Briefly Noted

Issue Date: 
January 31, 2011

Pitt Graduate Student Organization Calls for Teaching Award Nominations

The University of Pittsburgh’s Arts and Sciences Graduate Student Organization is accepting nominations for the 2011 Elizabeth Baranger Excellence in Teaching Award.

The award, named after Elizabeth Baranger, a professor emeritus in Pitt’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and a former vice provost for graduate studies, honors outstanding teaching by graduate students in the School of Arts and Sciences. The deadline for submissions is Feb. 11. Nominations may be submitted by Pitt faculty, teaching assistants, and teaching fellows, as well as graduate and undergraduate students. To be eligible for the $250 award, an instructor must have been enrolled as a graduate student in the School of Arts and Sciences and teaching a class in any semester of the previous calendar year, 2010. Winners will be announced by April 1.

Nomination forms are available at Questions may be directed to Katherine Martin ( or Tommy Costello (

Pitt Kuntu’s Traces Runs Through Feb. 5

The University of Pittsburgh-based Kuntu Repertory Theatre presents Traces—an intergenerational epic set in Pittsburgh—through Feb. 5 in the Seventh-Floor Auditorium of Alumni Hall.

Written and directed by Gregory Kahlil Kareem Allen, Traces is the story of two best friends and their struggle to raise a 10-year-old boy who is connected to both of them by one woman. Traces is not about a hero fighting a villain, but rather about the “traces” of many heroes found in every community.

Allen earned his bachelor’s degree in film studies, his master’s degree in literature, and his PhD in critical and cultural studies—all from Pitt. He considers himself primarily a filmmaker and has produced seven films, including the Star Wars fan film The Fandom Meant Us (2004) and the more recent Serpents and Doves (2010). He also has produced more than 20 independent and student films. An instructor of African American theater in Pitt’s Department of Africana Studies, he also teaches screenwriting and film production at a private film school he founded in 2006.

Admission is $20 for adults, $14 for Pitt faculty and staff, $13 for senior citizens, and $5 for students with a valid ID. Tickets can be purchased at the box office of the William Pitt Union (412-648-7814); through ProArts at 412-394-3353 or; or at Dorsey’s Record Shop, 7614 Frankstown Ave., Homewood (412-731-6607).

For more information, call 412-624-7298 or visit

—Sharon S. Blake

Pitt’s Tia-Lynn Ashman: In Search of Tastier, Healthier Strawberries

Pitt professor of biological sciences Tia-Lynn Ashman took part in a massive academic collaboration that could yield tastier, healthier strawberries. Ashman was one of 74 authors from 38 universities who recently reported in Nature Genetics that they had assembled the 14-choromosome genome of Fragaria vesca, or the woodland strawberry, an early relative of the commonly consumed garden strawberry. To carry out the University of Florida-led project, the researchers had to reconstruct the genome from its basic parts, Ashman explained—genomes are too large to replicate intact. Ashman aided the effort by identifying some of the genetic markers needed to determine the correct arrangement of DNA before the chromosomes could be built.

Knowledge gained from the F. vesca sequence can be extended to the study and cultivation of the simple plant’s more complex relatives, from garden strawberries and roses to apples, pears, and peaches, Ashman said. In her lab, Ashman studies F. vesca relatives F. virginiana and F. chiloensis—the two species hybridized to create the garden strawberry—to unravel the evolution of separate genders in plants and animals, including humans. (Because plants evolved into separate genders more recently than animals, the roots of that development can still be seen.) The new sequence could provide answers to some puzzling genetic questions that are impossible for Ashman to pull from the 56 chromosomes her berries possess.

For instance, Ashman, Pitt postdoctoral fellow Rachel Spigler, and recent Pitt grad Margot Goldberg reported in the December issue of Genetics that an examination of F. virginiana and F. chiloensis revealed that, contrary to expectation, the species have different sex chromosomes. Specifically, the genes that determine sex are on opposite ends of the plants’ respective chromosomes. At some point, Ashman said, the chromosomes changed or evolved independently and could reveal that gender evolution can begin from two separate points. Either way, the complete genome of F. vesca provides a comprehensive view of how the chromosomes might have evolved in comparison to one another.

—Morgan Kelly