Biology department receives several equipment upgrades

The arrival of 2014 has seen the arrival of several new pieces of equipment in the Biology department that will enhance both classroom and research activity.  The new equipment is the result of ~$17,000 in total external funds awarded to the department from the National Science Foundation and the Genome Consortium for Active Teaching (GCAT).  First, the Enviro-Genie provides a controlled environment for heating, cooling, and incubating biological reagents:

 

It doesn't slice or dice....but it DOES heat, cool, rotate, and rock!

It doesn’t slice or dice….but it DOES heat, cool, rotate, and rock!

Next, the Department has obtained a second PCR machine for the specific amplification of DNA segments of interest:

The original PCR machine reproduced!!

The original PCR machine reproduced!!

Finally, the Department now has a sophisticated method to document gels from DNA and RNA based experiments:

Ultraviolet photography in a safe environment

Ultraviolet photography in a safe environment

The new equipment lets the faculty in the Department integrate new and exciting experiments into their classes as well as their individual research projects.

Dr. Rachel Goodman receives grant renewal

Dr. Rachel Goodman recently received a grant renewal from the Thomas F. and Kate Miller Jeffress Memorial Trust.  Her research explores interactions between ranavirus, an emerging wildlife disease, and chemical pollutants using a model system in reptiles.  An experiment in summer 2014 will examine how juvenile red-eared slider turtles respond to ranavirus in the presence of commonly used herbicides.

Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 Receives Renewal of Grant for Cancer Research

Elliott Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 received a $10,000 renewal of a Virginia Academy of Science Jeffress Research Grant from the Thomas F. Jeffress and Kate Miller Jeffress Memorial Trust for his project entitled “Tumor-induced Immunosuppression of Dendritic Cell Function.”  This renewal brings total funding from the Jeffress Trust for this project to $45,000 over the last 3 years.  With the previous funding, Dr. Hargadon has utilized this funding to study the mechanism of melanoma associated suppression of the function of dendritic cells, immune cells that are critical regulators of overall anti-tumor immune responses.  Using both in vitro and ex vivo model systems, Dr. Hargadon and collaborating H-SC students have identified partial roles for the melanoma-derived factors TGFbeta1 and VEGF-A in the suppression of dendritic cell function.  This new funding will be used to further characterize the nature of melanoma-altered dendritic cells and to evaluate how these altered dendritic cells impact the quality of helper and cytotoxic T cell activation and differentiation.  Together, these and the previous studies from this project will provide insights into tumor immune evasion strategies and may inform the design of novel immunotherapies for the treatment of melanoma.  

Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 Featured in Global Medical Discovery

Elliott Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon’s recent article entitled “Tumor-Altered Dendritic Cell Function: Implications for Anti-Tumor Immunity,” which was published in the summer of 2013 in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, has recently been featured in the Global Medical Discovery Series.  Global Medical Discovery is an online platform founded in 2002 that is designed “to highlight breaking news about the latest scientific discoveries” and “to promote the status of talented scientists and industry experts in the international academic and pharmaceutical industry scene.”  Dr. Hargadon’s article focuses on recent advances in tumor immunology that have increased our understanding of anti-tumor immune dysfunction, and it emphasizes immunotherapeutic strategies that have been designed to overcome this dysfunction while also highlighting questions that remain to be addressed in this field to further optimize anti-tumor immune responses and improve cancer treatment.

The featured article can be found at: http://globalmedicaldiscovery.com/key-scientific-articles/tumor-altered-dendritic-cell-function-implications-anti-tumor-immunity/

 

Sigma Xi Research Day Symposium Kicks Off Re-activation of Scientific Research Society Chapter at H-SC

Sigma Xi, the international multidisciplinary scientific research society, was founded in 1886 to honor excellence in scientific investigation and encourage collaboration among researchers in all fields of science and engineering.  The Society consists of over 500 chapters at academic, industrial, and government research institutions and has nearly 60,000 members in more than 100 countries around the world. The Society endeavors to encourage support of original work across the spectrum of science and technology and to promote an appreciation within society at large for the role research has played in human progress. 

