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Students

Problem-solving: at the heart of ambitious undergraduate research projects

May 9, 2014
by Rachel Griess

Undergraduate student scholars and scientists gathered in April to showcase their discoveries at the 20th annual CSU Celebrate Undergraduate Research and Creativity symposium.

More than 40 undergrads in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences participated – and nearly half claimed CURC distinction awards.

A sign of achievement: Students in the college make up less than 3 percent of CSU’s total undergraduate population, but produce nearly 20 percent of the CURC exhibits. Many are enrolled in the CSU Honors Program and conduct research as part of their learning.

“The land-grant tradition of discovery aimed at problem-solving – as well as communication about these discoveries – is alive and well, and is demonstrated in the impressive achievements of our students,” said Ken Blehm, associate dean for undergraduate education.

Here are a few of the undergrads – with winning students noted – and descriptions of their research projects.


Lukas Foster, biomedical sciences sophomore: “A novel diindolylmethane analog, DIM-C-pPhBr, suppresses neuroinflammatory gene expression in BV-2 microglia cells” 
University Highest Honors – Best In Show

Parkinson’s disease is a common neurodegenerative disease with no therapeutic techniques or drugs to slow its progression. With funding from the Michael J. Fox Foundation and help from mentor Dr. Ron Tjalkens, Foster is investigating compounds that hold potential for delaying neuroinflammation – potentially mitigating symptoms.

“This project means a lot to me because my grandfather had Parkinson’s disease before he passed away,” Foster said. “With this research, we could find a way to delay symptoms of Parkinson’s disease to the point where people may have it at the time of their death, but it won’t have a great impact on them.”


Courtney Abbott, biomedical sciences freshman: “Analysis of immunoglobulin gene in canine chronic lymphocytic leukemia”
College Honors

Abbot has researched chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a cancer that occurs in older dogs and people. She has mapped canine genomes in an effort to identify problem-causing genes, with the ultimate goal of using discoveries to better understand cancer in people.

“I wanted to get involved and get my own research experience,” Abbott said. “CURC provided me the opportunity to share with others.”


Hannah Baird, biomedical sciences senior: “Interferon-stimulated genes protect the ovine corpus luteum from lysis in response to prostaglandin F2? during early pregnancy in sheep”
College Honors

Baird is studying pregnancies in sheep to better understand mammalian pregnancies in general. She and fellow researchers have found that a protein called interferon tau (IFNT) helps signal pregnancy to the mother’s body, thus aiding retention.

“I’ve enjoyed working on this project for four years and seeing it progress year after year,” she said. “In the lab, I may be focused on one little piece of the puzzle, but presentations like this allow me to fit all the pieces together.”


Sarah Born, microbiology senior: “Functional characterization of epoxide hydrolase E in mycobacteria”

Born has worked in CSU’s noted Mycobacteria Research Laboratories, focusing on an enzyme called epoxide hydrolase (EH). She is helping to understand whether knocking out the enzyme within the bacterium that causes tuberculosis could prevent spread of the pathogen.

“I’ve worked in Dr. Mary Jackson’s lab for two years and even developed my honors thesis around this research project,” Born said. “CURC provided an outlet for me to share what I’ve learned with my peers and faculty. It’s a good wrap-up presentation for all of the work put in.”


Kimberly Bostwick, microbiology junior: “Isotopic labeling of DNA in thymine-dependent auxotrophs of Escherichia coli”

Bostwick has worked with a multidisciplinary team to study DNA’s “folds and movement.” She is using radioactive tags to investigate structural changes to DNA through a process called nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR).

“We know so much about DNA, but at the same time, we have so much to learn,” Bostwick said. “Research is funny in that we can spend all this time looking at one question and by the time we are done, we have a hundred more questions.”


Christine Carnicello, environmental health sophomore: “Gene signatures to predict effective drugs for use in canine cancers”
College Honors

Carnicello collaborated with graduate student researchers at the CSU Flint Animal Cancer Center to predict how certain cells would respond to cancer drug therapies through a process called co-expression extrapolation (COXEN). She and fellow researchers were 79 percent accurate in predicting drug sensitivity in 16 canine cancer cell lines, providing evidence that the COXEN method is dependable in predicting drug sensitivity.

“It’s cool to see that the research I am involved in has real-life applications that not only help dogs with cancer, but can be applied in human medicine,” Carnicello said.


Lucas Elms, microbiology junior: “Construction of allelic exchange plasmid for creation of dihydrofolate reductase (FolA) deletion in attenuated strain of Burkholderia pseudomallei”

Elms’ research can be applied to fight a disease called melioidosis, or Whitmore’s disease, which is found in water and soil in tropical climates. He and fellow researchers have identified gene FolA within the causative bacterium and are working to eliminate it from the bacterium’s gene sequence.

“This is my first year working on this project,” Elms said. “It’s cool to be working with a disease that affects so many people and animals. This research could have a worldwide impact.”


