BIORETS

  • Nine teachers participated in the 2022 BIORETS program

  • Seventeen teachers participated in the 2023 BIORETS program

  • Various hands-on teaching modules

  • Welcome and training sessions

  • Poster presentation session

Research Experiences for Teachers in the Biology of Plants, Animals, Microorganisms, and their Environments

Program Description

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 2024 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.

For more information, please contact the program director Dr. Yan Lu (yan.1.lu@wmich.edu) or co-director Dr. Silvia Rossbach (silvia.rossbach@wmich.edu). 

Schedule for Summer 2024

Program activities

Months

Potential pre-session campus visits

Mar

Deadline for teacher applications

Mar 15

Review of applications and final selection

Mar - Apr

Offers to candidates

Apr 1 - Apr 5

Deadline for acceptance

Apr 19

Teacher check-in and meeting with faculty mentors

Jun 17

Orientation, trainings, and barbecue

Jun 17 - Jun 21

Independent research, research seminars, professional development workshops, teaching module demonstrations, and lunch-time discussions

Jun 17 – Aug 2

Submission of final written curricular materials, and poster presentation session

Aug 2

Faculty mentors conduct a classroom visit

Sept - Dec

Application Information

Please e-mail the following application materials to bios-rets@wmich.edu by March 15:

  • 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.

Please have a letter of recommendation from your principal sent directly to bios-rets@wmich.edu. 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

 

Teacher Participants in the 2023 BIORETS Program

  • Ms. Amy Kendall is a science teacher at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts in Kalamazoo, MI. She studied “Regenerative Agriculture: Influence of Soil Texture on Moisture Retention and Soil Temperature” in Dr. Silvia Rossbach’s laboratory.

Abstract of Ms. Kendall’s Research Project: Regenerative agriculture is the practice of intentionally rebuilding the soil through promoting organic matter, soil health, biodiversity, moisture retention, and plant yield while growing more nutritious food. How will soil texture influence soil temperature and moisture retention? Authors: Amy Kendall, Kayleigh Schneider, Erica Ruffner-Rowell, Steven Bertman, and Silvia Rossbach.

Ms. Kendall developed a lesson plan on “Apocalyptic Moles: A Soil Texture Test”, which will be implemented in an 6th-grade Science class during the second marking period of the coming school year.

  • Ms. Charlotte Resek is a science teacher at Baseline Middle School in South Haven, MI. She studied “Light Exposure and Plant Growth” in Dr. Yan Lu’s Laboratory.

Abstract of Ms. Resek’s Research Project: Photosynthesis is a complex biochemical process carried out in plants and is dependent on the quality and intensity of light energy available.1 Studying the treatment of plants with different colored light as well as a higher intensity of light furthers the understanding of this process. A three-week study of the growth of Arabidopsis thaliana under different light conditions produced morphological, photosynthetic, and chlorophyll data, allowing for the assessment of plant growth and photosynthesis under different growth light conditions. Authors: Charlotte Resek, Danielle Ahn, and Yan Lu.

Ms. Resek developed a lesson plan on “Plant growth under different light conditions”, which will be implemented in a 7th-grade Science class during the fourth quarter of the coming school year.

  • Mr. Cody Brewster is a science teacher at Mattawan Middle School in Mattawan, MI. He studied “An Isotopic Analysis on Resource Quality and Food Webs within the Kalamazoo River” in Dr. Tiffany Schriever’s Laboratory.

Abstract of Mr. Brewster’s Research Project: The flow of the Kalamazoo River is interrupted at several locations along its path by the presence of man-made dams. These dams can also result in distinct differences in environmental condition. To understand the impact on matter transfer through the food web caused by the alteration of the environment, tissue samples were collected from fish, periphyton, coarse particulate organic matter (CPOM), fine benthic organic matter (FBOM), benthic macroinvertebrates and algae. We analyzed samples for stable isotopes Carbon 13 (δ13C) and Nitrogen 15 (δ15N) because they indicate assimilation of basal energy sources by consumers and provide an estimate of vertical trophic position in the food web, respectively. The carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N) relates to the overall quality of resources within the system. Authors: Cody Brewster, Sara Diller, and Tiffany Schriever.

