Biology students’ research projects reflect their varied interests

April 21, 2009

The 15 capstone projects on exhibit as posters through April 24 in Eaton Hall represent the diverse research interests of McDaniel Biology majors. But the lessons these seniors learned – about research and life – are remarkably similar.

“You don't only walk away with the experience of learning a new and valuable technique, but you also learn how to communicate with people and express yourself clearly,” says Anja Jones, who plans to go to medical school in the next year or two. “You learn how to think critically and how to solve problems, two skills which are necessary in life I believe.”

Jones’ research began with an internship in a lab investigating prostate cancer at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine during the summer of 2008. She had learned a technique called immunohistochemistry, which locates proteins in a cell by staining them. Using the technique, Jones produced unexpected results that had not been seen before – results, she says, that could potentially prove wrong a current theory about prostate cancer. Invited by the principal Hopkins investigator to continue with the research, she decided to pursue it as her senior capstone.

Research took Kaitlyn Parkins in a different direction, although the skills and understanding she gained are common to these fledgling scientists. She studied invasive plant species – a topic that figures importantly in environmental biology – and has vowed as a result to always plant native species.

Kaitlyn Parkins

“By designing my own project I learned that research doesn't always go the way the lab manual has it written out, that you need to be flexible, and how to do more statistics than I ever thought I would need,” says Parkins, who is currently interning in animal programs at the National Aquarium in Baltimore as she explores her interests in environmental biology and marine-based research. This summer she will work in marine research in Florida while coordinating with her advisor Biology Professor Brent McMillan and Environmental Policy and Science major Lindsay Merkel to publish a paper on their research in invasive species.

“I still have a very wide range of interests within the field of biology right now and I want to try a little of everything before I settle on one career,” she says. “I plan to go to grad school in the next year or two, once I decide on what field I want to focus.”

Adam Pritchard, however, knows precisely where his career interests lie. He’s heading for graduate school in the department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University in New York to study anatomy and paleontology.

Adam Pritchard

Pritchard compared the skeletal anatomy of zebrafish tails – a topic chosen because it was closest to his interests overall but still involved the unfamiliar.

“I intend to pursue paleontology, which means I will be dealing with bones for a great deal of the time,” Pritchard says. “Zebrafish are the standard vertebrate (back-boned animal) model for scientific studies, and they fit well with my project's budget.  I also knew little about fish skeletons before I started my research and experimentation, so my pursuits expanded my knowledge relevant to my future career.”

Research experience is essential, Pritchard says, for people going into an academic career.

“In doing research over the past year, I have gained a beginner's appreciation of how scientists deal with the logistics of research,” he says.

Capstones – the culminating projects for McDaniel’s graduating seniors – are the terminal portion of the work of the developing scientists in Biology, says Bill Long, department chair and professor of Biology.

“Each poster represents a significant step in a student’s education, and each illustrates a finding new to science,” Long says.

The posters represent the following senior capstone projects:

1. Alexander Dennis
Comparing native vegetation re-growth upon removal of Microstegium vimenium from the environment using two different weeding methods.

2. Amy Faby
Determine the best hemoglobin based oxygen carrier, transfusion protocol, and co-drug infusion that will reduce infarct volume and improve long-term functional behavior in rats.

3. Nadia Frolova and Jianmei Yu
Preparation and immunological characterization of formaldehyde treated E. coli heat labile toxin.

4. Megan Hurchalla
The g5R protein of African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV) possess mRNA decapping activity.

5. Anja Jones
Transcriptional and translational analysis of psiPTEN in human prostate cancer.

6. Kevin Jubb
The effect of invasive plant species on soil composition and soil invertebrate diversity in Carroll County, Maryland.

7. Jason Koontz
Detection of toxic aqueous chemicals by electronic cell substrate impedance sensing (ECIS).

8. Neal Marcelo
Attempted isolation of the Panther chameleon tyrosinase and tyrp1 genes using RT-PCR.

9. Mirian Mendoza
Direct treatment of GnRHa on fibroids: Groundwork for a possible new therapy.

10. Kaitlyn Parkins
Foreign fruit: A comparative analysis of life history strategies in the native raspberry Rubus occidentalis and invasive wineberry Rubus phoenicolasius.

11. Adam Pritchard
A comparative study of caudal skeletal anatomy in wild-type and longfin mutants of the zebrafish Danio rerio.

12. Kristen Simmler
Terrapin diving physiology: Lactate accumulation due to prolonged submergence.

13. Patrick Stinson
Examination of interaction between Alliaria petiolata and soil invertebrates.

14. Janice Watson
Evaluating micrographs of gregarine parasites from odonate hosts of the Texas Big Thicket for taxonomic purposes.

15. Annastasia Zenner
Optimization of a sandwich-based enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay for simultaneous profiling of multiple human cytokines.