The WiBee App Wisconsin’s Wild Bees; Building a Better Potato: Fighting Diseases at the Molecular Level; Snakes Around Town: Tracking Snakes in Madison-Area Prairie Restorations


“Wednesday Nite @ The Lab” Public Science Seminar

Wednesdays at 7pm CT

Room 1111 Genetics Biotech Center, 425 Henry Mall, Madison WI, 


Stream at


For 20 July 2022    

Hi WN@TL Fans,

For the past three weeks, I’ve been working as part of the UW-Madison MIA Recovery Team searching in Belgium for the remains of a World War II pilot.  The owners of the land of the crash site raise bees, and soon after our arrival at the end of June, they presented the team with jars of honey to enjoy at our breakfasts.  For me, honey has always been a clear, golden flowing ambrosia.  But this Belgian honey was delightfully different:  opalescent and of the consistency of whipped butter.

One day during a break I snapped a photo of a bee sitting on a purple flower, and posted the pic to Facebook labeled as “A Bee in Belgium.”  A friend with more-eagley eyes than mine replied, “Are you sure it’s a bee?”  Well, upon further review, I had to wonder:  if not a Bee in Belgium, was it a Wasp in Wallonia?  A Fly in Flanders?  In any case, ‘twas a Bee Mimic near Bastogne.

As it is with honey and with yellow & black insects, true bees come in a variety of flavors & types, and they play a range of roles in our lawns, gardens, and fields, and in our prairies, forests, and wetlands.  This week we get to learn more about wild bees, and we get to find out how our observations and insights as shared using the WiBee app can give us all a more accurate picture of the life and times of bees in Wisconsin.



On July 20 Claudio Gratton of Entomology returns to Wednesday Nite @ The Lab to speak on “The WiBee App: The Wisconsin Wild Bee Community-Science Project to Count and Learn about Bees!”

Description:  Wisconsin is home to over 400 species of wild bees that are important pollinators of both wildflowers and crop plants such as apples, berries, melons, squash, and cucumbers.  Tracking pollinator activity can help inform local conservation and pollination management practices to improve crop yield or quality.  But wild bees vary a lot across the landscape and through the growing season so we need lots of data from all over the state in order to understand when and where wild bees occur in the landscape.  The WiBee App is a new citizen science smartphone app designed for growers, gardeners, and nature enthusiasts to conduct short pollinator surveys on flowers and blooming crops.  Join us to learn about bees and how you can participate in this state-wide project on Wisconsin’s wild bees.

Bio: Claudio Gratton has been a professor in the Department of Entomology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 2003.  His research group focuses on the landscape ecology of beneficial insects in agricultural landscapes with an emphasis on bees, butterflies, and ladybugs.  When he is not working, Claudio can often be found perfecting his homemade pizza recipe or cheering on his hometown soccer team, AS Roma.

Explore More:



On July 27 Dennis Halterman of the USDA Ag Research Service’s Vegetable Crops Unit here at UW-Madison will get to the root of all goodness with his talk on “Building a Better Potato:  Fighting Diseases at the Molecular Level.”

Description:  In the U.S., potato annually accounts for $3.94 billion in market value and the crop is grown on just under one million acres. Wisconsin is the third-largest producer of potatoes in the US. The vast majority of varieties are extremely susceptible to several diseases, requiring intensive management that incorporates cultural practices and preventative fungicides to prevent crop losses. The development of disease-resistant germplasm will reduce the need for chemical applications and will also provide a stable food source with a reduced risk of disease epidemics.

In nature, microbes interact with plants on an enormous scale. Phytopathogens utilize hundreds of molecules, termed ‘effectors’, to manipulate and infect their hosts. The cumulative effect of these proteins on the plant allows the pathogen to avoid defenses and obtain the nutrients it requires to proliferate. In order to combat this molecular onslaught from phytopathogens, plants have evolved genes that encode receptors for key effectors. These ‘resistance gene’ products function to recognize the presence of specific effector molecules presented by the invading pathogen. This recognition event results in a rapid signal cascade, leading to a much stronger and longer-lasting active defense response. This response typically culminates in programmed cell death of the host cell and surrounding cells, which is thought to restrict pathogen spread by limiting the availability of nutrients to the pathogen.

Wild potato species are found in highly diverse habitats, including cloud forests, cactus deserts, scrub vegetation, mountain pastures, high grasslands, and pine forests throughout Central and South America. They carry genes for traits that have not been identified in cultivated potatoes and are a rich source of stress resistance and tuber quality genes. Reports of disease and pest resistance in wild and cultivated relatives of potatoes are abundant and potato breeders have used wild relatives as sources of disease resistance and improved quality for over 150 years. However, despite our best efforts to control diseases by introducing resistance into new varieties, pathogen populations continue to change to overcome resistance. This occurs through the adaptation of effector ‘toolboxes’ within the pathogen to avoid detection by the plant or to actively suppress plant defenses. Our work is focused on understanding the mechanisms of how pathogens ‘break’ resistance in potatoes, and developing strategies that will help us keep up with rapid changes within pathogen populations.

Bio:  Dr. Halterman grew up as a child of science and algebra teachers. During the summers, he worked on his extended family’s farms in north-central Illinois, helping to raise 1500+ acres of corn and soybeans. This combination of science, math and agriculture influenced his decision to major in biology and biochemistry at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa and he went on to complete a Ph.D. at Purdue University studying tomato disease resistance.

Dr. Halterman studied powdery mildew resistance in barley as a USDA/ARS postdoc before accepting his current position in 2004 with the USDA in Madison, Wisconsin. Since then, his research group has worked to identify new sources of disease resistance in wild relatives of potatoes and understand their role in recognizing pathogens and activating resistance. His work has led to the identification of new sources of resistance to potato late blight and a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of resistance to late blight, PVY, verticillium, and other diseases.

Explore More:


On August 3 Will Vuyk of the Friends of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve will speak on “Snakes Around Town: Baseline Snake Species Occupancy in Madison-area Prairie Restorations.”

Description:  Reptiles and amphibians around the world are threatened by habitat loss and degradation due to urban and agricultural land development. Snakes are Wisconsin’s most abundant and diverse reptile taxon, and they accordingly play an important role in our state’s native ecosystems. Of sixteen species known to be present in Dane County, seven are species of special conservation concern and two are endangered.

Urban environments are especially perilous for snakes with roads, pollutants, pets, and human hostility all contributing to higher mortality and limited mobility. Understanding how and where snakes live in the urban environments is thus crucial for snake conservation and restoration efforts that aim to recreate functioning native ecosystems within urban and suburban areas. This talk will report on baseline snake species occupancy data collected in 2021 from eight prairie restorations near Madison and emphasizes the importance of snake research to the field of restoration ecology.

Bio: Will studied biology and history as an undergrad at UW-Madison before graduating this spring. He is currently the President of the Friends of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve and works as a research specialist in the David O’Connor Lab at the UW AIDS Vaccine Research Laboratory. Will has long had an interest in herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians), which inspired him to volunteer with a snake, turtle, and frog monitoring projects at the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee and travel to Ecuador for a study abroad trip with his project advisor Catherine Woodward. In 2021, with the pandemic keeping his research opportunities local, Will decided to apply the snake monitoring techniques he learned at the Urban Ecology Center to document snake populations in Madison-area prairie restorations.

Explore More:   Wisconsin DNR Snakes of Wisconsin:

Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation:

Madison-Area Herpetological Society:

Citizen science reporting with Herpmapper:



Hope to see you soon, in person or by zoom, at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.

Tom ZinnenBiotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H

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