Web Extra from the ‘Science is my Passion‘ story in the Winter 2011 Issue of Gonzaga Magazine

Talking about research with CHRISTIAN SPALLINO

I started doing research at GU spring semester my junior year for Professor Marianne Poxleitner. Our research involves genetically modifying locally grown split peas (Pisum sativum) with a gene to make them naturally aphid resistant. Aphids are very destructive insects that feed on many cultivated crops such as peas, significantly reducing yields. Our goal this summer was to insert a gene into P. sativum from mint called E-β Farnesene Synthase that codes for a volatile sesquiterpene compound. β Farnesene is a naturally occurring aphid alarm pheromone that deters aphids.  It mimics a compound released by aphids during heavy aphid infestations and signals to incoming aphids that they need to move on. Ultimately, we hope that this could be an alternate solution to the thousands of dollars a year farmers currently spend spraying chemicals to control aphids. So far, our results are positive and we are excited to see how the project turns out.

Science is full of emotionally charged and incredible moments. When one experiment can tell you that weeks, sometimes months, of hard work and continual failure have paid off, it is an unbelievably gratifying high on its own. A moment such as this came along this summer when our presentation was two weeks away and our results were still not where we wanted them. After many hours of trial and failure, one conclusive test allowed us to discover that we had the proper DNA containing our gene for aphid resistance going into our plants, and we would actually have something to present at our presentation in front of the whole biology and chemistry departments at GU. We immediately celebrated and packed up for the day because we were all too excited to do any more science without screwing something up. It was the biggest “Whew!” moment in my Gonzaga career.

Dr. Poxleitner is extremely hands on. She enjoys working in the lab right beside us and loves to hear and talk about any development within the research. Another great aspect to her is that she is up front. She tells you exactly when she feels something is not going well or if she is happy with our work. This communication allows for a smooth research experience, not to mention a fun work environment.

I am a biology major, psychology minor and a senior. I was born and raised on Maui and find that snowboarding can be just as rewarding as surfing (except for the cold). I plan on attending medical school although not necessarily right away. Ever since I was a child I have been around hospitals due to silly sports injuries and the fact that my dad is a doctor. Although most people find hospitals to be a scary place, I find them comfortable and familiar. I have great respect for the work doctors do and their commitment to the well-being of the people in their community. I would love to one day be able to provide this service for those with medical needs.

ERIN DICKSON’s work could lead to major health advances

I started my research in fall 2009. The long-term goal of our overall project is to develop a drug to target helminth parasites (which infect humans and livestock) through their dependence on a chemical called rhodoquinone. Among these worm parasites is the organism that causes the devastating disease schistosomiasis. We use a bacteria to study the biological production of rhodoquinone. My specific project involves knocking out genes from the bacteria that may be essential in the process to make rhodoquinone as well as examining the effects on their metabolism without these genes.

The most incredible moment in my research was when I received results back from the Clemson University Genetics Institute. I had sent off my plasmid (a small circular section of DNA with a mutated segment I had engineered) to be sequenced in order to confirm that I had correctly put all the pieces of DNA together. The results confirmed that I had indeed constructed the sequence I had intended on making, though with one small error. But just the fact that I had successfully combined numerous, identical, clear solutions in tubes and come out with something that could completely alter the life of an organism was amazing to me.

My mentor Dr. Jennifer Shepherd, is incredibly smart and a successful professor, a great role model to me and focuses so much of her life into her job. We have a good connection since she is my academic advisor and I took organic chemistry I from her, but while my project mostly involves molecular biology, Dr. Shepherd’s area of expertise is organic chemistry. So I sometimes consult other professors with some questions.

Doing research has enabled me to see more of my potential future place in the real world. Being in school, especially taking science lab courses, I sometimes have a hard time seeing the benefit of work that seems tedious at the time. Looking back after having done research, though, I have realized that these exercises have helped prepared me to apply fundamental techniques in work that may someday benefit the world at large. I am a junior biochemistry major with a minor in mathematics. I am from Boulder, Colo., and I am looking at attending graduate school in either biochemistry or molecular biology.

STORY MOK likes the idea of using science to find truth

I started doing research with Dr. Eric Ross in the chemistry and biochemistry department in summer 2009. I continued research during the 2009-10 academic year on a Howard Hughes Medical Institutes-supported undergraduate assistantship. This summer, my research was funded by the Gonzaga Science Research Program. Dr. Ross’ group is working to develop new tools for biomembrane and pharmaceutical research.

Dr. Ross is always excited about his research. During summer, he would spend time with us in lab to teach and guide us to do research. He’s always patient and explains things very well. I learned a lot and enjoyed working with Dr. Ross.

When we do research, we apply theories that we learn in class. Doing research can reinforce what we’ve learned and learn more about the topics that we are researching on. Besides, we get to familiarize ourselves using different instruments and work both independently and in groups. In addition, we have to present our work both in a more formal and informal setting such as in the Murdock Conference and the Fall Family Weekend poster section. These experiences help prepare us for graduate school and for future careers in science, which may require a lot of presentations.

This summer, I got to work with a pretty complex set-up that includes a high performance liquid chromatography pump, a fluorescence microscope, an injector and many narrow and fragile capillaries. I am pleased that my research partner and I finally learned how to use this equipment.

I am a senior majoring in biochemistry. I am an international student from Hong Kong. I’m planning to apply for chemistry graduate school. For my career, I am not entirely sure about what I would like to do yet, maybe a career in forensic science, which uses science to solve problems and find out what the truth is. I like the idea that you can use the knowledge from science to help people.

Comments are closed.