Past News Stories


During the 2006 Spring Break (March 16-27), Dr. Atkins and Dr. Goodwin (group leaders) along with 16 participants went on a study tour to the Everglades and the Florida Keys.  Topics focused on the endangered mammal and bird life as it relates to the various terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems. Highlights included: snorkeling at two sites in the Keys, a two day canoe trip in 10,000 islands, endangered mammals and reptiles, some of the best birding around, and lots of camping.

This tour is a regular happening during Spring Break of even years. During the tour, students are busy studying and reporting on various ecological or natural history projects. These projects are written up as web pages which are added each year to an informational website on the Florida Everglades maintained by the Biology Department. Many elementary through university students as well as the National Park Service use the resources on this website for study projects and sources of information. This website has become well known as a valuable resource on the natural history of the Florida Everglades.

Andrews alum Bobby R. Harrison was a guest speaker recently who talked about his obsession with the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. Bobby is one of three people who first saw the rare bird on February 27, 2004. He describes himself as a lifelong chaser of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker.

We were delighted that Andrews University Alum, Bobby R. Harrison, could come to Andrews Biology as a guest speaker to talk about his obsession with the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. Bobby is one of three people who first saw the rare bird on February 27, 2004. He describes himself as a lifelong chaser of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker and he has now been rewarded with several encounters.

For more than 60 years, the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker was thought to be extinct. But Bobby Harrison refused to accept that grim conclusion and has spent more than 30 years in a serious search. Since the February 2004 sightings, Bobby has been engaged in the on going Ivory-Billed research project in eastern Arkansas. The project, headed by The Big Woods Conservation Partnership, includes Cornell University, The Nature Conservancy, Oakwood College, University of Arkansas Little Rock, and various state and federal agencies. The purpose of the partnership is to study, document and conserve habitat and needs of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker which has now been seen and documented several times by different observers.

On Tuesday, March 7, 2006, Bobby Harrison visited Andrews and gave a vivid account of the history of the Ivory-Bill's near demise and enthralled us with his fascinating stories of how the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker was rediscovered. He spoke twice in the Biology Amphitheater, once to an audience of students and then in the evening to a full house of local birding enthusiasts.

Since his visit, Bobby Harrison, along with Tim Gallagher and Gene Sparling, was given the President's Award for Conservation from the Explorers Club. This award was presented on March 18, just 11 days after Bobby's presentation at Andrews University.


Andrews University was recently awarded a 5-year, $490,000 grant to implement a new, interdisciplinary program in behavioral neurosciences. This collaborative program, which began October 1, involves faculty and coursework in biology, behavioral sciences, and mathematics. "The future for students with interdisciplinary training in human behavior is full of opportunities," notes John Stout, AU biologist and principal investigator for the project, "particularly with the dramatic growth in understanding how the brain affects behavior." All students will take a common core of courses, move into one of three areas of specialization (biology, psychology, or mathematics), and engage in original faculty-mentored research.

The student development component of the behavioral neurosciences program is modeled after a program implemented in Biology with generous alumni support and includes early identification of research interest in first year labs, close mentoring by faculty in the field of interest, courses that prepare students for engagement in specialized research, and full involvement in research as upper division students. "What we have been doing in biology is transformational. Students are doing significantly better than predicted based on incoming test scores," notes Stout. "Building on this experience is what the reviewers of our proposal particularly noticed."

The behavioral neurosciences program builds on long-standing and emerging strengths at AU. Both biology and behavioral sciences have long track records of active faculty research involving undergraduates, and are obviously central to the study of human behavior. What about math? "The math component in the biology and psychology fields was viewed as a strong plus in our proposal," says Gordon Atkins, AU neurobiologist. "Aspects of both neurophysiology and behavior are modeled with mathematics. Thus we provide a strong 'state of the art' option for majors in these fields." Indeed, collaborative behavioral research involving AU math and biology faculty was recently funded with another significant grant (see "Happenings" article).

The AU proposal was funded through a congressionally mandated initiative administered by the National Science Foundation. This initiative is designed to increase the number of students going into the so-called "STEM fields" of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, with special emphasis on recruiting underrepresented groups. Again, AU stands out. "We're graduating far more minority students in the sciences than typical nationally," says Stout. Funding will support equipment purchases, course development, student research stipends, and hiring a new faculty member with strengths in research psychology.

