Wednesday, October 31, 2018

OSCAR Student Vanessa Hormann Participates in the Farmland Restoration Project

During the Summer of 2018, I participated in the research project on farmland restoration, and worked on the team that surveyed bird communities. I investigated the differences in bird community composition and breeding habitat diversity between four sites enrolled in conservation easement. Each site implemented a different set of restoration techniques (seeding, disking, chemicals, and burning) for converting farmland into native grassland. My findings showed the site that implemented two restoration techniques with less frequency had the greatest species diversity, diversity of breeding habitats, and grassland species.

Participating in this project gave me a holistic overview of the impacts of restoration techniques on ecosystems, the interactions between different communities, as well as how these communities respond to changes in their habitats.

As an Environmental and Sustainability Studies major, with a concentration in Sustainable Food System and Agriculture, this experience was extremely valuable to me. It helped me understand the benefits of conservation easements, and reflect on how to manage farmland in synergy with bird conservation efforts.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

OSCAR Student Kendra Coleman Participates in the Changing The Hole Mind Living & Working in Solitary Confinement During Reform Project

What got me interested in the Changing The Hole Mind Living & Working in Solitary Confinement During Reform project, was the project’s goal. I have always been intrigued by prison reform and the organizational functions of the prison system. I heard about the project from a friend who had participated in a similar project the year prior; this prompted me to apply immediately.

When I think about my long-term goals, I believe the Changing The Hole Mind project plays a big part in what direction I want to go in. While working on this project, I have found out I am rather passionate about field research relating to prisons. Collecting the data was a new experience and one I enjoyed quite a bit. Once the data was collected and we started the process of coding the qualitative data (I thought I would suck at it), it was fascinating to watch the data reflect what we were or were not looking for. On a weekly basis, it varies what I do.  In the weeks prior to a trip to an institution, time was spent attending training. After visiting an institution, I spent my time working on preparing the data to be coded. Finally, I spent my time coding the prepared data. After coding, I then was able to query the data and analyze my findings; the results helped answer my initial research question.

What I discovered this term…is a lot. If I had to narrow down what I discovered, it would be…I didn’t expect to find something I wasn’t looking for. After constructing my research question with my partner, I knew there was a strong chance we would find data to answer our question. However, while I was coding, I discovered there was separate information, also appearing in the data at a high frequency; I queried for this. I thought this was exciting, I spoke to my mentor about it, and there might be a chance I can switch over to work on this new data set. Which, I think is completely thrilling and am ready to do. Overall, this has been a great growing experience and an excellent opportunity to “get my hands dirty” within my future field.

Monday, October 29, 2018

OSCAR Student Arba Cecia Investigates the Role of Methanol Extract of Asparagus, Emodin, and Rhein as Potential Enhancers of the Extrinsic Pathway of Apoptosis

My name is Arba Cecia and I am a rising senior, double majoring in neuroscience and biology. I am volunteering as a researcher at the Laboratory of Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. My long-term goal is to pursue an MD-PhD. I am investigating the role of the methanolic extract of asparagus, emodin, and rhein as potential enhancer of the extrinsic pathway of apoptosis, along with allicin, an organosulfur compound of garlic as a potential enhancer of both the intrinsic and extrinsic apoptotic pathways. I am examining these effects both independently and simultaneously against different glioblastoma cell lines (GL261, U87, and 9L), and studying the mechanism of cell death. Since about one-third of the overall risk of cancer may be related to diet, a large number of dietary compounds have been tested to determine their potential chemo-preventive properties. White asparagus, emodin, rhein and allicin have been reported to possess anti-inflammatory, antitumor activities in many cancers. However, there is a lack of information regarding the antitumor effects of these compounds in glioblastoma.

I spend most of my time in the laboratory plating, treating, and performing different cell assays including cell proliferation, cell counting kit 8, clonogenic assays etc. The next step of the experiment consists of investigating the mechanism of cell death in each treatment which will be accomplished by performing cytochrome C releasing apoptosis assay, and pan caspase inhibition assay.

Friday, October 26, 2018

OSCAR Student Mosufa Zainab Studies the Inhibition of Acinetobacter Baumannii and Klebsiella Pneumoniae 1-Deoxy-D-Xylulose 5-Phosphate Reductoisomerase (IspC)

My time as an undergraduate researcher has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my academic career. My passion for research stems from my deep-rooted fascination with an understanding of the natural world, specifically through the lens of biology and chemistry. As a student, learning about biochemical changes in living organisms was like entering into a new universe, full of adventures and discoveries. However, that sense of discovery was confined to the space of classroom and comprised solely of the facts in textbooks. Research has allowed me to experience science in its truest form - where facts are in the phase of discovery.

