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.
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.
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 American Association of University Women (AAUW) awarded its 2019–20 American Fellowship to Jessica Malisch, assistant professor of biology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. AAUW is one of the world’s leading supporters of graduate women’s education: Over the past 130 years, it has provided more than $115 million in fellowships, grants, and awards to 13,000 women from more than 145 countries.
“I am honored to be selected as an AAUW American Fellow,” said Malisch. “A major career goal of mine is to write a competitive proposal to the National Science Foundation. This fellowship will provide me the time and resources necessary to develop an excellent proposal.”
Malisch plans to use the fellowship to investigate the fitness consequences of the vertebrate stress response in white-crowned sparrows, to develop a new biochemical lab technique, and to apply for additional funding to maintain an active undergraduate driven research laboratory.
“The support of AAUW is giving me a major career boost that will help me accomplish my academic goals and my career aspirations,” said Malisch.
Two SMCM students were recently awarded Beta Beta Beta (TriBeta) Undergraduate Research Grants to help fund their St. Mary’s Projects. Brooke Steinhoff was awarded $500 for her SMP titled: “Evaluating the efficacy of L-655, 708 direct injection into the medial prefrontal cortex”. Steinhoff is working in Professor of Psychology Aileen Bailey’s lab.
Livia’s Schuller was also awarded $500 from TriBeta to help fund her SMP: “Effect of migration distance on body condition and response to physiological stressors in White-throated Sparrows”. Schuller is working with Assistant Professor of Biology Jessica Malisch.
The Tidewater Project brought six St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) faculty and eight local experts together on October 8 and 9, 2017, to discuss cross-disciplinary approaches to effective climate change education. Headed by Dr. Barry Muchnick, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, the Tidewater Project centered on leveraging campus and community resources to strengthen climate literacy and sustainability awareness and to integrate sustainability into our institution’s strategic future.
Represented disciplines included: Art & Art History, Biology, Sociology, Political Science, Philosophy, and Religious Studies. Local experts and faculty gathered at the Brome Howard Inn to create new and renovated courses using innovative interdisciplinary teaching methods, discuss ideas for research projects, grants, and publications, expand their own knowledge about practical action to mitigate climate change, strengthen community ties, enhance wellness, and enrich connections to the natural world. Program organizers and participants were thrilled with the project outcomes, and valuable impacts continue to be realized as reimagined programming focusing on climate change education is implemented on campus.
The Tidewater Project was primarily funded by a University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science grant awarded to Dr. Muchnick, with additional support generously provided by SMCM’s Office of Sustainability. Organizers are exploring options to host similar workshops in future years to reach additional individuals, and to build on the positive momentum generated to date.
Two students conducting their St. Mary’s Project research with Dr. Aileen Bailey, professor of psychology and Aldom-Planseon Honors College Professor, have received grants to support their work. Marilyn Steyert was recently awarded a $918 grant through the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Honor Society to support her research and in recognition of her academic achievement. A graduating senior, Marilyn is majoring in Biology, with minors in Neuroscience and Music. She is continuing past research on the project entitled “Understanding the action of novel fast-acting antidepressant, L-655,708 in the brain” under the guidance of Dr. Bailey. Another student working on research in Dr. Bailey’s lab is graduating senior Max Madden, a double major in Biochemistry and Psychology. He has received $1,500 in funding through the Psi Chi Undergraduate Research Grant to support his St. Mary’s Project: “Examination of the Mechanism of the Fast Acting Antidepressant L-655,708.” Since July 2015, Dr. Bailey’s research lab has been primarily funded by the National Institutes of Health, via a subaward with University of Maryland, Baltimore.
Using rats as test subjects, Marilyn and Max are analyzing the effects of a specific drug on synapse strength within neurons in certain areas of the brain. The grant money received from Sigma Xi is being used to visualize and study certain proteins within cells. Changes in behavior and synaptic strength will be analyzed to see the effects of L-655,708 in the rats brain. Marilyn hopes to show the potential of this drug for future use in humans, due to its rapid neurological changes in rats. As with all research conducted on vertebrate animals at St. Mary’s College, Marilyn and Max’s work was approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.
Marilyn is the President of Tri Beta, the Biological Honor Society at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and is also involved in BioPump, a program that supports Biology students’ academic success. After graduation, Marilyn hopes to continue her academic education and become a professor. Max was a member of the St. Mary’s men’s Swim Team and plans to continue his education in graduate school after leaving St. Mary’s College. Marilyn and Max are two of many talented students to receive a grant through an honor society here at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Kristy A. Lewis, Assistant Professor of Coastal Ecology at SMCM, received highly competitive funding from a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Gulf Research Program Synthesis Grant to participate in a collaborative project titled: Community Cohesion and Recovery after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The work is crucial to disaster management as it examines a community’s ability to self-organize and mobilize after a major disruption such as the oil spill occurring in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
Dr. Lewis’ two-year $77,000 award is part of a larger overall NAS award ($590,000; NAS Award # 200007629) directed by principal investigator Dr. So-Min Cheong at the University of Kansas Center for Research. Dr. Lewis will be the key personnel driving the ecological analyses while also working closely with collaborator Jacob Model of Stanford University to develop a comprehensive database of social and ecological data, called the Community Response Inventory (CRI). Dr. Lewis and collaborators will then develop statistical models to assess the association between the presence of local nonprofits, density of those networks, and how the ecological health of the system drives the ability of nonprofits, and thus communities, to respond to oil spills.
Specifically, the planned research uses environmental data in combination with community-level social and economic data to generate novel insights on community impact from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It fills an important gap in social capital and community resilience literature by bringing attention to organizations and nonprofits, and helps develop community skills to mobilize and coordinate. This project will also provide funding for an undergraduate research assistant at SMCM to support Dr. Lewis with her research. Dr. Lewis transitioned from a visiting assistant professor position to a tenure-track assistant professor position in July 2017 and will continue this research into 2018.
Research reported in this article was supported by the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine under award number: 200007629.