Emerging Geniuses

So smart, its scary. Student researchers tackle diseases, illnesses, education, substance abuse, social media, and more

Apr. 24, 2018

These students are so smart, it’s scary.

During April’s Research Day, dozens of FVSU students presented research dealing with a staggering array of the most complex issues confronted by humankind. On the vanguard of innovation and creativity, these students, along with their faculty members sought to deepen human understanding in the areas of environmental sustainability, animal reproduction, genomic sequences, emotional disorders, animal diseases, chronic illnesses, crop management, math education, the impact of the media on children, “fake news,” brain injuries, food production, substance abuse, postpartum depression, child abuse, cyberbullying, art in schools, math education, and reading comprehension, among other topics. They also presented art and design that provokes thought and inspire action.

Research Day’s theme was, “STEAMing Ahead with Excellence in Student Research and Creative Endeavors.” “STEAMing” is a reference to science, technology, engineering, art, and math.

“FVSU students are determined to chart their own course instead of being governed by habits, dogma, and ignorance,” said President Paul Jones. “In the process, they will make life better for us all.”

Just a few of the many emerging geniuses who presented research during Research Day are highlighted below.

Name: Cleveland Ivey
Major: Plant Science
Mentor: Dr. George Mbata
Title: Application of Beauveria bassiana (Bals.) Vuill. for Protecting Maize (Zea mais L.) Against the Maize Weevil (Stiophilus zeamais Motchulsky) (Coleoptera: Curculionidae)

Abstract: Beauveria bassiana (Bals.) Vuill., is a naturally occurring fungus that has shown entomopathogenicity toward pests of agricultural importance. The maize weevil (Sitophilus zeamais Motchulsky), is one such pest. The maize weevil infests maize in storage and poses a higher threat in countries where maize serves as a staple. In response to the drawbacks brought about by chemical control of the maize weevil Beauveria bassiana has been studied as a possible biological control agent. Jute bags are used during storage of maize. However, the weevil can still infiltrate the jute bag and infest the maize inside. Application of the wettable powder of B. bassiana resulted in the mortality of maize weevils exposed to the treated bags. The highest dose of the wettable powder used generated 100% mortality of exposed weevils 14 days post-inoculation. Further investigation will determine whether weevils treated with B. bassiana can lay eggs that are viable.


Name: Xavia Taylor
Major: Plant Science
Mentors: Dr. Sarwan Dhir and Dr. Michael Terns, University of Georgia
Title: An In-Vitro Investigation of Cas1 and Cas2 Proteins of the Streptococcus thermophilus CRISPR-Cas Immune System

Abstract: The clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs) and the CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins are the basis of bacterial and archaeal adaptive immune systems. This immune system helps protect them from phages and plasmids. The CRISPR is an array of short repeated sequences separated by spacers derived from invading nucleic acid. By adding new spacers, the invader can be recognized if it returns. The mechanism of action of CRISPR–Cas systems can be divided into three stages: adaptation, CRISPR RNA biogenesis, and invader silencing. In the adaptation stage, Cas proteins capture new spacers and integrate them into the CRISPR locus, to form an immunological memory. The remaining stages involve transcribing RNAs from the CRISPR locus that guide Cas proteins to silence the invader by degradation of the nucleic acid.  Streptococcus thermophilus (Sth), a bacterium widely used in the dairy industry, contains four different CRISPR- Cas systems. In this study, the integrase function of the adaptation proteins, Cas1 and Cas2, were studied by placing them into an assay to detect whether spacer integration took place into a plasmid containing a CRISPR locus. Sth proteins were successfully expressed and purified from E. coli, and in vitro activity assays were used to test function. The results from the integration assays support the hypothesis that Cas1 and Cas2 adaptation proteins, in the presence of MnCl2, are sufficient for spacer integration into a CRISPR locus.

