an e-newsletter for students and alumni of saint michael's biology department

Faculty-Student Summer Research
By Mac Lippert

Lake Champlain and the third floor of the Cheray Science Building were the sites of three biology majors' summer undergraduate research. With an eye toward the health of Lake Champlain, rising senior Jeffrey White worked for his second summer with Professor Doug Facey sampling fish in Lake Champlain. In sun or rain, White and Facey collected fish and analyzed the contents of fish stomachs in order to identify trends in the abundance and feeding of invasive species such as Morone americanus (white perch) relative to Vermont’s native fish species. Please see the student spotlight article in this edition of our e-newsletter to learn more about Jeff White’s tracking of the white perch.   

Back in the lab, rising seniors Nate Schoenly and Anna Messenger were working with yeast to understand why mutations occur. Specifically, they measured the rate at which mutations occur under high-transcription conditions. Transcription, the first step in gene expression, is a normal cellular process. However, it has previously been shown that genes that are highly transcribed experience a higher mutation rate. Because of the important role that mutations play in cancer, aging, and other diseases, as well as in evolution, Schoenly and Messenger aimed to characterize better the effect of transcription on mutation. For his project, Nate sequenced gene mutations recovered under low- and high-transcription conditions. In contrast, Anna focused on large chromosomal changes and whether transcription influenced the distribution of chromosomal breakpoints.  As the                                          Nate Schoenly '08
summer wound down, both Schoenly                             
and Messenger
analyzed their data and wrote their reports. “I learned that research has the potential to take much longer than one would anticipate. The actual experimental question seems easy enough to run tests and collect data on, but there is also a great deal of time spend planning experiments, researching and understanding the pertinent literature, and running replicate experiments,” Schoenly said.

To fund their summer salaries, both Schoenly and Messenger received a Hartnett Fellowship to perform summer research with Professor Mac Lippert.  The Hartnett Fellowship is funded by an endowed fund in honor of Professor Emeritus of Biology, John Hartnett.  In addition, Nate was partially funded by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM).  As part of his award, Nate will present his research at the National Meeting of the ASM to be held in Boston this June.  Research supply costs were covered by a Vermont Genetics Network grant to Lippert.

Both Schoenly and Messenger would recommend that other students perform an independent research project "if they truly have a passion for the subject,” said Schoenly.  “This is necessary since you will spend your entire summer devoted to your subject of research.  If you truly have a passion for the subject, enjoy doing the work involved, and have a love for discovery, research can be an amazing experience.  You learn not only about the subject you're researching,
               Anna Messenger '08                    you also learn about yourself and your
                                                               strengths and weaknesses.”  Messenger agreed saying, “I would definitely encourage students to perform summer research. It's a great experience that could help students who are unsure of what they would like to do after college and prepare students for graduate school."

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