Unexpected FindingsGAMBIER, Ohio (February 9, 2005) Emmie Dengler, Class of 2005, is no stranger to the lab. The 22-year-old biology major from Horsehead, New York, has spent much of the last two years working alongside Kenyon scientist Wade Powell as a student researcher and a participant in the Summer Science Scholars program. Still, presenting her research to a group of her advisor's peers from around the world was a little daunting. And exciting.
Dengler and Kenyon classmate Blythe Philips, Class of 2005, were two of only a few undergraduates to present a poster at the World Congress of the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in Portland, Oregon, in November.
Individual research that leads to such opportunities is the norm for science majors at Kenyon. "Our whole philosophy is that you learn a lot more by doing science than by talking about it," says Powell, an assistant professor of biology. "Students are able to get in a lab and take the lead on publishable-quality research. It much more closely approximates what one would do as a graduate student."
Dengler and Philips's poster detailed findings from their studies of a protein linked to the toxicity of dioxin, a byproduct of some chemical processes which can build up in the fatty tissue of animals that ingest it. Work in Powell's lab is examining this protein, called CYP1A, which, when exposed to dioxin, switches on a gene that triggers a cascade of toxic effects in the animal. Scientists often use the presence of this protein as a biomarker to measure dioxin in the environment.
The students' project, which examined the protein in frogs, yielded some unexpected findings. When exposed to dioxin, CYP1A in frogs did nothing. Because the gene didn't get turned on, the frogs suffered no damage from the dioxin. "This opens up a bunch of other doors in regards to where we can go with our research," says Dengler, who plans to attend graduate school after graduating from Kenyon.
She and Philips are among a number of students who have worked closely with Powell in dioxin studies. They include Thomas Susman, Class of 2004, who now is a student at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and Ashley Rowatt, Class of 2002, who is a medical student at Vanderbilt University.