H-SC student researchers present their findings at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Joshua Dimmick ’15 and Grayland Godfrey ’15 represented Hampden-Sydney’s 2013-14 bacteriophage research class at the annual meeting of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science (SEA-PHAGES) symposium.  The SEA-PHAGES program unites ~80 institutions across the United States in the common goal of better understanding how bacteriophages have evolved over time (Learn more at http://www.hhmi.org/programs/science-education-alliance and http://www.phagesdb.org).  The symposium was held at HHMI’s state of the art Janelia Farm Research campus in Ashburn, Virginia.

Josh Dimmick, Grayland Godfrey, and H-SC project advisor Dr. Mike Wolyniak

Josh Dimmick, Grayland Godfrey, and H-SC project advisor Dr. Mike Wolyniak

Josh and Grayland presented their genomic characterization of McFly, a bacteriophage of the bacterial species Mycobacterium smegmatis originally discovered on the H-SC campus in 2012 and named by Seth Ayers ’13, a past project participant.  McFly resembles several bacteriophages isolated from across the U.S. but also has unique features such as the code for three tRNA molecules.  By studying McFly along with the phages found at other schools, undergraduates like Josh and Grayland are contributing to authentic research spearheaded by a research group at the University of Pittsburgh that regularly disseminates findings through publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Presentation day!

Presentation day!


Talking to multiple colleagues

Talking to multiple colleagues

Josh and Grayland received an Honorable Mention award at the end of the symposium, placing their poster presentation in the top 10 of over 70 student posted presented and placing them in the same tier as students from Johns Hopkins, Brown, and Carnegie-Mellon Universities.  The SEA-PHAGES project will once again be in place at H-SC in the fall as a new group of biology students enrolled in Dr. Wolyniak’s Molecular and Cellular Biology course will attempt to isolate bacteriophage from the environment that target several species of the bacterial genus Bacillus.

Jaguars Ripped my Flesh

Dr. Shear has returned from the rain forest of Costa Rica, where he and the MITS team spent a week collecting millipedes at La Selva Biological Research Station, one of the facilities of the Organization for Tropical Studies. La Selva is located in lowland/piedmont rain forest on the Caribbean slope and provides facilities for researchers working on tropical ecology, systematics and evolution. While in Costa Rica, the team visited other preserves in Costa Rica, including Volcan Tenorio, near the Nicaragua border.  The MITS project, financed by a NSF grant to Auburn University, Hampden-Sydney College, Virginia Tech and the Field Museum of Chicago will construct the first phylogenetic tree of millipedes using next-generation sequencing data.  As many as 100 species will have their transcriptomes completely sequenced, giving us thousands of genes to work with.  In addition, data on the chemical defenses of millipedes will be mapped on the tree.  Preliminary results obtained by Dr. Shear in collaboration with Dr. Tappey Jones of the Chemistry Department at VMI record for the first time the chemistry of the defensive secretions of all millipede orders.

The MITS team includes (L to R) Dr. Shear, Dr. Paul Marek and grad student Jackson Means (Virginia Tech), Dr. Jason Bond and grad student Rebecca Godwin (Auburn), Dr. Petra Sierwald (Field Museum) and Carlos Viquez (INBio).

The MITS team includes (L to R) Dr. Shear, Dr. Paul Marek and grad student Jackson Means (Virginia Tech), Dr. Jason Bond and grad student Rebecca Godwin (Auburn), Dr. Petra Sierwald (Field Museum) and Carlos Viquez (INBio).

The picture below shows a species of Platydesmus, a common millipede under tree bark at La Selva.  This is the only genus of millipedes known to show subsocial behavior.  The young are brooded and cared for by the males.


We found the tarantula (Psalmopoeus sp.) below in a tube on a tree trunk.

PsalmopoeusOne of the biggest millipedes we captured was Nyssodesmus python, about four inches long and 3/4 inch wide.  This species is found throughout Central America.
NyssodesmusOne of our goals was to get live material of the genus Epinannolene, since the defensive chemistry of the whole suborder has been worked out only for one species, which produces a molecule that is new to arthropods.  As you can see below, we got plenty!Epinannolele

The picture below shows the Strawberry Poison Frog, very common at La Selva.  The frogs are poisonous to touch, but do not produce their own poison.  Instead, they eat ants that contain toxic alkaloids and transfer them to their skin.  Frogs raised in captivity on other insects are not poisonous.

