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Liberty News

Liberty researchers earn top honors from Virginia Academy of Science

June 1, 2018 : Liberty University News Service

Research projects from Liberty University’s Department of Biology & Chemistry garnered three first-place awards at the Virginia Academy of Science (VAS) Annual Meeting last week at Longwood University in Farmville, Va.

The VAS, founded in 1923, promotes the advancement of science in the Commonwealth of Virginia by providing financial support for research projects and a platform for dissemination of research results. The Annual Meeting draws undergraduate, graduate, and faculty researchers from institutions across the commonwealth.

Recent graduates Caroline Roberts, Caleb Schreiner, and Christopher Schreiner tied with their classmate, rising senior Hannah Philips, for Best Oral Presentation. Recent graduate Ruth Nair tied with a student from another school for Best Poster Presentation. Nair and Roberts each received research funding from Liberty through a Provost’s Award for Research Excellence.

“That our students are competitive for research awards is a testament to both the quality of our students and our curriculum,” said Dr. David DeWitt, chair of Liberty’s Department of Biology & Chemistry. “The consistent presence of Liberty University students in venues like the VAS demonstrates our commitment to engaging in scientific research. I am pleased with the success of our students and faculty.”

Faculty, including Associate Biology Professors Dr. Michael Price and Dr. Gary Isaacs, worked closely with students on their research projects.

“I am very proud of my research team and all the research students at Liberty,” Price said. “They exemplify a humble, Christlike attitude in their work and seek to use their research to help others and glorify God in the process.”

For the past two years, Isaacs supervised the research of Roberts, Caleb Schreiner, and Christopher Schreiner on their project, “Effects of dietary folate on behavior and gene expression,” which studied the effects of vitamin B9 (folate) on short-term memory. Select mice were given a diet deficient of folic acid at 3 weeks old and were compared with control mice who had a vitamin-rich diet over the course of 18 months. Behavioral tests were administered at various points of the project, demonstrating a cognitive decline for the mice on the deficient diet. Evidence of genes with altered activity was also discovered in tissue samples from the hippocampus of the deficient mice.

Under the direction of Price, Philips investigated how changes in carbon metabolism in a fungus affect its interaction with host immune cells, as part of a collaboration with researchers at Duke University and the University of Michigan’s Department of Internal Medicine. According to Price, Philips’ research, “The Cryptococcus neoformans pyruvate kinase PYK1 influences pathogen interaction with host immunity,” will help explain how disease-causing microorganisms communicate with host defenses and evade those defenses.

Nair’s research, “The effects of curcumin on Aspergillus flavus: An opportunistic fungus causing invasive aspergillosis,” investigates the possible uses of a naturally occurring compound, curcumin, in treating a potentially deadly fungal infection. Price said it could lead to the development of more cost-effective treatments.

The Liberty University Department of Biology & Chemistry offers a variety of degree programs to help prepare students for graduate school, professional school (medical, veterinary, dental, pharmacy, etc.), and immediate employment in the workforce through hands-on labs and training in the latest laboratory techniques using state-of-the-art equipment. Several bachelor’s degree programs are offered, including biology, biomedical sciences (pre-med), biopsychology, chemistry, environmental biology, forensic science, and zoology (including pre-vet). Graduate programs include a Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences and a Ph.D. in Anatomy and Cell Biology.

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