Tag Archives: biology

Brad Stubenhaus (at the computer) points out some of his findings on planarians to Emily Neverett and Dr. Pellettieri.

Dr. Pellettieri’s INBRE Grant Sheds Light on Pigment Cell Biology

Brad Stubenhaus (at the computer) points out some of his findings on planarians to Emily Neverett and Dr. Pellettieri.
Brad Stubenhaus (at the computer) points out some of his findings on planarians to Emily Neverett and Dr. Pellettieri.

Since the days of the proverbial story of Issac Newton “discovering” gravity when a falling apple hit him on the head, it’s long been known that important scientific discoveries often happen quite unexpectedly. A finding in Assistant Professor Jason Pellettieri’s Stem Cells and Regeneration course may well be one such event. The course explores basic scientific concepts and ethical issues in the fields of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, so Dr. Pellettieri has the students investigate the effects of environmental variables on regeneration in planarians (Schmidtea mediterranea), aquatic flatworms with a remarkable ability to regrow lost body parts.

“You can chop an adult planarian into hundreds of pieces and almost every piece will regenerate a complete new individual in just over a week, so these animals make ideal experimental subjects for non-science majors,” Dr. Pellettieri explained. “A few years ago, one group of students in the course found that prolonged sunlight exposure led to complete depigmentation of regenerating animals. Planarians are normally dark brown in color, but the sunlight-exposed animals turned completely white. Brad Stubenhaus, a student researcher in my lab, conducted a series of follow-up experiments that showed depigmentation can be triggered by intense visible light.” Therefore, Dr. Pellettieri applied for, and received, a $64,456 NH-INBRE grant to continue this important research.

A normal number of pigment cells is critical for human health. Skin melanocytes, for example, normally provide protection from the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, but stimulate the growth of too many melanocytes, and you’re a candidate for melanoma. You also need the right amount of retinal pigment epithelium cells to have normal eyesight. Losing these cells causes age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness. These conditions are increasing and effective treatments remain limited, so research that adds to the scientific knowledge of factors impacting pigment cell survival is vital.

Dr. Pellettieri and his students have succeeded in reproducing the depigmentation phenomenon under controlled conditions in the lab, and he will use the INBRE grant to determine how visible light exposure causes depigmentation at a cellular and molecular level. “Our preliminary data suggest that planarian pigment cells die when exposed to bright visible light for extended periods of time,” he said. “We think this is due to the generation of harmful molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can damage many different parts of the cell, including DNA.”

Other researchers have demonstrated that melanin, the pigment in human skin, generates ROS when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, and this effect has been linked to melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. “That very important work adds to a large body of literature documenting the adverse effects of UV exposure, but we know relatively little about the effects of intense visible light on pigment cells,” Dr. Pellettieri said. “Our INBRE-funded research is addressing that gap in our knowledge. It’s always important to be cautious when trying to establish possible connections between research in lab animals and human biology, but if our results indicate that visible light can cause damage to pigment cells through the generation of ROS, this might raise some interesting questions about possible harmful effects of prolonged exposure to bright visible light (of course that wouldn’t be a problem for all of us living in New Hampshire most of the time!).”

Two other students, Emily Neverett and Jeanne LaFortune, are now working on this project with Stubenhaus. “They’ve already generated some very interesting data and, although we have a ways to go with this research, we think we’re on the right track in terms of our hypotheses about how depigmentation occurs,” said Dr. Pellettieri. “Brad and Emily both received funding from INBRE to support their research on this project over the summer, along with J.P. Dustin, who is doing research on a new project in my lab. INBRE has been tremendously helpful in allowing me to set up an undergraduate research program here at Keene State. Mentoring research students is an extremely rewarding part of my job and it’s really gratifying to receive support for that work.”

Dr. Kristen Porter-Utley

Dr. Porter-Utley Investigating Unstudied Tropical Plant Group

Dr. Kristen Porter-Utley
Dr. Kristen Porter-Utley

Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristen Porter-Utley is collaborating with partners in Brazil to study the evolutionary history of a large group of tropical plants that have largely been ignored by scientists, despite the fact that most of the plants are important trees in tropical forests around the world.

Dr. Porter-Utley and some of her students are extracting DNA from samples sent by her collaborators in Brazil and provided by storehouses of dried plants, to ultimately help people understand the evolution of these plants, and the ecosystems and biodiversity in South America and beyond.

“The research I am conducting helps us understand our past, in order to better protect our future,” said Dr. Porter-Utley. “This research opens the door to a great deal more knowledge about our natural world, while providing students with opportunities to expand their hands-on research experience.”

Read more about it in the Union Leader. …

Biology Professor Susan Whittemore Named 2012’s Distinguished Teacher

KSC’s Distinguished Teacher of 2012, Dr. Susan Whittemore

The KSC Alumni Association awarded Dr. Susan Whittemore, professor of biology, its 2012 Distinguished Teacher Award, which recognizes excellence in teaching, encouragement of independent thinking, rapport with students, and effective student advising.  Dr. Whittemore is the 42nd recipient of this distinctive honor.

Read all about it.

Jarett Miller Wins Undergrad Research Fellowship

Jarett Miller, microbiology student extraordinaire

KSC sophomore Jarett Miller has been awarded the American Society for Microbiology’s (ASM) Undergraduate Research Fellowship. This fellowship is aimed at highly competitive students who wish to pursue graduate careers (PhD or MD/PhD) in microbiology. And talk about competitive—Jarett applied for the fellowship last year, when he was a freshman! Fellows have the opportunity to conduct full-time summer research at their institution with an ASM mentor and present their research results at the 112th ASM General Meeting in San Francisco, CA, if their abstract is accepted.

Associate Professor of Biology Loren Launen is Jarett’s mentor. (Read about Dr. Launen in the current issue of Keene State Today.) His research project is titled “Characterization of aerobic polyaromatic hydrocarbon degrading bacteria from tidal wetlands of the Great Bay Estuary, NH.”

Each fellow receives up to a $4,000 stipend, a two-year ASM student membership, and funding for travel expenses to the ASM Presentation Institute and 112th ASM General Meeting. Congratulations, Jarett!

SURF’s up for Deena Snoke this Summer

KSC sophomore Deena Snoke

SURFing can be pretty competitive, especially when SURF stands for the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program at Dartmouth this summer, and you’re competing against 300 top students across the country for one of 6–8 spots. Those spots provide research experience in the laboratory of one of Dartmouth’s principal investigators in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Program.

When KSC sophomore Deena Snoke mentioned to Prof. Susan Whittemore that she was looking for an internship this summer, Dr. Whittemore suggested she apply for the SURF program at Dartmouth. Snoke did, and got a spot! She’ll be be doing research in a neurobiology lab.

“I know that I will return with ideas that I will be able to apply in the lab and share with my peers here at KSC, and I can’t wait to learn from the distinguished faculty at Dartmouth College. Overall, I am so excited to be attending and representing Keene State College at the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship,” Snoke, a member of Beta Beta Beta (the national biological honors society) and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, said.

The program offers a number of career-development activities, including a free Kaplan GRE prep course and a chance to interact with members of our admissions committee and Dartmouth graduate students. It also includes a stipend, a free room, and a food allowance.

This is quite an accomplishment. Use the “comments” link below to tell Snoke how proud you are of her.