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

Summer Research Yields Exciting Results
A recap of student/faculty research




Professor Mac Lippert, William Crall, '09 and Matt Alexander '09

Saint Michael's NIH grant researchers, (left to right) William Crall, Matthew Alexander and Professor Malcolm Lippert in the lab.
Professor Lippert and his two students, who each received $4,000 summer stipends from his NIH grant spent their days, and sometimes nights, in the labs at Saint Michael’s examining the mechanisms in cells that cause mutations. Mutations leading to the unregulated growth of cells, can result in cancers. Thus their research seeks answers to the question of why transcription elevates the rate of mutation, and is directly connected to understanding and finding ways to treat and prevent genetic diseases, particularly cancer “I really love it,” said Crall, of Pittsfield, Mass., confirming his professor’s hopes.

The son of David and Susan Crall, William Crall, a senior biology major, graduated from Saint Joseph Central High School before coming to Saint Michael’s. He is a member of the Saint Michael's varsity golf team, and a frequenter of the Pittsfield Country Club, when he’s not in the lab. “I love doing experiments,” Crall said, “It’s like solving a puzzle.” Professor Lippert, a resident of Jericho, Vt., said Crall’s diligence and enthusiasm really show. “Will has really good hands for science; he’s really organized and has really taken to it,” Lippert said.

Matthew Alexander, a senior biology major, son of Susan Turcotte of Richmond, Vt., and Edwin Alexander of Cambridge, Vt., graduated from Mount Mansfield Union High School before coming to Saint Michael’s. Last summer he did biomedical research in a lab at the University of Vermont. When not in the lab, Alexander is running, as a member of the Saint Michael's varsity cross-country team, but he definitely plans to pursue a career in medicine or pure science after college. “Manipulating living cells and trying to figure what goes on inside them is really fascinating,” Alexander said. He explained the Saint Michael's summer research project this way: “We’re trying to determine what lesion on DNA is causing a certain kind of mutation when a gene is highly transcribed.” He said further, “When you increase the rate of transcription, you get these mutations,” which they are carefully, painstakingly measuring in the lab.

Professor Lippert was excited about the summer work. “These guys work very well as a team; both are excellent students, who’ve shown a lot of promise with lab skills.” And, he added, “They are very accurate; they get good, reproducible results. When they’ve done an experiment, I really believe the results,” the professor said.

- Buff Lindau


Professor Mark Lubkowitz, Ed Griffin '10, Amie Lank '10 and
Nick Robertson '09

Studying transporters and rice seed germination are Amie Lank '10, Ed Griffin '10, Professor Mark Lubkowitz and Nick Robertson '09.

Plants fulfill their energy needs by transforming light into chemical energy through a process called photosynthesis, but where do plants get the energy and raw materials for building their first set of leaves? The answer is that plants inherit a kind of “trust fund” from their parents that is stored in the seed. When seeds germinate in the spring, they use this energy reserve to form their first shoots, roots, and leaves. In cereal grains such as corn, rice, and wheat the energy store is primarily filled with starch and large proteins, which serve as a reservoir of amino acids for synthesizing all of the protein machinery required for normal metabolism and growth.

Accessing the amino acids in storage proteins consists of first breaking the larger proteins into smaller subunits followed by their transport to the seedling. This “unloading” of the seed by transporters is critical for germination and therefore has economic, health, and agricultural implications since grain quality and crop success are dependent upon this process.

Since the majority of our calories come from grasses such as corn, wheat, and rice the National Science Foundation awarded Professor Mark Lubkowitz a grant to study the role that transporters play in rice seed germination. This grant funded three students this summer, Nick Robertson ’09, Amie Lank '10, and Ed Griffin ’10, who worked to determine the role that specific transporters plays in rice seed germination. Over the course of the summer, Amie, Nick, and Ed discovered how the genes that encode these transporters are regulated and what type of proteins they transport within the rice seed. These are important findings because any potential improvements on crops will require an understanding of what can and should be changed to increase seed loading and unloading.


Professor Declan McCabe, Erin Doyle '09, Ian Meyer '09, Whitney Hine '09, Jacqueline Cote '09, Brian Cunningham '10 and Alex Canepa '10

The macroinvertebrate team at a field site during a sampling trip to French Hill Brook in Johnson, VT. From left to right: Erin Doyle, Whitney Hine, Ian Myers, Alex Canepa, Brian Cunningham and Jacqueline Cote.
Photo taken by Celey Schumer.

Continuing in a long tradition of stream ecology outreach programs established by Dan Bean and others from the Saint Michael’s College Biology department, Declan McCabe developed a research and outreach program focused on land-use implications for macroinvertebrate diversity in Vermont streams.

During the 2007 planning phase, collaborators from UVM, Middlebury College, Johnson State College, Sterling College, Norwich University, and Saint Michael's College developed the Streams Project as an outreach program to Vermont and New York high schools. The program is funded by the National Science Foundation as part of a larger grant to Vermont EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research).

The program is unique in that the undergraduate students and professors at the collaborating institutions combined high school outreach with research-quality data collection. The resulting data sets are being used to address individual research goals of the professors involved, for educational value, and to provide supplementary data to Vermont State agencies.

In the 2008 field season, Erin Doyle '09, Ian Myers '09, Whitney Hine '09, Jacqueline Cote '09, and Brian Cunningham '10 were funded by Vermont EPSCoR to work on the project. Alex Canepa '10 was supported by the Hartnett Endowment for her part in the project. In early June, the six Saint Michael's College students participated in a week-long training as part of a group of 24 students from the partner institutions. This was followed by a week of intensive sampling in Vermont streams. The team then participated in the training of high school teams each consisting of a teacher and two or three students drawn from over a dozen schools in Vermont and New York.

The central research goals include comparing the impacts of urban, agricultural, and forested lands on phosphorous and coliform bacteria export, and macroinvertebrate diversity in streams. The Saint Michael's College team devoted the lions share of it’s efforts to macroinvertenrate sampling and identification. Individual student research projects include a comparison of sampling techniques, an examination of the effects of storm disturbance, and determination of the optimum macroinvertebrate index to separate Vermont land use impacts on macroinvertebrate communities.

The 2008 field season has already yielded a series of web-based photographic
keys for macroinvertebrates specific to each of the streams where high school teams will work. Six student research posters will be presented in a project-wide symposium at UVM in Spring 2009. Three members of the summer research team are continuing with the project as paid technicians, or are participating in senior research. Recruiting for new team members for the 2009 field season will begin shortly.

Based upon very positive external reviews of the project by AAAS, collaborators from Vermont EPSCoR hope to include this outreach and research program in the next funding application to NSF and to continue the program beyond the term of the current funding cycle.

Watch the clip below to learn more about Professor McCabe's research in Vermont streams. Filmed for a feature on Emerging Science, the clip will air on Vermont Public Television in February 2009.

Note: The clip may take a few minutes to download. If you have trouble viewing it, you can access the clip directly on
YouTube >>

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