12th Annual Celebration of Scholarship Symposium (April 14-15, 2014)

(Click on title links for pictures from the event)

POSTER PRESENTATIONS - COMPLETED RESEARCH

Antimicrobial Activity of Mouthwashes on Dental Plaque Biofilm Among Young Adult Smokers and Nonsmokers
Carretero Murillo, Mariana; Abbasi, Aisha; Cardozo, Jesus; Goolla, Sai
College of Science and Mathematics
Professor: Dr. Jacqueline Horn
 
The formation of oral biofilm in nonsmokers and smokers has shown to cause development of gingivitis and periodontal disease; however, recent research suggests that smoking may increase the risk of developing periodontitis. As such, it is becoming increasingly imperative to identify mouthwashes that are both safe and effective at removing biofilm for different individuals. In this experiment, various active ingredients in selective mouthwashes were tested to determine the most effective agent for biofilm reduction in young adult smokers and nonsmokers. Saliva samples from 5 smokers and 5 nonsmokers were collected, harvested and grown as biofilms in vitro. Following this, spectrophotometry was used to measure the biofilm concentrations of individual samples before and after mouthwash treatments through absorbance measurements. Results indicated increased biofilm formation in smokers’ samples than in nonsmokers’ samples before treatment; interestingly enough, subsequent mouthwash treatments in the latter group also showed a greater decrease in biofilm formation as compared to that of smokers. Ultimately, the data suggested that the active ingredient in Listerine, 0.02% sodium fluoride, was the most effective agent at removing biofilm in both smokers and nonsmokers.

Analysis of RNA Interference of the unc-22 Muscle Gene in Caenorhabditis elegans
Goolla, Sai; Khan, Mishal
College of Science and Mathematics
Professor: Dr. Rachel Hopp
 
RNAi silencing induces down regulation of the unc-22 muscle gene that codes for twitchin protein in the nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans, resulting in a mutant muscular twitching phenotype. C. elegans unc-22 gene has been a tractable role model for studying the human homologue, titin, a sarcomeric regulatory protein necessary for the contraction-relaxation cycles in muscle movement. The mutant twitching phenotype exemplifies abnormal muscular characteristics, reflective of that in human disorders such as muscular dystrophy and cardiomyopathy. Introduction of an RNAi through feeding bacteria prohibits the translation of the unc-22 transcript in the worm, ultimately suppressing its locomotion and altering its natural muscular morphology. In this experiment, N2 wild type nematode worms were fed with the E.coli HT115 (DE3)/L4440 feeding bacteria, containing the plasmid with the appropriate RNAi insert. The bacteria were grown in NGM agar containing IPTG/ Carbenicillin (selective marker) plates to ensure positive RNAi silencing of unc-22 and incorporation of the L4440 recombinant plasmid, respectively. By varying the IPTG concentrations, the number of twitches per minute for 3 minutes among experimental worm groups and control worm groups (positive unc-22 worms) will be observed via the dissecting microscope. The results will be reported as experimental mean + standard deviation twitches per minute. Understanding RNAi in C. elegans unc-22 may provide better perspective on how silencing genes that make up defective titin could possibly induce proper muscle contraction in muscular disorders.

Cep-1 Knockdown in C. elegans using RNAi and the Effects of DNA Damaged Induced Apoptosis
Hoballah, Talal; Martinez , Angela
College of Science and Mathematics
Professor: Dr. Rachel Hopp
 
Cep-1 knockdown in C. elegans using RNAi and the effects of DNA damaged induced apoptosis
As a cell progresses through the cell cycle, the cell goes through various check points. These check points are necessary to prevent mutations in their DNA due to stresses such as UV radiation. When a cell with DNA damages is detected by the G2/M check point it is removed by various methods. One of these methods is through apoptosis, which is programmed cell death that successfully removes the DNA damaged cell. DNA damaged cells may become cancerous cells which may explain why they have unregulated cell division. One way this problem is combated is through p53, a tumor suppressing gene in humans, which when activated can lead to apoptosis. This process has been studied in model organisms such as Caenorhabditis elegans. C. elegans have a similar gene called cep-1 and when activated can lead to apoptosis when cells with DNA damaged have been detected. To further examine this phenomenon, it was decided to explore this process of apoptosis in C. elegans using RNAi. RNAi is a gene suppressing mechanism that can inhibit the expression of specific proteins used in gene expression. In this experiment, wild type N2 C. elegans worms were fed IPTG induced E. coli HT115 (DE3)/ PPR244 (F52B5.5), which has the RNAi target for cep-1. The control group was fed with the same bacteria, but RNAi was not induced with IPTG. Both groups of N2 worms are exposed to a 5 minutes to 2 hours range of UV light that has the wavelength of between 300 and 400 nm. After irradiation, the C. elegans with cep-1 knockdown were transferred to new NGM + kanamycin plates every 24 hours during egg laying period. After transferring, N2 C. elegans are examined under a dissecting microscope and were manually counted and the hatching percentage is calculated. By conducting these types of experiments, scientist can further under p53 role in combating cancer in humans. Results will be presented at symposium.

