Courtesy photo: Riverhead Central School District.

Riverhead high school science teacher Susan Monahan gave her AP Biology class a special treat by inviting Dr. Gabrielle Russo and Dr. Amy Lu, both Stony Brook University professors in the Department of Anthropology, to speak to her class this month.

Dr. Russo brought four of her students who are pursuing a degree in the Interdepartmental Doctoral Program in Anthropological Sciences at Stony Brook University. Three of them (Sarah Mincer, Abigail Nishimura and Daphne Hudson) are PhD students and the fourth (Anna Zavodszky) is an anthropology/biochemistry undergrad at SBU.

Using a lecture and a small group hands-on approach, Dr. Russo and her students led the AP Bio students in a comparison of replicas of bones from modern humans, chimpanzees (our closest living relatives) and fossils from human ancestors to discuss the differences in anatomy and the evolutionary changes in anatomy, behavior and culture.

The presentation marked the conclusion of a unit on evolutionary studies. According to the Course Handbook, AP Biology is designed to engage the students in an in-depth exploration of the general principles of Introductory Biology and to increase student ability to synthesize independent thought connecting related biological ideas and concepts.

The major themes discussed, observed and tested in Advanced Placement Biology are molecular and cellular aspects of life, cell biology, ecology, population genetics, evolutionary and behavior relationships. The topics are covered through reading, critical analysis of concepts, extensive notes, selected video presentations, free-response essays, the twelve recommended AP laboratories, and 10 to 15 additional supplemental laboratories.

Dr. Russo and her students did engage Monohan’s students both in four small group labs led by her graduate students and through Dr. Russo’s own class presentation and discussion.


Later in the month in response to Monahan’s invitation, Dr. Amy Lu, another professor from the Stony Brook Anthropology Department, specializing in biological anthropology, spoke to the AP Biology students on the topic of the human gut microbiome as related to her studies of Old World monkeys living in their natural habitats in Thailand (Phayre’s leaf monkeys) and Ethiopia (geladas.)

This is a fascinating and relatively new field of study and Dr. Lu’s presentation was (as one of her SBU students wrote) “amazing.” She shared research from her observation of geladas in the field and the effect of early trauma on young geladas. Her research focuses on the impact of this trauma and the early weaning that generally follows an attack on the mother gelada. Her research followed the long-term effects of trauma and early weaning on the young gelada’s gut microbiome and its impact on their growth and health.

Dr. Lu then related this research to human babies and the possible effects in their gut microbiome as a result of premature birth, C-sections, and early weaning from breast milk and its possible long-term impact on human digestive-tract microbes.

“These human digestive-tract associated microbes are referred to as the gut microbiome. The human gut microbiome and its role in both health and disease is now the subject of extensive research, establishing its involvement in human metabolism, nutrition, physiology, and immune function,” says the National Center for Biotechnology Information.


In late November, Stony Brook University medical students are scheduled to come to the AP Biology class to lead a dissection of a cow eye and give a short lecture on ophthalmology and some medical procedures.

Source: Press release issued by Riverhead Central School District.

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