|Summer is the time for student-faculty research in biology
RELEASED: Aug. 19, 2004
DANVILLE, KYThe labs in Young Hall are busy this summer as biology students and faculty study different aspects of the living world.
Steve Asmus, Dowling Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Centre, and three students are looking at neurotransmitter production and cell death during brain development. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that neurons use to communicate.
The research, which began this summer and will continue for two more summers as part of a three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, has important applications in medicine.
"We're interested in how neurons express the correct neurotransmitter," Asmus says. "This research could help us understand more about neurological diseases."
The students are working with rat brain tissue in their research.
"I find the whole thing interesting. I've never worked in a lab before, and so far I've really enjoyed it," says Matt Lally, a rising senior from Lexington, Ky. He has been studying for the MCAT and wants to go to medical or graduate school after Centre. Lally is a double-major in biology and Spanish.
Shariya Terrell, a rising junior from Bowling Green, Ky., says, "I was really excited when [Asmus] offered this to me. I'm really glad to have this opportunity." Terrell is a biochemistry and molecular biology major.
Rising senior Cara Quilligan, a biology major from Danville, says, "The opportunity to do research and to see what options are available to me is a really valuable one." Quilligan adds that she wants to attend graduate school after Centre.
"This is good exposure for the students to a research lab, where you're working with other people," Asmus says. "It's been great, and I think they've had fun."
At the other end of the lab, Rob Ziemba, assistant professor of biology at Centre, is working with two students on different projects. Rising junior Ben Angel is doing research on the herbicide Atrazine.
Biochemistry professor Stephanie Dew is taking part in a related project. She is dissecting crayfish to see if Atrazine affects the biochemistry of their nervous system.
"It would be much more difficult to arrange such an interdisciplinary collaboration at a large school," Ziemba points out. "The faculty are close enough here that we can organize this kind of thing."
"Everyone has been really receptive to the idea," says Angel, a philosophy major from Campbellsville, Ky., "from the administration right down to, well, me."
Rising senior Dexter Reneer is also working with Ziemba. He is dissecting tissue from crayfish, extracting DNA to conduct a population genetics survey of crayfish in the area.
"I'm trying to find out what the relationships between different populations in the area are, as well as what the differences in a single population are," says Reneer, who is majoring in biology. "It's important to know where genetic diversity comes from and what maintains it. This work can also tell us how this species invaded Kentucky. Crayfish haven't always been here."
"This is the kind of question that you'd ask about populations of people," adds Ziemba. "But with people, you can ask them their names and where they come from. With crayfish, you can't do that, so we get our information from the DNA."
"This work helps me refine my scientific method," Reneer says. "You always want to think logically and follow the same steps. It's also just a good experience to have. I might publish a journal article and get my name out there and make connections."
Reneer, a native of Beaver Dam, Ky., says he wants to study in the area of integrative biomedical science after Centre.
Outside the lab, Anne Lubbers, associate professor of biology, has been doing some fieldwork with rising senior Mira Gentry, a biology major from Henderson, Ky. They're studying American ginseng, a plant often used in alternative medicine, which is in danger of being depleted because of habitat loss.
"Ginseng used to be found commonly in lots of Kentucky counties and now it's not, although there's still a fair amount in the mountains," Lubbers says. "Scientists would like to know more about its population growth rate."
Lubbers has been doing this research for several years. Each summer, she and her student return to the same populations of ginseng, which have been marked with numbered nails. They measure the height, the leaf size, and the number of seeds. Survival rates are high.
They also collect soil samples, which they take back to the lab in order to measure characteristics such as pH and organic matter content. They put all of this data into a computer and pull statistics from it.
"This research is good for students because it builds patience and attention to detail," says Lubbers, adding, "And there's a lot I couldn't do if I didn't have student assistance, so it works both ways."
Daniel Henderson, visiting assistant professor of biology, is working with Anna Uebele and Amanda Freeman, both rising seniors and religion majors.
Their research explores the interaction of exercise and mental activity on breathing behavior. Participants had their breathing recorded for one minute while in different states. They rested, and then they were asked to answer simple math problems, which were in the form of "yes" or "no" questions. Then they did some mild exercise (riding a bike), and finally they were asked to answer math problems while exercising.
Henderson and his students measured several different components of breathing, such as the amount of air in each breath and the frequency of the each breath. They entered all this data into a spreadsheet on the computer and calculated statistics.
"It's been fun gaining firsthand knowledge of what the authors of all these research papers we've been reading for class over the past three years are up to," says Uebele, of Green Bay, Wis.
After graduation, Uebele hopes to do volunteer work overseas and eventually go to graduate or medical school.
Freeman believes her summer experience will her achieve her career goals. "It's great to get some research experience that will benefit me on my road to becoming a physical therapist," she says. "There aren't many colleges or universities that offer a religion major the opportunity to do collaborative research with a biology professor."
Henderson and his students will present their findings at the Kentucky Academy of Science meeting in the fall.
Centre offers a range opportunities for students to do collaborative research with faculty members during the academic year and the summer.
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