school and university levels, in medicine or pharmacy, or in other health professions.
Rockford University works with a variety of companies and organizations in the Rockford area to provide internship opportunities for chemistry and biochemistry majors. Contact Dr. Sean Beckmann to learn more about these exciting internship opportunities.
Biology graduates have numerous career opportunities. Government positions can include wildlife management and environmental research. Private industry uses trained biologists in areas such as sales, management, research and writing. Many additional possibilities exist in the areas of medicine and allied health. Quite a few of our graduates have chosen to continue their education in biology at the graduate and professional school level.
The biology curriculum at Rockford University is designed to develop a strong educational foundation along with the practical skills to perform research in the biological sciences. These skills are further solidified during senior seminar, where our students are challenged to design and implement a research project of choice with the guidance of a faculty advisor.
To supplement research experiences on campus, many biology majors have completed research projects though the National Science Foundation’s ‘Research Experiences for Undergraduates’ program. Learn more about the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU).
Rockford University works with a variety of companies and organizations in the Rockford area to provide internship opportunities for biology majors. Our students have done internships with Pierce Biotechnology, OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center, National Land Institute and Nature Conservancy. Students have taken advantage of internship opportunities for credit and to enrich their learning experience.
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Earning your biology, biochemistry, or chemistry degree at Rockford means getting both sides of the equation just right: a foundation in the liberal arts that offers you critical thinking and effective communication skills along with intensive and innovative study in a field you love. We offer an American Chemical Society certified major in chemistry, an integrated major in biochemistry and three different tracks in our biology programs (cellular & molecular biology, evolution & ecology, organismal biology).
Majors and Tracks/Concentrations:
Course Descriptions and Requirements
Rockford University’s Chemical and Biological Sciences department offers students the opportunity to either major or minor in biology or chemistry, as well as majoring in biochemistry. Degree requirements for these programs can be found in the Academic Catalog.
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