Undergraduate research is a key part of the Ouachita Biology experience. The Ouachita Biology department offers a diverse array of classroom-based and faculty-directed research experiences. Ouachita Biology students are also competitive for off-campus research opportunities. In recent years, Ouachita Biology students have been accepted to the HHMI EXROP program, Arkansas INBRE Summer Research Fellowships, the Adair Undergraduate Research Internship program, the ORISE Science Internship program, the SSRP-Amgen Scholars Program, and the DAAD RISE Summer Internship program.
The growth of plants in outer space will be dependent on how plants respond to altered atmospheric pressure, gravity, and modified light. The purpose of Dr. Jim Taylor’s research is to further investigate the development of Arabidopsis plants at lower atmospheric pressure and distorted gravity by using a clinostat inside of a hypobaric chamber. This picture shows plastic plates containing Arabidopsis seedlings, on a rotating clinostat, within a reduced-pressure vacuum box. These studies will give more insight to how plants develop at lower pressure and in altered gravity which will give a better understanding to how plants may develop during long term space travel.
Ewing’s Sarcoma is a pediatric bone cancer that is highly aggressive, leading to a five-year survival rate of only 30% even with multi-modal treatment protocols. Improved therapeutic options are desperately needed. Dr. Lori Hensley’s research focuses on the ability of non-psychoactive cannabinoids to induce death and inhibit metastases in cells from members of the Ewing’s sarcoma family of tumors and other solid pediatric cancers. Our data demonstrate these compounds can successfully kill Ewing’s sarcoma cells and related tumor cells in vitro through the induction of apoptosis. Our data further suggest we can limit the migration of tumor cells and endothelial cells (required for new blood vessel formation to feed the tumors), potentially reducing their ability to spread throughout the body. We have also demonstrated the ability of ajulemic acid, a synthetic cannabinoid, to inhibit angiogenesis in aortic ring assays. In order to test the efficacy of our drugs in a more realistic model of human cancer, we developed a novel bioluminescent mouse model of Ewing’s sarcoma in which engineered tumor cells are injected into the tibiae of mice, and the growth of tumors in control and treated mice can be tracked using specific imaging techniques. Currently, we are working to identify the mechanism and cellular signaling pathways these cannabinoids are using to exert their effects. Students involved with this project will learn and use techniques such as tissue culture, cell viability assays, western blots, PCR, and ELISAs.
Programmed cell death (PCD) is an essential cellular process characterized by cell shrinkage, nuclear condensation and fragmentation that leads to the selective elimination of cells and has been reported to play a major role in cystic fibrosis, oncogenesis and other disease occurrences. There appears to be some evolutionarily conserved signaling pathways for an apoptotic-like programmed cell death in plants. Dr. Nathan Reyna’s research uses a tobacco plant model to identify new genes associated with oxidative stress and apoptosis. In this picture, blackening indicates hydrogen peroxide-induced oxidative damage.
Dr. Ruth Plymale collaborates with student researchers to design a unique microbiological project for each student. Many of these projects study biofilms, communities of bacteria encased within a sticky matrix that adheres the bacteria to a surface. Biofilms are both medically and environmentally significant, making them a relevant research topic. Recent research projects have surveyed the distribution of biofilm-forming bacteria in fountain-beverage machines and investigated the ability of commercial mouthwashes to prevent biofilm formation. This picture shows the differential effects of mouthwash on biofilm formation; lighter wells indicate decreased biofilm formation.