In 2013 Hampden-Sydney College and Longwood University reactivated their long-dormant joint chapter of Sigma Xi in an effort to promote scientific research achievements by students and faculty and to foster collaboration between the two institutions.  Chapter reactivation began over the summer of 2013 with a drafting of by-laws for the joint Sigma Xi chapter, and the schools celebrated their newly activated status on November 12, 2013 when Hampden-Sydney College hosted the inaugural Longwood University/Hampden-Sydney College Sigma Xi Research Day Symposium.  The event attracted nearly 100 students, faculty, and community members to Crawley Forum and began with a welcome by Dr. Kristian Hargadon ’01, Elliott Assistant Professor of Biology at H-SC and President of the Longwood/H-SC Sigma Xi chapter (Dr. Hargadon was first inducted into Sigma Xi while a student at Hampden-Sydney in 2000).  He introduced Hampden-Sydney College President Dr. Christopher Howard, who delivered opening remarks for the symposium. 

Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01, President of the Longwood University/Hampden-Sydney College Sigma Xi Chapter

 

H-SC President, Dr. Christopher Howard, delivering the Symposium’s opening remarks

 

Following these opening remarks, keynote speaker Dr. Timothy Bullock, Associate Professor of Pathology and Microbiology in the Beirne B. Carter Center for Immunology Research and Human Immune Therapy Center at the University of Virginia, delivered his address entitled “United We Stand: Synergy Between Conventional and Immune-based Therapies for Cancer Treatment.”  This energetic talk highlighted cutting edge strategies for combining chemotherapy and immunotherapy in the treatment of melanoma and other cancers.  While these approaches were once thought to be at odds with one another (immune therapies promote replication of a patient’s immune cells, while chemotherapy attacks cancerous and non-cancerous cells undergoing replication), recent evidence now suggests that optimizing the delivery of these different therapies may lead to enhanced anti-tumor activity.  That is, certain chemotherapies have been shown to induce a specialized type of tumor cell death that triggers immune cell stimulation, and subsequent administration of immune-based therapies may lead not only to further eradication of tumor cells that escaped chemotherapeutic destruction but also to long-lasting immune protection from tumor recurrence.  

Dr. Timothy Bullock delivering the keynote address

The keynote address was followed by a poster session in which Hampden-Sydney College and Longwood University students presented research conducted through Honors/Independent Study Projects and Summer Research Programs.  The work of 22 students ranging from freshmen to seniors was showcased at the event and represented work conducted in various fields of science, including biology, chemistry, and physics.  

Jefferson Thompson and James Hughes discussing their research with Chemistry Professors Dr. Sipe and Dr. Deifel

 

Drake Bishop presenting his cancer research to Longwood University tumor immunologist, Dr. Amorette Barber

 

Davis Carter and Erik Kellogg discussing their research on Ranavirus infection in local herpetofauna and invasive plant species

 

Biology major David Coe presenting his research on antibiotic resistance of ocular bacterial pathogens to Chemistry major John Dekarske

 

Biology major Carter Guice’s poster (Carter not shown), showing his summer research on HIV conducted at Louisiana State University

 

We are so excited by the enthusiasm for scientific research at Hampden-Sydney College and Longwood University generated by this symposium, and our newly reactivated Sigma Xi chapter has significant momentum moving forward.  To follow up on the success of the symposium, an initiation ceremony will be held in Spring 2014 for the induction of new student and faculty members to the Society.

Whales and more

Here is a quick update on my marine mammal research in the Pacific Northwest, and a plea from an old biologist for students and others to be holistic in their approach… I have been spending my time in various ways, including: 1) looking through a stereomicroscope at collagen and other connective tissue fibers (in the baleen filter and associated gums of whales); 2) planning and preparing for electron microscopy of whales’ oral tissues to reveal microscopic wear patterns from water flow; 3) dissecting whole marine mammals (harbor porpoises, Pacific white-sided dolphins, and a sea otter) in necropsy sessions; and 4) looking at live marine mammals ranging from porpoises, dolphins, and whales (beluga, killer, humpback) to seals, sea lions, fur seals, and sea otters. Which is best? All of the above, naturally!

It is crucially important for biologists who study tiny levels of biological organization (molecules and cells) to know something about the ecology, behavior, and life history of the whole organisms these parts come from, even if those organisms are unicellular bacteria or yeasts. At the same time, biologists who work at the community and ecosystem level obviously need to know about the tissues and biochemical/physiological reactions that occur inside various organisms. Not surprisingly, the best understanding comes when you view life from all sides of this prism: that is, from both ends of this scale range and many points in between.

