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Research in Biology

Student Researchers who are studying in the YCP Department of Biological Sciences work with Faculty Mentors to gain exposure to diverse areas of biology while focusing in-depth on their own research problem. Each student writes a grant-style proposal before carrying out their research and some receive outside funding. Often students present their research at regional or national professional meetings.

students in lab with equipment

Biology Virtual Presentations

  • Biology - Ana Chew

    The effects of di-(2-propylheptyl) phthalate on developing zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryos

    Student Researcher: Ana Chew

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Wendy Boehmler

    Abstract: Phthalates are esters of the chemical phthalic acid and are widely used in plastic manufacturing today. They serve as plastic softeners and are added to things like plastic bags, shower curtains, and medical tubing to make them more flexible. Di-(2-proplyheptyl) phthalate (DPHP) is a commonly used phthalate and was brought into the industry to replace the much more toxic chemical, di (2-propylheptly) phthalate, (DEHP). Studies have shown that these phthalate pollutants are able to detach from the main plastic polymer and leach out into the waterways. They are able to come from domestic, agricultural, and industrial sources (Tan, 2007). These phthalates have been linked to human health complications by effecting the endocrine and reproductive systems. Even though many phthalates have been evaluated for developmental toxicity in zebrafish embryos, no study has evaluated DPHP in development. At 24 hours post fertilization (hpf), zebrafish embryos were chronically exposed to DPHP for 4 days (until 5dpf) at 1.8 µM and 3.6 µM concentrations. While there were no significant effects on survival rate, body length was significantly reduced over time, and heart rate was significantly increased over time. DPHP also had a profound effect on locomotor activity by 5dpf. Zebrafish embryos chronically exposed to both doses of the phthalate were significantly hypoactive in comparison to controls. These findings suggest that DPHP may not be a safer alternative to DEHP and future studies will need to elucidate the mechanism of toxicity of these phthalates. 

  • Biology - Andrea Smiley

    Circular RNA Expression in Retinal Tissue of Developing Chicken Embryos

    Student Researcher: Andrea Smiley

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Sean Georgi

    Abstract: Circular RNA (circRNA) is a recently discovered class of RNA. RNA is usually a tiny molecule that is found in a linear shape, but recent studies have found that RNA can be found in circular shapes—causing them to be called circular RNA. Very little is known about the function of circRNA, but it has also been proposed that circRNA helps embryos on their journey of development. Previous research has characterized the presence of numerous circRNAs, including circFat3 and circRERE, within adult human cells. However, the presence and expression patterns of circFat3 and circRERE during embryonic development are unknown. This study used retinal tissue from embryonic chickens to determine the expression patterns of circFat3 and circRERE during development. This was accomplished through techniques such as PCR, gel electrophoresis, and DNA sequencing. We determined that both circFat3 and circRERE are dynamically expressed in the developing chicken retina, with higher expression at later stages of development. In contrast, the linear forms of these genes showed relatively flat expression. In addition, we were able to use the same techniques to determine that circFat3 was also expressed within developing zebrafish embryos. Because these circular RNAs are found in many different organisms, this suggests that they many play an important role during development. As future research continues to add to the understanding of circRNA, this study contributes to the field by providing information of the developmental expression of circRNA within the retina.

  • Biology - Megan Marino

    Expression of HMGN3 in the Developing Retina of Gallus gallus (Domestic Chicken)

    Student Researcher: Megan Marino

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Sean Georgi

    Awarded the YCP Center for Academic Innovation Undergraduate Research Grant

    Abstract: Over the past two and a half years, I have worked side by side with York College faculty designing, planning, and conducting research on the expression of a gene, HMGN3, in the retina of developing chicken embryos. Through our research, we determined that HMGN3 was expressed at greater levels during early development when compared to later development. Additionally, I was able to use microscopy to determine that HMGN3 is expressed in progenitor cells, cells that have not differentiated into a specific cell type, of the retina. Determining the expression of HMGN3 in the retina of chicken embryos lays the foundation to determine its function in progenitor cells and allows for a better understanding of how the retina develops. Additionally, it provides others with beneficial information that can be used to further retinal therapies for retinal diseases such as macular degeneration.

