Research Experiences for Teachers in the Biology of Plants, Animals, Microorganisms, and their Environments
This National Science Foundation funded BIORETS program at WMU provides middle and high school science teachers in Southwest Michigan with authentic research experience and transformative curricular improvement and professional development opportunities. The center piece of the program is a seven-week summer experience for 12 teachers per year in June to August, in the laboratories of WMU faculty mentors. These research projects revolve around a unifying theme: how biological organisms interact with other organisms and their environments. Here is the 2023 program poster.
The summer research experience will be complemented with faculty research seminars, professional development workshops, demonstrations of hands-on laboratory teaching modules, lunch-time discussions on research and curricular development, written curricular materials, poster presentations on research and curricular development, and fall semester classroom visits.
Each teacher accepted by the program receives a stipend of $7,560 (half disbursed in the middle of the program and the other half at the conclusion of the program). We will also reimburse for teachers' daily commuting mileage during the seven-week summer program. We are looking for highly motivated teachers who plan to translate what they learn from the BIORETS program into curricular changes. Such changes are expected to help teachers to: (a) enrich classroom teaching practices; (b) deepen students' research literacy and engagement in STEM classes; and (c) inspire a diverse population of students to pursue higher education and careers in STEM, especially biology and biology-related fields.
Schedule for Summer 2023
Potential pre-session campus visits
Mar – early Apr
Deadline for teacher applications
Review of applications and final selection
Offers to candidates
Apr 24 - Apr 28
Deadline for acceptance
Teacher check-in and meeting with faculty mentors
Orientation, trainings, and barbecue
Jun 19 - Jun 25
Independent research, research seminars, professional development workshops, teaching module demonstrations, and lunch-time discussions
Jun 19 – Aug 4
Submission of final written curricular materials, and poster presentation session
Faculty mentors conduct a classroom visit
Sept - Dec
Please e-mail the following application materials to firstname.lastname@example.org by April 7:
· A brief resume which includes your academic and work history.
· A one-page personal statement. You may explain: (1) the science classes and the student body that you teach; (2) why you are interested in this BIORETS program; and (3) what do you hope to learn from this program for yourself and your students.
· A filled Teacher Participant Application Form.
Please have a letter of recommendation from your principal sent directly to email@example.com. This letter may include demographic information of students in the school district (e.g., percentages of underrepresented or economically disadvantaged students). This program strives to broaden participation of under-represented groups in STEM fields and promote the development of a diverse and competitive future STEM workforce. Students are the workforce of the future.
WMU Faculty Mentors involved in BIORETS
- Todd Barkman, Ph.D. — plant systematics, genetics
- Wendy Beane, Ph.D. — stem cells, regeneration
- Steve Bertman, Ph.D. — biosphere-atmosphere interactions
- Devin Bloom, Ph.D. — ecology evolution, macroevolution, systematics of fishes
- Kathryn Docherty, Ph.D. — microbiology, ecology
- Sharon Gill, Ph.D. — behavioral ecology, sound ecology, ornithology
- Pam Hoppe, Ph.D. — C. elegans developmental biology
- Benjamin Koestler, Ph.D. — microbiology, infectious diseases
- Cindy Linn, Ph.D. — neurophysiology
- Yan Lu, Ph.D. — plant physiology
- Silvia Rossbach, Ph.D. — microbiology
- John Spitsbergen, Ph.D. — neurobiology, physiology
- Frederick Stull, Ph.D. — biochemistry
Teacher Participants in the 2022 BIORETS Program
- Ms. Amanda Solloway is a science teacher at Cassopolis Middle School in Cassopolis, MI. She studied “The toxicity of Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFAS) on Plant Growth and Development” in Dr. Yan Lu’s laboratory.
Abstract of Ms. Solloway’s Research Project: An excessive amount of Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFAS) was found in the Parchment, MI water system. This is an extremely harmful pollution which causes several health concerns for humans, animals and plants. To understand the environmental risks associated with PFAS, we monitored the growth and photosynthetic activities of wild-type and photosynthesis-deficient orrm6-1 Arabidopsis thaliana plants in different PFAS concentrations. We found that PFAS inhibits plant growth, delays plant development, and impairs photosynthesis. Most interestingly, wild-type Arabidopsis plants grown in high levels of PFAS had similar electron transport rates as the photosynthesis-deficient orrm6-1 mutant grown in the absence of PFAS. This observation is consistent with the hypothesis that photosynthesis is one of the main targets of PFAS phytotoxicity.
Ms. Solloway developed a lesson plan on “Plant Nutrient Deficiency Integrated with Dark-induced Leaf Senescence”, which will be implemented in an 8th-grade science class during the second marking period of the coming school year.
