Professor of Biology Karen Crawford’s milestone study on achieving the first gene knockout in a cephalopod using the squid Doryteuthis pealeii was featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Crawford, who was the Whitman Scientist this summer on a team at Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, is first author of the study reported in the July 30 issue of Current Biology. The NPR story is available online.
Daniel (Dan) Chase, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, was recently awarded a three-year, $70,000 grant from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund. The project begins September 1, 2020 and is titled: Synthesis and Catalytic Exploration of Transition Metal Aza-Dipyrromethene Chelates. The approved budget includes stipends for Chase and two SMCM undergraduate students per year, along with laboratory supplies, and travel to attend local and national chemistry conferences.
Chase’s research avenues involve the synthesis of organic and inorganic molecules to explore applications that are advantageous to industry such as the development of transition metal catalysts that can be used in selective oxidation reactions. Chase has already had success in synthesizing several molecule variants and with this funding will continue working with iron and manganese complexes that he hopes will help increase industrial process efficiencies and reduce waste.
Chase regularly works with undergraduates in his lab, as he appreciates the simultaneous progress of challenging students intellectually to grow as scientists while actively contributing together to the scientific community.
Acknowledgment is gratefully made to the donors of The American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund for support of this research.
Cassie Gurbisz, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, was recently awarded an $8,431 contract with Green Fin Studio, to provide technical expertise in the development of a Chesapeake Bay submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) restoration manual for the Chesapeake Bay Trust. Gurbisz will conduct a review of SAV and seagrass restoration literature, work with Green Fin Studio to collaboratively develop restoration protocols for the four salinity zones of Chesapeake Bay, and review the final manual and education and outreach materials. In addition to the literature review, the group will interview current SAV restoration practitioners in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to glean best available knowledge and practices. A summary of these interviews will help inform restoration manual recommendations. The full title of the project is: Development of Technical Guidance Manual and Outreach Materials for Small-scale Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Restoration in Chesapeake Bay and its Tidal Tributaries. The contract was executed on June 1, 2020 and work may continue until January 31, 2022 if needed.
Gurbisz is a coastal ecosystem ecologist who investigates how human stressors, like climate change and nutrient pollution, affect coastal foundation species, such as seagrass (also known as SAV) and salt marshes. She also studies how changes in marsh and SAV abundance, in turn, affect coastal ecosystem processes.
Dillon Waters, senior biology major, was recently awarded funds ($1,020) from Cove Point National Heritage to support his St. Mary’s Project titled, “Comparison of Traditional Freshwater Sampling Methods versus eDNA Water Sampling to Assess Aquatic Biodiversity in Maryland Streams.”
Dillon’s St. Mary’s Project under the mentorship of Sean Hitchman, visiting assistant professor in biology, will research more efficient ways to monitor changes in aquatic biodiversity. Conservative estimates indicate that freshwater environments provide habitat for at least 126,000 plant and animal species. Unfortunately, freshwater ecosystems are experiencing declines in biodiversity. Continuous monitoring of species composition in freshwater habitats is essential for proper conservation practices. While there are many traditional freshwater monitoring methods for biodiversity they tend to vary in efficiency, are time consuming, and costly. Dillion will specifically investigate and compare a more efficient method of aquatic biodiversity monitoring, environmental DNA (eDNA) collection. Comparison of a more efficient method will assist with future conservation efforts.
Three SMCM faculty members were recently selected to participate in the U.S. Navy’s Summer Faculty Research Program at the nearby Naval Air Station Patuxent River (NAS Pax River). The awarded fellowships will fund Dr. Joshua M Grossman, Professor of Physics and Physics Department Chair, Dr. Charles Adler, Professor of Physics, and Dr. Daniel Chase, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, during research at NAS Pax River in the summer of 2020. The Summer Faculty Research Program is run through the U.S. Navy Office of Naval Research and provides science and engineering faculty members from institutions of higher education the opportunity to participate in research of mutual interest to the faculty member and peers at U.S. Navy laboratories for a 10-week period.
Professor Grossman and his students research atoms captured and cooled to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero, using lasers and magnetic fields. Dr. Grossman’s fellowship project is titled: “Second-order quantum correlations for enhanced contrast in an atom interferometer”. This work seeks to increase the precision and utility of extremely sensitive instruments in the presence of phase noise or other interference. The technique will aid in the transition of atom interferometers from the laboratory to the field where they can be applied as necessary. Undergraduate Harry Bauman ’22 will work on the same project as Dr. Grossman during his fellowship, via the Navy’s STEM Student Employment Program.