Name: Jessica Shannon
Major: Biology
Mentors: Dr. Diane Byrd and Dr. Melinda Davis
Title: Microfilaria in Dogs

Abstract: We can all agree that heartworms being present in our own dogs is frightening.  This may especially be true of heartworm medication. The purpose of this research is to explore how much dog owners know about heartworms, including where do heartworms come from, and how do heartworms get inside the animal. Most of the populations of dog owners do not know the answers to these questions (American Heartworm Society; Scott, 2017). In many cases, pet owners depend on a veterinarian for guidance and instructions for maintaining good health in pets. This study used a mixed design methodology with both qualitative (open-ended short answer survey) and quantitative (self-report survey) questions to assess dog owners knowledge of heartworms in dogs.  Based on previous research (e.g., American Heartworm Society; Scott, 2017), it was hypothesized that dog owners would have little knowledge about heartworms.  Results showed the top 3 reasons for giving heartworm medicine once a month was a) dependent on advice from veterinarian b) consequences of what would happen if the medication was not given and c) concern for the health of the dog. Fifty-eight percent of the sample felt somewhat educated on heartworms. The participants who chose not to give heartworm medication self-reported their decision was based on the age of the dog, lack of knowledge on heartworms or simply, if their dogs never had heartworms in the past.



Name: Roshan Paswan
Major: Animal Science
Mentor: Dr. Young Park
Title: Evaluation of Relationship between Water Activity, pH, and Escherichia coli Survival of Powdered Whole Caprine Milk during 4 Months of Storage.

Abstract: Water activity (aw) is an important indicator for food quality, safety, and storage stability, where aw is directly related to bacterial growth, especially when aw is above 0.90. Water activity in relation to bacterial counts of dehydrated bovine milk may have been studied extensively, while no report has been available for the correlation between aw, pH, and Escherichia coli survival in powdered caprine milk (PCM). The objectives of this study were to determine aw, pH, and Escherichia coli counts of PCM, and evaluate correlations among these parameters at 4 °C and 22 °C for 0, 2, and 4 mo storage. Three different lots of commercial whole PCM were purchased at a local retail outlet and divided the total amount of each lot into two equal portions to assign them to two treatment groups: control and E. coli inoculated groups. Ten grams of the experimental PGM samples were inoculated with 50 μL of E. coli K12, and control samples without inoculation of the bacteria were subjected to the temperature and storage treatments. Water activity was measured by AquaLab aw meter (cx-2; Decagon Devices, Pullman, WA). All experimental PGM samples were also analyzed for E. coli counts per the manufacturer’s procedure (3M Center, St. Paul, MN). Results showed that aw values were significantly (P < 0.05) reduced, where mean aw for 0, 2, and 4 mo storage were 0.266, 0.251, 0.243; 0.291, 0.266, 0.219, respectively. No differences in pH were found between 2 temperature groups, while pH were slightly higher at two-months storage. Mean E. coli counts of four and 22 °C at zero-, two-, and four-months storages were: 5.01, 4.16; 3.43, 1.85; and 3.77, 1.48 CFU/g, respectively, indicating that E. coli counts significantly (P < 0.01) decreased during four-months storage. E. coli counts were significantly correlated with aw, having r = −0.857 at 4 °C and −0.771 at 22 °C, respectively. Correlations between levels of pH and aw at both temperature treatments were also negatively correlated. It was concluded that E. coli counts of the powdered goat milk were negatively correlated with levels of water activity as the storage time advanced.

Name: Ashleigh Porter
Major: Biology
Mentors: Seema Dhir and Dr. Laura van Winkle, University of California, Davis
Title: Effects of Vehicle Exhaust on Mucous in the Developing Rat Lung

Abstract: Chronic air pollution exposure affects pulmonary development. Exposure to air pollution correlates to reduction of growth of the lung. People who live, work or attend school near major roads have an increased incidence and severity of respiratory health problems associated with air pollution exposures. Animal studies often provide early warning signs of environmental exposure. Mucous goblet cells in the rat lung mature in the postnatal period, are most abundant in the larger airways and, while rare within the intrapulmonary airways, can be increased by exposure to air pollution.  Increases in mucous are associated with respiratory diseases such as asthma.  In this preliminary study, we investigated mucous abundance and distribution in the lungs from rats exposed to Traffic Related Air Pollution (TRAP) during pre and postnatal lung development. Male and Female Sprague Dawley rats were exposed to TRAP or filtered air from gestational day 15 through postnatal day 32.

The distribution and abundance of mucin was indicated using a histological staining method Alcian Blue/ Periodic Acid Schiff, which is used to detect polysaccharides such as glycogen and mucin in tissue. The distribution and abundance of mucin were scored to determine relative abundance of mucin in the lungs of the rats. These rat lungs were compared to unexposed control rats.  The amount of mucin on each slide was an average of an n of 3 with the rating scale of one through ten, with one being very minimum amount of mucin and ten being the greatest amount. There was no difference between the amount of mucin in the exposed and control rats. Additionally, there were no sex differences between female and male rats. In conclusion, this does not support the hypothesis that exposure of the developing lung to traffic related air pollution, at the dose and duration used in this study, results in an increase in mucin in the airways. However, this does not infer that traffic related air pollution does not have an effect on the development of the lungs.



