The ProjectLab: AY2013-14 MQP Opportunities
What is the ProjectLab??
The Biology & Biotechnology ProjectLab provides MQP opportunities for students to work on projects directly affiliated with department faculty research in the department’s MQP lab on campus. This lab is located in Goddard Hall along with the rest of the teaching labs. This year 8 projects are available in the project lab that accommodate multiple student teams and approaches, and range from animal to plants in the areas of study. Each project is proposed and sponsored by a Biology & Biotechnology faculty member and designed so that the data from the project will contribute directly to that faculty member's current research. Daily work on the project will be overseen by the Project Lab Director (Mike Buckholt). Weekly meetings of the teams, the lab director, and the faculty sponsor will allow students to present their work to the group and to understand how their findings, along with those of other students working on the project, contribute to the overall research goals. Projects will run throughout the academic year and may start or continue into E term if student interest warrants. Not all students need to be registered for every term. Varying schedules of terms and credits can be accommodated.
Students interested in working in the ProjectLab should apply using the form at https://www.wpi.edu/Images/CMS/Bio/new-projectlab-application.pdf and return them to Mike Buckholt at firstname.lastname@example.org or just send me the info if you have problems with the form.
Genetics of Candida Infection
Infection by the yeast Candida can be a serious health issue for many people. The infection is difficult to treat with current drug therapies. Understand what makes Candida invasive and infectious would be a great help in discovering and designing treatments for Candidiasis. This project will further the understanding of Candida infection using the flat worm C. elegans as a model system to screen for C. elegans mutants that are resistant to Candida albicans infections. Candida kills normal worms in about 48 hours. The protocol would involve growing worms synchronously to the L4 stage, transferring them en masse to Candida-containing plates, and observing worms to see if any survive. These can be picked and characterized. These surviving worms can be used to identify genes that, when mutated, confer resistance to infection. Lots of genes are known that cause susceptibility to infection when knocked out, but very few mutations increase resistance. In other words, anything discovered by this project is likely to be interesting. This project will build on last year’s project in two ways. It will continue the search for new and unknown mutants as well as begin to define and characterize the mutants isolated by last year’s project students.
Techniques: genetic screens, phenotype characterization, microscopy, PCR, sequencing. Number of students: 6-8
Project Code: MB2-CC13
The Crayfish and Water Projects
Crayfish are found in fresh water throughout the world. Several different species can be found right here in Massachusetts including two different species in Institute pond. They can be used to study molecular phylogeny, behavior, and water quality issues. The Crayfish Project examines all of these lines of research both singly and in combination.
Sentinel species for water quality:
Crayfish can also be used as a model organism to examine local water quality. Nearly all of the chemicals we use, whether residential or industrial, eventually end in the watershed and in particular the sediment in the bottom of lakes and streams. Animals like crayfish that live in that environment can serve as excellent sentinel species to track accumulation of toxins. This project focuses on the distribution of polyaromatic hydrocarbons, in particular on benzo[a]pyrene (BaP). Previous projects have demonstrated a correlation between the level of BaP in crayfish tissue and river sediment where the crayfish were collected. Future work could follow one of two tracks: obtaining statistically significant correlations between sediment and crayfish levels of BaP, or investigations centered on the questions of how fast crayfish accumulate environmental BaP in their tissues and/or how fast accumulated BaP is metabolized and/or excreted. Students choosing to work on this project will collect animals from a local watershed and will analyze crayfish tissue and sediment samples using a number of chemical techniques including sample extraction, gas chromatography or HPLC, and statistical analysis.
Techniques: gas chromatography, or HPLC, field collection, tissue extraction. Number of students: 3-4
Project Code: MB2-WQ12
Behavioral and Reproductive Physiology Studies:
Interactions between native and invasive species (species introduced outside their natural ranges by human activities) are thought to be important drivers of biodiversity loss. Direct experimental investigations of invasive populations as causative agents in those declines are relatively rare. If replacement of native taxa by invasives is driven by an external factor or factors, such as environmental changes, that trigger decreases in native populations, then the prevalence of invasive taxa is a symptom, rather than a cause, of biodiversity changes. In North America, freshwater faunas are particularly vulnerable to ecological changes, because of heavy manipulation of habitats by human activity. In addition, North America harbors a substantial majority of the world's biodiversity in freshwater crayfish, many of which are considered to be species of conservation concern. Furthermore, biodiversity in this group may be poorly understood; in southern New England, we are recently characterized and described a new species, Orconectes quinebaugi, which apparently occurs only in this region and may thus be relatively rare. It has been confused with O. virilis, a widespread species that is invasive in New England. We propose a series of experiments to investigate interactions between these two species. First, we will investigate reproductive interactions; hybridization between invasives and native species can have important implications for the evolutionary trajectories of both taxa. Second, we hypothesize that the two taxa are ecological competitors through two mechanisms. We predict that the presence of the other species will alter life history characteristics (i.e., growth & reproductive rates, size at sexual maturity) of each; Students doing this MQP can choose to examine these possibilities and this prediction in several ways 1) carrying out field investigations in natural streams in both sympatry and in allopatry (for both species) and 2) carrying out common garden experiments (setting up controlled populations and observing them)
This project or parts of it can be started in E term.
