Summer 2016 Biology Research Fellowships

Potential Research Opportunities in Biology for 2016 (final project decisions not yet made):

Mike Reagan - Archaeal DNA Repair Studies. We will study putative DNA repair genes/proteins from Archaea by putting them into yeast cells that can't repair DNA damage and seeing if the Archaeal genes/proteins will complement the defective repair in yeast. You will be growing cells and doing lots of DNA damage and repair studies.

David Mitchell - What makes bacteria problematic? What makes a chili pepper spicy?  I want to continue investigating antibiotic resistance in several bacteria found in local waterways. Additionally, I would like to continue research on the ability to increase concentrations of antibacterial agents in laboratory strains in an attempt to "force" bacteria to evolve. As a second project, I hope to develop a procedure for the isolation and characterization of enzymes involved in the production of capsaicin - the molecule that makes chili peppers spicy.

Kristina Timmerman - What animals live in the Aboretum ecosystems? Using remote cameras, I would like an assistant in the development of the baseline database of what "critters" make their home in the Arboretum ecosystems. Cameras will be set up in different areas of the Arboretum and checked periodically for activity. If the sample size is large enough, we can also use population models to generate population estimates.

Robert Page - Phenotypic plasticity in the blue-spotted salamander (Ambystoma laterale).  In amphibians, age at metamorphosis is a critical developmental trait that is influenced by environmental cues (plasticity) and differential survival (genetic change due to natural selection). We will investigate the effects of ecological variation on metamorphic timing in salamanders using field ecology, experimental biology, and functional genomic approaches. The project will be focused on populations that breed in aquatic environments that differ in degree of permanence (e.g., seasonal vs. permanent pools).

Katherine Furniss - Genetic diversity in the White pine (Pinus strobus). This conifer is a non-native plant introduced to SJU lands in 1896. It is presumed that the founding population experienced a loss in genetic diversity, which may have negative impacts in the tree's ability to withstand stress. Our primary goal is to determine the genomic diversity of these trees here on campus.  Collecting and extracting the DNA was accomplished in previous projects. This summer, our goal is to amplify the extracted DNA using PCR and review the genetic material using gel electrophoresis.  Ultimately, we would like to develop a plan to increase the genetic diversity of this conifer population.  

Clark Cotton - Small mammal dehydration and osmolyte regulation. Hibernating small mammals endure long periods with kidneys that are essentially non-functional and lack the ability to concentrate urine. Despite this, these animals regain kidney function each week upon arousal with a four-fold increase in medullary osmotic concentration that results in high stress to kidney cells. This year we will explore the summertime regulation of organic osmolytes, key protective molecules that enable hibernators to maintain healthy kidneys during the winter.

Demelza Koehn - Investigation of mouse corneal epithelial cells and kerocytes. Continuing research I started as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Iowa, we will characterized mouse cells using mammalian cell culture techniques. Additionally, I will be developing laboratory experiments that will be used in the Cell Biology course that also use mammalian cell culture techniques. 

Jennifer Schaefer - What interneuron populations activate muscle contraction in Drosophila melanogaster?  As part of an ongoing investigation into the neural circuitry that controls fruit fly crawling behavior, we will utilize optogenetics (genetically-encoded ion channels activated by LED light) to stimulate neurons while recording muscle responses via extracellular recording.  

Barb May - Using molecular techniques to understand components of our ecosystem. This summer, I will be working on two different projects. First, using moose scat, we will analyze diet by extracting plant DNA and comparing to known sequences of plants. We hope to determine if moose diet is associated with moose health (scat sourced from Montana Fish and Game Department). The second project will look at bacterial populations on fish slime.  We will be using our fishing skills as well as some molecular tools to evaluate these populations. 

For more information, contact Kristina Timmerman ([email protected]; 2872) or Mike Reagan ([email protected]; 3110).