Upperclassmen reflect on Biology 110

Biology 110 projects are about to begin! Every year, students in intro biology lab choose a mentor and an independant project to work on over the course of spring semester. Although it’s a great opportunity to explore, there are a lot of biology faculty to choose from, and deciding on a project can be daunting. Higley Headlines asked Biology and Molecular Biology upperclassmen to reflect on their experiences.

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Karina Kunka ’19, Molecular Biology Major

Project Mentor: Dr. Joan Slonczewski

I partnered with Jessie Griffith, and we worked on Halobacterium sp. NRC-1 to see if we could substitute sodium ions in their growth medium with other monovalent cations. As it turns out, they don’t like their media meddled with! Since then, the Slonczewski lab has continued to use Halobacterium as a model organism, Jessie and I got NASA funding to work at the University of Maryland, and Halobacterium are the foundation of my honors thesis! My advice to first-years: take this project seriously, since your first truly independent research experience can open so many doors. It honestly changed the course of my life.

Deveren Manley II ’19, Biology Major

Project Mentor: Dr. Jennifer McMahon

My project was on the effect of a high protein diet on weight gain studied in Manduca. My group found that Manduca on a high protein diet lost more weight than Manduca on a normal protein diet. (As calculated by overall weight and midgut weight).

The most challenging part of the project was developing an action plan to carry out the experiment. Once my partner and I had our plan established things flowed smoothly and we were able to collect meaningful data. My advice for your Bio 110 project is to make the most of your experience. Choose a project topic in which you are interested.

Keely Lovato ’20, Molecular Biology

Project Mentor: Dr. Erin Lindstedt

For my biology 110 project I studied animal behavior in Western Mosquito fish. Specifically, my partner and I tested the effect that environmental changes that stimulate predation have on boldness in fish. Though my 110 project did not become an ongoing research project, it did expose me to research at Kenyon and give me the confidence to find a lab to work in at the beginning of my sophomore year. My advice for current 110 students would be to pick a specific and manageable project. Over half of the time allowed for the project will likely be spent optimizing the protocol, which doesn’t leave a significant amount of time for collecting data. Also, when watching the other members of my 110 class present on their research, I saw that groups had a specific, testable hypothesis, rather than broader, more difficult to quantitatively measure hypothesis, were able to draw the most meaningful conclusions given the short period of time allowed for the project.

Alan Brennan ’19, Biology

Project Mentor: Dr. Bob Mauck

My Bio 110 project was about ant food preference based on nutritional value and was mentored by professor Mauck. I struggled to include balancing the workload and the logistics of taking data. For my project we had to take time lapse videos of ants and things like getting the camera to stay directly overtop of the ant arena proved to be a problem. The project hasn’t really taken me anywhere. I have found enjoyment in plant biology from my classes at Kenyon. I would suggest a project that will have very obvious results. Having no significant differences or trends in data is very difficult to write about. If using an animal, pick animals that are easy to manage and have a plan to store/feed/take care of them.

Honors day is coming up! Both Reed Crocker and Weichen Zhao were honored in previous years for their exceptional Bio 110 projects, and were willing to talk about their experiences.

Reed Crocker ’20, Biology

Project Mentor: Dr. Wade Powell

When I first came to Kenyon, I really didn’t know what I wanted to study. I was dabbling in a bit of everything, taking classes in everything from Spanish to Sociology. It wasn’t until my Biology 110 project that I felt a sense of true academic purpose. I had always loved theory and thinking mechanistically, but through my independent project I discovered my love for application. I found an indescribable satisfaction in applying the abstract to a piece of the physical world, and it is a feeling you can only find by doing it.

When I was first looking for a project mentor, attending the office hours of several professors was key. The time I spent getting to know professors and their field of research was well worth it once I start my project. Luckily for me, my eventual mentor (Professor Powell) and I had already met through Biology 116. I had been a regular at office hours and learned the basics of his lab’s research. When the time to choose a mentor came around, I already knew I was going to ask Professor Powell.

In the Powell Lab, I began a molecular cloning project for a protein called AHR. We cloned the AHR from the frog Xenopus borealis, a close relative to the more common model organism Xenopus laevis. The purpose of our project was to get some insight into the evolutionary history between the borealis and laevis AHRs and predict if they functioned similarly. The project went smoothly and by the end of the semester we were able to make some really interesting conclusions.

After completing my 110 project, I continued to work in the Powell lab. Through the Kenyon Summer Science Scholars Cascade Program I got to investigate the AHRs of other amphibians, some of which I collected from the BFEC. Through the Research in Biology course, I have received credit for my current research throughout my sophomore and into my junior year. This summer I hope to stay on campus with the Kenyon Summer Science Scholars Program to get some preliminary data for a potential honors thesis.

The Bio 110 independent project really propelled me into my current lab career at Kenyon and I’m sure it will for current 110 students too. My advice is to find a lab or project that truly interests you. Go to office hours, talk to folks about their research, explore! The Biology Department has a huge diversity of research areas and there is bound to be one that is right for you. Good luck!

Weichen Zhao ’20, Molecular Biology

Project Mentor: Dr. Sarah Petersen

My project was on the effects of dietary sugar and artificial sweetener on the rate of aging and lifespan of C. elegans. I designed this project because I have been fascinated by the process of aging and the fact that living organisms have such diverse length of time for which they are able to live for as long as I can remember. The logistics underlying this project is quiet straightforward – we reared C. elegans on diets with high glucose content or high sweetener content and compared how fast they aged as well as how long they lived. The degree of aging was assayed for by counting how many wiggles per 10 seconds C. elegans performed after being poked. The assay sounds easy to carry out, but the optimizing/troubleshooting process took forever. A major reason was that C. elegans reproduce at an astounding speed and thousands of offspring would crowd the culture plate overnight. After staring through the microscope lenses at the microscopic worms for four hours one night I honestly considered dropping the class. But I stuck it through somehow. At the final stage of the project, I used an electron microscope to take videos of the worms. There was a very emotional moment when the high resolution videos of C. elegans appeared on the screen. I cannot forget that moment even now and I think that was a defining moment for me to decide that I want to study biology.

Day 11 C. elegans on a diet with high concentration of glucose.

Choosing a Bio 110 project can be stressful, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. Whether you find your passion in life, or realize that research isn’t for you, Bio 110 projects are a time to experiment, literally and figuratively. Take risks, and have fun!

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