ST. LEONARD, MD–This summer I have been participating in an internship with Morgan State University’s Estuarine Research Center. The research I have been working on involves looking at the effects of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and their affects on fetilization success and embryonic transformation to D-Stage larvae in the Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica). Essentially we have to extract eggs and sperm from oysters by stripping them down, analyzing their gamete viability, and then fertilizing the two in various enviroments of PAHs to observe the abnormalities that are produced by the concentrations of PAHs. We have been using a lot of techniques that I have picked up in school, especially the flourescent microscopy that we used in Endocrinology with Dr. Devlin. So far it appears that our experiments are producing signifigant results that are similar to what we hypothesized. The other positives about working at the Estuarine Research Center is that I have been able to look at and help with other experiments here including; oyster hatchery operations, on going crab studies ranging back to the 1960s, and phytoplankton sampling. This internship is also teaching my valuable life skills, I can now easily and properly shuck oysters after doing it so many times here.
WINSTON-SALEM, NC—This summer I have done research at the Rheumatology lab at Wake Forest. I am working at the same location as last year but I have gained more responsiblity this year and can actually make an impact on the research. We are working with various Lupus phenotype mice that have various genes knocked out. Ultimately the Lupus phenotype mice are more prone to aterosclerosis, inflammation, skin disease and other lupus-like symptoms. We are mainly focusing on the cholesterol absorption of these mice in comparison to healthy, non-Lupus mice. We isolate the blood, and centrifuge it to seperate the blood from the plasma. We test the plasma for total cholesterol, free cholesterol, and triglyceride content. We also measure food intake by collecting the stool, and weighing both the mice and the food. The interesting discovery arises when we look at one particular phenotype. Because the paper is not yet published, my boss insists I keep the exact gene name quiet. Anyway, mice with this gene (enzyme) knocked out, seem to be protected against the increased cholesterol absorption witnessed in Lupus phenotype mice. Even when fed on high fat/high cholesterol diet, they’re cholesterol absorption/uptake remains normal if not decreased. This means that they’re essentailly protected from atherosclerosis, which is a huge compontent of Lupus. They take in less of the LDL (low density lipoprotein) which is termed “bad cholesterol.” This is currently where our research is focused and will be for some time. I have basically mastered the art of reverse transcriptase-PCR (examining gene expression by looking at levels of mRNA in a cell). This lab is fixated with lipid and protein so I have also done many Western blots (examines amount of a protein of interest in a cell).
In essence, synthetic biology standardizes biological “parts” (called BioBricks) in the way that railroad gauges were standardized in the 19th century……a series of DNA sections can be assembled into any number of systems by any laboratory through the use of a common procedure. Each year hundreds of universities gather at MIT for the annual International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM) to present advances in this exciting field (check out the above link for some of the applications presented at last year’s jamboree).
Recently, 15 faculty teams from around the United States gathered at Davidson College for a workshop sponsored by the Genome Consortium on Active Teaching (GCAT) on how to bring synthetic biology to America’s small colleges. Each faculty team consisted of a biologist and a non-biologist to encourage collaboration between disciplines: Hampden-Sydney was represented by Dr. Mike Wolyniak from Biology and Dr. Paul Hemler from Computer Science. The meeting encouraged a great deal of planning of how the two departments could work together to bring synthetic biology research to the Hampden-Sydney classroom and laboratory and encouraged participants to consider problems from the perspective of another discipline.
The meeting culminated in the conception and presentation of possible research ideas for student involvement. The Hampden-Sydney professors teamed up with teams from Longwood University and the University of Mary Washington to present a potential Virginia collaborative project in which bacteria and yeast could be used to detect mutagens in the environment:
Overall, participants left the workshop with great enthusiasm both to work together across disciplines and different colleges and to bring the emerging field of synthetic biology to the small college classroom and laboratory. Read more about the meeting and its proceedings at the following links:
RICHMOND, VA–This summer I have been fortunate to have spent time with a number of administrators within the Bon Secours health system. These administrators include the CEO of St. Francis Hospital, the VP of operations at St. Francis, and the Director of Sports Medicine for Bon Secours of Richmond. My days mainly consist of meetings with doctors, nurses, other administrators as well as individuals in the healthcare community. I began my summer work at the end of May and will continue to work until the beginning of July. This experience has given me exposure to healthcare administration as well as allowing me to make a number of important connections.
HOUSTON, TX–This summer I am doing research in a gastroenterology lab at Baylor College of Medicine. I have been working on several research projects for the last month or so. The first project that I am working on involves infusing preterm fetal piglets with total parental nutrition and one of three differing lipid emulsions. After receiving the treatment lipid emulsions for a period of two weeks, piglet tissue, plasma, and erythrocytes are collected and analyzed. It is hypothesized that some of these lipid emulsions may reduce complications that are associated with total parental nutrition infusions. I have also been working on a project that seeks to analyze the influence of the molecule methylthioadenosine (MTA) in mice that have induced gastrointestinal colitis.
Through this internship, I have been able to learn and practice numerous biological laboratory techniques. The techniques that I have had exposure to thus far have included: RNA isolation, RT-PCR, animal surgery, cell culturing, animal calorimetery, protein assays, animal necroscopy, and histological morphometry analysis. While at Baylor College of Medicine, I have also had the opportunity to attend various lectures/conferences and medical procedures in the various surrounding hospitals.