Bioethics expert visits H-SC from Providence College

The Biology Department was pleased to recently host Fr. Nicanor Austrico, Associate Professor of Biology at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island and priest of the Dominican order of the Roman Catholic Church, to Hampden-Sydney.  Fr. Austriaco visited classes in bioethics and molecular and cellular biology before delivering a public seminar entitled “What Human Genomics Can Tell Us About Adam and Eve: A Catholic Perspective”


Fr. Austriaco in H-SC’s bioethics freshman seminar

Fr. Austriaco runs an NIH-supported laboratory as Providence that focuses on mechanisms regulating cell suicide while also writing extensively on matters of science and faith.  In his interactions with students, Fr. Austriaco discussed several current issues in bioethics from his unique perspective as both a scientist and a priest.  Fr. Austriaco’s public seminar was part of the biology department’s Biology Colloquium series, where students, faculty, and outside guests present and discuss their research progress with the department’s students.


New growth chambers bring new research opportunities to H-SC Biology

The department is pleased to announce the arrival of two new growth chambers to the department equipment collection.  The chambers are the result of professor Mike Wolyniak’s National Science Foundation funding and provide precise environmental conditions (temperature, humidity, light intensity, etc.) for the growth and maintenance of plants.


The new growth chambers in their new home in Gilmer Hall

Chambers such as these are essential to conducting controlled plant experiments that can be used for student and faculty research.  New plant-based experiments based on using the chambers are being planned for both spring 2015 coursework in the department and summer 2015 student/faculty research projects.

Jay Brandt ’15 receives travel award to present research at national meeting

Jay Brandt ’15 has received a $250 award to defer costs to attend the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) in Philadelphia, PA in December.  Jay will present his work along with Chris Ferrante ’15 and professor Mike Wolyniak on the synthesis of small peptides that may have antimicrobial properties against Gram positive bacteria.  The presentation will focus on both Jay and Chris’ results as well as the adaptation of their project for Dr. Wolyniak’s spring 2015 Genetics and Cell Biology course, where they will help lead the class in the development and analysis of bacterial growth experiments.  The ASCB Annual Meeting is one of the premier meetings available for the presentation of biological research to a large audience, attracting ~5,000 scientists from around the world to discuss their findings across all fields of molecular and cellular biology.

Drs. Werth and Shear write about “living fossils” for American Scientist magazine.

Dr. Alex Werth and Dr. Bill Shear of the Biology Department have published a feature article in the Sigma Xi magazine, American Scientist.  The article, entitled “The Evolutionary Truth About Living Fossils,” discusses the implications of the idea, first put forward by Darwin, that some organisms have persisted unchanged for milliions of years.  The article is prominently featured on the magazine’s cover with an illustration of a coelacanth, perhaps the most famous of “living fossils.”  In the article the two professors deconstruct the concept and show that even these antiquated-looking organisms have never stopped evolving and that in fact some of them have been shown to be evolving at rates that are among the most rapid for any organism.  They also use the “living fossil” idea to examine the crucial question of “what, if anything, is a species?”

Werth and Shear both earned PhD degrees at Harvard Univeristy, albeit 21 years apart, Shear in 1971 and Werth in 1992.  Dr. Werth studies the biomechanics of feeding in both baleen and toothed whales, and the evolution of complexity.  Dr. Shear is an authority on several groups of organisms, including millipedes and harvestmen,  and has studied the evolution of early terrestrial ecosystems.  This is his fifth feature article for American Scientist.  Dr. Werth currently serves as chair of the Biology Department; Dr. Shear will be retiring in July, 2015.

Read the article here: Living fossils

Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 Publishes Major Review Article on Dendritic Cells

Elliott Assistant Professor of Biology, Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01, recently had a major review article published in the journal International Reviews of Immunology.  The article, entitled “Murine and Human Model Systems for the Study of Dendritic Cell Immunobiology,” highlights the tools and strategies employed by immunologists to study dendritic cells, a key regulatory cell type of the immune system that is critical for both the induction of immune activation and tolerance.  These cells play major roles in immunity to pathogens, transplant acceptance/rejection, autoimmunity, and anti-tumor immunity, and their impact on the field was the basis for the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine that was awarded to three investigators who discovered and offered in-depth functional characterization of these cells.  In addition to emphasizing methodologies that have enabled experimental analyses of dendritic cells, Dr. Hargadon’s review also offers insights as to how the model systems currently in use to study these cells might be manipulated going forward to gain better a better understanding of the development and function of dendritic cells.  International Reviews of Immunology is published by Informa Healthcare and is one of the leading review journals in the field of immunology.  Dr. Hargadon’s research program focuses on the modification of dendritic cell function by tumors and how tumor-altered dendritic cells impact the quality of anti-tumor T cell responses.

H-SC biology students showcase their summer research work at C-Day

Hampden-Sydney celebrated the start of the new academic year with C-Day, a day marked by the College’s opening convocation as well as events for each of the four classes.  C-Day was also an opportunity for 10 biologists to show the results of their summer research work at a poster session held during the community picnic on campus.  Of these 10 biologists, 9 worked directly with members of the H-SC biology department on campus over the summer while the tenth, Daniel Osarfo-Akoto ’15, did his work at Harvard Medical School in conjunction with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Exceptional Research Opportunities Program.  Many of these projects will continue in the coming academic year as students pursue these projects for academic credit and, in many cases, the production of an honors thesis.

