Office of Undergraduate Research Undergraduate research will set you apart.

Recently in Research: Dominique Wozniak

Dominique Wozniak

Coagulase is an enzyme that can be used to differentiate strands of Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) from other types of bacteria. Dominique Wozniak, a senior majoring in Biochemistry, worked to test a certain antibody’s ability to tag Staph’s coagulase enzyme. Dominique conducted her Undergraduate Research Fellowship under the mentorship of Dr. Peter Panizzi in the Harrison School of Pharmacy.

“If the antibody (GMA 2105) is able to tag a strain of Staph’s coagulase, then only the coagulase will show up at the end of the experiment.” Dominique said, “Since the protein tagged (coagulase) is specific to Staph, this antibody could be beneficial in determining whether or not a patient has a Staph infection.”

Dominique worked this summer using western blotting to determine if her experimental antibody was able to tag coagulase in Staph without also tagging some other protein present in a non-Staph bacteria. She is in the process of gathering her material and results to have the procedure she used published.

“Performing undergraduate research helped me to have a better understanding of what I’m doing when going to classroom labs,” Dominique said. “Getting started early has many advantages because it allows you to find something you truly enjoy.”


Recently in Research: Brooke Polinksy

Brooke in Lab

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the memory, cognitive function, and behavior of many individuals worldwide. The disease is caused by an aggregation and accumulation of amyloid-B  plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the neuronal tissue of affected individuals. Brooke Polinsky, a senior majoring in Nutrition Sciences, is interested in how risk factors such as diet can increase the aggregation and accumulation of these amyloid-B plaques.

Brooke, along with the help of her mentor Dr. Jeganathan and his team, conducted an experiment on mice to test her hypothesis. The control group was fed a standard chow diet and the experimental group was fed a high fat diet with added sugar. Brooke explained that the high fat diet with added sugar would induce obesity and peripheral insulin resistance compared to the control group. After 6-8 weeks the team ran western blot procedures on the mice’s neural tissue to test for increased accumulation of amyloid-B plaques. The team also tested the subject’s weight gain and peripheral insulin resistance.

Brooke and her team found that a high fat diet with added sugar not only leads to obesity and insulin resistance, but it also leads to the accumulation of amyloid-B plaques like oligomers and fibrils. Brooke explained that AD is a rising epidemic that is currently affecting over 35 million people and is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. Her hope is that information from this study can encourage individuals to reduce their consumption of high fat diets with added sugar to avoid diseases such as AD.

Recently in Research: Paola Canas

Canas in Madagascar

Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, can be detrimental to communities that rely on crop production for both economic reasons and food security. Paola Canas, a senior majoring in Nutrition Wellness, traveled to Madagascar in the Summer of 2017 to investigate the effects of natural disasters on crop production and crop sustainability. She conducted research under the advisement of Dr. Farris, a faculty member in the College of Human Sciences, who travels to Madagascar every other year.

Paola explained that Dr. Farris focuses on a different village with every visit that she takes to Madagascar. For Paola’s trip, the village of interest was the Andasiee village. Dr. Farris and Paola distributed surveys to the residents of the Andasiee village to better understand the impact of natural disasters on their crop production and eating habits. The Mad Dog Initiative program, led by Dr. Farris’s husband, aided in the distribution of these surveys.

Paola found that most residents of the Andasiee village would not consume three meals a day and that most adults would skip meals to provide more food for their children. Paola explained that the village residents would consume a meal of rice, beans, and a green leafy vegetable at every meal, regardless whether the meal was consumed for breakfast or for dinner. The lack of food and restricted diet, however, were not effects of the natural disaster. Although natural disasters impact the crop production and destroy many houses, Paola found that the eating habits of the Andasiee village residents do not differ drastically before and after a natural disaster. Paola explained that in villages like the Andasiee experience natural disasters so often that they are accustomed to natural disaster conditions.

