Sample Abstracts of Student Research Papers

Since 1996 more than 2000 Introductory Biology 152 students have been engaged in mentored research opportunities. Copies of the Mentored Research Poster Session programs for the past several years:

“Do not be intimidated by the sound of research. Even if you have never set foot in a research lab before, this is a project worth trying. The great thing about this project id that it is a GUIDED project. This means that you always have someone in your research lab to turn to for questions.”

Sample abstracts of both mentored and literature-based research selected to provide an idea of the range of student research projects are included below.

Mentored: Using Computational Analysis to Determine the Role of MDR1 in Lateral Root Development of Gravistimulated Arabidopsis thaliana Seedlings

By controlling the growth of the primary root and the production of lateral roots the hormone auxin plays a large role in determining root system architecture. Differential transport of auxin causes roots to bend in response to gravity, and the auxin gradient at the site of curvature has been predicted to stimulate lateral root production along the convex side. My research has utilized a novel image analysis to quantify the production and growth of lateral roots of Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings using a flatbed scanner. These digital images were then analyzed using automated, custom image analysis algorithms. The custom automated image analysis algorithm was used to compare the lateral roots of mdr1-1, a mutant deficient in auxin transport with the wild type. Seedlings without functional MDR1 exhibited decreased numbers of emerged lateral roots as well as slow lateral root growth, but lateral root distribution was not affected. Wild type and mutant seedlings given gravistimulation showed similar subsequent lateral root development, indicating MDR1 does not play a major role in lateral root development along the convex side of curvature. Our results confirmed previous published work in which mdr1-1 seedlings show slower lateral root growth, while also providing new types of measurement difficult to do by hand. This type of automated analysis platform will allow for the phenotypic characterization of lateral roots in large-scale mutant screens and QTL analyses.

Mentored: Positional Cloning in Arabidopsis thaliana Ecotypes: Locating a Gene Involved in Cold Induced Flowering

Many plants require a vernalization, or cold treatment, before they will flower. This requirement ensures that a plant will not flower too late in the year and be damaged by cold temperature (Simpson and Dean, 2002). Understanding the vernalization requirements of plants on a molecular level allows researchers to apply knowledge to various plant species and crops that are important to human health and diet, such as engineer winter cereals to survive in unfamiliar conditions (Ontario, 2006). In the lab, studies on vernalization are done by creating a mutant phenotype of late flowering after vernalization by using an Arabidopsis thaliana ecotype called Columbia. A mapping population is then created and the mutation is located using PCR, gel electrophoresis and recombination frequencies. In the lab, three regions of the Arabidopsis thaliana genome have been tested and ruled out as possible regions containing the mutation. Continued mapping is needed to isolate the mutant gene, which can then be subjected to further research to identify what the specific gene codes for and how the translated product of the mutant gene acts in the presence of other molecules, or molecular complexes. The information obtained from these studies will lead to a more in depth level of understanding on vernalization. This process can be applied to a broad range of different research experiments.

Mentored: The Prevalence and Dynamics of Crayfish Plague in the Orconectes propinquus Population in Big Muskellunge Lake, Vilas County, Wisconsin

Crayfish plague, caused by the fungus Aphanomyces astaci, is typically expressed in species of crayfish outside of North America where it has serious impacts on native and commercially-raised populations. However, in Big Muskellunge Lake in Vilas County, Wisconsin, the native species Orconectes propinquus has shown clinical signs of infection. This study investigates the prevalence of infection in this native crayfish species and incorporates a laboratory study to test for infection contraction rates between O. propinquus, a native species, and O. rusticus, an introduced species. Crayfish were trapped using modified minnow traps and assessed for the presence of plague, identified to species, sexed, measured, and, in some cases, marked for a mark and recapture study. This study showed an infection rate of approximately 10% of the sampled O. propinquus crayfish, no recaptured marked individuals, and unexpected results regarding the laboratory experiment, including a greater number of deaths in the control tanks than in the experimental tanks. There was no statistical significance between sites and depths regarding the proportion of infected individuals or the number of individuals captured. Future studies need to be conducted to further analyze the impacts of crayfish plague presence in northern Wisconsin lakes.