What have AU biologists been up to during the past year? In addition to the regular routine, here are a few tidbits.

Rob Zdor was awarded $65,000 from the U. S. Department of Agriculture to continue his study of a particular type of soil bacteria (Pseudomonas putida) as a biological control agent. "This grant extends the use of molecular biology tools to the study of this organism and its potential as a weed biocontrol," notes Zdor, who has been studying potential biocontrol of the velvetleaf weed for the past 12 years.

Jim Hayward and mathematician Shandelle Henson received a grant for $304,000 from the National Science Foundation, Division of Mathematical Sciences, for a study that develops and tests mathematical models for the prediction of habitat occupancies by marine birds and mammals. "I've always viewed interdisciplinary questions to be the most fascinating," says Hayward. Henson agrees. "What ones could be more fun than proving theorems between bird counts while perched on a cliff overlooking the sea?"

Dennis Woodland is coordinating a four member team in a plant biodiversity survey of an important habitat region in Cass County, Michigan, with significant funding from the Edward Lowe Foundation (~ $35,000 over three years). In addition, Woodland's graduate student, Ellery Troyer, has received significant funding (two years, $14,500 per year channeled through Fernwood Botanical Garden) from the Hanes Trust Foundation of Kalamazoo to conduct a baseline biodiversity study at Fernwood. Woodland was also recognized with this year's Distinguished Service Award by the Michigan Botanical Club, noting his long-term (nearly 24 years!) and enthusiastic engagement with the Club and its plant preservation mission.

Gordon Atkins was named Honors Director in July, replacing long-term director Malcolm Russell who took a position at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. It's a big job-coordinating the SAGES program (an alternative general education program for Honors students), extracurricular Honors activities, student research and funding, etc. "I am a product of the AU honors program," says Atkins. "I want to continue this experience for others." Two of his primary goals are to enhance the research component in honors and encourage more active engagement in service.

Tom Goodwin spent several weeks this summer with a team of geologists and paleontologists studying fossil whales in the arid western desert of Peru. Goodwin was amazed. "I've never seen more impressive fossils firsthand in my life. Some whales were almost perfectly preserved, complete with the filter-feeding apparatus in place in the mouth!" He reports seeing dozens of well preserved whales across a significant geographic area. "There are some genuine puzzles here, figuring out what led to this accumulation of well preserved fossils." Goodwin spent the rest of the summer teaching paleobiology at the Walla Walla College Marine Station.

Three AU biologists, faculty John Stout and Tom Goodwin and graduate student Rahel Schafer, gave presentations at a special Faith and Science Conference held at Glacier View Ranch in Colorado this past August. Stout and Schafer reflected on their experiences as teacher and student, respectively, in these important areas, whereas Goodwin gave a presentation on Adventist thought and the fossil record. The Glacier View conference was the second of three in a church-wide effort to dialog about the challenges and opportunities faced by the Seventh-day Adventist Church at the interface of science and faith.

Bill Chobotar was recently asked to participate in a study of a specialized organelle, the apicoplast, found in the parasitic genus Eimeria. Chobotar will do the ultrastructural component of the study, with colleagues Patricia Allen and Raymond Fetterer of the U. S. Department of Agriculture carrying out biochemical assays. This organelle is common in plants and has recently been found in two other parasitic genera.


If Bill Chobotar isn't busily preparing to teach, or meeting with one of his scores of advisees, or carrying out other full-time commitments, he may well be holed up in the back of his office with a stack of manuscripts submitted to Parasitology Research, one of the premier journals concerned with the scientific study of parasites. Parasitology Research is an international journal, more than 80 years old, published by the Springer-Verlag company in Heidelberg Germany. Chobotar is one of two editors for this prestigious journal. Currently the other editor is Professor Heinz Mehlhorn of the University of Duesseldorf. The two editors work with an editorial board of 26 other scientists.

