Student-Faculty Research Projects, Spring 2014 Awards

"Immunomodulatory Effects of the Plant Hormone Zeatin Riboside"
Courtney Lappas, assistant professor of biology
Cytokinins are a class of phytohormones that are involved in multiple aspects of plant growth and leaf expansion. Naturally occurring cytoknins are predominantly adenine derivatives, and almost all cytokinins exist in plants as both a free base and corresponding nucleosides and nucleotides. Although cytokinin-binding proteins have been identified in mammalian sera, and cytokinins have been demonstrated to have antitumorigenic, antioxidant and anti-aging effects in mammalian cells, the biological functions of cytokinins and underlying mechanisms of action in mammalian systems remain largely uncharacterized. Interestingly, the cytokinin zeatin riboside has been shown to activate adenosine A2Areceptor signaling in a mammalian neuronal cell line, eliciting subsequent PKA-dependent neuroprotectivce effects. Although the expression of the Gs-coupled A2AR varies widely by mammalian cell type, it is known to be broadly expressed by immune system cells, with the activation of the A2AR playing a role in terminating inflammation via the regulation of cells involved in innate and adaptive immunity. The selective activation of the A2AR effectively limits inflammation and injury in multiple T lymphocyte-mediated pathologies including ischemia-reperfusion injury, graft-versus-host-disease and colitis. Given the adenosine-based structure of zeatin riboside, its activity as an A2AR agonist is not entirely surprising; however, it does endow the compound with significant therapeutic potential.

Lappas's laboratory has collected preliminary data demonstrating through a series of in vitro experiments that zeatin riboside modulates mammalian T lymphocyte activity in an A2AR-dependent manner via the inhibition of proinflammatory cytokine production and activation marker expression by CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes. This project will extend these laboratory investigations into the immunomodulatory activities of zeatin riboside by further characterizing the T lymphocyte-specific effects of exposure, as well as by examining the effects of in vivo murine zeatin riboside treatment. Initial experiments will be aimed at elucidating the molecular mechanisms by which zeatin riboside elicits its immunomodulatory effects and subsequent experiements will examine the efficacy of zeatin riboside to limit or prevent the hyperinflammatory complications associated with chronic granulomatous disease and/or colitis.


"E.A.T"
Robert Valgenti, associate professor of philosophy
Kayla McKain '15
Devon McKain '15
Andrew Deihl '16
Amelia Capuano '15
Katheryn O'Hara '15
Genevieve Hugenbruch '15
This project will be a continuation of the E.A.T. Innovation Grant completed during the academic year 2013-14. The E.A.T. initiative combines the resources of academic programs, student affairs, and food services in order to rethink the educational space beyond the walls of traditional classroom. The purpose of this collaboration is to further the institutional goals of critical thinking, ethical reasoning, respect for diversity, and commitment to sustainability. This program strives to make students thoughtful eaters who view the cafeteria not as a break from their intellectual development, but as a place where the intellect is engaged, challenged, developed, and brought into contact with the pleasures of the senses.

This Arnold Experiential Grant will expand student involvement in the E.A.T. initiative, allowing them to research, develop, and implement various programs that will continue to bring the academic mission of Lebanon Valley College into the dining hall. Involved students will develop independent research projects that will also result in a practical impact or experiential program in the dining hall. Those projects will be developed within the broader context of the E.A.T. program’s overall goals and the pursuit of theoretical questions relating to the experience of food and human understanding. Grant funds will be used to formalize the academic component of the E.A.T. project into a year-long pair of courses designed to develop independent research projects, expose students to experts in the field, and to understand their individual projects within the theoretical context of eating as a form of understanding.

Specifics include:
- Food Studies and Practice DSP course (Fall)
- Food and Philosophy course (Spring)
- Visiting scholars (4 per semester)
- Student presentations at Inquiry Event
- Student presentations at International Food Studies Conference (June)
- Students paired with researchers from food studies programs (NYU, New School, Syracuse)   

Follow the E.A.T. blog at www.lvc.edu/eat.

"A Comparative Study of the Short-term and Long-term Effects of Methanandmide vs. THC on Learning and Memory"
Dr. Kristen Boeshore, assistant professor of biology
Sam Calabria '15, biology major
During LVC’s Neurobiology course (Bio 231), Calabria and his classmates examined the physiological, psychological, and social impact of marijuana. Over the course of the semester the class watched documentaries and discussed readings on marijuana research to better inform us, as scientists and as members of society, about the pros and cons of medical vs. recreational use of marijuana. From these studies, Calabria had many unanswered questions and subsequently designed a research experiment to answer them.