Mr. Brewster developed a lesson plan on “Pluripotency in Planaria”, which will be implemented in a 7th-grade Science class during the second semester of the coming school year.

  • Mr. Corey Scheffers is a science teacher at Kalamazoo Christian High School in Kalamazoo, MI. He studied “Comparative Genomics of igfbp Genes across Species of Killifishes” in Dr. Andrew Thompson’s Laboratory.

Abstract of Mr. Scheffers’s Research Project: Insulin Growth Factor Binding Proteins (Igfbp) have been thoroughly studied in mammals, however the function of these igfbp genes are not widely known across all vertebrates. Using killifishes as a model vertebrate organism can assist researchers in determining the evolutionary relationships of these genes and further understand functions of these igfbp genes. The ability of annual killifishes to stop embryonic development and enter stages of diapause has been widely documented. During these diapause stages, mRNA of the Igfbp-2 protein is upregulated. To better study the effects of the Igfbp-2 protein, and its role in diapause, it is important to look at the evolution of the gene within the context of the larger igfbp gene family. Authors: Corey Scheffers, Kimberly Armitage, Andy Kaczmar, and Andrew W. Thompson.

Mr. Scheffers developed a lesson plan on “Killifish Embryonic Growth and Development”, which will be implemented in a 9th/10th-grade Biology class during the first and second marking periods of the coming school year.

  • Ms. Erica Ruffner-Rowell is a biology teacher at Fennville High School in Fennville, MI. She studied “Cotton Strip Assay & Cellulolytic Bacterial Activity as Measures of Soil Health” in Dr. Silvia Rossbach’s Laboratory.

Abstract of Ms. Ruffner-Rowell’s Research Project: In this study we investigated the effect of different soil treatments on soil microbial activity, an indicator of soil health. In order to quantify microbial activity, we utilized three assays on several study plots containing various non-legume plants. The assays completed were cotton strip degradation, cellulolytic microbial counts, and nematode counts. The goal of the investigation was to answer the following questions: (1) How does soil microbial activity differ among soil treatments? (2) How do different measures of soil microbial activity correlate with another? Results show no statistically significant difference between treatments. Soil microbial activity measures varied greatly. These results suggest that the soil microbiome is vastly complex and it is difficult to quantify the many forms of microbial activity occurring in a given plot that may contain billions of diverse microbes. Authors: Erica R. Ruffner-Rowell, Amy Kendall, Kayleigh Schneider, Steve Bertman, and Silvia Rossbach.

Ms. Ruffner-Rowell developed a lesson plan on “Save Our Soil! Regenerative Agricultural Practices & Measures of Soil Health”, which will be implemented in a 9th-grade Biology class during the first marking period of the coming school year.

  • Mr. James Russell is a science teacher at Endeavor Charter Academy in Springfield, MI. He studied “Differences in Life History Drive Locomotory Adaptation in Alosa pseudoharengus (Alewife)” in Dr. Devin Bloom’s Laboratory.

Abstract of Mr. Russell’s Research Project: Alosa pseudoharengus (alewives) are born in freshwater lakes and typically migrate to the ocean. At sexual maturity, adult alewives migrate upriver to spawn in a life cycle pattern called anadromy. There are, however, populations of alewives that have been cut off from the ocean and are now landlocked along the East Coast of North America. Alewives have also been introduced to the Great Lakes, where they are non-anadromous but migratory. We explored whether changes in life history drive differences in locomotory ability by measuring functional locomotory traits of anadromous alewives and landlocked alewives from the Eastern U.S. and Great Lakes. We predicted that anadromous alewives possess traits conducive to long-distance migration while landlocked populations possess traits conducive to maneuvering in a lentic habitat. We found that both East Coast and Great Lakes landlocked alewives possess locomotory traits that are distinct from anadromous alewives, suggesting that landlocking events drive rapid evolution of locomotory traits in alewives. Authors: James Russell, Alex Stolberg, Darby Finnegan, and Devin Bloom.

