Research, research, research: 8 undergraduate projects underway at UMSL

by | May 26, 2016

Alzheimer’s Disease, stone lithography and plant hormones are just a few of the research topics that undergraduate students are tackling this year.
Senior psychology major Beth Wiese (left) and fellow researcher and recent psychology alumnus Tom Mauer present one of the many research projects Wiese is involved with at UMSL during the Undergraduate Research Symposium this spring. (Photo by Marisol Ramirez)

Senior psychology major Beth Wiese (left) and fellow researcher and recent psychology alumnus Tom Mauer present one of the many research projects Wiese is involved with at UMSL during the Undergraduate Research Symposium this spring. (Photo by Marisol Ramirez)

Alzheimer’s Disease, stone lithography and plant hormones are just a few of the research topics undergraduate students are pursuing this year at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

As the largest public research university in eastern Missouri, it’s not surprising that UMSL offers such diverse research opportunities for undergraduates, getting them in the lab and writing formal papers early in their academic careers.

Building on that tradition, the College of Arts and Sciences awarded eight undergraduate students the CAS Undergraduate Research Award, which funds them up to $1000 each for their proposed projects. It’s an annual and competitive award.

“My research gave me the chance to dig into an area of interest that hadn’t been as heavily covered in the classroom,” said Beth Wiese, a senior psychology major whose project on alcoholism in relation to the Greek economy received funding. “It helped foster a passion for an area that I may have never found without the opportunity to do the research. I also get a hands-on understanding of the scientific method.”

In addition to the CAS Undergraduate Research Award, Wiese got the chance to present one of her projects earlier this month at the Undergraduate Research Symposium, organized and run by UMSL students in the Golden Key International Honour Society.

“URS is great for undergraduate researchers looking to practice presenting their research,” she said. “Plus, it’s an affordable way to do so if they can’t fit a conference into their schedule.”

The eight students who received CAS Undergraduate Research Award funding this year include Abigail Eaker, Rahmah Ghazal, Samantha Kennedy, Michael Mason, Sarah Myers, Victoria A. Rogers, Stephanie Theiss and Beth Wiese. Read more about their individual projects below.

Abigail Eaker
Biochemistry and Biotechnology
Research adviser: Teresa Thiel
Exploring Alternative Carbon Sources for Cyanobacteria
Eaker’s research investigates the ability of different strains of cyanobacteria to use different plants’ sugars as an alternate energy source for photosynthesis. This will help lead to a better understanding of the way cyanobacteria establishes symbiotic relationships with plants, which is crucial because symbiotic cyanobacteria/plant relationships are a rich source of nitrogen, a main ingredient in most fertilizers. Increased understanding of these relationships could help produce a greener source of nitrogen or alternatives to commercial fertilizers in crop production.

Rahmah Ghazal
Biochemistry and Biotechnology
Research adviser:
Teresa Thiel
Study of Global Transcription regulator NtcA in cyanobacterium A. variabilis
Cyanobacteria are one of the few organisms capable of photosynthesizing sugars and fixing nitrogen at the same time. The protein NtcA, from the gene ntcA, regulates the production of fixed nitrogen in the cyanobacterium Anabaena variabilis. Harnessing the ability to control nitrogen fixation can provide an abundance of fixed nitrogen for fertilizers and an alternate form for fossil fuel. Which nitrogen fixing genes are directly or indirectly regulated by NtcA is poorly understood, which is the focus of Ghazal’s project. She will make an ntcA gene mutant to observe its function and study the differences between the mutant gene that completely lacks the function of NtcA and the expression of genes regulated by NtcA.

Samantha Kennedy
Studio Art
Research adviser: Jeff Sippel
Understanding Stone Lithography
Kennedy is exploring stone lithography processes through the development of her own portfolio by experimenting with multiple drawing techniques and mediums, a variety of stone sizes, paper registration processes and multiple stone color prints. At the end of summer 2016, she will have five editions of stone lithograph prints. Her research aims to determine how to register paper for multiple color stone prints, how to work with reduction applications and how to correctly register and apply color separation techniques while perfecting the stone graining and etching process. In addition to research conducted at UMSL, Kennedy is attending Frogman’s Print Workshop in Council Bluffs, Iowa, this summer.

