Hornworms, Crayfish, and BluebirdsGAMBIER, Ohio (January 26, 2009) Over the winter recess, eight Kenyon biology students presented seven research posters at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) held in Boston, January 3-7, 2009. The SICB is an international community of animal biologists, and the meeting attracts nearly two thousand professional scientists and graduate students from around the world. The poster is the conventional form of research presentation in the sciences. For an undergraduate institution to have such a concentration of students unveiling work at a professional conference of this kind is uncommon.
Four of the students-junior Ryan Bash (biology major) and seniors Anna Frutiger (molecular biology), Sasha Minium (biology), and Katie Woods (math and music)-presented work representing some of the first fruits of a larger National Science Foundation-funded collaborative project involving students and faculty from the biology and math departments. Under the mentorship of Professors Drew Kerkhoff, Chris Gillen, Brad Hartlaub, Judy Holdener, and Harry Itagaki, the students are using tobacco hornworms (Manduca sexta) as a model organism to explain the mathematics of how metabolism changes with organism size- a pattern that holds up over a wide range of species, from bacteria to blue whales, and that has intrigued biologists for more than a century.
Minium and Bash presented a poster entitled "The scaling of growth, nutrient assimilation, and metabolism in larval hawkmoths raised on natural and artificial diets." Their work, which was conducted in collaboration with biology major Pratima Shanbhag '11 and professors Kerkhoff and Itagaki, examined how caterpillars take in and allocate resources as they grow. Frutiger, who worked with professors Itagaki and Holdener, presented her poster, "The calculation of body surface areas of Manduca sexta larvae using serial sections followed by image reconstruction and the creation of parametric body surface models." Frutiger's work develops imaging and modeling methods that will eventually be used to estimate how the surface area of the caterpillar midgut changes as the animal grows. Finally, Katie Woods' poster, "Statistical modeling of real time PCR data for membrane transporter expression in Manduca sexta larvae," described a sophisticated analysis of the molecular biology of midgut function. She collaborated with Kenyon graduates Anne Downer '08 and Josh Cowgill '08 (molecular biology) as well as professors Gillen and Hartlaub.
"Reactions to the presentations were uniformly positive," said Kerkhoff, who accompanied the students, as did Gillen and Itagaki.
Seniors Elizabeth Carlton (biology), Priscilla Erickson (molecular biology), and Lisa Harn (biology and English) each presented posters based on NSF- funded research on long-lived birds. They performed their research under the mentorship of biology professor Robert Mauck, who traveled with them to the conference. Carlton's research studies immune function and reproduction in the Eastern bluebird. Erickson explores oxidative stress in the Savannah sparrow, and Harn investigates parental investment in Leach's storm-petrel.
Also presenting a conference poster was Alexandra (Lexie) White, a senior biology major who works with Professor Gillen to understand how calcium ions move across cell layers in crayfish. White's work, funded by an NSF grant in collaboration with Michele Wheatly at Wright State University, focuses on how crayfish maintain calcium transport during cold exposure and involves identifying the effects of the cold on expression of calcium binding proteins.
"It's always thrilling for our students to see that a professional audience values their work," said Gillen, who observed his student defending her work with confidence during the poster session.
Each of the student-presenters has participated in Kenyon's Summer Science Scholars program.
During the presentations, the students interacted with numerous other scientists interested in their research, ranging from graduate students to established experts in the field. The students were also able to attend a wide variety of lectures and presentations, and to sample some of the cuisine of the Boston waterfront and Chinatown.