- Ms. Ann Ponicki is a Biology teacher at Mattawan High School in Mattawan, MI. She studied “The Methods of Exploring Neurogenesis in Adult Rodent Retinas” in Dr. Cindy Linn’s Laboratory.
Abstract of Ms. Ponicki’s Research Project: A drug developed by Pharmacia and Upjohn, PNU-282987, originally developed to treat schizophrenia, has been found to cause regeneration of cells in the adult mammalian retina in Dr. Linn’s lab. This is particularly exciting as adult mammal cells do not normally re-enter the cell cycle and regenerate new retinal cells after damage due to disease or injury or age. Previous studies from the Linn lab have demonstrated that neurogenesis of retinal neurons in adult rodents originate from Muller glia cells. During my BIORETS experience in the Linn lab, my main objective was to analyze the different methods used to study this neurogenic effect. There are 4 main studies I assisted with during the summer: 1) morphological changes that occur in the retina with neurogenesis; 2) analysis of gene expression that regulates neurogenesis; 3) functional changes associated with neurogenesis; 4) analysis of newly formed axon projections and connections in the brain after PNU-282987 treatment. The results from these studies can have significant implications for treatments associated with vision loss that occurs with age, retinal disease and trauma.
Ms. Ponicki developed a lesson plan on “How to make a Winogradsky column”, which will be implemented in a 9th-grade biology class or a middle-school science class during the second semester of the coming school year.
- Ms. Bailey Green was a science teacher at Dowagiac Middle School in Dowagiac, MI. She studied “How selective pressures of different environments cause changes in functional traits of Silversides” in Dr. Devin Bloom’s laboratory. Ms. Green will join Skowhegan High School in Skowhegan, ME in fall 2022.
Abstract of Ms. Green’s Research Project: Silversides (Order Atheriniformes) is one of few fish lineages in which species inhabit both fresh and marine waters. Marine and freshwater habitats provide different selective pressures on functional traits associated with swimming efficiency, predator avoidance, and competition for resources in fishes. The purpose of this study was to collect data on different species in the genus Atherinella to see if the functional traits of species found in marine and freshwaters had any differences due to the different selective pressures caused by the different habitats. The results showed that there was a difference in the functional traits between the species in the freshwater vs. the marine habitat.
Ms. Green developed a lesson plan about “A comparative ecosystem study”, which will be implemented in a 9th-grade biology class during the fourth marking period of the coming school year.
- Ms. Jennifer Lacy is a science teacher at Lakeview Middle School in Battle Creek, MI. She studied “Does blocking the CED-4 apoptotic activator protein in Caenorhabditis elegans prevent wasting induced by UNC-82” in Dr. Pamela Hoppe’s laboratory.
Abstract of Ms. Lacy’s Research Project: Myosin and actin, proteins that support muscle fiber contractions in vertebrates and invertebrates, have been studied in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans). Mutations in the C. elegans unc-82 kinase gene result in disorganized myosin filaments. However, when particular genetically modified forms of unc-82 are introduced into worms, wasting phenotypes, including small body size, small brood size and early death, result. The goals of our study were: 1) to determine if mutation of the kinase domain was required to induce wasting; 2) to determine whether programmed cell death, called apoptosis, was responsible for the wasting phenotype. Our results show that control constructs with normal kinase domains induce wasting. Our experiments to test the ability of the constructs to induce wasting in the ced-4 mutant, which has no apoptosis, are ongoing. With an estimated 40%-80% of human genes known to share homologous genes with C. elegans, our findings may lead to an understanding about regulatory pathways relevant to human disease.
Ms. Lacy developed a lesson plan on “Thinking Like a Scientist”, which will be implemented in a 7th-grade life science class during the first marking period of the coming school year.
- Ms. Kelsey Wydendorf is a science teacher at Portage Central Middle School in Portage, MI. She studied “Shifts in locomotory demands throughout ontogeny drive functional trait differences in juvenile and adult Alosa pseudoharengus” in Dr. Devin Bloom’s laboratory.
Abstract of Ms. Wydendorf’s Research Project: Alosa pseudoharengus (alewives) are born in freshwater lakes and migrate to the ocean with the aid of the river current. At sexual maturity, adult alewives must migrate back upriver to spawn in a life cycle pattern called diadromy. This research was conducted to assess the functional trait differences between juvenile and adult alewives to better understand how locomotory demands change throughout ontogeny in migratory fishes. The results showed that the caudal fin, dorsal fin, and pelvic fin moment indices are significantly smaller in adults than in juveniles. In contrast, the caudal fin aspect ratio is significantly smaller in juvenile alewives when compared to adults. These results suggest that the morphology of the adult fins aid them in energy conservation while migrating upstream, while the morphology of the juvenile fins may aid them in avoiding predators and maneuvering in their environment. As migratory demands on juvenile fishes increase due to human impacts (i.e., dams, stream alteration) and climate change, juvenile fishes may lack the traits required to complete their migration. Whether they can adapt to such impacts remains to be seen.