Calabria initiated an original research project in the lab of Dr. Kristen Boeshore in the summer of 2013 to study the effects of a synthetic form of an endogenous cannabinoid, methanandamide, on learning and memory in adolescent mice. The purpose of the new study proposed here is to compare the effects of the plant-derived tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of marijuana, to methanandamide. Tracking the effects of THC beginning in adolescent mice through maturation, comparisons will be made between groups exposed to the substance (injected intraperitoneally) for 2 weeks (short-term), 4 weeks (long-term), or left unexposed (normal control animals injected with drug-free vehicle).

In Boeshore’s lab, Calabria will use the same techniques from the previous summer’s project to measure the behavioral and biochemical effects of THC and compare them to the results previously found using methanandamide. The behavioral assay to measure the effects of THC on learning and memory will include trials of the Morris water maze. The biochemical assays will include immunohistochemistry and western blotting to measure the effects of THC on levels of specific proteins involved in learning and memory in brain tissue.

Calabria will present his findings at Inquiry and other appropriate undergraduate research conferences. As the use of medical marijuana to treat human disease increases, results from studies such as these will be sought to provide information regarding the long-term physiological effects of the drug as well as to look for synthetic, non-psychoactive alternatives. 


"The Valley Humanities Review"
Laura Eldred, associate professor of English
The Valley Humanities Review publishes excellent undergraduate research in the humanities, believing that college students are capable of exemplary research. VHR's goal is to showcase the best research in the humanities going on at colleges across the globe. VHR has received hundreds of submissions from students at colleges including Columbia, Brown, Gettysburg, Harvard, Rhodes College, McGill University, Princeton, and the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education. The spring 2014 issue will be its fifth edition.

VHR provides a place for exemplary undergraduate research in the humanities to be published and also models participation in a scholarly community for student editors. The journal is a collaborative project between faculty and student editors. The faculty editors work with students from each of the humanities’ departments (Art, English, Religion & Philosophy, History, Languages) who serve as student editors of the journal. Students participate in—and have equal control over—all choices made for the journal. Faculty serve as advisors, guiding the student editors to develop rigorous selection criteria and helping them to ask appropriate, probing questions about submissions so that those students can learn what makes successful and intellectually stimulating work in their field. In addition to the regular work of reading and selecting submissions from undergraduates, the VHR also runs two contests: one for high school students and one for LVC students. Winners of the essay contests receive $500 and publication.

The VHR increases Lebanon Valley College’s visibility as a school that supports and encourages student research to a variety of audiences—the faculty members encouraging their students to submit, college student across the globe sending in their best papers, and high school students submitting to our scholarship. The goal of all of these projects—the journal and paper competitions—is to encourage a culture of undergraduate research here at LVC and in the wider academic community, not just within the sciences but throughout all disciplines, where excellent undergraduate work can attain a wider audience and appreciation, inspiring our students to greater application and imagination in their fields.

VHR's 2011 Arnold grant enabled the VHR to grow; adding a fall student intern to its staff and sending the intern and literature editor Jenna Dutton '13 to the national College English Association conference in Richmond, Va. in 2012 for a joint paper presentation about the VHR. VHR has added an editorial pair for short stories and creative non-fiction, and  may add another pair for music next year. Its editors have forged connections with college honorsocieties like Phi Sigma Tau (Philosophy), Eta Sigma Phi (Classics), Phi Alpha Theta (History), and Sigma Tau Delta (English) to create a pipeline between a discipline’s best students and the Valley Humanities Review.

This grant enables the VHR to continue all the work described above, as well as to continue to expand. One particular need is to optimize our internet presence so that college students searching for publishing opportunities can easily find VHR; at present, a student searching google for “college journal” would be unlikely to discover our page. “Search Engine Optimization” (SEO) is one necessity in the future. Dr. Laura Eldred is the editor in chief of the journal and the point person for the project. Faculty editors include Bob Valgenti (religion and philosophy), Gary Grieve-Carlson (literature), Mike Schroeder (history), Mary Pettice (creative writing), Grant Taylor (art and art history), and Rick Chamberlin (languages). Approximately 10 students are involved, including student editors, a fall intern, a copyeditor, and a web designer.  


"Online Research"
Michael Kitchens, associate professor of psychology
During his tenure at Lebanon Valley College (LVC), Dr. Kitchens has developed an active lab that has produced regular conference presentations with student co-authors and a student-faculty peer-reviewed publication. Last year, he applied for and received a 1-year faculty research grant. This funding allowed Kitchens to enhance his program of research to include online data collection. This, however, cost money to pay for the platforms for this data collection and to pay the participants.