Mr. Russell developed a lesson plan on “Biodiversity of Microorganisms in Freshwater”, which will be implemented in an 8th-grade Science class during the first trimester of the coming school year.

  • Mr. Jason Griffith is a science teacher at Marshall High School in Marshall, MI. He studied “Effect of UNC-82 Protein Kinase Expression on C. elegans Body Length” in Dr. Pamela Hoppe’s Laboratory.

Abstract of Mr. Griffith’s Research Project: Muscle structure regulation requires the unc-82 protein kinase gene in nematodes (Caenorhabditis elegans) and the orthologous NUAK gene in fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster). A recent study conducted at Kansas State University showed that overexpression of NUAK in D. melanogaster resulted in a statistically significant decrease in length of pupae and adults. A feeding assay revealed normal mouth hook contractions and food ingestion, demonstrating that the overexpression of NUAK compromised body size independently of nutritional status. We designed a similar study to determine if changes in the expression levels of UNC-82 would affect body length in C. elegans. Strains of C. elegans having UNC-82 protein normally expressed, overexpressed and not expressed were then grown on agar plates meeting their nutritional needs. For each strain, individual age-synchronized worms were photographed in adulthood and their body lengths measured using the ImageJ analysis program. The hypothesis of the study, UNC-82 protein expression affects the body length of C. elegans, was supported by the data collected, in which both loss of UNC-82 expression and UNC-82 over expression significantly decreased body length. A feeding assay using transgenic bacteria (Escherichia coli) expressing a chromoprotein demonstrated food ingestion, indicating that body length was independent of nutritional status in C. elegans. The C. elegans study corroborates what was documented in the 2022 Kansas State Drosophila study. Authors: Jason Griffith, Summer M. Baker, Jacob Mastenbrook, Mohamed Abohajar, Hao Peng, and Pamela E. Hoppe.

Mr. Griffith developed a lesson plan on “Recombinant DNA Cloning”, which will be implemented in an 11th/12th-grade AP Biology class during the second quarter of the coming school year.

  • Mr. Joeseph Graber is a biology teacher at Three Rivers High School in Three Rivers, MI. He studied “Does Protein Relatedness Predict Protein Function?” in Dr. Todd Barkman’s Laboratory.

Abstract of Mr. Graber’s Research Project: Our hypothesis was that protein relatedness predicts protein function (i.e., the genetic relatedness of a protein predicts the substrate that it prefers to methylate). In the mint family, Ocimum basilicum, Perilla frutescens, and Salvia miltiorrhiza, all have two paralogs of a gene. One has been documented to produce methyl-cinnamic acid in Ocimum and the other produces methyl-indole acetic acid. This study was designed to test whether the proteins from Perilla and Salvia that were closely related to one or the other from Ocimum have the same functions as previously reported. In order to understand when protein functions diverged, we resurrected 60 to 80-million-year-old genes that gave rise to the mint family enzymes. We rejected our hypothesis because all proteins, even those closely related to methyl-cinnamic acid producing enzyme, methylated indole acetic acid. Authors: Joseph Graber, William Bell, and Todd Barkman.

Mr. Graber developed a lesson plan on “Using a Modified Winogradsky Column to Test the Effects of Polyphosphate Enrichment on Bacterial Growth”, which will be implemented in a 10th/11th/12th-grade Biology class during the second semester of the coming school year.

  • Ms. Kayleigh Schneider is a biology teacher at Comstock STEM Academy in Kalamazoo, MI. She studied “Regenerative Agriculture: Impact on Carbon Concentration and Organic Content in Soil” in Dr. Steven Bertman’s Laboratory.