Strawberry Poison FrogThe trip was highly successful and sequencing is proceeding in the labs at Auburn.  Oh, and jaguars did not really rip my flesh.  That was just to get your attention.


Professor Werth presents his whale research at the Smithsonian

H-SC Biology Professor Alex Werth recently returned from a June conference with colleagues from around the world, hosted by George Mason University and the Smithsonian Institution, on the evolution of whales and other marine life. He gave a talk on the evolution of filter feeding in whales–the focus of his current research. A highlight of the meeting was spending a day looking through the rare bones and rare books of the Smithsonian’s library collection in downtown DC and the osteological collection in suburban Maryland. There is not enough room for the whale bones to be kept at the National Museum of Natural History. The 7 meter long jaws of the blue whale are the largest individual bones that have ever been on Earth!


The Smithsonian collection of whale bones


Smithsonian research on whale anatomy and physiology


Samples from the Smithsonian library


Professor Werth works with whales in Alaska

breach 2

H-SC Biology professor Alex Werth spent the month of April working at the University of Alaska (UAS) Southeast and the Sitka Sound Science Center on a Scientist in Residence fellowship supported by the National Science Foundation. He got to see gray and humpback whales and loads of other marine life–the number of marine mammal species he has seen so far during his sabbatical year is up to twenty! He saw the most amazing humpback whale breach he has ever seen in decades at sea. He also worked with local high school students (teaching ten classes), judged a middle school science fair, gave a radio interview, did a science cafe, and gave Earth Day and other community science lectures, plus found time to work with UAS scientists on whale feeding.


Prof. Werth is eager to bring this knowledge back to Hampden-Sydney’s marine biology classes, and ideally to bring students up to Alaska so they can see marine mammals for themselves.


Four H-SC Sophomores Accepted into Medical School!

Recently, four Hampden-Sydney College sophomores were accepted into medical schools through the College’s Early Assurance Program Agreements with Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and George Washington University (GWU).  Travis Goodloe and Jefferson Thompson were both accepted into VCU, and Evan Harris and Jake Farrar were both accepted at GWU.  These rising juniors will complete their remaining two years at Hampden-Sydney and then have guaranteed acceptance into these medical school programs.  Congratulations to our future doctors!!!

Summer research season at H-SC

The arrival of summer means the arrival of quiet across most of the Hampden-Sydney campus, but in the biology department this year it means the start of 9 independent student research projects.  Students from the department are working on projects ranging from invasive species ecology to tumor immunology to the genetics of behavior.  In the next few weeks this space will feature brief reports from our students on the research they are doing both at Hampden-Sydney and at other institutions.

Davis Carter '15 with Dr. Goodman working on the effects of ranavirus on turtles

Davis Carter ’15 with Dr. Rachel Goodman working on the effects of ranavirus on turtles

Jay Brandt '16 and Dr. Kristian Hargadon working on a tumor immunology project

Jay Brandt ’15 and Dr. Kristian Hargadon working on a tumor immunology project


Elliott Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 Receives $125,000 Grant from Commonwealth Health Research Board for Melanoma Research

Elliott Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 was recently awarded a 2-year grant for $125,000 from the Commonwealth Health Research Board to support his research program focusing on immune suppression by melanoma.  The aims of this grant are to investigate the nature and mechanism of melanoma-altered dendritic cell function and to explore how melanoma-altered dendritic cells influence the quality of T cell activation.  This work builds on previous research conducted by Dr. Hargadon and collaborating students at Hampden-Sydney College that had been funded by a Jeffress Memorial Fellowship from the Virginia Academy of Science.  Studies conducted with this earlier funding demonstrated that melanoma-derived factors are capable of altering the functionality of dendritic cells, an immune cell type that plays a critical role in the induction, maintenance, and regulation of T cell responses.  Because T cells have the capacity to eradicate tumors, it is important to understand factors that may impact their activation.  Funds from this CHRB grant will enable Dr. Hargadon to investigate both how melanoma tumor cells suppress dendritic cell function and how these altered dendritic cells impact the quality of T cell responses.  These studies will contribute significantly to our understanding of tumor immune evasion, and they have the potential to identify novel targets for immune therapies designed to prevent melanoma-associated immune suppression and promote robust anti-tumor immune responses.  Importantly, this funding will also enable Dr. Hargadon to involve several additional Hampden-Sydney College students in his research program.

