Projects under the guidance of:
The research opportunity Dr. Horzempa can afford TOPPER-SURE students will provide an understanding of the pathogenesis and erythrocyte invasion by F. tularensis – a category A biodefense agent.
The second line of investigation in the Horzempa lab will focus on the discovery of novel antibiotics from natural products.
Finally, student’s in the Horzempa laboratory will be able to work on a project dealing with the design and testing of novel vaccines that target diverse pathogens.
Introduced crayfishes are recognized as one of the major sources of imperilment for crayfishes globally; understanding their biology in their native range, and comparing that to biological attributes in streams they are introduced to is one strategy for developing control strategies for their eradication.
In the fall of 2011, Dr. Loughman discovered an introduced population of Orconectes punctimanus (Spot Handed crayfish) in the headwaters of the James River in Virginia. Since its discovery, Dr. Loughman and WLU students have completed a survey of the Upper James and determined the invaders range within the system. At each site where O. punctimanus was encountered, a field data sheet composed of 31 ecological variables was completed in order to complete a niche modeling project to compare O. pucnitmanus ecological requirements to native Va crayfishes. The VA Boat and Fish Commission now is pursuing Dr. Loughman’s lab to sample O. punctimanus in Missouri and Arkansas’s Ozarks, gather the same data, and compare niche requirements for O. punctimanus in its native and introduced range. This project is on the forefront of crayfish conservation biology and could lead to important insights of biological control for invasive crayfish species.
Finally, beginning in 2009, the Loughman laboratory has attempted to sample C. robustus across its extremely broad range, which encompasses the northeast, mid-Atlantic, and central and southern Appalachians. Several unique morphologic and genetic populations have been discovered that warrant formal description. To date Dr. Loughman and his students have published two species descriptions (Cambarus smilax and Cambarus theepiensis), working towards a revision of the species taxonomy. Two undescribed members of the complex were discovered in 2012, one in central Kentucky and another in western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. Funds have been acquired to describe both species pending fieldwork in the region.
Through working on all of the above projects, the TOPPER-SURE student will experience firsthand fieldwork, conservation biology, and taxonomy, and witness the synergy of these three fields. All of the above projects currently are either funded (Projects 1 & 4), or have proposals submitted currently that are likely to be funded (Projects 2&3). Loughman TOPPER-SURE lab members will participate in all of the above projects, but ultimately choose a specific aspect of one project for their personal research project of the summer. This model has proven quite successful for Dr. Loughman over the past 7 years and ultimately results in students receiving broad training in conservation and taxonomic disciplines, as well as specific, detailed instruction in an area they personally are interested in. Resultant of this strategy, 6 of Dr. Loughmans former students currently are enrolled in graduate programs pursuing either masters or doctorates in organismal biology, and in 2013 Dr. Loughman published four journal articles with six of his former students as coauthors.
Understanding craniofacial morphological characteristics among various populations have implications spanning to the fields including, but not limited to, dentistry, orofacial surgery, ophthalmology, neurosurgery, and neuroradiology. Understanding craniofacial morphological differences among diverse demographics may aid the physician in clinical assessment and impression as well as improving treatment and clinical outcomes. Unfortunately, because of such great variety in the anatomy of the human skull, the morphology of the skull requires further exploration.
A TOPPER-SURE student, under the guidance of Dr. Matthew Zdilla, will have the opportunity to learn advanced craniofacial anatomy and take morphological measurements of skulls held in the collections of surrounding universities. Measurements will focus on the foramina of the skull and proper documentation of anatomical variations. The research student will be guided in descriptive and inferential statistical analysis of their data. Results of their research may influence advanced imaging methods and treatment approaches in microsurgical procedures.
Undergraduate research students under the guidance of Dr. Zdilla have shared their research at national conferences; have received national-level awards for their research, and have proceeded to advance their education in medical schools. Just this year, two undergraduates have submitted research to the International Journal of Anatomical Variation and Surgical and Radiographic Anatomy. The results of their research have uncovered a new technique for reconstructive surgery as well as new considerations in neurosurgery that can prevent blindness and death as a result of the operation. Likewise, findings from TOPPER-SURE are likely to have implications spanning beyond the benefit of the undergraduate researcher’s learning experience.