Abstract of Ms. Schneider’s Research Project: Regenerative agriculture focuses on creating healthy soil through increasing the amount of organic material (carbon, nutrients, and other compounds) in the soil. This organic material is a food source for the soil bacteria, which then allows the bacteria to break down the organic matter into useable nutrients for plants thereby creating healthy plants and healthy people. We want to answer the question, what effect do soil treatments have on the organic content of the soil, and how does this organic content relate to the bacterial numbers in the soil? We used random block design on a farm plot at DeLano Farms at the Kalamazoo Nature center with eight combinations of three different soil treatments to determine the treatments’ effects on the underlying soil. The treatments were shown to have statistically significant effects on the underlying soil, with compost having the greatest effect on total amount of organic matter. Cover crop decreased the total organic matter, bacterial count, and carbon content in the soil. Authors: Kayleigh Schneider, Amy Kendall, Erica Ruffner-Rowell, Silvia Rossbach, and Steven Bertman.

Ms. Schneider developed a lesson plan on “Biotic and Abiotic Interactions in the Soil”, which will be implemented in a High School Honors Biology class during the spring semester of the coming school year.

  • Ms. Kimberly Armitage is a biology teacher at Vicksburg High School in Vicksburg, MI. She studied Killifishes: The Life Cycle and Use of Killi-kits in the Classroom - A Model System to Deepen Core Ideas of NGSS Standards in Dr. Andrew Thompson’s Laboratory.

Abstract of Ms. Armitage’s Research Project: Killifishes are seasonal tropical fishes that use a dormant state known as diapause or delayed hatching to survive in seasonally ephemeral wetlands in Africa, Asia and South America. This diapause, hatching control, and continued life cycle can be studied with minimal equipment (making killifishes a simple and straightforward research organism). Laboratory and classroom experiments can be conducted to show how changes in the environment can increase or decrease the rate of killifish hatching and continuation of the species’ life cycle. Furthermore, this study can illuminate the role of how environmental stress can impact the life cycle. Outlined in this research is a staging protocol of killifishes (using Pachypanchax sakaramyi as a reference species) and the use of “Killi-kits”, a small aquarium outfitted with all the materials, (including killifish embryos in diapause) for use in a K-12 classroom setting. Authors: Kimberly Armitage, Corey Scheffers, Andy Kaczmar, and Andrew W. Thompson.

Ms. Armitage developed a lesson plan on “Killifish Embryonic Growth and Development”, which will be implemented in a 9th/10th-grade Biology class during the first and second marking periods of the coming school year.

  • Ms. Lexus Baxendale is a science teacher at Battle Creek Central High School in Battle Creek, MI. She studied “The Role of GDNF in Minimizing the Effect of Aging on the Neuromuscular System” in Dr. John Spitsbergen’s Laboratory.

Abstract of Ms. Baxendale’s Research Project: As we age our bodies undergo many negative changes impacting the quality of life. One of these changes occurs in the neuromuscular system where there is a decrease in the number and size of motor neuron cell bodies in the spinal cord as well as a decline in skeletal muscle innervation. However, exercise has shown to regenerate and recover neural tissue following peripheral nerve damage possibly due to the presence of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factors or GDNF. The Spitsbergen laboratory has studied the effects of GDNF and found that following exercise, GDNF content increases in the recruited muscles and spinal cord. Future studies hope to look at the impact of GDNF on sedentary aging and exercised aging in differing muscle fiber phenotypes in attempts to better understand the impact of aging on the muscular system. Authors: Lexus K. Baxendale, Allexia Galentine, and John M. Spitsbergen.

Ms. Baxendale developed a lesson plan on “Homeostasis through Planaria as a Model Organism”, which will be implemented in a 9th-grade Biology class during the second marking period of the coming school year.

  • Mr. Nick Grabemeyer is a biology teacher at Plainwell High School in Plainwell, MI. He studied “Weak Magnetic Field (WMF) Effects on Bioelectric Signaling during Planarian Wound Healing” in Dr. Wendy Beane’s Laboratory.