Literature-based: The Physiological and Psychological Effects of Exercise on Breast Cancer Patients

Exercise has long been prescribed as a crucial way to fight disease and depression. For many of these conditions, exercise is as vital as medicine in the recovery process to good health and well being. Unfortunately, there has been great hesitation to recommend exercise to those suffering from breast cancer as a treatment tool. These patients suffer from conditions in conjunction and as result of their treatment and disease. Evidence shows that such conditions as cardiopulmonary function, body image, osteoporosis, fatigue, shoulder range of motion, and lymphedema all positively benefit from the inclusion of physical activity into their treatment process. The studies which produced these results examined different exercise programs and durations in correlation with these different conditions. Although this research has provided strong evidence of the benefits of exercise for breast cancer patients, there are still several factors that need to be investigated. These factors include what type of exercise is most beneficial, at what stage of cancer is exercise recommended, and are there physical limitations or goals that need to be met as a result of treatment received.

Literature-based: The Effectiveness and Possible risks of Using Biological Controls to Control the Growth of the Invasive Eurasian Watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum)

The invasive exotic plant species, Eurasian watermilfoil, proves a serious threat to lakes, ponds and river environments. Eurasian watermilfoil can change the local ecology, hurting recreational, commercial and other uses of waterways. Because of the fast reproduction and resistance of this plant, it is a threat to almost any body of fresh water. Biological control, specifically the use of a weevil species, Euhrychiopsis lecontei, to suppress watermilfoil populations in order to return lakes and ponds to stable conditions has become popular recently. Biological control may seem cheap, easy and effective, but has been shown in other circumstances to put an even greater strain on the ecosystem than the original invader. While research has continued to prove the effectiveness of a species of weevil on controlling exotic watermilfoil species, the weevils’ possible effects on the rest of the ecosystem have come into question.

Literature-based: Evaluating Theories on the Causes of Flightlessness in Various Bird Species Inhabiting Tropical or Temperate Oceanic Islands in the Absence of Mammalian Predators

Birds, the only vertebrates to have evolved the flightless condition, have done so in varying habitats. I examined proposed causes of flightlessness in birds inhabiting tropical or temperate oceanic islands in the absence of mammalian predators. To do this I analyzed various papers on this and related topics to determine the validity of three main theories: birds lose the muscles necessary for flight to achieve a lower basal metabolic rate (BMR); birds undergo periods of excessive weight gain resulting in flightlessness, and then adapt to this seasonal flightlessness; birds lose the ability to fly to avoid being swept off an island in extreme wind. I concluded that the first hypothesis has numerous reliable studies to support it and is viewed as an accepted hypothesis, and that although the next two hypotheses may be valid there is currently no substantial evidence to support them. Understanding how environmental pressures cause flightlessness will further our knowledge of convergent evolution and evolution in general.

Literature-based: Fluoxetine vs Risperidone: A Safer and More Effective Approach to Treating Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders

The objective of this review paper is to analyze clinical studies of risperidone and fluoxetine drug treatments on children with autistic spectrum disorders. This will help to determine which drug reduces the majority of core autistic symptoms, including maladaptive behaviors, social withdrawal, and language difficulties, without posing the risk of harmful, long-term side effects. The major findings of the clinical trials were a) risperidone significantly decreases behavioral symptoms of autism, and b) fluoxetine decreases language and social autistic symptoms without consistent reports of damaging side effects. The conclusion derived from this analysis is that fluoxetine may decrease autistic symptoms more effectively than risperidone and with less detrimental side effects. However, additional research must be conducted in order to test the long term effects of both drugs and to support the previous findings of fluoxetine effects on the core autistic symptoms.