Mechanism of Antibiotic Activity
Antibiotic resistance is a global health threat that is limiting treatment options for many infectious diseases. Each year, there are significant increases in the number of deaths due to antibiotic-resistant infections and health care expenses associated with these diagnoses. This information illustrates the need for new drugs that can combat the ever-increasing prevalence of multidrug-resistant pathogenic bacteria.
The Schmitt laboratory studies resazomycins, a novel family of antibiotics that exhibits bactericidal activity against select Gram-negative bacteria including Francisella tularensis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae. While the mechanism of action of these antibiotics is not known, previous research suggests the lipoprotein sorting system LolDF may be the target. TOPPER-SURE students would be involved in conducing various microbiological and biochemical assays to confirm whether LolDF is the target of resazomycins and elucidating how these antibiotics are taken up by bacterial cells.
Another area of research in the Schmitt lab is investigating the viable but non-culturable state (VBNC) of F. tularensis. In the VBNC state, F. tularensis cannot be cultivated by traditional methods, yet the bacterium is alive and maintains a measurable level of metabolic activity. Numerous other human bacterial pathogens including Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, and Salmonella sp. also can exist in a VBNC form. Since most conventional diagnostic tests for these infectious agents depend upon the cultivation of the bacteria, VBNC bacteria are a serious threat to public health and food safety. Therefore, understanding how VBNC bacteria survive and persist in the environment and how they can be resuscitated back to an easily-detected, culturable form is of utmost clinical importance. TOPPER-SURE students interested in this project will utilize laboratory-generated VBNC F. tularensis to determine which genes are expressed during this state that mediates survival as well as identifies factors that allow for resuscitation of VBNC bacteria to a cultivatable and detectable form.
Plant Ecology & Freshwater Ecology
The Ecology and Ecosystem Science laboratories research focus on the ecology of freshwater rivers, native plants and human impacts on the environment. Globally freshwater ecosystems are impacted by agriculture, industry, and urbanization, resulting in increased inputs of toxic chemicals, salts, sediments, and nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus. Many rivers and streams currently do not support the fish, mussels, insects, and overall biodiversity they once did. The lab is working to better understand how water quality influences the structure and function of these streams and rivers in Appalachia.
In 2018 the Ecology and Ecosystem Science laboratories are conducting research in rivers throughout the Appalachian region to better understand how changes in water quality impact the widespread and ecologically important aquatic plant, Podostemum ceratophyllum Michx., commonly called Hornleaf Riverweed. The plant is widespread in the Appalachian Mountains and the presence of the plant benefits aquatic insects and fish. However, the plant appears to be declining across much of its range and the reasons for the decline are poorly understood. The lab is conducting research to better understand how water quality impacts the growth and survival of this important component of eastern rivers and streams.
Water quality is a widespread concern, therefore the lab is working to assess water quality in Wheeling Creek and in the surrounding streams. By sampling for macroinvertebrates, water quality, and E. coli (a gut bacteria found in sewage), the intention is to assess the ecological integrity and threats to human health in the Wheeling Creek area. The goal is to create a long-term, volunteer supported water quality monitoring program in Wheeling area, and to work with the local government to improve water quality so that there are increased recreational activities, like fishing and kayaking in Wheeling Creek.
Students in the TOPPER-SURE program will have the opportunity to learn a variety of skills focused on freshwater ecology. Students will gain experience in fieldwork, sample preservation, data collection and analysis, and laboratory methods. Students working in the Ecology and Ecosystem Science laboratories are expected to learn a variety of water quality assessment protocols, learn how to identify macroinvertebrates and aquatic plants, and will also gain experience with stream assessments protocols.
Students interested in learning more about water quality and freshwater ecology should apply to the Ecology and Ecosystem Science labs. Deadline for applications is February 20th.
Sound like fun? Apply today!
- APPLY – Send a cover letter containing:
- Preferred research project(s)
- Contact information for three references
- Unofficial transcripts to [email protected]
- QUESTIONS – Send your question to [email protected]