Jay Brandt '15

Jay Brandt ’15


Davis Carter ’15


Kyle Deivert ’16


Joshua Dimmick ’15


Grayland Godfrey ’15


Erik Kellogg ’15


Sean Kellogg ’15


Daniel Osarfo-Akoto ’15


Harold Willis ’16


Stephen Woodall ’15


H-SC student-generated bacteriophage sequence published on GenBank

Mycobacteriophage Cheetobro, discovered on the Hampden-Sydney campus and named by Drew Whitt ’11 and analyzed by James Hughes ’14 and Francis Polakiewicz ’14, was recently published on GenBank.  GenBank is the genomic sequence repository of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Cheetobro joins Arturo as the second mycobacteriophage sequence published through the work of Hampden-Sydney students in conjunction with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Exploring Genomics and Evolutionary Science (SEA-PHAGES) program, a collaboration between HHMI and ~80 American colleges and universities across the country.  This fall, a new crop of students will enter the program through the Biology Department’s Molecular and Cellular Biology class and will work with bacterial hosts from genus Bacillus to further contribute to understanding virus evolution.

The link to Cheetobro may be found at:

See the complete collection of mycobacteriophages isolated at Hampden-Sydney at:

Electron micrograph of mycobacteriophage Cheetobro

Electron micrograph of mycobacteriophage Cheetobro

Summer explorations at Case Western Reserve University of a career in medicine

By Myshake Abdi ’16

Over the summer I was fortunate enough to spend six weeks in Cleveland, OH participating in the Summer Medical/Dental Education Program. There are multiple SMDEP sites all over the U.S. at varying dental and medical schools; the site I chose to attend was centered in the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

At home at CWRU

At home at CWRU

Over the course of six weeks I had the privilege of attending multiple lectures, ranging from different groundbreaking studies in the medical field to insight on the process of applying to med school. Aside from guest lecturers we also were required to attend class. Each student was assigned a math, writing, physics, and chemistry course, and the classes we were placed in were contingent upon the classes we had already taken during the school year. In addition to class work, every student was assigned a public health group. Over the course of the program these public health groups were responsible with finding and proposing practical solutions to public health disparities, then presenting their topics in the form of a 20 to 30 page paper as well as a power point presentation.

Public Health Group

Myshake (3rd from right) with his public health group

However, the main experience that makes this program unique is the shadowing experience. Each SMDEP student, at the CWRU site, was given the ability to shadow 3-4 doctors in fields such as neurosurgery, plastic surgery, internal medicine, neurocritical care, and emergency care. This, in my opinion, was perhaps the one of the more useful experiences, in terms of understanding the day to day procedure of different doctors.


For more information about the program visit the page:

Or contact me at:

Drake Bishop ’14 Received Prestigious Middleton Scholarship for Medical School

Drake Bishop, a recent graduate in H-SC’s Class of 2014, has been selected as the recipient of the 2014 Dorothy Middleton Memorial Scholarship at Eastern Virginia Medical School.  This prestigious award is given to one student from each year’s entering class of medical school and provides a full scholarship that is renewable for all 4 years of medical school.  Since its establishment in 2011, two H-SC students have received the award (Barron Frazier ’12 was the recipient in 2012).  Drake, a biology major and Summa Cum Laude graduate with Departmental Honors at H-SC, received the Samual S. Jones Phi Beta Kappa Award for Excellence in Research for his Senior Honors Project on melanoma-associated suppression of dendritic cells.  Since graduating, Drake has been a participant in the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Summer Scholar Program at Eastern Virginia Medical School, where he has conducted research in the laboratory of Dr. Amy Tang on regulation of the K-RAS signaling pathway in lung cancer.  He will begin his first year of medical school at EVMS this fall!

A summer internship in reproductive medicine

by Travis Goodloe ’16

I have a summer research internship at the Center for Reproductive Medicine here in Mobile working with Dr. George Koulianos, MD and Dr. Suzanne Degelos, Ph.D.  The Center specializes in many facets of reproductive medicine including several methods of in vitro fertilization as well as intrauterine insemination (IUI) in addition to general reproductive healthcare for couples and patients facing reproductive difficulties or infertility.  My internship involves working as a lab tech with lab  director Dr. Degelos by assisting in egg retrieval and embryo transfer procedures along with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), which is the method used to fertilize eggs in vitro in the lab.  Along with my lab tech responsibilities, I have been given my own project involving some data analysis and bioinformatics in order to help the Center publish an abstract that they have been trying to get out for several months now.

In the IVF world, a new technology known as physiological intracytoplasmic sperm injection (PICSI) has emerged since about 2012 which utilizes a special dish coated in media containing the protein hyaluronan.  All normal morphological and functional  sperm have hyaluronan binding receptors on their heads while eggs possess hyaluronan protein on their outer surface that bind during natural fertilization.  Thus, PICSI dishes possess hyaluronan that allows for sperm binding in the dish and thus an embroylogist to select the best quality sperm for injection.  My project has included analyzing all the patient records since 2012 when PICSI was first used here at the Center and comparing pregnancy outcomes to ICSI patients from the same time period.  Many fertility clinics across the country are moving to this new method but unfortunately the sample size here at the Center as well as in other studies from around the country are not large enough to produce statistically significant results that prove PICSI is more effective and provides higher clinical pregnancy rates and more importantly successful delivery rates than standard ICSI. 

To learn more about the science behind my project, check out