H-SC Biologists at the American Society for Cell Biology Annual Meeting in San Diego

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Two Hampden-Sydney biology students, Taylor Meinhardt ’16 and Will Echols ’17, and Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Mike Wolyniak recently returned from the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) in San Diego, California.  The ASCB is the world’s preeminent society for cell biologists and attracts thousands of scientists from around the world each December to their annual meeting.  Meinhardt presented his research to the meeting on the molecular activation of T-cells that he performed this past summer at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in conjunction with the Hampden-Sydney Honors Council Summer Research Program.
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Taylor Meinhardt ’16 presents his NIH research poster at the general poster session in the main hall at the ASCB meeting

His mentor at the NIH, Dr. Sricharan Murugesan, visits H-SC regularly and works with Dr. Wolyniak to bring cutting-edge laboratory research opportunities to the College’s biology students.  Dr. Wolyniak is an active member of the ASCB’s Education Committee and presented his work to the meeting on developing the Committee’s mentorship program that, among other things, brought Dr. Murugesan’s research to the H-SC community.  While in San Diego, the H-SC team was also able to catch up with Kris Miller ’13, a staff scientist with Synthetic Genomics, Inc. working on recombinant viral research related to work he originally did while a student in Dr. Wolyniak’s Molecular and Cellular Biology class.  Synthetic Genomics is a company founded by J. Craig Venter of the Human Genome Project whose mission is to develop alternative fuels through the modification or synthetic production of microorganisms.
Associate Professor of Biology and ASCB Education Committee Member Mike Wolyniak, Kris Miller '13, Taylor Meinhardt '16, and Will Echols '17 have lunch on Coronado Island

Associate Professor of Biology and ASCB Education Committee Member Mike Wolyniak, Kris Miller ’13, Taylor Meinhardt ’16, and Will Echols ’17 have lunch on Coronado Island

The ASCB Annual Meeting is an outstanding opportunity for students to interact with peers as well as trained scientists of all levels as they work to discern their future career interests.  Meinhardt is interested in pursuing graduate school in molecular biology while Echols, who performed research in Dr. Wolyniak’s laboratory on characterizing the yeast homolog of a human prostate cancer tumor factor, has already been admitted to the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine as part of the College’s Early Assurance agreement.
After the keynote address

After the keynote address

Watching the sun set over the Pacific in La Jolla, CA

Watching the sun set over the Pacific at La Jolla, California

Human Evolution/Anthropology class visits Smithsonian, National Zoo

The Human Evolution/Anthropology class traveled to Washington, DC, on Tuesday November 17 to see the gorillas and orangutans inside the Great Ape House as well as in their outdoor enclosures (or brachiating high above along the orangutan “O Line”). Led by Dr. Alex Werth, the class was able to see some interesting behaviors, from locomotion and feeding to chest-pounding, chasing, and other displays of dominance.

H-SC students commune with a National Zoo orangutan

H-SC students commune with a National Zoo orangutan

Next the class took the Metro subway to visit the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution, particularly the Hall of Human Origins. In addition to the public exhibits, we had a behind-the-scenes tour from the manager and a scientist of the Human Origins Program, checking out skulls, skeletal material, and study skins plus research on core samples revealing the history of the past million years in the Olorgesailie prehistoric site of Kenya, where stone tools and fossils are abundant. It was a long day but a great trip.

Touring behind the scenes at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Touring behind the scenes at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

H-SC student researchers attend regional conference to present summer work

On Saturday October 10 a group of 14 Hampden-Sydney students traveled to Lynchburg to present their summer independent research projects at the 17th Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference for Undergraduate Scholarship (MARCUS) meeting hosted by Randolph College.  The meeting brought together undergraduates from Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina to share their research work across all academic disciplines.   Hampden-Sydney’s delegation represented students from the departments of Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Computer Science, and Physics and Astronomy and work that the students did both at Hampden-Sydney and off-campus in the summer of 2015.  The subjects of their work included such diverse topics as examination the regulation of genes, developing new chemical structures with industrial and biological applications, and developing new computer programs to accelerate processing of a variety of applications. Biologists in the group included Will Echols ’17, Kyle Grierson ’16, Michael Bouldin ’16, Mason Luck ’16, and Brant Boucher ’17. The vast majority of the projects as well as the costs of attending the MARCUS meeting were financially supported through summer research funding available through Hampden-Sydney’s Honors Council and Office of Undergraduate Research.
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In the picture from left to right are: Ben Lam ’17, Josh Chamberlin ’17, Will Echols ’17, Conrad Brown ’17, Sam Sheffield ’17, Kyle Grierson ’16, Dane Asuigui ’16, Myshake Abdi ’16, Michael Bouldin ’16, Mason Luck ’16, Branch Vincent ’16, Brant Boucher ’17, William Fitzgerald ’16, and Linh Nguyen ‘16

The same group in their more natural state

The same group in their more natural state

Welcome Dr. Erin Clabough to the H-SC Department of Biology!

Dr. Erin Clabough is a neuroscientist, science writer, and teacher, and is the newest member of the H-SC Biology department. Neuroscience is, by definition, the most interdisciplinary of fields, and as such, Dr Clabough has wide interests in the fields of medicine, basic biology, writing, and psychology.
Dr. Clabough

Dr. Clabough

As a graduate student in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, she researched Huntington’s disease, a neurodegenerative genetic disorder. After receiving her doctorate in neuroscience and molecular genetics, she worked as a medical writer, covering topics ranging from allergies to cancer to Botox®. Her postdoc position was also at UVa, where she worked with adipose-derived stem cells on a project aiming to reverse damage to the eye due to diabetes.
Dr. Clabough's students prep for classwork in neuroscience

Dr. Clabough’s students prep for classwork in neuroscience

She has been teaching full-time at the college level for several years now, and her research focuses on neurodevelopment. She is interested in research-based active course learning, community outreach, and the science behind effective ways of learning. Her neurobiology class spent this week creating models of neurons, drawing shower cap anatomical brain maps, and designing experiments to better understand the effect that alcohol has on neurons in cultures.
Neuroscience comes to H-SC Biology!

Neuroscience comes to H-SC Biology!

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.

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.