H-SC biologist part of National Science Foundation-funded undergraduate biology education initiative

Dr. Michael Wolyniak, Associate Professor of Biology, is one of five principal investigators on a $50,000 grant just awarded by the National Science Foundation to develop a national mentoring program for promoting active learning practices among undergraduate faculty in the life sciences.  Dr. Wolyniak’s involvement stems from his work with the Education Committee of the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB).  The ASCB will administer the grant along with the Genetics Society of America (GSA) and the American Society for Plant Biology (ASPB).  The principal investigators on the one-year grant will be representatives of the three societies as well as faculty from Hampden-Sydney, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

The initiative, Promoting Active Learning and Mentoring (PALM), seeks to promote best teaching practices as recommended by Vision and Change, a 2011 report of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  PALM will allow faculty and postdoctoral fellows to gain hands-on experience and long-term mentorship (at least one semester) in bringing evidence-based, effective active learning strategies into their own classrooms. PALM Fellows will pair with mentors who have already reformed their classrooms, visit their mentors to observe and participate in redesigned classes, and develop an active learning based model for one of their classes with guidance from their mentors. As a pilot to the PALM network, Dr. Wolyniak hosted Dr. Sricharan Murugesan from the National Institutes of Health in his Fall 2014 Molecular and Cellular Biology class where he engaged Hampden-Sydney students in laboratory work related to his own NIH research on actin cable dynamics in mammalian cells. Dr. Murugesan will return to Hampden-Sydney in Fall 2015 to continue this work with Dr. Wolyniak’s Genetics and Cell Biology class.

A summer internship in dentistry

by Andrew Martinez ’16

I attended a dental internship at Texas A&M Baylor College of Dentistry, where I experienced actual dental techniques, and courses and taught to first year dental students. The program was called Summer Pre-Enrichment Program Collegiate II (SPEPII). SPEP was centered around the Dental Admissions Test (DAT), the instructors wanted students to perform well on the difficult exam. Courses taught were Head and Neck Anatomy, Respiratory Anatomy, Cardiology, and Oral Histology. The course load was huge, on top of studying for the DAT.

Andrew (fourth from the right) with the intern class at the Texas A&M/Baylor College of Dentistry

Andrew (fourth from the right) with the intern class at the Texas A&M/Baylor College of Dentistry

BUT! I had fun along the way. I made 29 new friends interested my end goal—dentistry. The intern class of 30 tugged along for six long weeks and completed the program grateful and ready to tackle the DAT. During the program we had the opportunity to prep and fill a tooth model (typodont) with amalgam and composite fillings. We also got the chance to construct a gold grown from scratch, starting with gold pieces of metal and melting them down to fill a model, which each intern made. Overall the experience was amazing, and I had a blast studying/torturing myself for 6 weeks. We kept ourselves going and motivated by telling ourselves. “Don’t Worry I’m Almost a Dentist!”

Like I said.....Don't worry!!

Like I said…..Don’t worry!!

Summer research in cell biology at the NIH

by Taylor Meinhardt ’16

      This summer I am doing research at the NIH (National Institutes of Health) under post-doc Sricharan Murugesan in Dr. John Hammer’s lab of the NHLBI (National Heart Lung and Blood Institute). My project is tied closely to the primary focus of Dr. Murugesan’s research and is related to a project he brought to Hampden-Sydney while working with Professor Mike Wolyniak’s Molecular Biology class last year.
      Dr. Murugesan is trying to understand the formation and function of actin arcs at the immunological synapse (IS) of T Cells. Branched and linear actin filaments make up the cytoskeleton of cells, which undergoes rapid rearrangement in T Cells upon contact with target cell. These structures are also present in migrating cells, providing the possibility of implications far beyond T Cell biology. Using Structured Illumination Microscopy (a form of super resolution fluorescent microscopy), he has uncovered linear actin filaments that run perpendicular to the plasma membrane, and are embedded in the branched actin network at the periphery of the IS, and reorient into the concentric actin arcs in the interior. They believe these linear actin filaments are nucleated by forming, a class of proteins known to assemble free actin into filaments.
Setting up a sample for microscopy

Setting up a sample for microscopy

        Using a Deltavision OMX microscope, I fluorescently stain the actin within Jurkat T cells, an immortal human cell line, as well as the formins INF2, mDia1, and FMNL1 in order to learn about their localization relative to these concentric, linear actin filaments at the IS. We will also transfect Jurkat cell lines with shRNA plasmids to knock down each of these protein products to observe their effect on the formation of the IS. This will help us infer about their specific roles and relative importance in the formation of this immunological structure.
Using fluorescent markers to observe actin cables in cells

Using fluorescent markers to observe actin cables in cells

Student research on hops and its potential pathogens

by Chris Hawk ’16

During the summer of 2015, I have been studying strategies to detect fungal pathogens of Humulus lupulus, commonly referred to as hops. The hops crops of Virginia have been threatened in recent years by a number of microbial pests, making studies of the ways in which hops and microbes interact both scientifically and commercially interesting. In order to do so, I have been growing live tissue in our greenhouse, by means of steam propagation and the transplanting of rhizomes from live tissue. Currently, I have a few varieties and species of Hops in the greenhouse, including Cascade, Mt. Hood, Willamette, an unknown variety found locally, and Humulus japonicas—an invasive hop.