Michael Mason
Research adviser: Matthew Taylor
The Contradiction of Black Masculinity: The Role of Afrocentrism, Self-Compassion and Narcissism
Mason’s project explores the meaning of black masculinity in relation to a variety of worldview and psychological variables. He will examine the role and influence of Afrocentrism, self-compassion and narcissism on black masculinity. Specifically, he will look at the effects of unity and kinship, self-compassion’s influence on practicing empathy, and narcissism’s drive towards self-enhancement, possibly at the expense of and detriment to others. The results have implications for the development of interventions aimed at curtailing violence among black men in communities where such occurrences are frequent.

Sarah Myers
Research adviser: Carissa Philippi
The Relationship Between Self-leadership, Psychopathology, and Self-Related Thought
Myer’s research examines relationships between self-leadership, psychopathology (e.g. depression, anxiety) and self-related thought. This is the first study to investigate the relationships, particularly in internal family systems. She is measuring mental health and self-related thought to determine whether there are correlations between self-leadership and psychopathology, and self-leadership and self-related thought. Myer’s hypothesis predicts a negative correlation between self-leadership and pathology as well as a positive correlation between self-leadership and self-related thought.

Victoria A. Rogers
Biochemistry and Biotechnology
Research adviser: Michael R. Nichols
Characterization of an Alzheimer’s Disease-Specific Antibody
Rogers’ research looks to slow neurodegeneration by decreasing the inflammatory response of Alzheimer’s Disease in the brain that is caused by a sticky protein called amyloid-β 42 (A-β42). Protofibrils are a soluble intermediate form of the A-β42 protein and cause a strong inflammatory response. Rogers is examining a new Alzheimer’s-specific antibody being developed at UMSL that targets A-β42 protofibrils, specifically in microglia cells (immune cells that take up foreign material in the brain). She is observing the development of the microglia cells, testing a new assay provided by R&D Systems and then incorporating the new antibody into an assay similar to R&D System’s. If it is selective, the inflammatory components of Alzheimer’s can be targeted and neurodegeneration may be slowed.

Stephanie Theiss
Research adviser: Bethany Zolman
Characterization of the Arabidopsis DAO gene in auxin metabolism
Auxin is an important plant hormone involved in many growth and developmental processes, including root development in seedlings. Theiss’ research looks to expand on the recent findings that the deoxygenase for auxin oxidation (DAO) gene plays a key role in auxin degradation. Because DAO encodes an auxin degradation enzyme, a loss-of-function mutation in this gene results in auxin accumulation. Using a reverse genetics approach with Arabidopsis thaliana lines that have potential DAO mutations, she is comparing DAO mutants to wild type (non-mutant) Arabidopsis lines by measuring root lengths of seedlings. She is also comparing DAO mutants to wild-type plants. Overexpressing the DAO gene (accomplished by cloning) may reveal consequences of decreased auxin accumulation in parallel with the loss-of-function mutant lines.

Beth Wiese
Research adviser: Bettina Casad
Economic Crisis and its Effects on Alcohol Consumption
Wiese’s study looks at the effects of the economic crisis in Greece on social identity and how those effects are related to alcohol consumption. She hypothesizes that the citizens of Greece will now feel a stronger tie to their national heritage instead of feeling like a member of the European Union. The greater the conflict felt by the Greek members of the EU will result in greater amounts of alcohol consumption as a coping mechanism. Wiese is conducting her research in Greece with participants from a partnering university, American University in Greece. Participants complete in-person interviews and focus groups to evaluate their perceptions of how the other members of the EU view them and their current rates of alcohol use.

The UMSL Experience

Marisol Ramirez

Marisol Ramirez