Cooperating with ecologists at the Universidad Federal de Lavras in Brazil, I’m is working on a description of a “missing link” species of millipede. We’re calling it such because it potentially combines the characters of two quite different groups of millipedes previously thought to be unrelated. The new species belongs to the Order Polydesmida, but has nearly twice as many body segments as other members of that order. Specimens of the millipede were recovered from an unusual habitat, an iron-ore cave. Most caves are found in limestone or marble, or result from “lava tubes” in volcanic areas, but these unique Brazilian caves have resulted from the erosion of iron ore deposits. The millipedes may have occupied the caves for millions of years, and are white and eyeless as a result.
Next, the Department has obtained a second PCR machine for the specific amplification of DNA segments of interest:
Finally, the Department now has a sophisticated method to document gels from DNA and RNA based experiments:
The new equipment lets the faculty in the Department integrate new and exciting experiments into their classes as well as their individual research projects.
Elliott Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 received a $10,000 renewal of a Virginia Academy of Science Jeffress Research Grant from the Thomas F. Jeffress and Kate Miller Jeffress Memorial Trust for his project entitled “Tumor-induced Immunosuppression of Dendritic Cell Function.” This renewal brings total funding from the Jeffress Trust for this project to $45,000 over the last 3 years. With the previous funding, Dr. Hargadon has utilized this funding to study the mechanism of melanoma associated suppression of the function of dendritic cells, immune cells that are critical regulators of overall anti-tumor immune responses. Using both in vitro and ex vivo model systems, Dr. Hargadon and collaborating H-SC students have identified partial roles for the melanoma-derived factors TGFbeta1 and VEGF-A in the suppression of dendritic cell function. This new funding will be used to further characterize the nature of melanoma-altered dendritic cells and to evaluate how these altered dendritic cells impact the quality of helper and cytotoxic T cell activation and differentiation. Together, these and the previous studies from this project will provide insights into tumor immune evasion strategies and may inform the design of novel immunotherapies for the treatment of melanoma.
The featured article can be found at: http://globalmedicaldiscovery.com/key-scientific-articles/tumor-altered-dendritic-cell-function-implications-anti-tumor-immunity/
In 2013 Hampden-Sydney College and Longwood University reactivated their long-dormant joint chapter of Sigma Xi in an effort to promote scientific research achievements by students and faculty and to foster collaboration between the two institutions. Chapter reactivation began over the summer of 2013 with a drafting of by-laws for the joint Sigma Xi chapter, and the schools celebrated their newly activated status on November 12, 2013 when Hampden-Sydney College hosted the inaugural Longwood University/Hampden-Sydney College Sigma Xi Research Day Symposium. The event attracted nearly 100 students, faculty, and community members to Crawley Forum and began with a welcome by Dr. Kristian Hargadon ’01, Elliott Assistant Professor of Biology at H-SC and President of the Longwood/H-SC Sigma Xi chapter (Dr. Hargadon was first inducted into Sigma Xi while a student at Hampden-Sydney in 2000). He introduced Hampden-Sydney College President Dr. Christopher Howard, who delivered opening remarks for the symposium.
Following these opening remarks, keynote speaker Dr. Timothy Bullock, Associate Professor of Pathology and Microbiology in the Beirne B. Carter Center for Immunology Research and Human Immune Therapy Center at the University of Virginia, delivered his address entitled “United We Stand: Synergy Between Conventional and Immune-based Therapies for Cancer Treatment.” This energetic talk highlighted cutting edge strategies for combining chemotherapy and immunotherapy in the treatment of melanoma and other cancers. While these approaches were once thought to be at odds with one another (immune therapies promote replication of a patient’s immune cells, while chemotherapy attacks cancerous and non-cancerous cells undergoing replication), recent evidence now suggests that optimizing the delivery of these different therapies may lead to enhanced anti-tumor activity. That is, certain chemotherapies have been shown to induce a specialized type of tumor cell death that triggers immune cell stimulation, and subsequent administration of immune-based therapies may lead not only to further eradication of tumor cells that escaped chemotherapeutic destruction but also to long-lasting immune protection from tumor recurrence.
The keynote address was followed by a poster session in which Hampden-Sydney College and Longwood University students presented research conducted through Honors/Independent Study Projects and Summer Research Programs. The work of 22 students ranging from freshmen to seniors was showcased at the event and represented work conducted in various fields of science, including biology, chemistry, and physics.
We are so excited by the enthusiasm for scientific research at Hampden-Sydney College and Longwood University generated by this symposium, and our newly reactivated Sigma Xi chapter has significant momentum moving forward. To follow up on the success of the symposium, an initiation ceremony will be held in Spring 2014 for the induction of new student and faculty members to the Society.
Here is a quick update on my marine mammal research in the Pacific Northwest, and a plea from an old biologist for students and others to be holistic in their approach… I have been spending my time in various ways, including: 1) looking through a stereomicroscope at collagen and other connective tissue fibers (in the baleen filter and associated gums of whales); 2) planning and preparing for electron microscopy of whales’ oral tissues to reveal microscopic wear patterns from water flow; 3) dissecting whole marine mammals (harbor porpoises, Pacific white-sided dolphins, and a sea otter) in necropsy sessions; and 4) looking at live marine mammals ranging from porpoises, dolphins, and whales (beluga, killer, humpback) to seals, sea lions, fur seals, and sea otters. Which is best? All of the above, naturally!
It is crucially important for biologists who study tiny levels of biological organization (molecules and cells) to know something about the ecology, behavior, and life history of the whole organisms these parts come from, even if those organisms are unicellular bacteria or yeasts. At the same time, biologists who work at the community and ecosystem level obviously need to know about the tissues and biochemical/physiological reactions that occur inside various organisms. Not surprisingly, the best understanding comes when you view life from all sides of this prism: that is, from both ends of this scale range and many points in between.
The great thing about biology at Hampden-Sydney is that our students and faculty—and our curriculum—ensure a focus on all levels of biological organization. Premedical students occasionally complain about having to study ecology, but it is essential for physicians to know about public health concerns from a population perspective, just as it is important for wildlife biologists to understand the molecular and genetic basis of life in whales, snakes, millipedes, and weeds. As I spend time at a huge (60,000 student) university where everyone—student and professor alike—is too often focused on a single tiny aspect of biology, it’s important to remember what a small institution like H-SC can offer, and indeed do better than a mighty, massive university. To put it another way—as one who daily spends time this autumn in an enormous (coastal temperate rain) forest—it is truly important “to see the forest for the trees.”
The gathering was organized by the biology department at JMU and consisted of students from JMU, Hampden-Sydney, VCU, and Mary Washington who have been working on the SEA-PHAGES project. Representatives from HHMI and guest speakers from NC State University were also on hand.
The SEA-PHAGES project is continuing at Hampden-Sydney in 2014 in the form of genomic sequence analysis in Biology 313 (Genomics) in the spring semester and the isolation and characterization of a new set of phages in Biology 312 (Molecular Biology) in the fall semester.