Setting up the hops lines in the greenhouse at the start of the summer

Setting up the hops lines in the greenhouse at the start of the summer

Using the greenhouse to grow these plants has, for the most part, kept the fungal pathogens Pseudoperonospora humuli (downy mildew) and Podosphaera macularis (powdery mildew) from infecting the plants. However, I have been purposefully infecting the hops with the two fungal pathogens to determine how quickly the plants become infected before they show phenotypic signs of infection.  Understanding how these fungal pathogens best develop and spread on hops will allow me to better understand how they can be effectively controlled.

Working with mature hops at the end of the summer

Working with mature hops at the end of the summer

This work will be a central part of Hampden-Sydney’s introductory biology lab course in the Fall of 2015.  Here, several students will build on the results I find to try and better understand how hops can be most effectively grown and managed in Virginia.

Summer research on local invasive plant species

by Mason Luck ’16

Ecosystems are complex. Between thousands of years of symbiotic relationships a given system becomes stable. That is not to say that each facet is perfect, but it works. When one piece of the system is thrown off the whole system will inevitably feel the effects and could collapse as a result. Invasive species throw off the natural balance. Centaurea stoebe, otherwise known as the spotted knapweed, is an invasive species of flora close to home. It affects natural systems by outcompeting natives, causing all sorts of problems. Fields of wild grass can be taken over completely by Centaurea in effect disrupting livestock feeding grounds. In the more natural sense it may completely replace the native species, taking out the first level of a stable trophic chain. If you knock out the base of a building it is bound to collapse, much like the base of the food chain.

The goal of my research is to discover particulars about how Centaurea survives-especially as it pertains to substrates and watering schemes. Thus far I am working with roughly 715 Centaurea seedlings. The substrates I am using are sand and soil. I plan to analyze how fast/how well plants grow in each substrate, giving me a glimpse into their competitive abilities in a nutrient poor and nutrient rich environment. If they can grow in sand they may have an advantage in utilizing a substrate that is hard to be used by others. If they grow in soil, they still show that they can compete in an environment fit for other flora. The plants will receive three different watering treatments: low, medium, and high. Depending on survival and growth we can see if Centaurea has the competitive advantage of being able to withstand harsh conditions, as well as normal and high watering conditions. Once the plants are reproductively active the amount of seeds they produce will show us how well they are able to adjust to each treatment. If they produce many seeds they did very well, as they were able to devote energy to making seeds instead of growing more roots or leaves to counterbalance our treatements.

Mason with a sample of Centaurea stoebe collected locally from the High Bridge Trail.

Mason with a sample of Centaurea stoebe collected locally from the High Bridge Trail.

Field work in the Bahamas

In May, Dr. Goodman assisted a group of ecologists working on a unique island system in Great Abaco, Bahamas.  For 10 days, she and Amber Wright of University of Hawaii caught, marked, and measured Anolis sagrei lizards derived from populations introduced to 16 tiny islands two years ago.  These islands will be compared to 16 additional islands that did not receive lizard introductions to determine the impact of “top down” predator effects on these ecosystems.  Plant growth and invertebrate populations are being monitored by ecologists Jonah Piovia-ScottLouie Yang, and David Spiller.  This island system is also being used to determine the impact of “bottom up” effects of resource subsidies, in the form of hundreds of pounds of seaweed delivered to 16 of the 32 islands.

Bahamas 101 P1030354 P1030196 Bahamas 5 sm

H-SC students present research at annual HHMI national symposium

Every June, representative from institutions participating in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science (SEA-PHAGES) program gather for a student symposium at HHMI’s Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn, VA.  Hampden-Sydney has participated in SEA-PHAGES since 2011, with students isolating bacteriophages from the environment and performing molecular and bioinformatic characterization as part of a national project on bacteriophage evolution based out of the University of Pittsburgh.  This year’s H-SC student representatives were Joshua Dimmick ’15 and Taylor Meinhardt ’16.