The Arnold Faculty-Student Research Grant provides a multi-year source of funding that allows Kitchen to (a) continue this online work, (b) purchase equipment, (c) pay for summer research, and/or (d) provide additional funds for conferences. Kitchens' lab is investigating the role of self-control and social norms in regulating prejudice. The five studies that completed on this project have produced publishable findings that Kitchens' hopes will end with a high tier publication. His lab is also investigating is the role of emotional attention to the development of emotional intelligence, and has presented data from some of the studies at the national conference for the Society of Personality and Social Psychology. The final area of investigation is the role of religious beliefs in one's identity. Data from one study that was collected online (with the assistance of the faculty research grant) helped to provide the additional support that was needed to proceed for publication. Currently, Kitchens is working with four students to develop the manuscript for that potential publication.


"Examination of Transflutaminase Isoform Expression and Activity in Neurite Outgrowth"
Dr. Kristen Boeshore, assistant professor of biology
Holly Langdon '16, biology major
Langdon's research interests are broadly focused on the development and regeneration of the nervous system. More narrowly, her work centers on mechanisms that allow neurons to differentiate and grow axons, as they do during embryonic development of the nervous system, and to regenerate and re-grow axons after a nervous system injury. Unfortunately, the ability of the nervous system to regenerate itself after an injury is very limited, particularly in the central nervous system (i.e., the brain and spinal cord). Study of mechanisms that allow or enhance regrowth are important first steps in development of effective therapies for patients with nerve injury.

The proposed student/faculty research study is aimed at determining the role of the enzyme transglutaminase-2 (TG-2) in neurite outgrowth from PC12 cells, a well-established cell line that is used for studying the mechanisms involved in differentiation of neurons. Langdon has used the PC12 cell line for many years, including in a study that is about to submitted for peer review. The completed study focused on the role of a polyamine, spermidine, in modulating neurite outgrowth promoted by another molecule, nerve growth factor. This proposed new study would move away from spermidine, and instead focus on the role of retinoic acid (RA) in promotion of neurite outgrowth via activation of TG-2. Preliminary experiments conducted in the lab by a former independent study student indicates that RA can promote regeneration of injured neurites in the PC12 cell model system. Previous work by other research groups have shown that RA leads to increased expression of TG-2. Interestingly, TG-2 can be expressed in cells as two different forms, each with distinct activities. Although both isoforms have transamidating activity, the transamidating activity of TG-2L is able to be negatively regulated by the binding of GTP. It also has the ability to serve as a G-protein, activating another enzyme, phospholipase C (PLC). TG-2S exhibits higher levels of transamidating activity, but is not able to activate PLC.

Following up on our preliminary experiments with RA, Boeshore and Langdon seek to answer the following questions in the PC12 cell system: 1) Does RA treatment of injured PC12 cells increase expression of TG-2 in these cells? 2) If so, which isoform (TG-2L or TG-2S) predominates? 3) Does RA increase TG-2 transamidation activity in injured PC12 cells? 4) Does RA-induced neurite regeneration require TG-2 transamidation activity? The study will utilize PC12 cells that are currently cultured in the cell culture facility on third floor of Neidig-Garber Science Center. 


"Expansin and Expasin-related Protein Function in Chlamydomonas Reinhardtii"
Robert Carey, assistant professor of biology
Victoria Seader '16, psychobiology and biochemistry & molecular biology double major
Unicellular green algae are often used as a model system to study basic plant physiology and cell biology. When studying cell wall modifying proteins, the use of this model is problematic. This is because the composition of unicellular algal cell wells is somewhat different from land plants and their structure is not well characterized. Expansins are cell wall modifying proteins involved in cell wall loosening, an important part of cell growth and plant morphogenesis. They have been implicated in many important land plant processes such as root hair formation and fruit ripening. Recent work from Vannerum et al. (2011) has revealed that the unicellular algae Micrasterias codes for a large family of proteins that appear to be very divergent relatives of the EXPA family of expansins. Work in Dr. Carey's lab at LVC has revealed the presence of similar families of genes in the model organism Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Vannerum et al. also demonstrated that overexpression of these expansin-related genes could alter the morphology of Micrasterias, suggesting that these divergent algal genes may play a similar role in green algae to the one that expansins play in land plants.

Carey and Seader propose to overexpress both land plant expansins and native Chlamydomonas “expansins” in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii to determine if these proteins are capable of generating morphological alterations of the green algal cell wall. This will be accomplished by cloning the genes of interest into a Chlamydomonas expression vector. These plasmids allow for directional cloning of a gene of interest into a cassette driven by a strong ubiquitous promoter that is recognized by the algae. This vector will be transformed into the algae via electroporation. The resulting transformants will be assayed for expansin gene expression using qRT-PCR and their morphology examined via light microscopy. These experiments will provide insight into the extent to which the observations of Vannerum et al. are applicable to all unicellular green algae. This work will also test the efficacy of land plant cell expansins in modifying green algal cell walls. This may yield insight into the structure and function of algal cell walls and potentially into the functional differences between “classic” land plant expansins and their unicellular algal relatives.