Exploring the Chemistry of Di-Ruthenium Acetate with Tryptophan
Le, Andrea; Nguyen, An; Nguyen, Christopher
College of Science and Mathematics
Professor: Dr. Robert Towery
 
A di-ruthenium complex with four equatorial acetate groups and one axial chlorine, Ru2(acetate)4-Cl, and a di-ruthenium complex with three equatorial acetate groups and one Fap, Ru2(acetate)3Fap-Cl, were investigated by reacting the compounds with the amino acid, tryptophan. Previous results indicate di-metal complexes of rhodium provide possible anti-cancer and antiviral therapeutic agents. However, compounds of ruthenium have been overlooked by the scientific community. This project addresses that deficiency by investigating a novel class of antitumor di-ruthenium molecules. The di-ruthenium molecules were reacted in deionized water and pH 5.0 acetate buffer at room temperature and at 50°C. Results indicate a reaction of tryptophan with the four acetate di-metal complex in water while no significant reaction of tryptophan with the three acetate and one Fap di-metal complex in water occurred. Various instrumental techniques such as UV-vis spectroscopy, fluorescence, cyclic voltammetry, and high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) were performed in order to elucidate the reactivity of the di-metal complexes with the amino acid. There is anticipation that this research forms a framework for a new class of drugs which can combat cancer.

RNAi of bli-1 in Caenorhabditis elegans Induces Cuticle Blister
Lewis, Ashlynn; Drake, Kendric
College of Science and Mathematics
Professor: Dr. Rachel Hopp
 
Collagen, a structural extracellular protein, is the fundamental component of bone, cartilage and connective tissue. It is responsible for cell adhesion, migration, and tissue growth in eukaryotes. In humans there are 42 collagen genes; approximately 1300 mutations in 23 of the 42 genes have been associated with phenotypes ranging from skin blistering to early death. Caenorhabditis elegans is an ideal model to study the effects of mutation in the collagen gene due to the relative ease of inducing and observing the mutagenic phenotype. A potential human collagen ortholog, the C. elegans (bli-1) gene encodes the BLI protein, and is responsible for development of the nematode exoskeleton. RNA interference (RNAi) is used to identify genes important to disease processes by reducing the quantity of the gene transcript, or mRNA. RNAi is a mechanism developed by organisms to defend against viral invaders with double stranded RNA genomes. The introduction of an exogenous single strand complement binds target gene mRNA transcripts to stimulate destruction via host cellular machinery. This produces a phenotype similar to loss of function gene mutation. Escherichia coli HT115 (DE3)/pL4440-bli-1 feeding vectors were used to induce blistering phenotype in wild type N2 C. elegans via a plasmid transformed bacteria. IPTG induced expression of transformed bacteria occurred via the use of T7 plasmid promoters for highest levels of gene expression. Wild type worms were chunked onto HT115/pL4440-bli-1 bacterial lawn and observed for RNAi induced blistering under dissecting and light microscopy at 48 and 120 hours. Applications of this study pertain directly to human collagen gene mutations to offer potential avenues for observing phenotypic effects in higher eukaryotic organisms, aiding in the understanding of mechanisms and treatment of collagen disorders.

The Effect of Infrasonic Mechanical Vibrations on the Biofilm Formation of Staphylococcus epidermidis
Pop, Alexander
College of Science and Mathematics
Professor: Dr. Jacqueline Horn
 
This experiment hypothesizes that infrasonic mechanical pulses will either increase or decrease biofilm formation of S. epidermidisdepending on the frequency of vibration. In addition these mechanical vibrations should also deter the physical attachment of S. epidermidis primary colonizers to the surface of objects; the first step in biofilm formation. This attachment inhibition, in conjunction with the aforementioned perturbation of cell growth at certain frequencies, should result in a significant change in the bacterium's overall biofilm formation. This experiment will investigate how S. epidermidis biofilm formation reacts to mechanical infrasonic pulsing.

A Culture Method for Generating Granulocytes from Mouse Bone Marrow
Robinson, Corey
College of Science and Mathematics
Professor: Dr. Susan Cook
 
As the field of cellular reprogramming has been an expanding focus of research, a culture method for generating varieties of cell types is a necessity. Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are one cell type that can be induced to differentiate into the formed elements of the blood. Hence, I removed such cells from the bone marrow of out-bred mice and cultured them in RPMI with 10% bovine serum for 7 days. This allowed stromal feeder cells to proliferate. Such cells donate necessary factors for the proliferation of stem cells. After 7 days in RPMI-1640 with 10% bovine serum granulocyte colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) was added at a concentration of 4 uL. Subsequently, granulocytes were seen on culture day 21 among many undifferentiated HSCs. Increasing G-CSF concentration would likely result in higher yield of granulocytes, indicating an effective culture method to generate various lines of blood cells from HSCs. In the future, it may be possible to generate other tissues from hematopoietic stem cells.

