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Current Student Research

This summer (2010), four faculty members in the department are working with student researchers: Profs. Bevington, Fox, Jones and Kuserk:

Michael Solomon (2011) is continuing his spring SOAR research with Prof. Jones. Jessica Grochowski (2011) will be looking at the effects of several bang-sensitive mutations on courtship in adult Drosophila while Louis Scalia (2012) will be looking at the effects of these mutations on various larval behaviors.

Matt Share (2011) and Jordan Barton (2012) are working with Prof. Kuserk and the Wildlands Conservancy to assess the macroinvertebrate and fish communities in the Little Lehigh Creek prior to the removal of five dams on that waterway. Plans are to return to this stream in the future in order to determine the affects that dam removal has had on these biological communities.

2009–2010

Alyssa Milano (2010) carried out her Honors research with Prof. Christopher Jones, examining the effects of Rapid Cold Hardening (RCH) on courtship in wild-type Drosophila as well as the seizure-prone mutant easily shocked. RCH is a phenomenon observed in many species of insects, including Drosophila melanogaster, that results in an enhanced tolerance to extreme cold conditions. The act of courting involves a series of intricate behavioral events which must be carried out in the proper order for mating to occur. With the ability to rapidly cold harden, the fly is at an ecological advantage because it will have greater reproductive success than those flies that do not have such RCH abilities.

Michael Solomon (2011) conducted a SOAR project in the spring with Prof. Christopher Jones to mutate the Drosophila presenilin gene in order to examine the effects on fly behavior of mutations which have been linked to Alzheimer disease in humans.

Previous Student Research

Tyler McCambridge (2009) carried out Honors research with Prof. Cecilia Fox. Selenium is protective against the toxicity of 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) in the nigral lesion model of Parkinson's disease. It is therefore of interest to examine whether selenium is also able to maintain dopamine levels and improve motor behavior in this experimental model. Rotation behavior analysis and high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) evaluation will determine whether this antioxidant therapy may be useful in preventing the neuronal degeneration typically observed in the nigral lesion model of Parkinson's disease.

Tyler at his Honors poster

Naomie Kachel (2009) conducted an independent study project with Prof. Christopher Jones, studying the effects of eating raisins on the bacteria living in the mouth. Two other students — Anthony Falco (2010) and Rania Hanna (2012) — carried out projects with Prof. Jones as part of the new half-credit course "Directed Research in Biology."

Brian Davis (2009) undertook an independent study project with Prof. John Bevington, entitled "An investigation of the putative adaptive value of antibacterial activity of the turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) excrement." They were investigating the possible antibacterial properties that the turkey vulture may possess in their digestive tract that may be expelled through their excrement. Comparisons were made against another bird with a different diet and behavioral characteristics (e.g. a hawk).

Amanda deVillers (2008), Andrew Mashintonio (2009), and Amy Parrish (2009) were studying stream ecology of the Fry's Run watershed with Prof. Frank Kuserk.

"Fry's Run, a network of streams in Williams Township, PA, that combine to flow directly into the Delaware River, has recently become a point of interest for several of the area's citizens. A recently formed group, the Fry's Run Watershed Association, invited us to perform a variety of tests evaluating the quality of the stream. Through these tests, we will be able to determine the status of the water and habitat in the stream itself. We will be performing a variety of water chemistry tests to determine levels of chemicals such as nitrate, nitrite, phosphate, and ammonia, among others. We will also be evaluating the habitat of three sites along the watershed, using the second edition of the EPA-published Rapid Bioassessment Protocols for Use in Streams and Wadeable Rivers. Finally, we will be studying the quantities and types of macroinvertebrates found at the three sites. We will also work with the members of the Fry's Run Watershed Association to teach them ways of performing future, basic testing of the watershed."