The great thing about biology at Hampden-Sydney is that our students and faculty—and our curriculum—ensure a focus on all levels of biological organization. Premedical students occasionally complain about having to study ecology, but it is essential for physicians to know about public health concerns from a population perspective, just as it is important for wildlife biologists to understand the molecular and genetic basis of life in whales, snakes, millipedes, and weeds. As I spend time at a huge (60,000 student) university where everyone—student and professor alike—is too often focused on a single tiny aspect of biology, it’s important to remember what a small institution like H-SC can offer, and indeed do better than a mighty, massive university. To put it another way—as one who daily spends time this autumn in an enormous (coastal temperate rain) forest—it is truly important “to see the forest for the trees.”

Biology department receives grant to support purchase of new equipment

The Biology department has received $10,200 for the purchase of laboratory equipment related to the teaching of synthetic biology, or the construction of biological “machines” in bacteria based on precise DNA parts, from the Genome Consortium for Active Teaching (GCAT).  GCAT, founded and directed by Dr. A. Malcolm Campbell at Davidson College, provides training and development opportunities to build classroom-based research experiences in genomics and synthetic biology.  The H-SC grant, made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to GCAT, will enable the biology department to purchase updated technology for the amplification and screening of DNA for research in both independent and classroom settings.

H-SC phage researchers present work at “Phage Phaire 2013″

Hampden-Sydney’s Biology department has been affiliated with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science (SEA-PHAGES) program since 2011.  The program has provided a research network centered on viral discovery and research that has given 23 H-SC biologists first-hand research experience in the last two years.  Two of these students, James Hughes ’14 and Daniel Osarfo-Akoto ’15, have been doing independent research projects on phage discovery and characterization and accompanied the departments Dr. Mike Wolyniak to James Madison University to present their research at “Phage Phaire 2013″.

Hughes, Wolyniak, and Osarfo-Akoto after a long day of science

The gathering was organized by the biology department at JMU and consisted of students from JMU, Hampden-Sydney, VCU, and Mary Washington who have been working on the SEA-PHAGES project.  Representatives from HHMI and guest speakers from NC State University were also on hand.

James with a large crowd at his research poster

Daniel explaining his research to JMU undergraduates

The SEA-PHAGES project is continuing at Hampden-Sydney in 2014 in the form of genomic sequence analysis in Biology 313 (Genomics) in the spring semester and the isolation and characterization of a new set of phages in Biology 312 (Molecular Biology) in the fall semester.

 

6 H-SC students present research work at Sigma Xi national meeting

The Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society held its annual student research conference in Durham, NC as an opportunity for science students ranging from the high school to postdoctoral level to present their research progress in a professional setting.  Six Hampden-Sydney students presented their research at this meeting, which was attended by students from all over the United States and from large research institutions including Duke, Cornell, the University of Rochester, and Georgetown.

Team Hampden-Sydney

The meeting gave the Hampden-Sydney students the opportunity to receive outside feedback on their research and to get experience in how a professional meeting work in the biological sciences.  Workshop opportunities allowed students to learn about career opportunities in science journalism and finding summer research opportunities.

Alan Fish ’14

 

Christian Lehman ’14

Francis Polakiewicz ’14

Gio Torres ’14

Davis Carter ’15

James Hughes ’14

Drake Bishop ’14, Dr. Kristian Hargadon ’01 Present Melanoma Research at ASM Conference

On Friday, November 8 H-SC senior biology major Drake Bishop and Elliott Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian Hargadon ’01 presented their research on melanoma-associated suppression of dendritic cells at the University of Virginia at the VA Branch Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.  Drake began his research project in collaboration with Dr. Hargadon through the H-SC Student/Faculty Summer Fellowship Program, and he is currently extending this work throughout this academic year for his Senior Honors Project in Biology.  This work builds off of previous in vitro data from the Hargadon Laboratory demonstrating melanoma-associated suppression of the maturation and activation of dendritic cell lines.  Dendritic cells are critical regulators of host immune responses that often control the activation versus tolerization of an immune response.  Drake’s work has extended earlier studies by examining how melanoma-derived factors impact the maturation and activation of dendritic cells isolated from the spleens of mice.  In this ex vivo system, Drake has demonstrated that the activity of these bonafide dendritic cells is also altered by melanoma-derived factors, and he has identified partial roles for TGFbeta1 and VEGF-A in this tumor-induced immune suppression.  Next year, Drake will be attending Eastern Virginia Medical School, where he was accepted as a sophomore through the College’s early acceptance articulation agreement.  He plans to specialize in immunology!

Drake Bishop (left) and Dr. Hargadon (right) with their poster