Summer Scholars Program
Two week Summer Scholars Program: Students will have an opportunity to learn molecular biology and basic bioinformatics skills in the context of amphibian phylogenetics. Although amphibians seem to be a fairly well known taxon, there remain many species yet to be formally described. A key approach to recognizing and describing new species is an understanding of phylogenies based on genetic data. In this project, students will complete tissue/cell sample collection, and DNA extraction. Sequences of targeted genes will be obtained, and sequencing results will be used to construct phylogenetic trees. This experience will provide a good basis in understanding important concepts in the modern field of biological systematics.
Understanding uterine physiology from breeding to pregnancy can lead to many agricultural and medical advances and breakthroughs. Problems such as small litter sizes, infertility in humans and livestock, birth control, gestational diabetes, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), can be better addressed by concerted investigation of hormonal and physiological factors that affect the uterus in early pregnancy. My doctoral dissertation focuses on understanding and determining the optimal uterine conditions for embryo implantation, using the American mink (Neovison vison) as a biological model. We explore and investigate the different hormones that act on the uterus, the synthesis and mobilization of glycogen during early pregnancy and the underlying physiological mechanisms that facilitate reproductive success. My particular focus is to explore the roles of insulin (a traditionally non-reproductive hormone) and prolactin, if any, during the reproductive cycle, its interaction with sex hormones, its possible effects on the mink uterus, and its role in glycogen metabolism.
The cells of the uterine endometrium are responsible for providing sugars and their derivatives to the developing embryo before and even after implantation. The storage of sugars (as glycogen) and delivery of glucose, pyruvate, and lactate is regulated by estrogens, progesterone, and possibly other hormones. Although dysregulation of these metabolic pathways may be a cause for infertility, the regulation is not yet understood. Students will help to develop a valid computer model of regulation of carbohydrate metabolism in mink or human uterine cell lines. Students may be tasked with caring for the cultured cells at various hormone levels, measuring enzyme kinetic constants, or measuring the production of or steady state levels of metabolites in cultured cells. The measurements will become parameters of a computerized model that will then be used to develop hypotheses that can be tests about mechanisms of regulation and to predict which enzymes might be good therapeutic targets or identifiable risk factors for infertility. Biochemistry experience is preferred, but students who have taken at least general chemistry will be considered for positions.
Bioacoustics of Anurans in Costa Rica and Panama
Acoustic communication is very widespread among anuran amphibians. There are various types of calls including territorial, defensive/alarm, courtship and advertisement calls. Understanding how species use these calls is necessary to have a complete natural history. Further, calls can help distinguish unique species when cryptic species occur syntopically. For many species, call characters and behavior are well known. However, there remain species for which this information is lacking. Summer 2018 my lab will be observing anurans (frogs and toads) in Costa Rica and Panama. Our field studies will target the collection of anuran calls using digital audio recorders. We will capture the individuals for which we have audio recordings to obtain morphometric data, and possibly tissue and/or swab samples for genetic analysis. We will also use various field equipment to measure environmental variables (air temperature, humidity etc.). We will utilize audio analysis software (Raven Pro and/or R seewave) to characterize calls. These analyses coupled with our field observations should result in publications that describe these natural history features for the first time. Possible target species include: Ecnomiohyla fimbrimembra, Craugastor melanostictus, and Pristimantis caryophyllaceus in Costa Rica; in Panama we will target Pristimantis gaigei, and Agalychnis lemur.
Reptile Communities in the Snake River Birds of Prey Area
Reptiles are an important component of terrestrial ecosystems both as predators and as prey. Generally species are well adapted to the habitats in which they occur. However, due to anthropogenic changes, the landscape has changed in many areas in southwestern Idaho. A prime example of this is the extensive conversion of former desert shrublands to areas dominated by exotic annual weeds. The effect these changes have on reptile communities are largely unknown. This research will be a cooperative effort with Boise State University, the Idaho Army National Guard, and the United States Geological Survey to survey much of the northwestern portion of the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. We will utilize drift fence trapping arrays to capture snakes and lizards at various sites that have been surveyed in previous decades. Trapping efforts will also be supplemented with data obtained by visual encounter surveys, road encounters and targeted searches. These data will inform land managers of impacts vegetation changes have had (if any) and may direct future management efforts.
For this project, different metal nanoparticles will be evaluated as antibacterial agents. Silver and zinc oxide nanoparticles will be tested for the antibacterial efficacy on a variety of bacteria strains, including E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The two main methods to test the antibacterial properties of the nanoparticles will be through the disk diffusion and broth dilution assays.
Broth dilution test: To test the potency of ZnO as an antibacterial agent, the minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) will be obtained. The MIC will be obtained by conducting a broth dilution test. Bacterial organisms will be grown up on LB plates. Single colonies of bacteria will be transferred to LB broth. Fresh LB broth will be mixed with various concentrations of ZnO. To obtain the desired concentrations of ZnO, ZnO will be serially diluted beginning with concentration of 1.0 µg/L and ending at a 0.0625µg/L. Once the dilutions have been made, each test tube will be inoculated with an identical amount of test bacterium by adding broth cultures. The tubes will be incubated and the turbidity of each tube will be measured visually and/or by an ELISA plate reader.