unPAKing H-SC classroom-based research in Austin

Hampden-Sydney is a charter member of Undergraduates Phenotyping Arabidopsis Knockouts (unPAK), a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research initiative that seeks to better understand the genetics and ecology of the mouse-eared cress (Arabidopsis thaliana).  A. thaliana is a model plant whose study provides an inexpensive and efficient way to better understand plant biology as a whole.  The work of unPAK is predominantly performed by undergraduates in both classroom and independent research contexts.  The original 2011 network of 4 unPAK institutions (Hampden-Sydney, The College of Charleston, Barnard College (NY), and the University of Georgia) was joined by 8 additional institutions in 2014 (Virginia Tech, Oberlin College (OH), The University of Prince Edward Island (Canada), Tri-County Technical College (SC), Benedict College (SC), Francis Marion University (SC), Santa Rosa Junior College (CA), and The University of Washington-Bothell) upon NSF renewal representing American undergraduate institutions of all sizes and missions.

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.

The unPAK meeting, UT-Austin

The unPAK meeting, UT-Austin

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.

Drew Elliott '18, Traylor Nichols '17, and Dakota Reinartz '18 with their research poster

Drew Elliott ’18, Traylor Nichols ’17, and Dakota Reinartz ’18 with their research poster

Drew discusses the group's work with unPAK conference participants

Drew discusses the group’s work with unPAK conference participants

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.

Three Hampden-Sydney men under the UT-Austin Lone Star flag

Three Hampden-Sydney men under the UT-Austin Lone Star flag

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