     

  • Biology - Zöe Coleman

    Leap into Conservation | Comparing Genetic Variation between two Populations of Spring Peepers (Pseudacriscrucifer)

    Student Researcher: Zöe Coleman

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Brigette Hagerty

    Abstract: Amphibian populations are experiencing drastic declines and high rates of extinction mainly due to an increase in human population growth and development. Amphibians are heavily impacted by isolation caused by habitat loss and fragmentation, which reduces connectivity among populations. Studying the genetic variation and population structure of amphibian populations can provide information on local connectivity to prevent declines. Spring peepers (​Pseudacris crucifer) ​ are a type of chorus frog that are abundant within York County, Pennsylvania. The effect of development on spring peeper populations is understudied. The main objective of this study was to characterize the genetic variation of two breeding locations of spring peeper and determine if the two locations are connected by gene flow and acting as one large population. ​Three microsatellite markers were successfully amplified using DNA from tissue samples from a vernal pool near the Indian Rock Dam and at the artificially created wetlands at Nixon County Park in Jacobus, PA. Multilocus genotypes were used to calculate genetic variation, heterozygosity, F-statistics, and population assignment for both breeding locations, which were separated by 3 miles (4.83km). ​Although populations were fragmented by agricultural land and residential neighborhoods, the genetic analyses suggested that the two breeding locations were one large population. There were high levels of heterozygosity and low levels of genetic differentiation. However, additional microsatellites need to be tested to increase the power to detect differentiation and to improve resolution. ​Current information suggests that populations are exchanging genes and it is important to maintain forested corridors to maintain connections.

  • Biology - Erika Scheppelmann

    The Effect of Human Disturbance on Habitat Use of Mesopredators in a County Park in South Central Pennsylvania

    Student Researcher: Erika Scheppelmann

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Bridgette Hagerty

    Presented at the Annual Conference of Wildlife Society in 2019

    Awarded Undergraduate Research Grant by the YCP Center for Academic Innovation

    Abstract: Understanding wildlife and urban relationships is necessary as human development encroaches on wild spaces. Human disturbance can alter a species’ behavior and physiology, leading to loss in biodiversity, decline in abundance, and in fitness. Mesopredators are important components of wildlife communities through their contribution to prey species population control. We used non-invasive camera trapping methods to examine mesopredator habitat use in a local county park, Nixon County Park near Jacobus, PA. Park naturalists have reported seeing raccoon (Procyon lotor), coyote (Canis latrans), and red fox (Vulpes vulpes), within park boundaries, but limited funds are available for research. Our goal was to quantify how these mesopredators use the available habitat in the park and investigate the effect of human influence; thus, we strategically placed 12 wildlife cameras in hardwood mixed forests, open fields, and wetlands. Additionally, we paired locations with low and high human activity based on distance to trails to evaluate human impacts on each species. We then analyzed images within 30-minute trap events from February-December 2019 and compared the capture success rate (trap events per 76 nights) between locations 20m and 60-80m from trails. Activity for the mesopredators was lower in areas in close proximity to hiking trails throughout the study; they also displayed higher activity at night than during the day in all habitat types. We recommend that park naturalists continue to improve the habitat with less human disturbance (e.g., invasive species removal) and educate the public about trail etiquette to facilitate wildlife’s avoidance of human disturbance.

  • Biology: Zoe Coleman

    Comparing Genetic Variation between two Populations of Spring Peepers

    Researcher: Zoe Coleman

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Bridgette Hagerty

    Abstract: Amphibian populations are experiencing drastic declines and high rates of extinction mainly due to an increase in human population growth and development. Amphibians are heavily impacted by isolation caused by habitat loss and fragmentation, which reduces connectivity among populations. Studying the genetic variation and population structure of amphibian populations can provide information on local connectivity to prevent declines. Spring peepers (​Pseudacris crucifer) ​ are a type of chorus frog that are abundant within York County, Pennsylvania. The effect of development on spring peeper populations is understudied. The main objective of this study was to characterize the genetic variation of two breeding locations of spring peeper and determine if the two locations are connected by gene flow and acting as one large population. ​Three microsatellite markers were successfully amplified using DNA from tissue samples from a vernal pool near the Indian Rock Dam and at the artificially created wetlands at Nixon County Park in Jacobus, PA. Multilocus genotypes were used to calculate genetic variation, heterozygosity, F-statistics, and population assignment for both breeding locations, which were separated by 3 miles (4.83km). ​Although populations were fragmented by agricultural land and residential neighborhoods, the genetic analyses suggested that the two breeding locations were one large population. There were high levels of heterozygosity and low levels of genetic differentiation. However, additional microsatellites need to be tested to increase the power to detect differentiation and to improve resolution. ​Current information suggests that populations are exchanging genes and it is important to maintain forested corridors to maintain connections.

