Summer research in protein biochemistry

By Jason D. Pough II ’19

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 tools of the trade for site-directed mutagenesis

The tools of the trade for site-directed mutagenesis

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.

Bacterial colonies after selection against ampicillin. The plasmid DNA in these cells will be sequenced to see if the desired mutation was created.

Bacterial colonies after selection against ampicillin. The plasmid DNA in these cells will be sequenced to see if the desired mutation was created.

The author prepares DNA for analysis

The author prepares DNA for analysis

H-SC summer research: developing scaffolds for mammalian tissue engineering

By Tyler McGaughey ’18

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.

C2C12 cells under 400x magnification

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.

Side view of gelatin scaffold to show thickness

Side view of gelatin scaffold to show thickness

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.

3D printing a pore-inducing disk

3D printing a pore-inducing disk

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.

Hydrogels with varying degrees of cross-linking in a 6-well plate

Hydrogels with varying degrees of cross-linking in a 6-well plate

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 author working on cell culture technique in a laminar flow hood

The author working on cell culture technique in a laminar flow hood

3D Printing comes to H-SC Biology

As part of a seed grant project between Hampden-Sydney and Virginia Tech for the development of research opportunities in bioengineering, the Biology Department has received a 3D printer for classroom and research purposes.  As the summer research season kicks off at the College, the timing of this new acquisition could not be better:

Tyler McGaughey '19, Jason Pough '19, and Brian Tarnai '20 install and set up the new printer

Tyler McGaughey ’18, Jason Pough ’19, and Brian Tarnai ’20 install and set up the new printer

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.

This lawn gnome is the first creation of the new H-SC Biology 3D printer

This lawn gnome is the first creation of the new H-SC Biology 3D printer

Congratulations to the Biology Class of 2017!

The Biology Class of 2017 has achieved great things in their four years at the College, and we will miss their presence in Gilmer Hall.  Best of luck to all of our graduates!

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

 

Biology students honored at Hampden-Sydney Final Convocation

The Hampden-Sydney Biology Department was well represented at the College’s Final Convocation, an award ceremony recognizing outstanding academic achievement during the 2016-17 year.

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.

James Lau '17 receives the Hewett Biology award from Chair of Biology Alex Werth

James Lau ’17 receives the Hewett Biology award from Chair of Biology Alex Werth

The H.B. Overcash Prize for outstanding achievement among pre-health junior students was awarded to Nicholas Chase ’18.

Dr. Werth enthusiastically awards the Overcash Prize to Nicholas Chase

Dr. Werth enthusiastically awards the Overcash Prize to Nicholas Chase

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.

Director of the Office of Academic Success Lisa Burns presents Blake Martin '19 with his award.

Director of the Office of Academic Success Lisa Burns presents Blake Martin ’19 with his award.

Next awarded was Biology major Coleman Johnson ’19.

Coleman Johnson '19 with Director Burns

Coleman Johnson ’19 with Director Burns

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.

Dr. Steele Nowlin, Chair of the Department of English, and David Bushhouse '19

Dr. Steele Nowlin, Chair of the Department of English, and David Bushhouse ’19

H-SC Biology research presented at international Biochemistry and Molecular Biology meeting

This year, Hampden-Sydney sent two of its students, Brant Boucher ’17 and Jason Halmo ’17, accompanied Associate Professor of Biology Mike Wolyniak to the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology  (ASBMB) in Chicago.  Part of the Experimental Biology federation of 6 biology professional societies, ASBMB is an international gathering of scientists and one of the premiere opportunities to explore the frontiers of biochemistry and molecular biology.

Jason Halmo and Brant Boucher at the meeting

Jason Halmo and Brant Boucher at the meeting

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 presents his work to fellow undergraduates.

Halmo presents his work to fellow undergraduates.

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.

Presenting at the Public Outreach Poster Session

Presenting at the Public Outreach Poster Session

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.

Brant Boucher presents his work

Brant Boucher presents his work

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.

H-SC biology student research presented at the Virginia House of Delegates

Two Hampden-Sydney students, Brant Boucher ’17 and Jason Halmo ’17, recently presented their ongoing research work at the Virginia House of Delegates in conjunction with the Student Research Showcase at the Capitol event put on each January by the Virginia Academy of Science.  The event is designed to highlight undergraduate student research in the STEM fields to the state legislature and allow legislators to interact with students from across the Commonwealth who are actively working on projects.  Brant and Jason represented 2 of 19 total projects that were presented at the event.  The projects represented all varieties of undergraduate institutions in Virginia, including public and private schools as well as 2-year and 4-year institutions.

