Independent Study - BIOL 495

Dr. Fabich

The goal of Dr. Fabich's research is to involve undergraduate students to help them better understand the molecular pathogenesis an dissemination of facultative anaerobes in the mouse intestine. They use the streptomycin-treated mouse model of colonization to better understand how commensal (good) E. coli reacts within a diverse intestinal microbial population. The current research focus is investigating how laboratory, human commensal, and probiotic E coli oscillate between motile and non-motile populations in the intestine. The other half of the research group focuses on how pathogenic (bad) E. coli colonize the intestine using the model organism Citrobacter rodentium.
Students at Liberty University work with Dr. Fabich to elucidate the underlying mechanisms that commensal and pathogenic E. coli by genome sequencing of individual E coli clones, 16S rDNA analysis of fecal genomic DNA by quantitative PCR, and metagenomics to identify significant effects from the neighboring bacteria that various E. coli encounter during colonization or pathogenesis. Students also work on understanding the inflammatory process that C. rodentium causes in conventional mice, which is absent in streptomycin-treated mice. We work at better understanding the underlying mechanisms of colonization to aid discovery of novel therapies that enhance commensal E. coli and prevent pathogenic E. coli.

Dr. Gillen

Dr. Gillen and his lab students are interested in tracking the incidence of students carrying pathogenic Staphylococcus aureus, as well as finding ways to control MRSA. Many are unaware that pathogens may colonize their body, and they remain asymptomatic. Students take a sample from their nose (anterior nares) and armpits (axilla). Awareness of being a carrier is part of microbial control. Once aware of being a convalescent carrier, students and health care professionals alike can control the spread of germs. Dr. Gillen's previous research focused on what antiseptics, hand sanitizers and soaps work best in controlling Staphylococcus aureus and other common bacteria. In general, antibacterial compounds work best. So far, Dr. Gillen and his students found that chlorhexidine and triclosan antibacterial soaps are the most effective toward all of the bacteria types tested while antiseptics such as alcohol (found in hand sanitizer) are the least effective. What effect does repeated handwashing have on the normal microbiota and the health of skin? How do you keep skin from being damaged by zealous handwashing? Are there 'probiotic' solutions to replacing the repeated scrubbing action of handwashing? Dr. Gillen's students hope to publish this study in an ASM journal. The results of this research could thus benefit the entire student body by helping to educate students regarding proper hand hygiene, keeping skin healthy, and the awareness of germs living in and on their bodies. This is especially true for those going into clinics carrying SuperStaph and MRSA.

Dr. Fulp

While Dr. Fulp’s formal academic training was in organic chemistry, he has spent most of his career as a medicinal chemist, and medicinal chemistry is the area where the majority of his research interests lie. Currently, Dr. Fulp has students pursuing peripherally selective cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) agonist for the treatment of glaucoma. Glaucoma is a relatively painless disease which can lead to either partial or total loss of vision, and increased intraocular pressure (IOP) has been identified as a risk factor in the most common form of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma. Agonists of the CB1 are known to lower the IOP of humans; however, CB1 agonists have well documented psychotropic effects. It is believed that if these psychotropic effects could be avoided if a peripherally selective CB1 agonist was used to treat glaucoma patients. Due to his background in organic chemistry, Dr. Fulp is also interested in utilizing novel synthetic methods when appropriate to support his medicinal chemistry efforts.  

Dr. Isaacs

Although several mutations have been associated with patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease (AD), several lines of evidence suggest that AD development might be caused by chemical modifications of the base DNA sequence (eg., cytosine methylation, cytosine hydroxymethylation). Our project seeks to identify regions of the genome that become epigenetically altered as cells progress toward an AD-like state. To this end, we plan to use DNA microarrays to map the locations of both cytosine methylation and cytosine hydroxymethylation in an AD mouse model system. Mice expressing two AD-related transgenes will serve as our AD-like condition while mice lacking the transgenes will serve as our AD control group. The transgene positive mice produce more beta amyloid plaques than control mice, they do significantly worse on cognitive function experiments, and models that utilize immortalized cell lines and exogenous treatment of purified amyloid beta. Our approach to identify AD-related epigenetic changes on a genomic scale represents a novel application of current technology to the realm of AD biology.