The Inhibition of Human Epithelial MDA-MB-157 Breast Cancer Cells in Diruthenium and Cisplatin Using MTT Assay
Saeed, Nimra; Bryan, Alexis Michelle;Clinton, Aneisha Symone; Dipasupil, Marc Edmund Garcia; Le, Shaina Yen
College of Science and Mathematics
Professor: Dr. Hannah Wingate
 
Cisplatin is a chemotherapeutic drug that has been known to induce DNA damage ultimately leading to cell death. Diruthenium is a type of ruthenium compound that has been shown to bind to DNA. The purpose of our experiment was to determine if Diruthenium induces cell death in breast cancer cells. In our experiment, we used MDA-MB-157 cells, which are mammary epithelial cancer cells. They are triple negative cells, meaning they are estrogen receptor negative, progesterone receptor negative, and Her2 receptor negative. The triple negative breast cancers are a subgroup of cancers in need of novel therapeutic strategies. We performed a MTT assay to compare the effect of different concentrations of Diruthenium to the effect of Cisplatin on the cells. We hypothesized that the Diruthenium would inhibit cell growth in a dose dependent manner.

Effects of Spicy Food on Cardiac Activity in Individuals with Spicy Diets Versus Non-spicy Diets
Stephen,Nicole;Joseph,Reba;George, Jimmy; Bari, Sabah; Khan, Mishal
College of Science and Mathematics
Professor: Dr. Rachel Hopp
 
According to previous studies, spicy foods (which contain the chemical compound capsaicin) are known to decrease blood pressure and increase heart rate (Harada, 2009). The purpose of this experiment is to determine whether or not dietary differences affect the cardiac response of the body towards spicy foods, using an electrocardiogram (ECG) and a blood pressure cuff. The ECG is a device that records the electrical activity of the heart by placing electrodes on the surface of the skin. The subjects were each seated in a relaxed position, with electrodes placed in the Standard Bipolar Limb Lead I pattern, on the ankle and wrists, as described by BIOPAC Lab exercises (Pflanzer, 2004) . The red lead was attached to the left wrist, the white lead placed on the right wrist, and the black (ground) lead was attached at the right ankle. The positive and negative leads measure the differences in the electrical currents between the electrodes. The ECG and blood pressure (BP) recordings were taken at rest. The subjects were then fed a spicy jalapeno pepper while the ECG continued to record; an additional BP reading was taken. After fifteen minutes had passed, a second ECG and BP recording was taken. Using this method, three different groups of five subjects were tested. The control group was fed a slice of non-spicy bell pepper to ensure that the action of chewing was not solely responsible for the changes in size and shape of the ECG waves. The first experimental group, the “Non-Spicy Group” was a group of subjects who do not regularly eat spicy food, and they, in the same method, would eat a single 2-2.5 inch spicy jalapeno pepper. The second experimental group, the “Spicy Group”, was a group of subjects who regularly eat spicy food, and they also were fed a whole spicy jalapeno pepper. The results exhibited changes in duration and amplitudes of the P waves, QRS complexes, and T waves depending on that individual’s diet. The study also proved how consumption of the jalapeno caused a short-term increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

POSTER PRESENTATIONS - PROPOSED RESEARCH

Minimal Length Applied to Alpha Decay Rates
Lad, Vivek
College of Science and Mathematics
Professor: Dr. Gardo Blado
 
For the last fifty years physicists have been attempting to unify two main areas of physics: quantum mechanics and gravity. This theory of quantum gravity currently has two workable approaches: loop quantum gravity (LQG) and string theory (ST). Both LQG and ST predict a minimal length which is on the order of the Planck length, which changes the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle into the Generalized Uncertainty Principle (GUP). As a result we have a modified Schrodinger Equation through which we can observe how quantum gravity will affect classic examples in quantum mechanics such the particle in a box, the finite potential well, and the quantum harmonic oscillator. Another common example in quantum mechanics is alpha decay. Alpha decay is a form of radioactive process in which an atomic nucleus emits an alpha particle consisting of two protons and two neutrons. This alpha particle is approximated to be trapped in some arbitrarily shaped potential well and prevented from escaping due to a Coulomb barrier. However, an alpha particle may escape from the atomic nucleus by “tunneling” its way through the potential barrier, even though the energy of the particle is less than that of the barrier. It is the goal of this research to see how a quantum-gravity induced minimal length (via the Generalized Uncertainty Principle) will affect alpha decay rates.