  • Ecology: Jacqueline Provost

    Environmental Parameters as Accurate Predictors of Frog Virus 3 Ranavirus Preval

    Researcher: Jacqueline Provost

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Bridgette Hagerty

    Abstract: Ranaviruses are a genus of DNA viruses within the Iridoviridae family attributed to massive amphibian die-off events globally; transmission occurs through physical contact, water, and sediment. Due to transmission simplicity and pond systems’ complexity, continuously monitoring viral presence in affected locations is important. Constructed wetlands require more research as they have increased susceptibility to ranavirus outbreaks due to characteristic differences from natural wetlands. After initial colonization of the constructed wetland system at Richard Nixon County Park in 2016, naturalists noted a die-off event thus, tissue samples were collected. We aimed to assess toad tadpoles within the constructed wetland for Frog Virus 3 (FV3) ranavirus presence, compare viral presence between 2016 and 2019, and delineate environmental predictors for FV3 prevalence. We used standard methods to randomly sample ten American toad tadpoles (Anaxyrus americanus) from three pools; temperature, depth and zooplankton density were also measured. Quantitative PCR was used to amplify the Major Capsid Protein (MCP) gene in samples from the 2016 die-off and 2019 sampling. Tadpoles from 2016 were determined as positive for FV3, supporting the virus as the cause of the die-off. However, all tadpoles sampled in 2019 were negative for FV3, thus environmental predictors of virus prevalence were not evaluated. Viral presence in 2016 and absence in 2019 may indicate a reduced risk of die-offs over artificial wetland establishment. Future research should sample species that persist over multiple seasons, such as the Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans), and monitor the wetland over several years to accurately assess the virus’s prevalence.

  • Biology: Jessica Sciamanna

    The Effects of Methylphenidate on Planaria

    Researcher: Jessica Sciamanna

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Sean Georgia

    Abstract: Planaria are free-living members of the flatworm family and are a commonly used model for testing pharmaceuticals due to their neurological similarities to vertebrates. Specifically their dopamine interactions are similar to that of more advanced vertebrates. Methylphenidate is an Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) medication, known commonly as Ritalin; it is a schedule II psychoactive stimulant that inhibits the dopamine transporter. Brown planaria (Dugesia dorotocephala) were used to examine methylphenidate and its effects on major neuron signaling required during regeneration of the Central Nervous System (CNS), and to observe if a shift in dopamine signaling creates a change in their neural networks, thus altering their behavior during exposure to the medication. Previous research has shown that similar psychoactive drugs inhibit and negatively impact the nervous system activity within planaria both through regeneration and behavior. By using planaria as the model organism in this study, the goal was to provide more insight into understanding natural physiological mechanisms of methylphenidate. Through a number of behavioral and regenerative assays it was observed that methylphenidate targets cells throughout the entire body and not just within the head region as was originally hypothesized. Methylphenidate also elicited negative behavioral impacts, such as planarian Seizure Like Movements (pSLMs), both prior to and following regeneration in the presence of methylphenidate. Immunostaining of the CNS for synapsin revealed no clear negative impacts to the recovery of the CNS after regeneration. Nevertheless, treatment with methylphenidate resulted in delayed CNS regeneration, and reduced sensitivity to higher concentrations of the drug. This study lays the groundwork for future studies to examine the molecular mechanisms of methylphenidate on the regenerating CNS.

  • Biology: Alyssa DeMuntis

    Impact of Cigarette Smoke Extract on Vero E6 and A549 Cell Susceptibility to Hantavirus Entry

    Slideshow

    Researcher: Alyssa DeMuntis

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Meda Higa

    Abstract: Hantaviruses are zoonotic respiratory viruses that are transmitted from rodents to humans through the inhalation of aerosolized feces. There are many different viruses within this viral family, and they have the potential to cause more severe disease. Previous research has indicated that the risk of viral respiratory infections is increased in smokers; currently, there are over 1 billion smokers worldwide and this research will indicate if they are at higher risk of Hantavirus infections. The objective of this study was to determine if cigarette smoke extract (CSE) treatment increased rates of Hantavirus infection. Researchers treated lung or kidney tissue with CSE for 48 hours then infected the tissue with Hantavirus pseudovirions. This pseudovirion has a viral surface protein that allows researchers to visualize infection through the output of light when the virion enters the host cells. Researchers tested infection in both the presence and absence of CSE. There were four pseudovirions utilized in this study; these were Andes, Sin Nombre, Puumala, and Hantaan virus. Results showed that kidney cells that were treated with CSE then infected with Hantaan virus had significantly increased rates of infection. This is important because this indicates that CSE plays a role in altering receptors within the host cell to increase viral entry.

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