This summer I am working with Professor Michael Wolyniak to create an experiment for a laboratory that will be part of the future Biochemistry classes. Moreover, we are working on creating and purifying the Myf-5 Myogenic Regulatory Factor protein to assist with Professor Kristin Fischer’s research in regenerative skeletal muscle tissue as a part of creating the lab. Myf-5 is one of several Myogenic Regulator Factors that is involved with differentiating and creating muscle cells during Myogenesis. For Professor Fischer’s research, we plan to take a plasmid containing Mus musculus DNA and mutate it using site-directed mutagenesis in order to create a mutant Myf-5 protein that hopefully will aid in skeletal muscle regeneration research in conjunction with Professor Fischer’s research.
The overall project will aid in creating a Biochemistry laboratory by familiarizing ourselves with the techniques and methods used to carry out the Myf-5 experiment, and we will create methods and procedures for future biochemistry students to follow. One instance is with the aforementioned site-directed mutagenesis where, much like Real Time PCR, one uses primers and enzymes, yet we mutate specific sections of DNA. The mutated DNA is then inserted into a host bacterium where it will clone into a plentiful amount of bacteria with the mutated plasmid. Another instance is with the MinION Sequencer, provided by Oxford Nanopore, which uses thousands of protein pores to read the nucleotide sequence of injected DNA. The MinION Sequencer will be used to determine if the plasmids actually mutated and thus create a mutated protein. We hope that the results will not only aid Professor Fischer’s research, but also be the roots of future biochemistry laboratories and aid prospective Biology and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology majors.
This summer I am working with Dr. Kristin Fischer to develop a porous gelatin cross-linked hydrogel scaffold for skeletal muscle tissue engineering. Through my work as an Emergency Medical Technician, I have seen numerous patients that have lost major sections of tissue. These injuries result from things like major trauma such as a car accident, violent crimes or systemic burns. These injuries have either forcefully removed the tissue or damaged it beyond repair. There are several clinical options doctors may choose: amputation, skin grafting, transplantation, or, the most interesting option, tissue engineering which is growing a new section of tissue in vitro. The ability to grow tissues outside of the body then implant them in or on humans used to be science fiction, but it is happening this summer on “The Hill”.
Dr. Fischer and I are working to answer the question of what is the best way to use the tissue engineering approach. Currently we are working with a line of mouse muscle cells called C2C12.
The cells grow well given the right environment in flat sheets. However, the problem stems from layering the cells vertically. The cells in the center of the mass begin to die off due to lack of nutrients and surface area for diffusion of waste products. I intend to solve this problem by developing a gelatin scaffold for the cells to grow in. This will allow for increased diffusion and hopefully increase cell longevity.
I plan to increase diffusion to the gel by introducing pores in varying configurations. Over the last two weeks, I have tried varying number of pins per scaffold from 0-12 pins per scaffold. I have also experimented with different shapes like diagonal lines, squares, and triangles. I have concluded that the triangle formation is most likely the best formation for diffusion. I am currently attempting to print these pore inducing structures using HSC’s newest 3D printer.
The cross-linking helps the gelatin maintain its 3D structure. Cross-linking is the binding of gelatin molecules together by an enzyme called microbial transglutaminase. I have also been experimenting with different levels of microbial transglutaminase in the gelatin. More cross-linking makes the gels stiffer. There is a fine line between too much microbial transglutaminase causing the gels to rip under tension and too little microbial transglutaminase causing the gelatin to degrade too quickly.
In the body, muscle cells fuse together and work as one. This fusion is caused by the natural tension our muscle cells are under. In addition to introducing pores into the gel, I intend to apply a slight tension to the gels. This tension causes the muscle cells to fuse and mature in one direction as if they were in the body.
Hopefully this summer I am able to design a gelatin scaffold that helps muscle cells grow rapidly and mature.
The first student project that will take place using the printer will be the construction of filter structures that can be used to clean local streams and lakes. The project is well-positioned for both undergraduate research and extension to the Department’s ongoing high school outreach program.
DJ Bines Fletcher Borum
Brant Boucher Blake Brown
Robbie Bugbee Josh Chamberlin
Alex Crabtree Tazewell DelDonna
William Echols Gannon Griffin
Treavor Hartwell Ryan Kluk
James Lau Zach Martin
Traylor Nichols Tyler Reekes
Reuben Retnam Zach Tabrani
Harris Thomas Mitchell Thomas
Joey Tyler Thomas Vinyard
Dustin Wiles Michael Willis
A.J. Willy John Zohab
The James R.T. Hewett Biology in recognition of outstanding achievement in the Biology Department was given to James Lau ’17. James graduated as the Valedictorian of the Class of 2017 and will be attending Eastern Virginia Medical School in the fall.
The H.B. Overcash Prize for outstanding achievement among pre-health junior students was awarded to Nicholas Chase ’18.
The two Sophomore Academic Excellence Awards for highest GPA in the sophomore class were both given to biologists. First awarded was Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major Blake Martin ’19.
Next awarded was Biology major Coleman Johnson ’19.
Finally, to show that Biology majors appreciate the full gamut of the liberal arts, Biology major David Bushhouse ’19 received the Sallie Wright Harrison award from the Department of English for his poem which considered the origins of his last name.
Both Jason and Brant presented work done as part of their work done jointly between the Biology and Chemistry departments. The work was presented both at an undergraduate-only session as well as the general session for the entire meeting. Jason presented his work on the characterization of chemical and genetic differences in hopped meads done between Dr. Wolyniak and Associate Professor of Chemistry Paul Mueller.