Brant presented his work done with Dr. Hargadon on the characterization of methods to combat melanoma.

Brant presenting his research poster

Brant presenting his research poster

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 listening to questions on his project

Jason listening to questions on his project

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.

Group picture of all student participants

Group picture of all student participants

Brant and Jason valiantly transport the easels and poster backings to Dr. Wolyniak's car in a driving rainstorm

Brant and Jason valiantly transport the easels and poster backings to Dr. Wolyniak’s car in a driving rainstorm

H-SC Biology on the go: presentations in all four corners of the United States

The first two weeks of November saw an unprecedented period of travel activity for the faculty and students of the Hampden-Sydney Biology Department.  Over this period, H-SC biologists attended six regional and national scientific conferences all across the United States and presented the research work they have been doing over the summer as well as the academic year:

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.

Brant Boucher' 17 with his research poster

Brant Boucher’ 17 with his research poster

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.

James Lau '17 presents his research poster

James Lau ’17 presents his research poster

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.

Thomas Vinyard '17, Tyler Reekes' 17, and William Echols '17 with their research poster

Thomas Vinyard ’17, Tyler Reekes ’17, and William Echols ’17 with their research poster

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.

Luke Bloodworth '18 (right) with Drew Bonner, a student at Auburn University, and Dr. Anil Challa of the University of Alabama-Birmingham School of Medicine

Luke Bloodworth ’18 (right) with Drew Bonner, a student at Auburn University, and Dr. Anil Challa of the University of Alabama-Birmingham School of Medicine

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.

Traylor Nichols '17

Traylor Nichols ’17

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.

Dakota Reinartz '18

Dakota Reinartz ’18

Joey Tyler '17

Joey Tyler ’17

David Bushhouse '19

David Bushhouse ’19

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 Ingersoll '18, Dr. Erin Clabough, and Tyler Reekes '17 with their research posters in San Diego

Jamie Ingersoll ’18, Dr. Erin Clabough, and Tyler Reekes ’17 with their research posters in San Diego

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.

A lighter moment at the meeting.....

A lighter moment at the meeting…..

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.

Whale sightings off the Alaska coast

Whale sightings off the Alaska coast

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.

Biology student research in action: student research on hops development presented at local brewing festival

Over the past couple of years, several students in the Hampden-Sydney biology classroom and laboratory have explored the microbes that coexist on hops plants and how those microbes may help or harm commercial hops yields.  The project has been integrated as an authentic research experience in the Biology Department’s Introductory Biology course and has served as the inspiration for several independent student projects that have taken place both during the academic year and over the summer.  One of the most dedicated students to this project has been Michael Willis ’17, who is looking towards a career in the brewing industry after graduation.  Michael recently took a selection of research posters detailing the work done by Hampden-Sydney students on plant/microbe interactions involving hops and presented them at the Hops and Harvest Festival at Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield, VA.

H-SC student research in display at the Hops and Harvest Festival

H-SC student research in display at the Hops and Harvest Festival

The Hops and Harvest Festival is the premier craft beer festival in central Virginia, and dozens of visitors took the time to look over the variety of posters detailing how common plant pathogens may be affecting the ability to grow a strong commercial hops crop in Virginia.  This presentation is an outstanding example of how student research at Hampden-Sydney can have real world applications that can benefit the general public.

Welcome Dr. Kristin Fischer to the H-SC Biology Department

Dr. Kristin M. Fischer is very excited to return to her home state of Virginia and be the newest member of the H-SC Biology department. She earned her B.S in Biology at Virginia Tech and her interest in the medical field led her to pursue her graduate degrees from the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. Dr. Fischer focused on tissue engineering with the goal to replace or repair damaged tissue in the body by creating a scaffold structure for cells to grow on, culturing cells on the scaffold, and implanting a functional, new tissue into a patient.

KFischer

Her graduate work at Virginia Tech and post-doctoral work at Rutgers University focused on creating a scaffold for skeletal muscle cells to grow on and culturing the skeletal muscle cells on it. The image below shows a scanning electron image of the polymeric scaffold on top and skeletal muscle cells fluorescently stained grown on it below. She completed a second postdoctoral position focusing on cardiac muscle tissue engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition to her research, Dr. Fischer has previously taught a variety of courses including physiology, tissue engineering, anatomy & physiology, and introductory biology. She is looking forward to teaching in the upcoming school year.

Bio blog -2 (4)

Journal of Biomedical Materials Research Part A, 2011. 99A(3): p. 493-499.