Ryan Hess (2008) carried out an independent study project with Prof. Cecilia Fox in the spring of 2008. It focuses on examining the neuroprotective properties of selenium in the rat 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) striatal lesion model of Parkinson's disease. Two groups of animals will be involved in this study. The control animals will be fed a standard rat chow while treated animals will be exposed to a selenium enhanced diet prior to surgery. All animals will undergo apomorphine and amphetamine induced rotation behavior testing prior to surgery to determine baseline behavior. Following 6-OHDA administration, the animals will be exposed to these same drugs to evaluate the extent of the lesion as well as the protection offered by selenium. Since this type of lesion involves a very progressive type of neuronal death, animals will undergo rotation behavior testing throughout the remainder of the semester.

Andy Goodbred (2008) conducted Honors research with Prof. Cecilia Fox. Andy's project was designed to examine the neuroprotective effect of the antioxidant, selenium on the motor behavior of the 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) rat model of Parkinson's disease. Earlier research published from Prof. Fox's lab has determined that selenium protects dopamine neurons in the nigral 6-OHDA lesioned rat. Animals exposed to a selenium enhanced diet for up to three months maintained approximately 50% of dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra (part of the midbrain where neuron deterioration is implicated in Parkinson's disease) following 6-OHDA exposure (Drost et al., 2007). Based on these results, this Honors project was designed to examine whether this increase in cell survival could translates into improved motor functioning in animals challenged with 6-OHDA. Fischer 344 rats were randomly divided into two groups (control and selenium-supplemented rats). Using a behavior technique known as rotation behavior, the motor function of control and selenium treated animals was examined to determine the extent of protection offered by selenium in this animal model of Parkinson's disease. Andy is currently analyzing his behavior data and processing the brain tissue to quantify the extent of dopamine cell survival in the substantia nigra. He presented the results of his work at the NEURON Conference in April 2008.

Andy at his Honors poster

Simon Tabchi (Biochemistry 2008), Nate Tussey (2008), and Stasy Yemelyanova (2008) all carried out Honors research with Prof. Christopher Jones. Simon and Nate used traditional genetic mapping approaches to identify two genes necessary for normal neural function in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster: bang-sensitive (bas) and bang senseless (bss). Both are members of a class of genes called "bang sensitives": a mutation in any of these genes causes the fly to become temporarily paralyzed when exposed to a mechanical shock, such as banging its container on a laboratory benchtop.

Simon at his Honors poster

Nate at his Honors poster

Stasy's project continued her previous SOAR research, looking at how mutations in the gene presenilin affect fruit fly behavior. By putting mutated versions of the gene into the fruit fly genome it should be possible to assess the effects of the defective products of such "transgenes". Previous efforts by other laboratories have been hampered by the need to study different transgenes inserted at different, random positions in the genome, which makes it difficult to determine whether different effects arise due to the different mutations being studied or to the different positions each occupies in the genome. Using Recombination-mediated cassette exchange (RCME), Stasy is making molecular constructs which will enable her to put each defective gene in the same spot in the genome, making comparisons among the different versions of the gene more reliable.

Stasy at her Honors poster

Allen Wong (Biochemistry 2009) worked with Prof. Karen Kurvink, studying the effects of ethanol on Drosophila: specifically the effects of Budweiser. A few years ago, Prof. Kurvink observed that there were a lot more female than male progeny arising from crosses on food that contained Budweiser. Allen is working to replicate her results and determine if the increase in daughters is statistically significant, as well as whether it might be the ethanol than is causing this "feminization." If it is not the ethanol than he wants to to pin down what factor is causing this phenomenon.

Jenna Wallace (Biochemistry 2008) worked with Prof. Frank Kuserk to determine if and for how long both MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and MSSA (Methicillin-Sensitive Staphylococcus aureus) can survive on a dry surface with no nutrients at room temperature. To do this she innoculated tiles (similar to those that could be found on a bathroom or locker room wall) with samples and asssayed their survival. MRSA is increasingly in the news as a causative agent for serious, sometimes fatal, infections and is a particular concern for athletes.

