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.

Wildlife Biology class takes weekend trip to Eastern Shore


Dr. Goodman’s BIOL 385 Wildlife Biology class took a weekend field trip in October to the Eastern Shore Birding & Wildlife Festival.  We camped for 2 nights in Kiptopeke State Park and went to workshops in bird identification and bird watching for  the ornithology portion of the course.


The Delmarva peninsula is an amazing location for watching birds in the migration season, because birds flying south and funneled to the tip as they attempt to stay over land for as long as possible before crossing water.  The park we stayed in has a “Hawk Watch” there people sight and count birds of prey as they fly unidirectionally overhead- typically they see over 1,000 hawks daily!


In total, we saw and heard 40 species of birds (and some bottle-nosed dolphins). We also hear a fascinating keynote lecture by a scientist with the American Bird Conservancy about the status of birds and their habitats, and the history and progress of bird conservation since the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

James Lau ’17 Recognized for Research on Melanoma

Senior Biology major James Lau ’17 recently received the Best Poster Award for a poster presentation of his research at the 4th Annual Longwood University/Hampden-Sydney College Sigma Xi Research Symposium.  The symposium featured a talk by keynote speaker Dr. Steve Cresawn of James Madison University and was highlighted by a student poster presentation featuring 22 undergraduate researchers from both Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College.  James, who was recently named only the 3rd Goldwater Scholar in the history of H-SC, presented research he has been conducting in collaboration with Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01.  James began working in Dr. Hargadon’s laboratory in the summer of 2016 on a project designed to investigate the role of the Foxc2 gene in regulating the progression of melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer.  James is continuing his research with Dr. Hargadon throughout his senior year for his Departmental Honors project, which is focused on assessing how expression of the FOXC2 transcription factor regulates tumor migration and invasion within tissues, key processes that ultimately contribute to tumor metastasis.  Following his graduation, James will be attending medical school at Eastern Virginia Medical School, where he was accepted as a sophomore through the College’s Early Admission Program with EVMS!

Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 Publishes Major Review Article on TGFb1 and Cancer

Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 recently published a major review article on the role of TGFb1 in compromising the quality of anti-tumor immune responses. Following a recent publication by Dr. Hargadon and collaborating Hampden-Sydney College students in the journal Immunology and Cell Biology, which described TGFb1’s alteration of dendritic cell function in melanoma, Dr. Hargadon was invited by editors of the Journal of Clinical Medicine to submit a comprehensive review article on TGFbeta1’s influence on the anti-tumor immune responses. Dr. Hargadon’s article, entitled “Dysregulation of TGF1 Activity in Cancer and Its Influence on the Quality of Anti-Tumor Immunity” appears in the Journal of Clinical Medicine’s Special Issue dedicated to the topic “Biological and Clinical Aspects of TGF-beta in Carcinogenesis.” Dr. Hargadon’s article highlights current understanding in the field of tumor-associated TGFb1’s ability to compromise the function of several immune cell populations, including dendritic cells, T cells, macrophages, and neutrophils, and it highlights how our knowledge of TGFb1’s immunosuppressive mechanisms is being translated into novel immune therapies in the clinical setting. This article can be found at the following link: http://www.mdpi.com/2077-0383/5/9/76

Ongoing research in Dr. Hargadon’s laboratory at Hampden-Sydney College is focused on understanding immune suppression by melanoma and elucidating the function of genes that promote melanoma progression. Since returning to his alma mater in 2009, Dr. Hargadon has involved 12 Hampden-Sydney College students in independent research projects related to this work, and he has incorporated aspects of his research into his Biology 201 Genetics and Cell Biology course, where 15-20 students are involved in melanoma research each year that he offers the course.

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.


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.


A summer of molecular developmental neurobiology by Tyler Reekes ’17

This summer I am working with Dr. Clabough to identify a number of proteins that are vital to brain and neuronal development and may be affected by ethanol exposure. We are using a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) mouse model and have chosen a paradigm that mimics a human third-trimester binge drinking session. Many FASD mouse models demonstrate neuronal deficits that persist into adulthood, though the specific actions of ethanol on the development of the nervous system are still not well understood, especially immediately after the ethanol exposure.

We have isolated protein from FASD and control mouse brains. We are using Western Blotting techniques to isolate specific proteins, such as Huntingtin, Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), RE1-Silencing Transcription factor (REST), also known as Neuron-Restrictive Silencer Factor (NRSF), and others. We are using densitometry on ImageJ software to determine the relative concentrations of these specific proteins in important brain areas, such as the striatum and cortex.



We are hoping to find changes in the expression of these genes 24 hours after ethanol exposure, and possibly a molecular correlate to a changed striatal neuronal branching that we have also observed at this early time point. The branching of these neurons is of major concern so these neurons connect to transmit signals properly. Therefore, a change in neuronal branching may translate into a similar change in behavioral, motor, or overall cognitive function that can be seen in live models.   

I have learned much about basic protein extraction and procedures by running Western Blots and interpreting results. The most important thing I have learned from this summer, is that Westerns rarely work. However, the problem solving skills I have learned from this have made me a better biologist and student in general. I cannot express my gratitude to both Dr. Clabough for all that she has taught me, but also to the Honors Council for allowing me to complete this research.

Joshua Chamberlin ’17 investigates turtle development on Hatteras Island

This summer I have had the privilege to join Dr. Clabough and a collaboration of people working on a project called Turtle Sense, which involves placing sensors in turtle nest to monitor when turtle hatchlings will emerge. The physical placement of an egg-shaped sensor into a turtle nest enables the relay of motion data in the nest back to a communication tower and then to a database. The motion data can then be used to predict baby turtle emergence.