The Commonwealth Health Research Board was founded in 1997 with a mission “to promote and protect the health of the citizens of the Commonwealth through human health research.” Since its establishment, the CHRB has funded over $12 million in research grants to institutions of higher education and other organizations that include the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Eastern Virginia Medical School, George Mason University, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Richmond, and William & Mary College, among others.  Dr. Hargadon’s grant is the first ever awarded to Hampden-Sydney College.

Congratulations Biology Class of 2014!


Daniel Adams            J. Drake Bishop            David Coe

Walker Cole               Zachary Cranston         Tom Drury

Meade Edmunds       Will Funk                      Corey Geiger

Carter Guice              Jason Haas                 Jonathan Halmo

Brett Heyder              Blake Hutchinson        James Hughes

Thomas Isom            Nick Kuhlman              Christian Lehman

Will Midkiff                Hakeem Mohammed    Tyler Mullins

Chris Myers              Jackson Parker             Francis Polakiewicz

Dalton Renick           Putney Smith                Andrew Sperr

Harry Squire             Bryan Talbert                 Chris Thompson

Gio Torres                Will Turner

The 2014 majors as represented on cake

The 2014 majors as represented on cake


John Dekarske          Alan Fish                    John Fitzgerald

Taylor Redmond       David Williams


A special congratulations goes to J. Drake Bishop for winning the Phi Beta Kappa Jones Prize at Commencement.  The Jones Prize is awarded to the best academic paper written by a Hampden-Sydney student during the academic year.  Drake is the third consecutive Biology Department graduate to receive this prize.




Biology awards at H-SC’s Final Convocation

Each year the College holds a ceremony to honor outstanding student achievement over the past academic year.  The Biology Department gives two awards at this ceremony each year.  This first award, the James R.T. Hewett Award, is given to the graduating senior “…for promise in research and meritorious service to the department.”  This year’s award went to J. Drake Bishop ’14, who has served the Biology Department since his first semester on campus in both support and academic capacities:

Dr. Ed Lowry, Assistant Professor of Biology, presents Drake Bishop '14 with the Hewett Award

Dr. Ed Lowry, Assistant Professor of Biology, presents Drake Bishop ’14 with the Hewett Award

The H.B. Overcash Award is given each year to the top premedical student in the rising senior class.  This year’s award was split between Chris Ferrante ’15 and Aaron Gilani ’15.

Dr. Lowry with Chris Ferrante '15

Dr. Lowry with Chris Ferrante ’15

Dr. Lowry and Aaron Gilani '15

Dr. Lowry and Aaron Gilani ’15

The Biology Department was also proud to witness another of its graduating seniors, Thomas Isom ’14, receive the Student Government Outstanding Club/Organization Award on behalf of Hampden-Sydney’s Baptist Collegiate Ministries.

Damien Sharp '15 presents the Student Government Outstanding Club/Organization Award to Thomas Isom '14

Damien Sharp ’15 presents the Student Government Outstanding Club/Organization Award to Thomas Isom ’14



Elliott Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 Publishes Editorial

Elliot Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 recently published an editorial article entitled “The Role of Tumor/Dendritic Cell Interactions in the Regulation of Anti-tumor Immunity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” for a Research Topic in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Immunology.  Following his publication of an article in Cellular Immunology on melanoma-associated suppression of dendritic cells, Dr. Hargadon was approached by Frontiers in Immunology and asked to serve as Guest Editor for a special issue on tumor/dendritic cell interactions.  This special issue includes 17 articles from leading tumor immunologists around the world who are researching the interactions between tumors and dendritic cells, a cell type of the immune system that regulates anti-tumor immune responses.  In addition to his Editorial article, Dr. Hargadon published his own review article on tumor-altered dendritic cell function in 2013 as part of this Research Topic.  Other contributors to this special issue include Rolf Zinkernagel (the 1996 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine) and investigators from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, the University of Virginia, and oncology/hematology/tumor immunology research centers in Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Italy.  Frontiers in Immunology is the official journal of the International Union for Immunological Societies, and this special issue is sure to bring focused attention both to recent advances in our understanding of tumor/dendritic cell interactions and to questions that remain to be answered in the field as these and other investigators aim to improve the quality of dendritic cell-mediated immune responses in cancer patients.

The Editorial for this Research Topic may be accessed at: http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fimmu.2014.00178/full