Dr. Kalu

According to the Center for Disease Control, chronic liver diseases and Alcoholic Liver Disease are the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for about 34,000 deaths in 2011. Also, liver cancers are the 8th leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. with about 16,000 deaths per year. A common factor associated with these liver diseases is chronic alcohol consumption. Therefore, our group is interested in elucidating the molecular mechanisms and pathophysiology of alcoholic liver disease and its course/progression to liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. We use in-vivo models of chronic alcohol consumption as well as alcohol-treated cell culture models to examine:

  • genes whose expression levels are altered and the physiological impacts of such alterations
  • subcellular localization, integrity and functions of organelles with particular emphasis on the mitochondria (oxidative stress) and lysosomes (autophagy)
  • possible molecules, drugs or nutritional supplements that may reverse, retard or halt the development of progression of these disease conditions (drug discovery)

Our group is very hands-on and student-oriented, affording the students flexibility to work at their individual paces while giving them exposure to laboratory skills and analytical competencies that will help define their career paths and make them competitive in the science community.

Dr. Korn

Dr. Korn’s research interests are at the interphase between organic chemistry, materials science and biology. Currently, the following research areas are being pursued: (1) chemistry of the origin of life; (2) development of new organic laboratory experiments; (3) organic semiconductors; (4) electrically conducting ink (in collaboration with the department of electrical engineering).

Dr. Reichenbach and Dr. Brophy

Dr. Reichenbach is conducting ecological research on the Peaks of Otter Salamander (Plethodon hubrichti) with Dr. Tim Brophy and teams of biology students. They are currently researching two hypotheses. In allopatric areas, populations of the Peaks of Otter salamander are hypothesized to decline at lower elevations due to increased temperatures and lower humidities which may adversely affect the salamander's reproductive output and survival rates (Hypothesis 1). In other areas, P. hubrichti is sympatri with the Eastern Red-backed salamander (P. cinereus), a potential competitor. These sites are above the lower elevational limits for P. hubrichti. They therefore hypothesize that P. cinereus is restricting the range of P. hubrichti in these areas (Hypothesis 2).

He is also assessing movement patterns and survival rates for resident and translocated Eastern Box turtles (Terrapene carolina) with students in ecology (Biology 310). Translocated turtles have been both hard and soft released, and they are tracked using radio telemetry two to three times per week during the fall semester until they hibernate. The turtles are then relocated the following spring to assess overwintering survival rates.

Dr. Reichenbach has been assessing population size and survival rates for Eastern newts (Notophthalamus viridescens) starting in 1998 with teams of students in ecology (Biology 310). From 500 to over 1,000 newts are injected annually with Visible Implant Elastomer tags (a harmless yet permanent marking technique). This is a long-term field study which is needed to determine if amphibian populations are oscillating or declining (the current trend for many amphibian species). Eastern newts are well suited for this type of study since they are abundant, easily captured and long-lived.

Dr. Ross

In partnership with Answers in Genesis and the Ark Encounter project, Dr. Ross is working to determine the number of different animal "kinds" brought on board Noah's Ark. He has worked with his students in BIOL 371 (Vertebrate Paleontology) to compile a comprehensive assessment of all now-extinct terrestrial vertebrate families, including brief descriptions and evaluations of diversity for each family. This work will be published as a series of articles and also implemented in depicting various living and extinct animals at the full-sized replica of Noah's Ark built as part of a large Biblically-themed park in Williamstown, Kentucky.

Dr. Ross is engaged in evaluating different geological locations for the end of Noah's Flood, and his evaluations involve looking at the distribution of fossils in sedimentary rocks. Dr. Ross is currently teaching his students in BIOL 371 (Vertebrate Paleontology) how to utilize online paleontological databases to perform these evaluations, generate data, and evaluate various Flood boundary hypotheses.

Dr. G. Sattler

Northern Saw-whet Owls are a rare breeder at high elevations in Virginia and a secretive migrant throughout its range. Prior to initiating a project banding them during migration, only two historical records existed for the Lynchburg area. However, with the help of biology students, we have banded nearly 400 saw-whets at our banding station since 2002. The project is focused on exploring the migration dynamics of this species as we answer questions about the timing of the migration in this region, differences in the magnitude of flights among years, and differences in the timing and magnitude of movement among age and sex classes. A banding station here also adds insights into the geographic distribution of Northern Saw-whet Owls during migration; we are one of the more southern banding stations for the species in eastern North America, and our location in the inner Piedmont of Virginia complements saw-whet banding stations in Virginia in the Ridge and Valley province to the northwest and in the Coastal Plain province to the east. The project also provides students with valuable field experience in mist netting, handling, and banding birds.

Dr. Sharp

Investigation of the role of calcium in human blood clotting, by ultradilution with normal saline-ringer's lactate solution mixtures. This project involves learning two syringe techniques for collecting human blood.