Turtle Sense data from previous years have shown that these sensors are capable of predicting when sea turtles will actually emerge from their nest within a few days. Our method of data collection can divide the motion of a sea turtle nest from day 0-60 into four phases. Phase A consist of a quiet incubation period (roughly 50 days). Phase B is a transition period that usually has some large swings with a frequency of 2-4 swings per a day. This phase ends with a quiet and low motion reading, which is often lower than anything in the preceding weeks. Phase C is the hatching activity, which is typically 4 days long and characterized by erratic, frequent motion. Phase D is a quiet period indicating emergence is imminent.


This summer I’ve been looking at past years’ sensor data collected at Cape Hatteras to better formulate an experimentally outlined procedure for optimizing the way data is collected, as well as how the data can be used to best create a way for other people to implement the same technology in sea turtle nests in other geographic locations. We’ve seen in some data from past years that the graphs can detect non-turtle motion periods at certain points, which may indicate predation from ghost crabs, washouts from the ocean, wind manipulating the sensors, and storms.

We are working to implement a defined protocol for what to do when a nest is found, as well as specifically how each sensor should be placed into a nest to ensure less experimental error. During full nesting season, we can expect well over 200 sea turtle nests. Nest management currently requires blocking off the nest upon discovery, and after approximately 1.5 months, a larger beach enclosure is placed around the nest that essentially blocks off people from crossing that section of the beach until the nest has clearly emerged.

The best part about this research experience is that I actually get to live in Hatteras, NC for the summer. Living down here and interacting with the locals has taught me a lot about how people view sea turtles and their nesting, as well as the differing views that people have over how the beaches should be utilized regarding sea turtle nests. The nature of the project is definitely one that has proved to be a learning experience— we no longer have control over what we’re working with because we’re actually working with live animals that follow their own life cycle.

“Team Hops:” Summer study on development of optimized central Virginia hops lines

By Michael Willis ’17

“Team Hops” ( Michael Willis ’17, Traylor Nichols ’17, Gannon Griffin ’17, and Drew Elliott ’18) have been researching the hops plant specifically pertaining to downy and powdery mildews. While conducting our research we have run into several road locks where we have not had enough plants or enough growth on the plants to be able to run effective tests on the plants. This has lead us to create the Hop Garden behind Gilmer Hall. Five strains of hops are in the process of being planted in the garden: Zeus, Chinook, Cascade, Centennial, and Mount Hood. There were two sets of trellises that were erected with wire hung between them. From the wire twine was hung down for the plants to grow up on.

Willis, Nichols, and Griffin build the new hops garden and plant experimental lines.

Willis, Nichols, and Griffin build the new hops garden and plant experimental lines.

Currently several of the Chinook, and Cascade plants have climbed most of the way up the twine. After several of the plants were transferred outside we had a problem with a deer coming and eating many of the leaves off of the vines as well as biting through several vines that were climbing up the twine. The Zeus, and Chinook strains were given to us from the Virginia State University we then started to grow the plants in the greenhouse and they quickly started overtaking the light fixture in the greenhouse. Those plants were the first to be moved outside upon completing the first trellis. We then moved several plants that Ms. Jenkins had collected and rooted prior to the research from the greenhouse out into the garden. We are looking to plant more rhizomes into the new soil as soon as possible.

Dr. Laban Rutto, Virginia State University (right), visits Hampden-Sydney and provides Team Hops and Dakota Reinartz '18 (left) advice on their growth experiments.

Dr. Laban Rutto, Virginia State University (right), visits Hampden-Sydney and provides Team Hops and Dakota Reinartz ’18 (left) advice on their growth experiments.

The Hop garden will provide valuable research materials for future summer research projects as well as the Biology 151 lab. The goal is to keep the hops plants in the garden clean from infection of downy or powdery mildew.

Gene editing in zebrafish: a Hampden-Sydney student summer research experience at UAB

By Luke Bloodworth ’18

This summer I have been working with Dr. Anil Challa at the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) with CRISPR, a new technology for the editing and knockout of genes.  The research we are doing at UAB with genetic engineering, given some training, would be something I would hope to be able to keep doing in Hampden-Sydney’s biology department. Dr. Challa has also expressed interest in helping us set up a zebrafish work bench so we could do our own exploration and research at HSC (He and I will present a joint seminar at H-SC in late January 2017).

The author injecting RNA samples into a polyacrylamide gel

The author injecting RNA samples into a polyacrylamide gel

Injecting fresh Zebrafish Embryos with CRISPR Cas-9 to knockout selected genes

Injecting fresh Zebrafish Embryos with CRISPR Cas-9 to knockout selected genes

So far I have used a cloud based biotech program called Benchling to locate specific spots on the amino acid coding exons of the genes we are knocking out. Taking this information, we used ensemble and CRISPR scanner to cross reference and further determine, hopefully, the proper and best binding sites for the CRISPR. Using this data, we have sequenced the proper sgRNAs (oligos) and created correlating primers for those CRISPRs. The next step will be embryo injections followed by genotyping and phenotyping.

Checking over oligonucleotides for CRISPR gene knockout in zebrafish

Checking over oligonucleotides for CRISPR gene knockout in zebrafish

I am also hoping to do a project on Argonaute (Ago). Ago is a DNA-guided DNA endonuclease, requiring no PAM sequence, and using a 24-nucleotide ssDNA with its 5′ end phosphorylated.