Abstract of Mr. Grabemeyer's Research Project: Weak magnetic fields (WMFs) have recently been shown to influence tissue growth in planarian regenerates by altering reactive oxygen species (ROS) accumulation. Understanding the mechanisms behind how this works is an exciting area of emergent research combining traditional cell biology with quantum mechanics. In this project, we wanted to investigate the effects that WMFs may have on bioelectric signaling (membrane voltage and calcium flux) during wound healing. We found that WMFs reduced membrane depolarization at 30 minutes after injury as compared to our control group, whereas ROS levels increased. Our results also showed calcium levels dipped at 2 hours post-amputation. Together, these changes result in WMF-exposed regenerates having less blastema growth when compared to controls. Authors: Nicholas C. Grabemeyer, Jana Vuckovic, and Wendy S. Beane.

Mr. Grabemeyer developed a lesson plan on “Effects of Weak Magnetic Fields on Planaria Regeneration and Eye Formation”, which will be implemented in an 10th/11th/12th-grade AP Biology class during the second trimester of the coming school year.

  • Mr. Steven Mammel is a biology teacher at Coloma High School in Coloma, MI. He studied “Soil Treatment Impacts on Yield and Sugar Content of Lettuce and Bok Choy” in Dr. Silvia Rossbach’s Laboratory.

Abstract of Mr. Mammel’s Research Project: Test plots were modified with a variety of soil treatments to determine which treatment affected plant size and sugar content and the extents of those impacts. These treatments were: untreated (control), compost, fertilizer, cover crop, and a combination of the applications. Lettuce and bok choy were grown in these plots, harvested, and measured for mass and tested for sugar concentrations in the pulp of their leaves. These sugar levels were compared with the soil treatments of each plot in order to assess which was most impactful on growth and sugar content. Authors: Steven T. Mammel, Amy Kendall, Erica Ruffner-Rowell, Kayleigh Schneider, and Steve Bertman.

Mr. Mammel developed a lesson plan on “Fin Characteristics Effects on Mobility and Efficiency of Transport”, which will be implemented during the coming school year.

  • Ms. Summer Baker is a science teacher at Lakeview Middle School in Battle Creek, MI. She studied “Defects in Viability and Development in Caenorhabditis elegans Due to Changes in Levels of UNC-82 Expression” in Dr. Pamela Hoppe’s Laboratory.

Abstract of Ms. Baker’s Research Project: C. elegans have a natural amount of UNC-82 protein kinase in their muscle. As we studied the effects of GFP-tagged or mutant UNC-82 constructs, we noticed that certain DNA constructs could cause wasting or arrested development of the whole organism. We hypothesized that defects were caused by high expression or the fluorescent tag. We furthered our investigation by altering the placement of the fluorescent tag or the dosage of UNC-82 in the nematodes and quantifying the effects on viability and size. We found that small increases in UNC-82 expression produced very low levels of defects and some wasting whereas high levels were very detrimental. In addition, YFP on the N-terminus was more detrimental than a C-terminal tag. Our findings were consistent with our hypothesis. Authors: Summer M. Baker, Jason Griffith, Jacob Mastenbrook, Mohammed Abohajar, Hao Peng, and Pamela E. Hoppe.

Ms. Baker developed a lesson plan on “Phenotyping, Modeling, and Microscope Exploratory of C. elegans”, which will be implemented in a 6th-grade Science class during the fall semester of the coming school year.

  • Mr. Thomas Wheatley is a science teacher at Decatur Jr./Sr. High School in Decatur, MI. He studied “Effects of NaCl Exposure on the Morphology, Photosynthesis, and Chlorophyll Content of Arabidopsis thaliana” in Dr. Yan Lu’s Laboratory.