Jess Cianci (Biochemistry 2008) also studied MRSA and MSSA with Prof. Frank Kuserk. She was trying to determine the MIC (minimum inhibitory concentration) for MRSA using three common antibiotics: penicillin, oxacillin, and tetracycline, then determining whether combinations of these drugs are more effective at killing the bacteria.

Amanda deVillers spent the fall semester of 2007 abroad, on the island of Bonaire in the Netherlands Antilles. In addition to her classes, she carried out research looking at fish diversity patterns and their relationship to live coral cover in the Bonaire National Marine Park using surveys from the REEF database and underwater transects. In a separate study, she also looked for changes in fish diversity over time. Her results were presented to the public in Bonaire and published in a student journal.

In the same semester, Lukáš Maršálek (a visiting Merrill Scholar from the Czech Republic) continued LeeAnna Roberts' Honors project in Prof. Christopher Jones's lab, using PCR to identify which of LeeAnna's samples were in fact MRSA.

Dipesh Patel (2008) also conducted an independent study project with Prof. Christopher Jones in the fall. Dipesh's project looked at mating preference in Drosophila melanogaster, specifically whether various learning mutations affect female choice in size of mating partner.

Chemistry Profs. Stephen and Shari Dunham have been studying the binding of metal ion complexes to DNA. One class of such molecules consists of two rhodium atoms joined by a metal-metal bond and linked by four small bridging molecules. These compounds not only bind to DNA but have also been shown to exhibit significant anti-tumor activity. Todd Remaley (2009) spent part of the fall semester analyzing the effects of changing the bridging molecules in these "dirhodium" compounds, with the goal of purifying the components of a mixture of dirhodium compounds using HPLC and determining the DNA reactivity of each component. In theory the most reactive component would be the most effective treatment for cancer as less of the heavy metal-containing drug would need to be introduced into the body in order to affect a certain amount of DNA.

Over the summer of 2007, Chiu Cheng (Environmental Science 2009) participated in the REU program at Towson University under the mentorship of Prof. John LaPolla.

Armando Villafane (2007) carried out a SOAR research project over the summer with Prof. Frank Kuserk. They assessed the microflora (i.e. bacteria, fungi, and the like) in the soil around the shuttered zinc smelter in Palmerton. The smelter put out tons of zinc, cadmium, and lead over its lifetime, laying waste to a large swathe of the Lehigh Gap Wildlife Refuge. They found that current metal concentrations have decreased considerably in comparison to levels found in a similar study carried out in 1975; while the levels they recorded are still considered higher than normal, microbial populations have demonstrated some ability to recover. Their data suggest that the increase in soil microflora may be attributed in part to a decrease in the concentration of heavy metals, possibly as a result of inorganic leaching. In addition, isolation of metal resistant bacteria A. eutrophus and zinc-tolerant Bacillus may be indicators of early stages of succession in soil formation.

LeeAnna Roberts (2007) carried out Honors research with Prof. Christopher Jones and Prof. Frank Kuserk. LeeAnna's project focuses on the evaluating the presence of MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus) among the Moravian College football team. MRSA is an emerging community-health problem, and LeeAnna's work may help us better understand something of the epidemiology of this bacterium.

LeeAnna at her Honors poster

Thad Miller (2007) carried out Honors research with Prof. Jim Mitchell. Thad is analyzing abnormal growths in the human mouth, and will analyze these cellular changes histologically.

Thad at his Honors poster

Todd Johnson (Biochemistry 2009) and Jordan Teisher (2009) worked with Prof. Diane Husic and the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, investigating propagation techniques for Minuartia patula (Michx.) mattf. (sandwort) in order for us to begin to determine how this species is able to thrive in soils contaminated with high levels of heavy metals. The genus is not native to Pennsylvania, but the four species of Minuartia that grow in the east are either threatened or endangered despite the predominance of M. patula in the area of the Palmerton Zinc Superfund site. "If we are successful at growing this plant in the greenhouse, we can grow the plant in different levels of zinc-spiked soils and investigate tissue accumulation of metals and/or the ability of the plant to exclude the metals from being taken up through the roots."