Hampden-Sydney Associate Professor of Biology Mike Wolyniak recently organized a gathering of faculty and student representatives from all unPAK institutions at the University of Texas-Austin, to coincide with the international joint meeting of the American Society of Naturalists, the Society for the Study of Evolution, and the Society of Systemic Biologists being held in Austin. The unPAK meeting allowed members of the network to share their work with each other, plan future collaborative activities, and promote student conversations about projects spanning multiple institutions.
Hampden-Sydney students Drew Elliott ’18, Traylor Nichols ’17, and Dakota Reinartz ’18 presented their unPAK work from Dr. Wolyniak’s Genetics and Cell Biology course in which they explored the effect of mutations to plant lines to potentially compromise their ability to resist consumption by larvae of the diamondhead moth (Plutella xylostella). The project directly stems from long-term collaboration between Dr. Wolyniak and Dr. Dorothea Tholl of the Department of Biological Sciences at Virginia Tech.
Projects such as unPAK continue to provide Hampden-Sydney biology students with extensive access to original research experience as a vital part of their undergraduate training.
The biology department was well represented at the College’s 2016 Final Convocation ceremony, held each April to honor the achievements of members of the Hampden-Sydney community over the past year. The Biology Department gives two awards at this event. The first, the R.T. Hewitt Biology Award, is given to the graduating senior who has distinguished himself in his work in the classroom and the laboratory over his 4 years at the College. This year’s recipient, Christopher Hawk ’16, has worked extensively with Professors Ed Lowry and Mike Wolyniak over the past two years on ecological and molecular biological research studying the microbiome of hops. His work was instrumental in the development in a new research-based introductory laboratory course at Hampden-Sydney. Chris plans to begin work next year in the field of environmental consulting.
Next, the department presented the Overcash Award, a prize awarded to the top junior in the department who is planning a career in the health sciences. This year’s recipient, James Lau ’17, was recently named the third Goldwater Scholar in Hampden-Sydney history and will undertake research this summer with Professor Kristian Hargadon ’01 (the College’s first Goldwater Scholar) and will begin study at Eastern Virginia Medical School in the fall of 2017 as part of the early admission articulation agreement between the two institutions.
Finally, Professor Kristian Hargadon received the John Peter Mettauer Award for Research Excellence in recognition of his extensive and productive research program on the study of melanoma in a mouse model.
Faculty from the Biology Department have won the Mettauer Award 3 of the last 4 years and 4 times in the past 7 years (Dr. Alex Werth-2010, Dr. Mike Wolyniak-2013, Dr. Bill Shear-2015, Dr. Kristian Hargadon-2016).
Jefferson’s work explored the use of CRISPR-Cas9, an exciting new molecular biology technology, to edit a cancer factor in a mouse cell line model. Charlie and Jake focused on work originally begun by Chris Ferrante ’15 and Jay Brandt ’15 (both of whom are currently in medical school) that attempted to develop novel antibiotics for use on a series of pathogenic bacteria. Travis’ project looked at ways to use quantitative PCR to identify the presence of cancer progression in melanoma cells. The Experimental Biology conference brings together thousands of scientists ranging from students to established leaders in fields representing six different professional societies covering biochemistry and molecular biology, anatomy, physiology, pathology, nutrition, and pharmacology. The students, accompanied by Dr. Wolyniak, were also able to take in some of the sites of San Diego, including attending part of the San Diego Padres season opening series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
As the San Diego crew was preparing to come home, another group of H-SC biologists set off from campus to present their work at another national meeting. This time the venue was the University of North Carolina-Asheville, site of the 30th Annual National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR). The National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) was established in 1987 and is dedicated to promoting undergraduate research in all fields of study by sponsoring an annual conference for students. NCUR welcomes presenters from all institutions of higher learning and from all corners of the academic curriculum. The conference provides a unique experience for all undergraduate students because it supports student achievement in all areas of study through poster, oral, visual, and musical presentations.
H-SC Biology was represented by two students at NCUR 2016. First, Mason Luck ’16 presented his work on invasive species conducted under the guidance of Dr. Ed Lowry.
Also presenting was Christopher Hawk ’16 and his Departmental Honors work advised by Drs. Lowry and Wolyniak and identifying molecular markers for the rapid detection of fungal infection on hops plants.
The Biology Department is proud of both its California and North Carolina representatives to these prestigious national conferences!
Bacteriophage McFly was isolated by a previous Hampden-Sydney Molecular and Cellular Biology course by Seth Ayers ’11. It is a virus that infects the species Mycobacterium smegmatus and has a genome of approximately 50,000 basepairs. The student authors listed above used several bioinformatics databases over the course of a semester to identify and characterize the predicted genes in the McFly sequence. McFly is the third bacteriophage Hampden-Sydney students have contributed to the national sequence database, joining Arturo and Cheetobro. The SEA-PHAGES initiative allows students from Hampden-Sydney to join undergraduates from across the nation in conducting original research as a component of their scientific training.
To explore McFly, visit the sequence file at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/nuccore/1007010572
Dr. Hargadon’s article in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education can be accessed at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bmb.20958/abstract
Dr. Hargadon’s article may be accessed at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/2162402X.2015.1069462