All-STARs: Four Biology Seniors Present Thesis Research

The bio student presentations start coming and they don’t stop coming

On February 21, four biology thesis students presented their thesis research at a Students Talking About Research (STAR) lecture, providing insights into the work they are doing in the labs of Reed’s biology professors. This STAR lecture featured Aidan Teran from Derek Applewhite’s lab, Stephanie Gee from Kara Cerveny’s lab, Shawn Owens from Janis Shampay’s lab, and Purna Post-Leon from Aaron Ramirez’s lab. 

Teran’s research is on the SPECC1L protein (pronounced “speckle”). The protein is involved in the migration and cohesion of neural crest cells which form the face in early embryonic development. He hopes to find information on how mutations of the SPECC1L protein can lead to craniofacial defects such as cleft palate. So far, Teran has discovered that the SPECC1L protein seems to work with myosin, a protein involved in cellular motion.

Gee’s thesis research focuses on the effects of low-dose gamma radiation on zebrafish development. Though scientists already know quite a bit about high-dose radiation, there is not much research on the effects of low-dose radiation on living beings. Pigmentation in zebrafish is thought to help protect them from gamma radiation with the area of darker pigmentation known as a “pigment umbrella.” The area is known to be associated with being a blood stem cell niche, as well as a place for blood cell production in general. Gee found that the “pigment umbrella” increases after irradiation, stays around for a few days, and becomes more saturated during this time. She also observed an increase in macrophages, which are known to aid the immune system. She hopes to further her research through studying effects on the nervous system and germ cells, as well as tracking the zebrafish for long term changes.

Owens is analyzing telomerase activity, a protein involved in DNA replication, to examine its role in mitigating DNA damage. He is focusing on African Clawed Frog cells, as they have a unique way of processing telomerase. Owens uses two tests in his research: the Western blot test, which is used to confirm the presence of double strand breaks in DNA, and a TRAP (Telomerase Repeated Amplification Protocol) assay, which is a common method of assessing telomerase activity. Through inducing double strand breaks to examine telomerase activity, Owens aims to aid further progress on telomerase and telomere research.

Post-Leon is focusing her research on the bark water intake of three trees native to the Pacific Northwest: the Douglas Fir, Coastal Redwood, and Bigleaf Maple. Her research takes on what Post-Leon referred to as the “Tall Tree Problem”: the taller a tree is, the more negative pressure is needed to move water upwards. With increased negative pressure, air bubbles may form in water pathways, leading to the tallest trees being perpetually in a drought-like condition. By studying the flow rate of water through the branches of these trees, Post-Leon hopes to mitigate this effect, ultimately contributing to efforts currently being made to address climate change.

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