Name: Courtney Lester
Major: Plant Science
Mentors: Dr. Sarwan Dhir and Dr. Diane Beckles, University of California, Davis
Title: Towards the Functional Analysis of the Atzdof1.3 Transcription Factor in Tomato

Abstract: Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables worldwide, due in part to their high levels of healthful lycopene, however, to maintain yields, high levels of nitrogenous fertilizer are needed; this is both expensive, and environmentally damaging. Members of the DNA-binding with One Zinc Finger(zDOF) transcription factor family have been shown to be involved in nitrogen use efficiency (NUE). Transcription factors regulate complex biological processes by controlling the expression of multiple genes that work together in a similar pathway. We wish to functionally characterize AtDOF1.3 to determine if it has a role in controlling NUE in plants. This will be tested by transiently expressing AtDOF1.3 in tomato.  The aim of this specific research was to design a cloning strategy to create a recombinant DNA construct for tomato transformation, using a variety of bioinformatics tools. The Open Reading Frame of the AtDOF1.3 was identified using ORFinder in NCBI. Two pairs of nested Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) primers were designed using PRIMER3 (i) to amplify AtDOF1.3 and (ii) to create fragments that would permit the gene to be spliced into the multiple cloning site of the pCAMBIA1300 transformation vector. After PCR optimization, a 1.2 kb product of AtDof1.3 was successfully amplified from Arabidopsis thaliana Columbia, genomic DNA using. This PCR product was used to amplify a clonable fragment for ligation into the pCAMBIA after digestion with KpnI and PmeI restriction enzymes, the results of which will be discussed. Agarose gel electrophoresis was performed to confirm that PCR product was of 1.2 kb size.


Names: Daniel Jackson and Henri Abrams
Major: Middle Grades Education
Mentors: Letasha Pope and Jessica Jackson
Title: Fear of Math

Abstract: The purpose of this research is to understand and determine where the fear of math in students as well as teachers comes from. It also examines the level of math anxiety for students and teachers. The aspects explored are: when do students start to fear or dislike math, the difference of anxiety which the “bad” math student experiences, and the type of anxiety the “good” math student experiences. The findings should reveal the grade level at which the fear begins and the math skill that is feared the most. Research participants will be interviewed and surveyed to determine the reason for their fear of math and when it began for them. Research participant A will be a math tutor, research participant B is a middle school student, research participant C will be a college student, and research participant D will be a math teacher. The research findings will provide the cause of anxiety from the students and teachers who love math and those who have been afraid of every math class they have taken.

Name: Jontravious Wallace
Major: Biology
Mentors: Professor Seema Dhir and Dr. Kent Pinkerton, University of California, Davis
Title: The Effects of Soluble Epoxide Hydrolase Inhibitor (sEHi) in a Murine Model of Asthma

Abstract: Asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. According to the CDC 18.4 million adults currently have asthma. In previous studies it has been demonstrated that inhibition of soluble epoxide hydrolase attenuates allergic airway inflammation and airway responsiveness in a murine model. Therefore, sEH inhibitors may have potential as a novel therapeutic strategy for allergic asthma. An asthma model was used to test the efficacy of 4 different delivery methods. We hypothesize that treatment with the sEHi would reduce the degree of inflammation in an asthmatic lung. A murine model of asthma was created by administering Ovalbumin (OVA). Following, the Soluble Epoxide Hydrolase Inhibitor (sEHi) (1-Trifluoromethoxyphenyl-3-(1-propionylpiperidin-4-yl) urea, TPPU) was given via 4 different methods of delivery. The results are based on airway (bronchiole) inflammation scores. Statistical significance is seen between the control and OVA + PEG group (*p-value = 0.026031) and between the control and OVA + TPPU (S.C.) group (#p-value = 0.026031). The 2 HR group compared to the Vehicle group showed that inhalation was more effective, but it does not show a level of significant difference. The p-value for the difference in means between the two is 0.15684. Based on the results my hypothesis was rejected.