ASU alumni represented well in the Phoenix Business Journal’s '40 Under 40 Awards'

August 5, 2020

More than a third of this year’s Phoenix Business Journal “40 Under 40” honorees are Arizona State University alumni, with representatives from eight different colleges. The 15 honorees pursued careers in law, nonprofits, sustainability, engineering, journalism, higher education and social work. 

The annual awards recognize the top business and civic leaders in the Phoenix area for their career success, community involvement, leadership ability and influence. Download Full Image

More than 400 nominations were reviewed and narrowed down to 40 honorees by a panel of judges that included previous winners and sponsors. All the honorees will be featured in a “40 Under 40” special section to be published in the Aug. 7 issue of the Business Journal and at a virtual awards celebration Aug. 5.

To celebrate their achievements, ASU will be sharing the honorees’ biographies on its social media channels in the upcoming weeks.

Congratulations to this year’s Phoenix Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 honorees and ASU alumni:

Eric M. Bailey
Bailey Strategic Innovation Group

Antwan Davis
Beyond Borders & Co.

John Gray
Perkins Coie LLP

Jon Howard
Quarles & Brady LLP

David Jackson
Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie

Jacob Kashiwagi
Kashiwagi Solution Model Inc.

Lindsay Leavitt
Jennings Strouss Law Firm

Jamison Manwaring
Neighborhood Ventures

Anna Ortiz

Lea Phillips
Ballard Spahr

Vanessa Ruiz
Arizona State University

Drew Trojanowski
Arizona State University

Karla Verdugo
United Cerebral Palsy of Central Arizona

Dylan Vicha
Windom Security Strategies Today and Wounded Warriors

Tamara Wright
Community Solutions

Dragon DNA: Sequencing the genome of the rare tuatara

August 6, 2020

New Zealand is home to an astonishingly rich web of life, with many indigenous plant and animal species found nowhere else on Earth. Even amid such exceptional biodiversity, however, the tuatara stands out as one of the most remarkable of New Zealand’s creatures.

Tuatara and related species flourished hundreds of millions of years ago, during the Mesozoic era, once inhabiting a landmass comprised of Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica, the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian Peninsula — a supercontinent known as Gondwana. The tuatara is the last surviving member of the reptilian order Rhynchocephalia, which once flourished globally in the age of the dinosaurs. Today, they live only in New Zealand. Among the creature's unusual traits are exceptional longevity and a combination of bird and reptile characteristics that have made their position on the evolutionary tree a matter of uncertainty. Download Full Image

In the ensuing millennia, tuatara have occupied their own solitary branch on the evolutionary tree, after diverging from snake and lizard ancestors some 250 million years ago. Today, tuatara is the only living member of the archaic reptilian order Rhynchocephalia.

The species is considered a living fossil and a genetic treasure trove for researchers like Arizona State University's Melissa Wilson, a computational evolutionary biologist at the Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution and the Center for Evolution and Medicine, and associate professor at the School of Life Sciences.

In a new study, published in the journal Nature, Wilson joins an international team, led by Neil Gemmell, a geneticist at the department of anatomy, University of Otago, New Zealand, to help untangle the skein of tuatara’s outsized genome, which — at some 5 billion base pairs — is nearly twice that of humans and one of the largest vertebrate genomes on record. The new study highlights the peculiar architecture of the tuatara’s genetic composition and confirms the unique evolutionary status of this ancient reptile. 

“They're as close to dragons as we have on this planet, because they are not closely related to any living reptiles,” Wilson said. “Unlike iguanas or Gila monsters or green anole lizards, tuatara are on this evolutionary branch all by themselves.”

Melissa Wilson

This uniqueness makes unlocking the secrets of the tuatara challenging, as researchers have no analogous species suitable for comparison with this genomic outlier.

While tuatara represent the only extant member of Rhynchocephalia, they are a living relic of now-extinct stem reptiles from which the amniotes — dinosaurs, modern reptiles, birds and mammals — eventually evolved. Scientists believe tuatara can help fill in many pieces in the puzzle of amniote evolution.

Tuatara can live to more than 100 years of age, a biological feat likewise rooted in the animal’s unusual genome, which appears to be exceptionally effective in protecting them from disease and the ravages of age. The study also examined the genetic underpinnings of tuatara vision, smell and temperature regulation.

In addition to the large international team of researchers, the new study was conducted in close collaboration with the Ngātiwai, a Maori Indigenous tribe of Northland New Zealand, drawing on their particular knowledge of (and reverence for) the tuatara, which they consider a special treasure or “taonga.”

Gemmell cites the new study as providing a valuable template for future collaborative efforts with native communities. He stresses that one of the primary objectives of the new research is to assist long term conservation efforts and promote global awareness of the tuatara along with other endangered members of New Zealand’s spectacular ecosystem. Despite the country’s dizzying profusion of life, New Zealand is experiencing rapid biodiversity loss resulting from invasive species, habitat destruction and the effects of climate change.

Study co-author Clive Stone with the Ngatiwai Trust Board, Whangarei, New Zealand, said, "I think it is important we acknowledge some of the key Ngatiwai people that made this project possible — Nga Rangatira, Houpeke Piripi, Te Warihi Hetaraka and Hori Parata who guided us, informed us and inspired us to complete this journey.”

Wilson is also joined by co-author Shawn Rupp, a bioinformatics researcher in the Biodesign Center for Biocomputing, Security and Society and Marc Tollis, formerly with the Biodesign Institute, now a researcher at Northern Arizona University.

Richard Harth

Science writer, Biodesign Institute at ASU