Professor Adler’s research focuses on atomic physics and atmospheric optics. His summer 2020 research project is titled: “Modeling the scattering of orbital angular momentum beams by particulates and diffuse reflectors”. He plans to develop mathematical and computer models to simulate light scattering of orbital angular momentum beams propagating through water. Understanding this physics will help inform how optical vortices can be used for Naval applications in ocean remote sensing, enhanced communications for command and control, and improved undersea domain awareness.
Dr. Chase’s lab uses synthetic organic chemistry to explore research avenues such as designing fluorescent dyes with useful properties and examining the activation of industrially important small molecules. Dr. Chase’s summer 2020 research project is titled: “Fluorescence detection of mechanical stress”. Among other applications, these stress-responsive fluorescent dyes may help evaluate sustained damage on fixed-wing aircraft, which is a recurring maintenance issue for the Navy. At present, maintenance personnel have difficulty determining whether or not a fixed-wing system has undergone sufficient fatigue to warrant repair or replacement. Adding stress–responsive fluorescent dyes to existing epoxy coatings may allow for on–site maintenance personnel to quickly locate and accurately determine if structural fatigue has reached unacceptable stress thresholds.
The Office of Naval Research Summer Faculty Research Program webpage states that “program participants have an opportunity to establish continuing research relationships with the R&D personnel of the host laboratories which may result in sponsorship of the participant’s research at their home institutions.”
Cassie Gurbisz, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, recently received her second grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Maryland Sea Grant program (Federal Award Number NA18OAR4170070). The $71,023 grant will fund a two-year project titled: Effects of Oyster Aquaculture on Submersed Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) Habitat. Dr. Gurbisz is working with co-Principal Investigators Jeremy Testa and Dong Liang from UMCES Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.
After decades of ambitious habitat restoration and species recovery attempts in the Chesapeake Bay, we are now seeing some signs of success including, most notably, the recovery of bay grasses, or “SAV”. Although populations of the native oyster—another iconic Chesapeake Bay species—are still at an all-time low, the Maryland oyster aquaculture industry is rapidly growing. SAV recovery and oyster aquaculture growth are both good-news stories because both are valued for their ability to provide habitat, process pollutants, and protect shorelines. Furthermore, aquaculture is an important source of income for thousands of Maryland residents.
The issue is that as these important living resources expand, they are increasingly coming into conflict because they both tend to occupy shallow water. Current regulations restrict aquaculture in areas that contain SAV under the assumption that aquaculture will impair SAV growth. This has created a burden for growers who are required to cease operations when SAV spreads into their lease area. However, it is unclear whether aquaculture actually harms SAV. Gurbisz and collaborators’ research aims to address this information gap by 1) analyzing existing spatial datasets to assess the extent of past conflict and predict where future conflicts are likely to arise and 2) conducting a field study to identify how aquaculture alters SAV habitat. The broad goal is to generate scientifically defensible information that can guide a reevaluation of policies that address SAV-aquaculture conflicts to maximize both continued SAV recovery and aquaculture expansion. SMCM student Victoria Lusk has already begun the spatial analysis, and Ellyse Sutliff and Lindsey Stevenson will help conduct the upcoming fieldwork. All three students are Environmental Studies majors.
Gurbisz is a coastal ecosystem ecologist who takes a holistic approach to studying the environment. Her research has been published in journals such as BioScience and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, as well as recently featured in the Baltimore Sun.
Karen Crawford, professor of biology, has recently been awarded a Whitman Fellowship from the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL). The award will be used to cover laboratory space and housing at MBL in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Crawford will use the award to continue her sabbatical research project investigating the use of CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing to knockout specific gene functions in developing embryos.
The title of her proposal is: Beyond Proof of Concept – using CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing in Doryteuthis pealii embryos to determine: 1) the role of ADAR1 and ADAR2 RNA editing enzymes in development, morphology and behavior; and 2) the impact of Homeobox gene function on embryonic pattern and development.
In addition to the genes mentioned in her proposal title, she will attempt to knock in genes into the cephalopod genome for the first time.
Professor of Biology Karen Crawford’s presentation was selected as an oral presentation in a complementary session in the 2020 SICB Symposium “Building Bridges from Genome to Phenome: Molecules, Methods and Models,” held January 3-7, in Austin Texas.