Ms. Wydendorf developed a lesson plan on “Animal Adaptations and Migration”, which will be implemented in a 7th-grade science class during the second marking period of the coming school year.
- Ms. Liz Ratashak is a biology teacher at Vicksburg High School in Vicksburg, MI. She studied “The Structure and Function of the Planarian Nervous System” in Dr. Wendy Beane’s laboratory.
Abstract of Ms. Ratashak’s Research Project: The production of new neurons in adult organisms is generally considered limited. The inability to produce new neurons is a barrier to treating nervous system injuries (such as stroke) and neurological diseases (like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's), where loss of certain neuron types can lead to devastating physical symptoms such as paralysis and tremors. Therefore, studies in highly regenerative animals provide an opportunity to understand the genes responsible for adult neuron formation and neuronal genes that control physical behaviors. The planarian flatworm, Schmidtea mediterranea, is one such model which can regenerate its entire central nervous system (CNS), including the entire brain, from tiny tissue fragments. Previous work has shown that genes required for nervous system development in humans are also required for proper neuron formation in planarians, where gene loss resulted in changes to external eye anatomy and brain organization. We choose to investigate three members of the basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) protein family: atoh, coe, and myoD, in S. mediterranea planaria. All three genes are known to be expressed in both planarian stem cells and their CNS. We hypothesized that atoh, coe, and myoD are required for planarian eye and neuron formation, and that loss of these genes via RNA interference (RNAi) would disrupt nervous system structure and therefore behavior (function).
Ms. Ratashak developed a lesson plan about “Pluripotency in Planaria”, which will be implemented in a 9th-grade biology class during the third marking period of the coming school year.
- Ms. Melissa Teed is a science teacher at F.C. Reed Middle School in Bridgman, MI. She characterized and identified “Bacteria Isolated from Turtle Feces, Lake Michigan Beach, and St. Joseph River” in Dr. Silvia Rossbach’s laboratory.
Abstract of Ms. Teed’s Research Project: Microbiology is the study of living organisms too small to be seen individually without the use of a microscope. Through this study, questions about the ubiquity of bacteria were explored with the tools of microbiology. Traditional microbiological methods (plating, Gram staining), as well as modern molecular techniques were employed to identify a variety of bacteria from different habitats.
Ms. Teed developed a lesson entitled “Fun with Microbes”, which will be implemented in a 5th-grade science class during the fall semester of the coming school year.
- Ms. Sara Glisson is a biology teacher at Coloma High School in Coloma, MI. She practiced “Phage Hunting in Municipal Waters” in Dr. Benjamin Koestler’s laboratory.
Abstract of Ms. Glisson’s Research Project: Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria. Even though bacteria are the most abundant organisms on the planet, they are outnumbered by the phages that infect them by a factor of 10:1. Phages can be found wherever bacteria are found. I sampled a water source that was sure to have bacteria (from a wastewater treatment plant) in hopes of being able to find phages that infect the species E. coli and Shigella. My hypothesis was that I would find phages for E. coli because it is a fecal coliform associated with wastewater. I was not expecting to find phage for Shigella because there are very few reported cases of shigellosis in Berrien County. After sampling twice from the same plant, I found E. coli phages as expected, and surprisingly I also detected Shigella phages at varying stages in the wastewater treatment process. I conclude that it’s not only possible to isolate these phages from municipal wastewater, but it’s also possible to name and identify them using whole genome sequencing.
Ms. Glisson developed a lesson plan entitled “Planarian Behavior: A Student-Designed Laboratory Exercise”, which will be implemented in a 11th- and 12th-grade behavior science class during the first marking period of the coming school year.
- Ms. Torrey Wenger is a biology teacher at Bloomingdale Middle and High School in Bloomingdale, MI. She studies “Sound Ecology” in Dr. Sharon Gill’s laboratory.
Abstract of Ms. Wenger’s Research Project: As summer is the end of the field season for most bird research, I focused on understanding the “big picture” of the Sound Ecology lab. The four current research projects look at how sound is used at different levels – from the individual to the ecosystem – and each project asks very different questions. At the individual level, do Yellow Warblers have a sense of the future? At the species level, do Red-winged Blackbirds create sentences, and what might this show about the roots of human language? At the community level, how do warblers respond to anthropogenic noise? At the ecosystem level, when exposed to specific threats, does the soundscape change in predictable ways? These four projects tie together into a cohesive story of sound throughout the environment.
Ms. Wenger created three lesson plans, “Describing Behavior”, “Finding Nests”, and “Drawing Sounds”. They are each designed for multiple grade levels.
This program is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) BIORETS program grant number DBI-2146882.