Techniques: field collection, behavioral observation, dissection, microscopy, electron microscopy, molecular genotyping. Number of students: 3-4
Project Code: MB2-CB13
Crayfish are quite mobile within a watershed but not necessarily between watersheds. This geographic separation can lead to populations that are reproductively isolated from each other, making the study of crayfish population genetics very interesting. Native populations can be subject to competition by invasive species that have either migrated or been artificially introduced into an environment by humans. The molecular component of the project examines and begins to define the population structure and relatedness of both native and invasive species. Students in this project will collect specimens, extract DNA, perform PCR amplification, and send samples for DNA sequencing and analysis. The project may also include microsatellite and AFLP generation and analysis. Data generated will be used to examine the genetics of the crayfish population in question.
Techniques: Field collection, DNA extraction and analysis, PCR, Sequencing, and analysis of molecular data. Number of students: 4
Project Code: MB2-CM13
Environmental Impact of Invasive species:
Introduction of invasive species (species introduced outside their natural ranges by human activities) are thought to be important drivers of biodiversity loss and may result in change of the habitat and environment at both the macro and micro level. In North America, freshwater faunas are particularly vulnerable to ecological changes, because of heavy manipulation of habitats by human activity. In addition, North America harbors a substantial majority of the world's biodiversity in freshwater crayfish, many of which are considered to be species of conservation concern. This project will use a known invasive crayfish species, Procambrus clarkii (found in Institute Pond), and possibly others as a model to examine the effects of invasive species on the local environment. Depending on the students and the terms this project runs the experiments will involve anything from setting up outdoor enclosures to individual microhabitats in the lab. Possible studies will involve water and sediment testing for various nutrients, flora, and fauna and may change depending on the interest of the student.
This project or parts of it can be started in E term.
Techniques: field collection, observation, microscopy, water testing, animal handling. Number of students: 2-4
Project Code: MB2-PC13
Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that can mimic the effects of human steroids. Since traditional hormone replacement therapies for post menopausal women have several associated health concerns, including a potential increase in the risk of breast cancer, phytoestrogens are often marketed as a safe and natural alternative to estrogen. However, these products vary considerably and are not well characterized or tested. Using a well characterized estrogen responsive breast epithelial cell line, we will test the effects of available phytoestrogen products on cell growth. We will also begin to characterize the products, separate the components and test them individually and in combinations using the cell model system. Preliminary studies suggest that some of these compounds may have anti-proliferative or pro-apoptotic effects, which may make them attractive from a therapeutic standpoint.
Techniques: Cell culture, Plate assays, Protein assays, Western Blotting, Protein gels, HPLC
Preferred team size: 1-3 students
Project code: MB2-PE13
Genetics of Plant Cell Growth
Plant growth is the result of the combined action of two fundamental processes, cell growth and cell division. Both of these processes require the coordination of several, sometimes overlapping, cellular activities. Understanding the genetic basis of cell growth and cell division has been difficult in plants. This is because the genes involved in these processes encode proteins which are essential for plant development; hence when these genes are mutated the plants do not grow. To overcome this problem this project aims at developing a collection of temperature sensitive mutants impaired in cell growth. These mutants allow for normal protein function at room temperature, but block the protein function at a higher temperature. The project will take advantage of a powerful and simple plant model organism, the moss Physcomitrella patens. This moss grows predominantly in a haploid state, which simplifies genetic screening. The availability of a temperature sensitive mutant collection will be an important genetic resource to help us understand how plant cells grow.
Project Code MB2-PP13
Techniques: Tissues culture, digital microscopy. genetic screens, computer assisted morphometry.
Roundworm/nematode diversity in Central Massachusetts
Did you know that roundworms are one of the largest groups of animals inhabiting the planet? These organisms are present on land and water. There are both benign and pathogenic species found in many locales. Very little is known about the various species that inhabit the soil of New England and Massachusetts in particular. Knowing what species can be found here is the first step in understanding more about our soil ecology and the distribution of roundworms. The purpose of this MQP is to begin defining the species that can be found in our area. The initial phase of the project will involve collecting diverse soil samples from the surrounding area. The next phase of the project will include isolating and characterizing the nematodes present in the soil samples on both the macroscopic and molecular levels. These investigations will include characterization of brood size, morphometry and PCR techniques to complete the classification of nematodes. The data generated from the experiments will be then be overlaid on to the map of Central Massachusetts to show the species distribution. A secondary goal of this project is to develop a set of techniques that can eventually be used to turn this into a citizen science project in which K-12 students from all over could participate.
At the top right is an example of one such nematode collected from California.
Project Code: MB2-RW13
Techniques: microscopy, morphometry, PCR, Bioinformatics Students: 2-4.