For my Undergraduate Research Scholars Program 2018 project, I am currently working in the Couch Lab at the Institute of Advanced Biomedical Research. My project focuses on the development of novel antibiotics targeting the non-mevalonate pathway (MEP). Given the rapid rise in antibiotic resistant pathogens, our work seeks to combat this growing threat. Today, antibiotic resistance has become a leading cause of death and disease worldwide. Each year, within the United States alone, at least two million people are infected with drug-resistant bacteria. Of those documented cases, approximately 23,000 prove to be fatal. If left unchecked, antibiotic resistant pathogens pose a catastrophic threat to the human population. Among all of the documented antibiotic resistant bacterial strains, Acinetobacter baumannii and Klebsiella pneumonia are particularly alarming. They comprise two of the ESKAPE pathogens, a group of multidrug resistant pathogens that are the leading cause of nosocomial infections worldwide.

Since current antibiotic targets within these bacterial strains no longer remain viable options, this project focuses on inhibition of isoprenoid production in pathogens in order to develop novel antibiotics. Isoprenoids are integral for many cellular functions such as membrane stability and aerobic respiration. While Isoprenoids are essential in both mammalian and bacterial cells, the means through which they are synthesized varies between organisms. Mammals synthesize Isoprenoids via the mevalonate pathway while bacteria synthesize them through the non-mevalonate pathway. The absence of the non-mevalonate pathway in mammals and the fundamental need of Isoprenoids, within the bacterial organisms, make the non-mevalonate pathway a viable target for drug development.

In an effort to exploit the unique bacterial isoprenoid biosynthetic pathway, compounds designed to inhibit the first committed enzyme of the pathway, 1-Deoxy-D-Xylulose 5-Phosphate Reductoisomerase (IspC) in both Acinetobacter baumannii and Klebsiella pneumoniae, were assayed against the enzyme. Using known IspC inhibitors, Fosmidomycin and FR900098, as a scaffold, rationally designed compounds were provided by Dr. Cynthia Dowd at George Washington University. On a weekly basis, I expressed, purified, and assayed IspC derived from Acinetobacter baumannii and Klebsiella pneumoniae against rationally designed inhibitory compounds. Those compounds which were found to reduce enzymatic activity to less than 10% were selected for half maximal inhibitory concentration (IC50) determination.

Throughout my time spent in the Couch lab, I have learned a lot about the research process, including preserving in spite of setbacks, and savoring the accomplishment that comes from obtaining reproducible results. The effort to develop novel antibiotics is a daunting task, and yet is absolutely necessary to halt the growing threat of infection from antibiotic resistant bacteria. While I realize there is still a great deal of work to be done, I feel honored to have played a small part in moving the scientific community forward and helping in the design of a new class of antibiotics.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

OSCAR Student Morgan Sutherland Focuses on Increasing Female Representation in Percussion Chamber Music

Percussion chamber music, which began around 1929, is music for small groups of musicians who produce sound by hitting their instruments. Since this art form began less than 100 years ago, it is still in an experimental development stage.  As it is historically a male dominated field, my research is focusing on increasing female representation in percussion chamber music. In order to do this, I have commissioned two new works for percussion chamber group by women and started a short timeline of significant female contributors to the art who have been forgotten over time.

My day to day process changes frequently due to the two part division of my project. Some of my most important commission-related tasks include emailing composers, writing contracts for commissions, putting together groups to perform, practicing music to perform, and scheduling rehearsals. Some of my most important tasks for the timeline have included spending time in the library researching scores and sifting through works listed by distributors of percussion music in search of those written by females. Preliminary data shows that 22.33% of percussion chamber works on Steve Weiss Music, one of the leading distributors of percussion resources, was written or arranged by females. A significant portion if these works were written for elementary to early high school level. Currently, I am at the So Percussion Summer Institute (SoSI) at Princeton. Here I am learning rehearsals techniques for percussion chamber music as well as being exposed to many well known contemporary women composers of percussion chamber music including Angelica Negron, Juri Seo, and Caroline Shaw. At SoSI I am also working with Anna Meadors to develop ideas for the trio I commissioned.