Mengmeng Fang, environmental health and chemistry senior: “Ground level ozone”
University High Honors

Fang, a double major in chemistry and environmental health, combined her disciplines to investigate the trend of ground-level ozone in Fort Collins, Denver and the Rocky Mountains. She collected and analyzed air-quality data over a year to understand the impact of emissions from natural and manmade sources.

“I want to continue researching air quality after graduation,” said Fang, who has been accepted into the graduate program in environmental engineering at the University of California, Davis. “I hope to one day be able to develop the technology used to measure emissions to further promote air quality.”


Tyler Fiero, microbiology sophomore: “Analysis of the inner ear of Rhinella margaritifera toads using 3D modeling software”

Fiero worked in a zoology lab to study toads without eardrums, attempting to answer the question: “Over time, why did some toads evolve to lose their middle and outer ear?” The research team created a 3D virtual model of the Rhinella margaritifera toad “ear” to help understand how the toad is able to hear without an eardrum.

“Evolutionary research helps us answer the question, ‘Why?’” Fiero said. “What is the evolutionary benefit for a species to develop this way?”


Adam Gural, biomedical sciences sophomore, “MECP2 and its effects on chromatin compaction”
College Honors

Gural is studying effects of the genetic mutation that causes Rett syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder that strikes primarily girls. A gene called MECP2 is involved in Rett syndrome; the team’s research will help identify how the mutated protein suppresses brain development.

“Because Rett syndrome is a genetic disorder that we know little about, not much can be done as far as preventative tactics go,” Gural said. “This research will lead us to further understanding of the disorder and promote additional research.”


Alexander Hughes, biomedical sciences junior: “Exploring the role of the nucleus tractus solitarius proopiomelanocortin neurons in the regulation of energy balance”
College Honors

Understanding eating disorders and obesity is at the center of Hughes’ study. He and fellow researchers are examining the role of neurons in regulating the body’s energy, which in turn is tied to overeating and obesity.

“We’re looking at the brain and seeing how it is wired for different eating habits, particularly those that can lead to obesity,” Hughes said. “From anorexia to binge eating, we want to identify what causes these eating disorders and how the brain plays a role.”


Keerthi Vemulapalli, environmental health senior: “Environmental exposures induce copy number variation events in saccharomyces cerevisiae”
University High Honors

Vemulapalli used known environmental carcinogens to illustrate an effective method for testing other environmental agents and their likelihood of causing cancer.

“The thing I’ve learned about science is that there are rarely definite answers or a method proven 100-percent effective,” she said. “There’s always room for an exception.”


Stephanie Weed, biomedical sciences senior: “Human study 26 for the CDC: assessment of hypersensitivity to Isoniazid and/or Rifapentine”

Isoniazid is a drug used to treat tuberculosis and to prevent its development in people who have been exposed to bacteria that cause the infectious disease. Like many drugs, Isoniazid may cause side-effects in some patients. Weed’s research data will be used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help identify patients with hypersensitivities and to determine the best course of treatment for them.

“The coolest thing about this project is the collaboration with the CDC,” Weed said. “Our research will be sent to the CDC as data that they can use for a real-life patient whose body may be rejecting this common TB drug in some way.”


More University High Honors

Katherine Dirsmith, biomedical sciences – “Retrospective review of northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) pup body size and condition: St. Paul Island, Alaska (1986-2013)”

Monica Brandhuber, biomedical sciences – “Deparaffinization and extraction of prion proteins from fixed tissues”

Dorothy Kociuba, biomedical sciences – “The expression of the prorenin receptor in the mouse retina”

Laura Krause, environmental health – “Evaluation of bacterial preservation during air sampling of culturable bioaerosols”

Wojtek Kuklinski, microbiology – “Transcript level variation of the anopheles gambiae glutamate-gated chloride channel relative to time and drug exposure”

Graham Opie, biomedical sciences – “Nutritional influence on crude fat and fatty acid variability in livers”

Evan Richman, biomedical sciences – “In-vitro investigation of NF-kB suppression by administration of 1,1-bis (3’indolyl)-1-1 (phenyl substituted) methane compounds.” Mentor: Dr. Ron Tjalkens

Callie Rogers, biomedical sciences – “Correlation of luciferase bioluminescence with tumor size in an orthotopic murine osteosarcoma model”

John Shannon, biomedical sciences – “Exploring Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) fusion and matrix protein interaction in membranes using recombinant proteins and nanodiscs”

More College Honors

Ashley Anderson, biomedical sciences – “Impact of P-glycoprotein on vinblastine disposition in mice and dogs”

Miya Holley, microbiology – “Creation of dihydropteroate synthase (folP) knockout via allelic exchange in attenuated burkholderia pseudomallei (Bp82)”

Guy Stewart, microbiology – “Genetic mapping of negative regulators of flocculation in bioethanol yeast strains”