Halmo also coordinated an outreach initiative, the Prince Edward County Environmental Molecular Biology Institute (PECEMBI) with Dr. Wolyniak. Funded in part by a grant from the ASBMB, PECEMBI brought a long-term research project to the students of Prince Edward County High School with outreach support from Hampden-Sydney students and faculty. Both Halmo and Wolyniak presented a poster on PECEMBI at the meeting.
Boucher’s work was jointly done by Dr. Wolyniak, Associate Professor of Biology Kristian Hargadon, and Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry Rupak Due and focused on the development of bacterial biofilms on titanium bone replacement implants.
ASBMB is one of several national and international meetings that are regularly attended by Hampden-Sydney undergraduates as a culmination of their research work at the College.
Brant presented his work done with Dr. Hargadon on the characterization of methods to combat melanoma.
Jason’s presentation focused on work being done in conjunction between the Biology and Chemistry departments on the characterization of yeasts used in the production of different types of meads.
Jason and Brant accompanied Biology professor Dr. Mike Wolyniak to the event. Dr. Wolyniak is the Science Education chair for the Academy and helped to coordinate the event.
Conspicuous by his absence, Dr. Hargadon could not even be found in his usual spot (the laminar flow hood) during the Grinch’s visit. Rest assured, though, the Grinch saved the day and continued his work. Melanoma doesn’t stand a chance!
–American Society for Microbiology Virginia Branch Meeting, Roanoke, VA
At this meeting, Brant Boucher ’17 and James Lau ’17 presented the work they have been doing with Dr. Kristian Hargadon.
James has been investigating how the FOXC2 transcription factor regulates the progression of melanoma by comparing gene and protein expression profiles of a wild-type murine melanoma and an engineered variant of this melanoma in which the FOXC2 gene has been rendered dysfunctional by CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing. Based on the Hargadon lab’s evidence that FOXC2 is critical for promoting melanoma progression, Brant worked with Dr. Hargadon over the summer to develop a tissue-specific gene silencing approach to knock down FOXC2 gene expression specifically in melanoma cells.
At this same meeting, Dr. Michael Wolyniak presented the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning keynote address on the development of teaching mentorship networks across the Commonwealth.
American Association of Colleges and Universities STEM Conference, Boston, MA
Dr. Wolyniak presented the same project from the Roanoke meeting at this national gathering of STEM educators in Boston and also participated in a panel discussion about the Project Kaleidoscope Summer Leadership Institute for STEM Faculty, a program in which he participated in the summer of 2013 at the Baca Campus of Colorado College. Dr. Nicholas Deifel of the Department of Chemistry also attended this meeting.
Southeastern Medical Scientist Symposium, Birmingham, AL
This meeting was a regional gathering of undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows from the Southeast to share research projects and learn about career opportunities in the biomedical sciences. William Echols ’17, Thomas Vinyard ’17, and Tyler Reekes ’17 presented their work done with Dr. Erin Clabough’s Neuroscience class that has led to a published paper on fetal alcohol syndrome.
Luke Bloodworth ’18 also presented his research based on a Hampden-Sydney- supported summer experience at the University of Alabama-Birmingham based on the development of an effective strategy for CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing in zebrafish.
Sigma Xi Student Research Conference, Atlanta, GA
Dakota Reinartz ’18, Traylor Nichols ’17, Joey Tyler, ’17, and David Bushhouse ’19 were accompanied by Dr. Rachel Goodman to the annual national gathering of the Sigma Xi society for scientific research. This meeting brings together undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows from across the sciences in a celebration of the scientific research enterprise. Traylor won the Best Poster award for the Environmental Science section of the meeting for his work on developing optimal hops growing practices.
Dakota presented research on the development of growth techniques for ramps, a type of wild onion native to Virginia, while Joey presented work preformed with Dr. Goodman on the spread of ranavirus among central Virginia reptiles and David presented his work on the isolation and characterization of a novel bacteriophage, named Thespis, found on the H-SC campus.
Society for Neuroscience Meeting, San Diego, CA
Tyler Reekes ’17 and Jamie Ingersoll ’18 presented research posters at the 2016 Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego along with Dr. Erin Clabough. Both students gave poster presentations during the undergraduate session (sponsored by Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience) and also presented their work in the general poster symposium session alongside experts in their field.
Jamie’s research exploring the way that developmental exposure to ethanol can alter neuroarchitecture in the striatum was presented in the Dendritic Branching poster session, while Tyler presented experimental results from the Spring 2016 H-SC upper level Vertebrate Physiology class showing the long-term effect of fetal alcohol on adult behavior in mice. Dr. Clabough also presented a poster that included Myshake Abdi 16′ as a co-author. Society for Neuroscience Meeting is attended by over 30,000 scientists annually.
Sitka Whalefest, Sitka, AK
Dr. Alex Werth was a featured speaker at the 20th anniversary Sitka Whale Fest in Alaska, which brings whale researchers and fans from all over the world to learn the latest science and observe whales in their native habitat.
The NSF-funded program emphasizes communication with non-scientists. In addition to giving a formal talk, Werth served as a naturalist onboard whale watching cruises and spoke with several groups of college and secondary students plus teachers and the general public. Many groups of feeding whales were seen, along with seals, sea lions, sea otters, and other marine life.
The Hampden-Sydney Biology Department prides itself with providing opportunities for students to work closely with their professors on original research activity. These meetings provide the opportunity for students to share their work on a regional or national stage and gain valuable scientific communication experience as they hone their career interests.