ORAL PRESENTATIONS - COMPLETED RESEARCH

Lysozyme Solubility as a Function of pH
Do, Thao
College of Science and Mathematics
Professor: Dr. Saul Trevino
 
Poor protein solubility is a major problem in the development of protein pharmaceuticals. Solubility determines how concentrated drugs are in the system. When medication is injected into the system, higher concentrations are needed for effective results. In this study, we investigated the solubility of a protein called lysozyme. Using ammonium sulfate precipitation, we measured lysozyme solubility as a function of pH, and compared solubility and net charge as a function of pH. This has been an ongoing project, and this year, we focused on improving data that appeared to be outliers. For example, the slopes of salting out curves should stay the same at different pH values, but previous data for certain pH values did not agree well with data for other pH values. Fortunately, upon re-measuring solubility values for certain pH’s, the data did improve. Hopefully, with this work and future work, the relationship between protein solubility and pH can be fully understood.

An Analysis on Biofeedback, Alpha Waves, and Word Recall
Kesaria, Anam
College of Science and Mathematics
Professor: Dr. Rachel Hopp
 
Recently, biofeedback is gaining popularity as an alternative to medications. Biofeedback gives the patients the skills needed to self control their body as it shows information about physiological responses in real time. This intervention is an effective therapy for insomnia, depression, attention deficit disorder, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, and other disorders. However, research on biofeedback is still in its infancy. The cost effectiveness of biofeedback sessions, duration and number of sessions, long term gains, consistency of results across studies, and other factors remain unanswered. By discovering answers to these problems, many cognitive and physiological disorders can be treated effectively without having to consume a single pill. A variety of instruments are used to collect data such as the electroencephalogram and the electrocardiogram. Many devices are found over the counter and require no special training (Kemper). During EEG biofeedback studies, it was observed that increased alpha wave frequency of good memory performers was about 1 Hz higher than those of bad performers (Klimesch et al). In another study, patients given brief bursts of alpha photic stimulation showed an increased recognition of words more than the control group (Williams et al). The goal of this study is to first determine the overall efficacy of biofeedback on female college students and also to see if there is a correlation between alpha waves and memory. The hypothesis of this experiment is that biofeedback will increase word recall in participants and also will prove to be an effective technique in lowering stress levels and improving academic performance.

ORAL PRESENTATIONS - PROPOSED RESEARCH

Understanding the Role of C-reactive Protein in Inflammatory Diseases
Ng, Zui Keat
College of Science and Mathematics
Professor: Dr. Saul Trevino
 
C-reactive protein (CRP) is known as a marker of inflammatory bowel diseae such as Crohn’s disease and coronary heart disease (Yasojima et. al., 2001), and it acts as an opsonin and activates the removal of pathogen from the organisms (Mold C. et. al., 2002). However, researchers are unsure of the role that CRP plays in inflammation, in other words, researchers are uncertain about whether or not if CRP is just a marker for inflammatory diseases or a disease causing agent. For example, a recent study discovered centenarians to be healthier compared to elderly people even though their serum CRP levels were higher (Montoliu et al., 2014). Another study suggested that CRP may play a direct role in inflammatory diseases, but the authors had some interesting results where CRP play an inflammatory role in the presence of human serum but not in the absence of human serum (Pasceri, 2000). The researchers proposed the question of what component or components of human serum are required for the inflammatory effect of CRP. Therefore, the specific aim of this proposed research is to use NMR metabolomics and shotgun lipidomics to investigate the components of human serum and their possible associations with CRP in the inflammatory process. Using these methods, we would expect to find the components in human serum that along with CRP promote inflammation. Hopefully, this proposed study would lead to a better understanding of the mechanism of the inflammatory diseases.

Re-Examining Gravitational Tunneling Radiation when Taking into Account Quantum Gravity
Valentine, John; Prescott, Trevor
College of Science and Mathematics
Professor: Dr. Gardo Blado
 
Although proven theoretically to exist, Hawking Radiation has yet to be detected. The paper titled “Gravitational Tunneling Radiation” by Mario Rabinowitz proposed a theory that the reason for this is the interference of other bodies on Black Holes. This interference would result in a lower gravitational barrier on the Black Hole and allow for different types of radiation emission other than Hawking Radiation. This results in a lower gravitational tunneling probability for particles to escape Black Holes.
However, Rabinowitz’s paper did not consider the effect quantum gravity would have via the Generalized Uncertainty Principle and in turn on the gravitational tunneling probability, which although ordinarily weak would be very strong near the event horizon of a black hole. In our research, we will attempt to re-examine Rabinowitz’s equations, taking into account the Generalized Uncertainty Principle, to determine if the effects of quantum gravity would either increase or decrease the tunneling probability of particles escaping a black hole. Determining this would help decide whether a form of radiation other than Hawking Radiation is being emitted from black holes, which would help determine why Hawking Radiation seems absent.