Chobotar has been editor for thirteen years-since 1990-although he joined the editorial board even earlier (1985). "We have gotten high marks from authors for quick turnaround time for the review process and publication," says Chobotar. Indeed most accepted papers are published within 8-12 months of submission. "That's very fast in comparison to other journals that may take 2-3 years."

The dedication to fast, effective processing of manuscripts takes time. "Editorial duties take up about 30% of my time," estimates Chobotar. Particularly challenging times are holidays, when it can be difficult to locate appropriate referees for the papers. It can also be challenging to work out what to do when two referees give very different opinions about a particular manuscript. This requires locating a third referee who can help break the tie. Chobotar notes some comical moments. "Sometimes I have to deal with irate authors who claim that the referee is a complete idiot, and does not understand this beautiful research. What is funny is that these referees sometimes are close colleagues of the authors who are completely anonymous in the review process!"

"On a personal note," says Chobotar, "this job has been a wonderful experience, in that it keeps me in touch with the growing edge of parasitological research." Andrews students obtain important benefits as well, as noted by former parasitology student, Smruti Damania. "Dr. Chobotar was very knowledgeable and up to date in this field. I am privileged to have been taught by a teacher of his experience." A "win" for everyone involved!

Many AU biology students do more than learn-they actively participate in the work of the Biology Department. In fact, about 30 students currently work in the department doing tasks as diverse as watering plants, grading papers, helping with labs, and in some cases taking significant responsibility for teaching. "This work is crucial to the operation of the department," says David Steen, department chair. "Without their help we simply could not perform all the tasks that are required to do our jobs adequately."

The benefits are reciprocal. "I observe remarkable growth in their people skills, their ability to shoulder responsibility, and their attention to detail," notes Steen. Christina Burden, junior biology major and this year's Foundations of Biology lab coordinator, agrees. "As a future professor, jumping into the job early gives me lots of experience. It's also rewarding to build relationships with people I otherwise wouldn't have a chance to touch for Christ."

For students like Christina, who take positions as lab coordinators, responsibilities are significant and take time. Moon-Young Choi, biology graduate student and coordinator of Anatomy and Physiology labs, notes the tasks he takes on weekly: ordering and assembling of necessary supplies and materials, making sure the procedure and methodology are clearly understood, interacting with students in an approachable way, and so forth. "It's a big job," notes Anatomy and Physiology teacher, Tom Goodwin.

Over the past 10 years or so, the Biology Department has recognized particular students by nominating them for the DeHaan Work Excellence Award for outstanding service in the workplace. All nominees receive a $100 scholarship, and those selected as final awardees receive a significantly larger amount (typically about $1,000). Biology final awardees since 1993 are listed below. A big, belated "thank you" to each of them for the important responsibilities they shouldered while studying biology at AU!

2003 Smruti Damania, Evelyne Orwenyo, Kimberly Smith & Davley-Ann Wilson
2002 Tatnai Burnett & Cathy Foune
2001 Jenny Dee & Jason Jeffrey
2000 Jason Jeffrey & Rhoda Johnson
1999 Horace Gurley & Frank Stijnman
1998 Michael Bronsert & Adam Owen
1997 Jessica Gautheir & Curtis Rehling
1996 Karen Giver
1995 Karen Giver
1994 Jere Clayburn
1993 Craig Wiley

Jack Staddon, a biology alumnus currently studying in the MD/PhD program at the University of Minnesota Medical School will present a seminar entitled "Bacterial conjugation and the scourge of antibiotic resistance" on Thurs. Nov. 6, 2003 at 10:30 am in the biology amphitheater.

Dr. Kathy Killian from the dept. of zoology at Miami University will present a seminar entitled "Escape, mate, or fight? Understanding the neural basis of behavioral choice in the cricket" on Thurs. Oct. 2, 2003 at 10:30 am in the biology amphitheater. Assembly credit is available.

Early Thursday morning, March 13, AU Biology Professor Dr. Dennis W. Woodland leads a large group on a tour into the Amazon Rainforests of Peru. This special field trip boasts a roster of 33 which includes 23 students, 2 Biology faculty, and 8 additional individuals. The ten-day field trip during the spring break is a supplement to classes such as Medical Botany, Environmental Biology and General Ecology.