This presentation represents an important breakthrough for her research and impacts the work of many scientists studying the development, neurogenesis and evolutionary relationships of cephalopods, animals including: squid, octopus, cuttlefish and nautilus. It is an important “proof of concept” study demonstrating the first successful use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to employ genome editing in a cephalopod species. In this study, Crawford used the CRISPR-Cas9 system with specific RNA guides to the Tryptophan 2,3 dioxygenase enzyme (TDO) to specifically knock out the first step in the ommochrome pigment pathway in squid embryos. In English, this means that she successfully knocked out one gene to generate completely normal embryos lacking only reddish brown pigmentation. This work is in preparation for publication. Expanding the study of cephalopods to include predictable genome editing, the knocking out and knocking in of specific genes, opens an important door to our understanding of the molecular mechanisms that drive normal development, neurogenesis, and behavior in cephalopods; a group of diverse and evolutionarily successful organisms that possess not only a camera like eye similar to our own along with the largest and most complex invertebrate brain on the planet, but also our imagination for their extraordinary life histories and complex cognitive behaviors.
While most of this work is performed at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), Woods Hole, Massachusetts, students working on their St. Mary’s Projects, often choose to explore fundamental questions of developmental biology of cephalopods by working with preserved embryos in the Crawford laboratory at SMCM. Last year, Sylvia Klein explored the role of Mitogen Activated Protein Kinase (MAPK) on two cephalopod species. As part of her SMP work, Sylvia was the first to observe the conservation of MAPK expression in the Pajama squid embryo, complementing studies Crawford had done with embryos of the long-finned squid, Doryteuthis pealii. Before graduate school, Sylvia, is expanding her experiences as a research assistant in the laboratory of Karen Echeverri at the MBL, where she is studying regeneration in both invertebrate and vertebrate species.
This work has most recently been supported by fellowships from the MBL to Crawford (2018, 2019), as well as a National Science Foundation – Enabling Discovery Through GEnomic Tools (EDGE) Grant to the MBL for which Crawford is a Principle Investigator. That grant supports the Cephalopod Strategic Initiative at the MBL.
St. Mary’s College of Maryland was awarded its first National Science Foundation (NSF) Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI) grant using lead investigator Assistant Professor of Biochemistry Shanen Sherrer’s expertise on circular dichroism (CD) spectroscopy. Geoffrey M. Bowers, assistant professor of chemistry; Randolph K. Larsen, professor of chemistry; Jessica L. Malisch, assistant professor of physiology; and Pamela S. Mertz, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, are co-PIs, with assistance from Laboratory Coordinator Doug Hovland as senior staff and collaboration with Lindsay Jamieson, associate professor of computer science, on this project. The NSF grant provides funding for acquisition of a CD spectrometer and accompanying equipment for faculty research and student training opportunities. The $121,819 grant started October 1, 2019.
The acquired CD spectrometer will monitor rotational change in circular polarized light as it passes through a sample with chirality (molecules with non-superimposable bonds like a mirror image). Most biomolecules and metal-containing complexes have at least one chiral center and thus are favored for CD spectroscopic studies in biochemistry, biology, biophysics, inorganic chemistry, materials science and geochemistry. The CD spectrometer will be used by faculty and undergraduate researchers for probing macromolecular structures or changes to chemical properties under specific experimental conditions to yield information on structural composition, stability, changes and thermodynamics of targeted molecules. The CD spectrometer planned for purchase is a high performing model with a wide range of accessories for maximum flexibility in both research and teaching applications. The acquisition of a CD spectrometer by St. Mary’s College will significantly advance several critical research projects in the areas of biology, biochemistry, geochemistry, and environmental studies.
The Council on Undergraduate Research Transformations Project (CUR-TP) held its third yearly meeting this past weekend, October 4-6, 2019, at which meeting participants continued their work on integrating undergraduate research experiences throughout the curriculum. Attending the meeting on behalf of St. Mary’s College of Maryland this year was director of the Center for Inclusive Teaching and Learning (CITL), Samantha Elliot, and members of the two departments involved in the CUR-TP Project including Psychology: Aileen Bailey (co-lead), James Mantell (co-lead), Torry Dennis, Gina Fernandez and Chemistry/Biochemistry: Kelly Neiles (co-lead), Geoffrey Bowers, and Daniel Chase.
At this year’s meeting Bailey, Mantell, Neiles and Bowers gave an invited plenary in the session titled “So what are we learning: Research agenda of the CUR Transformations Project” which was well received by project leaders and participants. The team also continued its work in collaborating with the CUR-TP administration team and other institutional participants to further develop its undergraduate research curriculum. These fruitful discussions include plans to disseminate what the two departments have learned both on-campus, with help from CITL, and off-campus through national conference proceedings.
St. Mary’s College of Maryland is one of only 12 institutions selected by CUR for its Transformations Project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF-DUE award #1625354). Through this project, participants from institutions around the country have been engaged in novel research to understand the student, faculty, departmental, and disciplinary influences on the process of integrating and scaffolding undergraduate research experiences throughout the curriculum.