BALTIMORE, Md. – Three Mansfield University chemistry majors attended and presented at the 22ndannual Undergraduate Research Symposium in the Chemical and Biological Sciences held at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) on Oct. 19.
Seniors Katherine Thompson (Greenville, Pa.), Leanna Hodge (Kendall, N.Y.) and Kory Wolfe (Sunbury, Pa.) each presented original research at the symposium and were accompanied by their research advisors, Dr. Kristen Long of the Biology Department and Dr. Elaine Farkas of the Chemistry and Physics Department. The students were judged on research content, poster display, and oral communication and defense of their work. All three students were jointly advised by Dr. Long and Dr. Farkas in their collaborative research projects.
Thompson’s poster, titled “Analyzing and Quantifying the Pervasiveness of Microplastic Beads in Mouse Livers, Spleens, and Kidneys”, won first place in the chemistry category, beating out competition from James Madison University and Delaware State University. Her project explored the quantification of microplastics and nanoplastics in mouse tissues from mice fed controlled doses of plastic beads, which serves as a model for future studies into human tissues. Thompson has worked with Dr. Farkas for 1.5 years to develop a protocol for the detection and quantification of these elusive beads, while Dr. Long’s lab is concurrently exploring the bead-induced tissue damage in the same mice. Currently, there is no established protocol for mammalian tissue digestion and plastic quantification at this size scale.
Leanna Hodge and Kory Wolfe are working on a tardigrade project developed by Dr. Long and Dr. Farkas. Interest in tardigrades has piqued recently due to their peculiar survival properties during cryptobiosis, at state at which metabolic activities decrease. Recent literature cites tardigrade-unique protein expression, evaluated at the messenger (m)RNA level, as a mechanism for their enhanced survival in stressful conditions. However, these studies may have overlooked the structural function of proteins coded for by commonly assigned “housekeeping genes,” which are used to normalize mRNA expression levels.
Hodge presented her research on “Analysis of Potential Housekeeping Genes in Tardigrades.” She explored the expression levels of mRNA for various genes under conditions of osmostic and desiccation stresses relative to normal conditions in which tardigrades live.
Wolfe presented fundamental research on tardigrade tolerance of osmotic stress for different solutes. He probed the LD-50, or lethal dose at which 50% of a population is killed, for different solutes, and his poster was titled “Investigating Tardigrade Metabolic and Morphological Reactions to Osmotic Stresses”. In his research, Wolfe explored the least understood form of cryptobiosis: osmobiosis. He found that tardigrades have different tolerances depending on the solute, suggesting avenues for future research into the molecular pathways of cryptobiosis, which he plans to pursue.
Mansfield’s students were three of nearly 300 abstracts and poster presentations at this symposium, with students hailing from 35 universities across six states. Universities in attendance included the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, University of Delaware, Duquesne University, and many other schools with ties to graduate and medical schools. The conference was a great opportunity for these young scientists to network and explore active scientific research in their field.