Taylor Meinhardt '16, Joshua Dimmick '15, and. Professor Mike Wolyniak with the H-SC research poster

Taylor Meinhardt ’16, Joshua Dimmick ’15, and Professor Mike Wolyniak with the H-SC research poster

Dimmick and Reinhardt were both in Professor Mike Wolyniak’s Molecular and Cellular Biology class in the Fall 2014 semester in which the class discovered several Bacillus-based bacteriophages, including one isolated by Stephen Woodall ’15 called Archie14 that was the subject of further investigation for the symposium.

Dimmick and Meinhardt present their poster

Dimmick and Meinhardt present their poster

The symposium attracted students and faculty from ~80 institutions nationwide that participate in the SEA-PHAGES initiative and was keynoted by Eric Betzig, co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2014 for his work in microscopy.

Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon, 5 H-SC Students Publish Cancer Research

Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 recently published a major research article on melanoma-altered function of dendritic cells in the journal Immunology and Cell Biology.  Published by Nature Publishing Group, one of the leading publishers of scientific and medical journals, Immunology and Cell Biology places particular emphasis on the cellular biology of the immune system.  Dr. Hargadon’s article, entitled “Melanoma-derived factors alter the maturation and activation of differentiated tissue-resident dendritic cells,” includes 5 Hampden-Sydney College student co-authors who have worked on various aspects of this project in his lab over the past 3 years.  These student authors are Drake Bishop, Jay Brandt, Charlie Hand, Yonathan Ararso, and Osric Forrest.  Osric Forrest is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Immunology Graduate Program at Emory University, Drake Bishop and Jay Brandt are both pursuing an M.D. at Eastern Virginia Medical School, and Yonathan Ararso is in the process of applying to M.D./Ph.D. programs.  The research reported in their article (http://www.nature.com/icb/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/icb201558a.html) describes how aggressive melanomas compromise the function of dendritic cells in a way that may ultimately promote tumor escape from host immune responses.  Dr. Hargadon’s research program is currently funded by a grant from the Commonwealth Health Research Board.

Two H-SC Students Conducting Melanoma Research

This summer two H-SC students, Jefferson Thompson ’16 and Travis Goodloe 16′, are conducting melanoma research in the laboratory of Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01.  In addition to support from the College’s Honors Council and a Commonwealth Health Research Board grant to Dr. Hargadon, both students have also received external funding for their work.  Travis Goodloe received a Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid of Research for a project entitled “Validation of a Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR)-based Method for Detecting Lymph Node Metastasis by Melanoma Cells.”  He is developing an assay to measure the spread of regional melanomas into tumor-draining lymph nodes, and this work will serve as a foundation for future studies that aim to investigate how lymph node involvement by melanoma cells impacts the induction of immune responses to this tumor.  Jefferson Thompson received a Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges Undergraduate Science Research Fellowship for a project entitled “Generation of a Foxc2 Gene Knockout Murine Melanoma Cell Line via CRISPR-Cas9 Genome Editing Technology.”  CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing has revolutionized the field of genetic engineering since its discovery in 2013, and Jefferson is the first student to employ this technology at Hampden-Sydney College.  He will be editing the nucleotide sequence of the Foxc2 gene in a mouse melanoma cell line so that the protein encoded by this gene is no longer produced.  This “knockout” cell line will be used in future studies to investigate the role of the FOXC2 transcription factor in regulating melanoma metastasis, and those studies will utilize the metastasis assay being developed by Travis.  If the FOXC2 protein is shown to promote melanoma spread to lymph nodes, it may serve as both a clinical marker for the progression of this cancer as well as a novel therapeutic target for cancer treatments designed to eradicate metastatic melanoma.  Both Jefferson and Travis plan to attend medical school upon their graduation from H-SC!

Jefferson Thompson and Travis Goodloe

Jefferson Thompson ’16 (right) and Travis Goodloe ’16 (left) hard at work in the lab!

Jefferson has become a pro at gel electrophoresis!

Jefferson has become a pro at gel electrophoresis!

Travis Goodloe

Travis dissecting a melanoma tumor-bearing mouse!

5 H-SC Sophomores Accepted to Medical Schools through Early Assurance Programs

Five Hampden-Sydney College sophomore students were recently accepted into medical schools through Early Assurance Programs that the College has established.  James Lau ’17 was accepted at Eastern Virginia Medical School, Brant Boucher ’17 and Will Echols ’17 were both accepted at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine, and Benjamin Lam ’17 and Robert Kerby ’17 were both accepted at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.  Through articulation agreements established between Hampden-Sydney College and each medical institution, competitive students apply during their sophomore year for admittance into medical school.  Once accepted, successful students complete their 4 years of undergraduate work at H-SC and have guaranteed admission to medical school following their graduation.  Congratulations to this year’s successful applicants and future doctors!