Biology Research Helps Secure NIH Funding
The Department of Biological Sciences began its sixth year of the MS in Biology program. The support of CoGS was instrumental in getting this program through the early stages of development and will continue to be vital in the coming years. At present there are seven full-time graduate students with another planning to begin in spring 2011. Two students are funded with grants and the others have graduate assistantships supported by the College of Graduate Studies (CoGS). Below are reports from five on-going student projects.
Shiwha Park, an international student, is working in Dr. Christopher Chabot’s laboratory investigating the molecular mechanisms of biological clocks in the American horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus. Chabot has been studying horseshoe crabs in the laboratory and in the field for many years and Shiwha is the second of three graduate students to do a master’s thesis involving this research. Park’s findings were instrumental in securing a recent NIH INBRE grant that will provide nearly $1,000,000 in funding to Plymouth State University over the next five years.
Brooks Henningsen is working with Dr. Katie Rose Boissonneault to investigate the genes involved in toxin production in the marine diatom Pseudo-nitzschia multiseries (Ps-n). His research is specifically focused on the characterization of a gene encoding transporter protein that appears to be correlated with increased toxin production. Henningsen’s work includes detailed bioassays to further correlate the expression of this gene with toxin synthesis in Ps-n, as well as specific functional studies to characterize the cellular activity of this transporter protein.
Nicole Ramberg-Pihl is working with Dr. Kerry Yurewicz. She is broadly interested in the ecology of predator-prey interactions and how the risk of predation affects animal behavior. Her work focuses on the northern crayfish, Orconectes virilis. During the field season, Ramberg-Pihl sampled 20 lakes and ponds in central New Hampshire, collecting data on the relative abundance of northern crayfish in habitats with differing fish communities. This academic year, she is carrying out behavioral experiments in the laboratory to complement this work. Ramberg-Pihl asks the fundamental question of how prey learn to respond to predators in their environment.
Rachel Whitaker is doing her thesis research in northern Coos County, New Hampshire, working with Dr. Brigid O’Donnell and the NH Fish and Game Department. Whitaker is collecting data on eastern brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis, from Emerson Brook, a tributary to Nash Stream. She is using PIT tag technology to monitor fish movement. “When many of my graduate peers have long since come inside to start work on their data sets, I continue to spend glorious days in the field. I am collecting data on the habitat use and movement of brook trout. I have piles of scales to be aged, Excel sheet after Excel sheet to organize, and statistical analyses to learn, but until Emerson brook is frozen over, I’ll be out there monitoring my fish!”
Alexi Kimiatek is working with Dr. Len Reitsma on the Canada warbler, examining the correlation of male plumage characteristics and reproductive success. Having finished his field work and course work, Kimiatek is now in the laboratory extracting DNA from blood collected from male warblers and nestlings over the past two summers. Like many bird species, Canada warblers engage in extra-pair copulations (EPCs), mating with females outside of their pair-bond. This allows males to have young in several nests. The DNA analysis will determine the number of nestlings each male is responsible for siring both with its mate and due to extra-pair copulations. Connecting these results to male plumage brightness and hue will shed light on female choice behavior within and outside of pair bonds.
The students’ advisors are committed to assisting their graduate students in conducting rigorous scientific investigations. They have an impressive track record of submitted manuscripts and publications in peer reviewed journals co-authored by the faculty and graduate students. As Chabot points out, this work spawns funding opportunities and we are hoping more and more graduate students will be funded with outside grants in the future.
The graduate students have enhanced the research atmosphere for the undergraduates as well. They present their work in different departmental venues, teach non-majors labs, TA upper level courses with their advisors and generally interact with the undergraduates in the department.