The jungle explorers will spend most of their learning time as guests of Explorama Tours, an excellent Ecotourism company working out of Iquitos, Peru. The group will stay in the Explorama Lodge and ExplorNapo where they can study flora and fauna of the jungle canopy from walkways suspended in the treetops. They will visit with a local Shaman and learn much about traditional methods of treating disease. Throughout the stay, learning will be maximized with the help of highly trained local naturalists and guides who are extremely knowlegable and articulate. Besides AU students, several professionals are joining this group. Some are from Berrien Springs but others come from the Pacific coast and one even from New Zealand. Andrews University Biology Department Chair, Dr. David Steen, is assisting Woodland in leading this tour. The group returns on March 23.

Dr. Donelson's seminar, "How African trypanosomes continuously evade the human immune system", will be presented at 10:30 am, Thurs. Sept. 5, 2002 in the biology amphitheater. Assembly credit is available.

Dr. Lallan Giri, the head of research and development at Bioport Inc. (Lansing, MI), will present a seminar based on efforts to combat pathogens using vaccination. The seminar will be in the biology amphitheater March 7, 2002 at 10:30 am. Bioport Inc. has recently received FDA approval for mass production of an anthrax vaccine.
Contact Person: Rob Zdor

Dr. Karen Visick from the Dept. of Microbiology & Immunology at Loyola University of Chicago will present a seminar on her work with bacteria that inhabit tropical squid. The presentation entitled "The Vibrio fischeri-Euprymna scolopes symbiosis:genetic requirements for the bacteria-animal association" will be presented Thurs. Feb. 7, 2002 at 10:30 am in the biology amphitheater.

Dr. Christopher Borchardt, a flight surgeon from Wright patterson AFB, will present a talk on his work with the effects of g forces on fighter pilots on Thurs. Nov. 1 at 10:30 am in the biology amphitheater. Dr. Borchardt, an biology Andrews alumnus and aviator, will be available to visit with interested students after his talk.
Contact Person: Rob Zdor
Phone: 616-471-6696

The two presentations showed that hibernation in ground squirrels is recorded in growth lines, analogous to tree rings, preserved in their lower incisor teeth. "It's pretty remarkable," says Goodwin. "We were able to show convincingly that a peculiar set of features evident in ground squirrel teeth is closely tied to hibernation. We also showed that this set of features was evident in fossil ground squirrels from the Ice Age."

Dan Gonzalez, who was senior author on a poster given at the meetings, got a feel for "real" science. "Doing the poster was important for me," he noted. The project is being carried out in collaboration with scientists in Missouri and Canada.

Goodwin and Hayward also took in many technical presentations on a wide variety of fossils, from dinosaurs to birds and whales. "There is an enormous amount of knowledge to be gained at meetings like this," says Goodwin. "It's like drinking from a fire hose!"
Contact Person: Tom Goodwin
Phone: 616-471-3242

Dr. Michele Swanson from the University of Michigan Medical School will present a seminar entitled "Legionella pathogenesis: a fateful journey from amoebae to macrophages" The seminar is at 10:30 am Thurs. Oct. 4, 2001 in Price Hall 106.
Contact Person: Rob Zdor

During the spring holiday of March 8-18, 14 individuals from Andrews University, Southwestern Michigan College, the University of Michigan and from the states of Oregon and Washington will be joining Dr's Jim Hayward and Dennis W. Woodland of the AU Biology Department on a trip of a lifetime to the upper Amazon of Peru. While there they will be studying rain forest ecology, medical botany and how a shaman treats patients.

The group will fly into the city of Iquitos--a city the size of Detroit that is reached only by the water of the Amazon or by air--and then proceed down the Amazon River approximately 120 miles. There are no roads connecting the 700,000 people in the Iquitos region with the rest of the world. The group will be lead by native guides along trails, streams, and villages throughout an area known as having the richest flora in the world. The students will be staying and eating in various lodges belonging to the Explorama Corporation, an Ecotourism company.

