Several Hood College students presented their research in chemistry and biology at the UMBC Undergraduate Research Symposium in October.
These students included Alex Jarnot, Reem Zeitoon, Rob Sargsyan, Elizabeth Slick, Kaitlin Recabo, Angela Mansfield, Sarah Meyer, Kenny Garced-Valle and Zachary Peck. The research projects were all funded by NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF) or Hood’s Summer Research Institute (SRI). The SRI projects were funded by the Hodson Trust.
Jarnot’s research involved trying to understand the atmosphere inside of Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park in California. His work was through his internship with NASA’s Student Airborne Research Program and funded by NASA and the National Suborbital Education and Research Center (NSERC).
“We sampled the air inside the cave and found that the concentrations of several trace gases in the air were extremely low compared to the outside air,” he said. “I am working to try to determine what could be causing this decrease in trace gas concentration.”
His presentation included a poster on his research from the summer that displayed the data that was examined and some possible causes of the low concentrations.
Zietoon spent her SRI-funded summer trying to express and purify a protein called Myxoma virus leukemia associated protein so later they would be able to study its structure. This specific protein contains a zinc-finger motif, which involves a zinc ion complexed with several parts of the protein. These motifs are usually involved in binding DNA or RNA in the cell. She worked with her mentor, Dana Lawrence, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry.
Lawrence also worked with Sargsyan during his SRI project, which studied the solubility of a zinc-finger antiviral protein cloned with and without solubility tags. This particular protein has antiviral activity and therefore provides the host organism with resistance to viral infection. According to Sargsyan, the experiment was intended to find a method that would extract and isolate the protein. Sargsyan presented the data and results, then how they relate to a bigger picture.
As an SRI project, Slick and Recabo worked with Susan Ensel, Ph.D., Whitaker professor of chemistry, to find inhibitors for the botulinum neurotoxin, the toxin responsible for botulism and the most toxic naturally occurring substance known to humankind. Slick and Recabo synthesized and isolated several compounds that were designed as inhibitors of the neurotoxin. During the UMBC symposium, the senior chemistry and biochemistry majors presented their research on six such inhibitors that will contribute to the body of knowledge necessary to ultimately develop a drug to combat botulism.
Mansfield and Meyer won first place for their poster presentation on expanding student access to instrumentation through incorporation of portable infrared spectroscopy into the curriculum. Their research used a hands-on approach to scientific education and research and discussed how to make equipment more accessible to more students. This work is funded by a NSF Improving Undergraduate STEM Education grant and was conducted with Kevin Bennett, Ph.D., professor of chemistry, and Christopher Stromberg, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry.
Oney P. Smith, Ph.D., professor of biology, mentored Garced-Valle and Peck on separate SRI projects.
Garced-Valle investigated the gene expression of heat shock protein 70 (HSP70) found in the sea anemone, Aiptasia pallida, when they experience environmental stress, specifically elevated temperatures. Hood maintains these animals under laboratory conditions. The research found that there was a 60-fold increase in the HSP70 gene expression when the anemone was subjected to the higher temperature.
“Overall, the knowledge I gained was very beneficial to future lab experiences, including my current independent study,” Graced-Valle said. “In addition, the experience has made me more interested in laboratory-type jobs.”
Peck worked this summer to isolate, clone and sequence a DNA fragment found in red-eye fruit flies to help identify its location in the Drosophila genome. His work included computer-assisted searching of the database for the fly genome, which indicates the 1,800 base pair fragment is a part of the DNA found on several fly chromosomes. The information found will be used in an introductory cell biology and genetics course at Hood to improve a lab activity on Drosophila genetics.
“This past summer taught me what it was like to perform research and work in a lab environment, as well as how to present my findings,” Peck said. “It was an experience like none other and one that I will most definitely want to repeat.”