Abstract of Mr. Wheatley’s Research Project: This research project was designed to determine the effects of NaCl on Arabidopsis thaliana plants. My research questions were: What is the lowest concentration of NaCl that causes visible defects in plants? How long does it take for plants to show visible defects under different concentrations of NaCl? How will different concentrations of NaCl affect plant growth and photosynthesis? The results showed that a low concentration of NaCl is beneficial to growth and photosynthetic response, whereas higher concentrations are progressively detrimental. Authors: Thomas C. Wheatley, and Yan Lu.

Mr. Wheatley developed a lesson plan on “Genetically Modified Organisms”, which will be implemented in a 7th/8th-grade Science class during the second marking period of the coming school year.

  • Mr. Thomas Whitenight is a biology teacher at White Pigeon High School in White Pigeon, MI. He studied Phage Effectiveness Against Varying Levels of c-di-GMP in Shigella flexneri in Dr. Benjamin Koestler’s Laboratory.

Abstract of Mr. Whitenight’s Research Project: Shigella is a bacterium that produces the disease dysentery in humans. With Shigella exhibiting antibiotic resistances lately, the lab has looked at a possible mechanism for controlling the bacteria’s response to its environment with the small molecule c-di-GMP. I wanted to first find and isolate phages that occurred naturally in the environment that would be effective against Shigella. I wanted to then test some of these phages to see if they had different effectiveness against Shigella based upon a high or low concentration of c-di-GMP. Authors: Thomas M. Whitenight, Ruchi Ojha, Abrar A. AlFardan, and Benjamin J. Koestler.

Mr. Whitenight developed a lesson plan on “How to Make a Winogradsky Column”, which will be implemented in a 10th-grade Biology class during the second quarter of the coming school year.

  • Dr. William Bell was a science teacher at Climax-Scotts Jr./Sr. High School in Climax, MI. He studied “Does Protein Relatedness Predict Protein Function?” in Dr. Todd Barkman’s laboratory. Dr. Bell will join Battle Creek STEM Innovation Center in Battle Creek, MI in fall 2023.

Abstract of Dr. Bell’s Research Project: Our hypothesis was that protein relatedness predicts protein function (i.e., the genetic relatedness of a protein predicts the substrate that it prefers to methylate). In the mint family, Ocimum basilicum, Perilla frutescens, and Salvia miltiorrhiza, all have two paralogs of a gene. One has been documented to produce methyl-cinnamic acid in Ocimum and the other produces methyl-indole acetic acid. This study was designed to test whether the proteins from Perilla and Salvia that were closely related to one or the other from Ocimum have the same functions as previously reported. In order to understand when protein functions diverged, we resurrected 60 to 80-million-year-old genes that gave rise to the mint family enzymes. We rejected our hypothesis because all proteins, even those closely related to methyl-cinnamic acid producing enzyme, methylated indole acetic acid. Authors: Joseph Graber, William Bell, and Todd Barkman.

Dr. Bell developed a lesson plan about “Strawberry DNA Extraction”, which will be implemented in a middle-school Science class during the coming school year.

 

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. Authors: Amanda M. Solloway and Yan Lu.

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. Authors: Ann Ponicki, Hope Vanzo-Sparks, Jake Spitsbergen, Nate Savage, and Cindy Linn.

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. Authors: Bailey M. Green, Victor de Brito, and Devin Bloom.

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. Authors: Jennifer L. Lacy, Jacob D. Mastenbrook, and Pamela E. Hoppe.

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. Authors: Kelsey Wydendorf, Darby Finnegan, and Devin Bloom.

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). Authors: Liz Ratashak, Samantha J. Hack, Luke J. Kinsey, and Wendy S. Beane.

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. Authors: Melissa M. Teed, Jakob Sell, and Silvia Rossbach.

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. Authors: Sara Glisson, Candice Churaman, and Benjamin J. Koestler.

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. Authors: Torrey Wenger, Joanna Sblendorio, Keke Ray, Karla Kelly, Parks Marion, and Sharon A. Gill.

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.