The trip will also include spending three days at the ACEER (Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research) and much time on the longest canopy walk through the tops of the forest. This canopy walk, which extends between tall trees is approximately 1/2 km (1/3 mi) in length and reaches a height of over 40 m (120+ ft) through the tops of the trees. The last day of the excursion will be spent visiting the unique and diverse outdoor market in Iquitos before returning to Michigan via air.
Contact Person: Dennis Woodland

Web site:
Phone: 616-471-3240
Fax: 616-471-6911

In a poster co-authored with former AU biology student Shelly Fenton, Jim Hayward (Biology) and John Banks (Physical Therapy) described a developmental series of bones from the glaucous-winged gull (see attached picture). According to Hayward, this represents one of the best series of bones of known ages from any wild bird species. Their research generated considerable interest, especially among students of dinosaurs, since dinosaurs and birds may share similar developmental patterns.

Another poster was presented by Tom Goodwin (Biology), and focused on working out the identity and relationships of the most common fossil squirrel from Porcupine Cave, a high-elevation site from Colorado with tens of thousands of Ice Age fossils. According to Goodwin, the most significant aspect of this research was finding that a modern species, present in the area today, extended well back into the Ice Age, earlier than previously thought.

In addition to the meetings, all three AU faculty spent time enjoying the cultural heritage of Mexico City. Goodwin, for example, spent much of one day visiting Olmec pyramids just outside the city.
Contact Person: Tom Goodwin
Phone: 616-471-3242

Hongyu Fang, MS in Biology candidate, successfully defended his thesis Tuesday, October 31, 2000. The title of his thesis is: Age-Dependent coupling between the ON1 neuron and the contralateral L3 neuron: control of syllable period-selective processing in the female cricket (Acheta domesticus). This is a study to learn how the female cricket locates and responds to the male cricket calling song. His major professors are Drs. Stout, Atkins, Hayward, and Goodwin.

Major Professor Dr. John Stout reports that Hongyu has been a joy to have here, has been a hard worker who has done excellent with his studies and research. He's been very enjoyable to work with and will be greatly missed.

Hongyu was born and raised in Beijing, China, with his two older brothers. Both parents are pediatricians which was influential in Hongyu's decision to go into medicine. After high school he began his medical school program at Jinlin, China, which is a 6 year program- 5 years in medical school and a 1 year internship in urology, general surgery, and internal medicine. His residency was in Beijing Friendship Hospital which was built in China by the Russians as a gift. He specialized in urology and kidney transplants. Afterwards he went to the Children's Hospital in Los Angeles under a fellowship for 8 months, then he came to Andrews University to do a Master's in Science in order to learn the basics of biomedical science. A former Andrews graduate student from China was instrumental in Hongyu's decision to study here.

His wife, Ye, was a highschool classmate who finished her college degree in postal and telecommunications. They stayed friends throughout the years and in 1998 Hongyu went to China for Christmas break. He was late in returning and ended up surprising us by returning as a married man. His schedule was too busy to arrange for a wedding, so they had gone to the register for a marriage license. A year and a half later little Ling Yan was born. Ling Yan returned to China with Ye's parents while Hongyu is finishing his program. He and his wife will return to China November 6. He plans to continue his work as a surgeon in China. Hongyu hopes to return to Andrews University at a later time to do some additional research for a strong publication in the area of neurobiology.
Contact Person: Anna Kvanli
Web site:
Phone: 616-471-3243
Fax: 616-471-6911

The Biology graduate students gathered October 27 for an evening of socializing and eating. The weather was perfect for sitting around the fire and roasting hotdogs and marshmallows. The event was in honor of Hongyu Fang, who is finishing his program and leaving for China. About 22 students spent the evening chatting and enjoying one another's company. Several students had the opportunity to enjoy eating S'mores for the first time.
Contact Person: Anna Kvanli
Web site: http://www.biology/edu
Phone: 616-471-3243
Fax: 616-471-6911

AU Biology graduate's thesis on invertebrates earns "Best Student Paper" honors Reprinted by permission from The Journal Era * Berrien Springs, Michigan * March 15, 2000

Karen Giver Osborn, the daughter of Tom and Cherie Stiles of Berrien Center, recently received the Best Student Paper award from the Western Society of Naturalists after a presentation of her master's thesis from Western Washington University at the society's annual meeting.

Osborn is formerly of Berrien Springs and attended Andrews Academy. She received her bachelor's in zoology from Andrews University in 1996.