Paola claims that the experience she had in Madagascar was both valuable and humbling. She aided a family of 19 members by rebuilding their house that had been destroyed during a natural disaster. The new house provided a more suitable living environment for the 15 kids and 4 adults who lived there. This experience was so rewarding to Paola that she plans to study abroad in future summers to aid others suffering worldwide.


Recently in Research: Madison Edwards

Motor skill interventions can influence the motor and cognitive functions in individuals with developmental disabilities. Madison Edwards, a senior majoring in Biomedical Sciences, worked with the iCanShine organization to see how learning to ride a bike can help individuals. Madison conducted her Undergraduate Research Fellowship this summer under the mentorship of Dr. Melissa Pangelinan in the College of Education.

Working with children and teens ages 9-17, Madison and her team assessed the teens’ cognitive and motor skills both before and after the bicycle program. Cognitive skills were assessed using iPad games to test memory, attention span, and executive function.

The kids were taught to ride in a 5-day period by using a modified bike, which allowed them to go to two wheels by themselves. According to Madison, “With the use of the training equipment, we were able to get 10 of the 12 participants to complete the bike program.”

Madison is now using the data from the cognitive and motor tests to look for improvements after the bike skill was learned by the children and teens. These results can hopefully improve the current assessment techniques that are being used for individuals with develop mental disabilities.

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Recently in Research: Holly Parker

The concept of a balanced diet is something that is known from a very young age. Holly Parker, a senior majoring in Dietetics, traveled to Andasibe Madagascar to study the diet of the Malagasy villagers. Holly Parker conducted her Undergraduate Research Fellowship this summer under the mentorship of Dr. Alisha Farris in the College of Human Sciences.

Holly and her team used a diet diversity study to track and study the daily diet of villagers in Madagascar. After the findings were assembled and compared other known Malagasy diets, a few differences were found.

“The villagers had access to fruits and vegetables, but preferred to spend money on rice which they found more substantial,” Holly said. “they preferred rice because it would fill them up and provide energy to do their daily work.”

Holly and her team spent six weeks in Madagascar and hope to publish their findings to create a tailored nutrition plan for the Andisibe villagers. This plan could help ensure the people are getting the correct micronutrients to prevent growth stunting and other nutritional deficiencies.

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Recently in Research: Jonathan Dismukes

A goal of cancer research is to study the body’s natural mechanisms for regulating the cell cycle, which often become mutated. Jonathan Dismukes, a senior majoring in Biomedical Sciences, is working a mitogen- and stress-activated kinase (MSK1) that regulates the crucial tumor suppressor protein p16. Jonathan conducted his Undergraduate Research Fellowship this summer under the mentorship of Dr. Curtis Bird in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Jonathan is working with canine mammary tumors because they present similar models to humans and have very comparable molecular targets. Mutations in the cell cycle are being observed to see where the p16’s cellular mechanism is failing.

“Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR) was used with a fluorescent molecule to measure the expression of MSK1 during amplification,” Jonathan said. “The machine would count the fluorescence over successive cycles and allow us to verify
the expression of the protein.”

Jonathan is currently continuing his lab research to study MSK1 and the p16 tumor suppressor. This knowledge of the mechanics of p16 will allow for potential treatments to defects in both dogs and humans.

Recently in Research: Cara Ratterman

Gobbles from turkeys are one of the best ways to count their population in the wild. Cara Ratterman, a senior majoring in Organismal Biology, is working with a method to automate the process of finding wild turkey population in Alabama. Cara conducted her Undergraduate Research Fellowship this summer under the mentorship of Dr. James Grand in the College of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.

Cara is working by establishing a machine code to listen and count whenever a turkey gobble is heard. This will allow field sites to be operated with fewer technicians, thus reducing costs.

“We placed recorders in sites and allowed them to run for a month to collect data,” Cara said. “We then analyzed the recorded files to verify the machine’s readings were accurate.”

Cara and her team discovered that the automated recorders could be as reliable as a field technician, but more work is needed for them to be operable in all environments. She is currently reviewing the results and hopes to publish them in a journal article.