Undergraduate students talk about their research experiences in Bio 200/500 labs.
I have spent the last four years as a member of the Hengen Lab, where I have taken a deep dive into neuroscience and neural engineering. Our group focuses on understanding the self-organization of complex brain activity in freely behaving animals. Paramount to this investigation are robust, long-term electrophysiological recordings, which allow us to study the same subset of neurons over many months.
My primary involvement in the lab has been the development and refinement of these recording technologies. In particular, I have developed an approachable method for producing carbon fiber micro-electrodes (CFMEs), whose biocompatibility enables them to avoid the brain’s immune response.
Many labs and research opportunities closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, just as my research in plant disease ecology was beginning. In January 2020, I began research in the Penczykowski lab to study effects of temperature on fungal infection of common weedy plants in the genus Plantago. I spent the first weeks of the semester learning skills and techniques that I would need in the lab-based data collection that would begin after spring break. Things went a little differently than planned. During spring break when all university activities were moved online, my in-person research plans were no longer feasible. For the rest of the semester, I gained a deeper understanding of the plant-fungus model system by reading literature and participating in lab meeting discussions, but it was difficult to feel like I was contributing to science in my work.
I have had the privilege of working in the Herzog Lab since the spring of my sophomore year. The Herzog Lab studies biological clocks and different cells, circuits, and molecules that affect circadian rhythms. Biological clocks are intrinsic oscillators that coordinate approximately 24 hour physiological and behavioral rhythms in almost all organisms.
For the last year and a half, I have been lucky to work with Dr. Swanne Gordon as part of her eco/evo lab with Dr. Andrés López-Sepulcre. Dr. Gordon studies evolution and maintenance of color polymorphisms and sexual selection in the Wood Tiger Moth and the rapidly evolving Trinidadian Guppy. I have been working with the Guppy system for my research, looking at how foraging behaviors of juveniles Guppies are impacted by predation, imprinting, and life histories. I designed my research to work with a larger project going on in the lab that is being run by Dr. Yusan Yang, a post-doc in the lab.
In the Rentschler lab, we aim to address heart disease by looking at how developmental pathways and gene regulation networks are associated with various heart diseases.
For both of us, COVID has changed things but we believe that the Kranz lab has adapted well to these challenges. I believe that our openness in communication, adaptation to challenges of zoom, and recognition that COVID has made our personal lives more flexible has greatly added to this success. The support from WashU through technology and study spaces, the Kranz lab, and the WashU research community as a whole has made this change much easier for us. We hope that we can continue to stay safe doing this work and look forward to making the adjustment back to normal in the future!
Joel Perlmutter’s lab has many different projects, most of which are focused on the development of new PET radiotracers for Parkinson disease. My project in the lab is to study a non-human primate model of Parkinson disease, and the effects of a new drug, Carboxyfullerene (C3), on neurotransmitter levels and dopaminergic cells in different regions of the brain. I do this with the in-vitro measures high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and Tyrosine Hydroxylase staining on brain tissue.
In the Olsen Lab, we aim to understand the genetic basis of evolution in plants. We are specifically interested in understanding how genetic variation within a species is shaped by natural selection, population history, and other various evolutionary forces.
The Chheda Lab is primarily interested in identifying and characterizing the genetic and epigenetic events which induce and maintain tumors. The lab focuses on glioblastoma (GBM), the most common and aggressive brain tumor.
Though I originally arrived at WashU set on attending medical school, my experience in the Kummer lab through Bio 500 and the interactions with my professors and valued mentors have led me to reconsider. I am grateful to have realized that research is a stimulating process of continual growth that I want to pursue as a career, and I am hopeful for the findings that our generation of neuroscientists will discover about the complex organ that makes us human.
During my time in the Elgin lab, I have primarily been responsible for the computational analyses. I have participated in the analysis and correction of the gene models submitted by GEP students and used these gene models to identify the transcription start sites of fourth chromosome genes in several Drosophila species.