Her thesis focused on an investigation of increased diversity and abundance in certain invertebrates native to northern Puget Sound as a result of the introduction of invasive seaweed. The Washington Department of Ecology and the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve funded Osborn's research, which was based at Western's Shannon Point Marine Center in Anacortes, Washington.

"It was fascinating finding out how and to what extent this exotic alga was changing the invertebrate and algal communities in the San Juan Islands," said Osborn, commenting on her achievement. "I was also happy to meet my personal goals for my master's degree and to become familiar with an incredibly beautiful part of the country."

Osborn currently works as a taxonomist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in Monterey, California. She received her master's in biology from Western in 1999. Her other awards include the MBARI Instant Recognition Award 1999, the MBARI 1998 Internship and the 1997 Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve assistantship. Read one of her papers online.

Contact Person: David Steen
Web site:
Phone: 616-471-3261
Fax: 616-471-6911


The Biology Department is saddened to announce that retired professor, Asa Thoresen, passed away May 31, 2006 from complications of Parkinson's disease.  He and his wife, Shirley, have lived in Oregon since their retirement in 1992. Shirley worked as a secretary in the Seminary and at the Geoscience Research office. They have two children, Meylan, a 1983 graduate of Andrews, and Davona Church, who also attended Andrews.

Asa Thoresen completed an undergraduate degree in Biology at Andrews University, an MS in Biology at Walla Walla College and a PhD in 1960 from Oregon State University. He was immediately invited to join the Biology faculty of Andrews University, his undergraduate alma mater.

When he was asked to chair the Biology Department in 1963, it was undergoing frequent staff changes, occupied cramped, inadequate quarters and was facing increasing educational demands. The beginning "revolution" in Biology, and rapidly increasing student enrollment strained the available facilities and financial resources. Over the next 20 years Asa's effective, supportive leadership resulted in assembling an excellent staff that "stayed." After his first five years, only one teacher left other than by retirement. He led out in the collaborative planning of Price Hall with such foresight that this facility, which was completed in 1973, provides the present Biology program, 10 Biology faculty and about 150 undergraduate and graduate majors with well conceived, effective facilities. Asa found the resources, with extensive support from happy alumni, the university and public and private foundations, to equip the new building with state of the art facilities, including scanning and transmission electron microscopes.

During his 20-year chairmanship, the longest on record for the biology department, the foundation for the present Biology program was developed so well that it has continued to grow into one that was recently recognized by the National Science Foundation as among the strongest and most effective in the USA. This program continues to receive wide recognition for excellence and for promoting student success during the Biology program and following graduation. Soon after becoming Chair, Asa spearheaded the development of a master's degree in Biology which developed into a strong, research-based program and opened doors to the future for its graduates. At the same time, he grew professionally, published in the scientific and popular literature, became a world-recognized authority in sea-bird biology and attracted support from public and private foundations for his own, as well as departmental research. He was the moving spirit behind the development of the Museum of Natural History and greenhouses, which continue to provide valuable educational resources for Southwestern Michigan and the university. Upon his retirement in 1991, the university awarded Asa the Andrews Medallion, its highest form of recognition, during the graduation ceremonies.

To those who have had the privilege of working with him closely, Asa was known for his gentle spirit, unselfish advancement of his colleagues, wise and sensitive counsel and wry sense of humor. One long-time colleague, Harold Heidtke observed, " Asa will forever be remembered for bearing his physical affliction with courage, never losing his cheerful disposition, his ever-gentle spirit, and his Christian demeanor." Students loved and respected Asa. A former student remembers Dr. Thoresen as "a gentle soul," a theme echoed by all who knew him. Another, an ornithology student, said "Asa arranged experiences that enriched my life. . . . His instructions were quiet but thorough." Yet another student stated that Dr. Thoresen "always treated me with kindness, dignity, and respect." Students enjoyed his mentoring, were strengthened and encouraged by his consistent Christian witness, and were supported by his faithful, but open insights into the evidence from nature relevant to God's creative activities, as recorded in scripture and related scientific controversies.

The love and respect of his students and colleagues, as well as his effective leadership by example, have greatly enriched Andrews University.