Fossil Oysters and Environmental Productivity

Crassostrea gigantissima

This summer I’ll be working on my thesis for the geology department. My primary interest is paleontology and most of my research is on extinct oysters. My thesis focuses on one species of oyster, Crassostrea gigantissima. C. gigantissima lived about 30 million years ago along the coast of the southeast United States. Its known for being one of the largest species of oyster, living or extinct. A large modern oyster may grow 10 centimeters in length. A typical C. gigantissima grew 25-30 centimeters long, with a remarkably thick shell. I’m interested in understanding why C. gigantissima grew so large, and hopefully applying that knowledge to help modern oysters. [Read more…]

Abstract: Eighteenth-Century French Women and Humor

During the eighteenth century, a series of books called the Bibliothèque de Campagne ou Amusement de l’Esprit et du Coeur swept across France. This light-hearted series was enjoyed particularly by literate French women, and included poetry, romance novels, adventure stories, and joke books. One notable female reader who owned this series was Queen Marie Antoinette. Biographer Stefan Zweig called Marie Antoinette an “average woman… a lay-figure decked in queen’s robes” and argued that had it not been for her royal status and the French Revolution, she would not have become so influential. If Marie Antoinette did indeed represent the “average woman” and wield great influence, then her reading choices may shed light on what she found funny, but more importantly, what many other eighteenth-century literate women also considered humorous. According to historians Jan Bremmer and Herman Roodenburg, humor is crucial for providing “key[s] to cultural codes and sensibilities of the past.” By examining humor in the Bibliothèque de Campagne, I intend to to glean more information about the humor, values, and literary tastes of literate women. 

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The Functional Analysis of the Drosophila Chinmo Protein and Its Interaction with the CG11180 Protein: Abstract

The Chinmo protein is a transcription factor protein that is involved in sex maintenance in the Drosophila. The Chinmo protein is able to interact with SUMO proteins, Small Ubiquitin like Modifier proteins, covalently and non-covalently; which is likely to regulate the Chinmo protein’s activity. In collaboration with the Dr. Matthew Wawersik lab, the CG11180 protein was identified. Although the function of CG11180 is still unknown, previous data indicates that this protein can interact with the Chinmo protein to regulate sex maintenance in Drosophila, as well.

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Identifying the Genetic Underpinnings that Drive the Transition of Commensal Yeast Microbes to Opportunistic Pathogens

The unique relationship between humans and commensal microbes is a critical component of human health. Recent studies have shown that this relationship can be altered by the microbial evolution of social behaviors. Biofilms are complex microbial communities that can be found in a variety of environments. The formation of biofilms plays a vital role in driving the virulence of many microbial pathogens that are capable of infecting humans, and has allowed these organisms to survive in hostile environments. In fact, many commensal microbes have evolved into virulent, opportunistic pathogens through this mechanism. Currently, there exist a number of studies on the genetic basis underlying this transition among bacterial species in clinical settings. However, research on the evolution of virulence in medically relevant fungal species is lacking. For my research project, I intend to investigate the genetic underpinnings that result in the transition of a commensal microbe to an opportunistic pathogen by tracking the genomic changes in particular phenotypes that play a role in virulence. Specifically, I will determine whether the genetic variants uncovered in  S. cerevisiae yeast strains isolated in a clinical environment are the same genetic variants that are selected for when virulence evolves de novo in the lab.

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Exploring the Roles of Pseudophosphatase MK-STYX in Autophagy

Exploring the Roles of Pseudophosphatase MK-STYX in Autophagy

 

Cells carry out an incredible variety of processes to keep themselves and the greater organism they comprise functioning efficiently and healthily. As with most complex systems, cells possess a means of eliminating unwanted components and reusing or recycling the individual parts of these superfluous components into important constituent parts like amino acids and nucleic acids. This cellular recycling system is known as autophagy, and it permits organisms and their various cell types to remove redundant biomolecules [1]. In addition, autophagy allows cells to sustain themselves in times of starvation or stress by breaking down complex organelles and proteins into energy and basic biological building blocks. Unsurprisingly, autophagy is highly relevant to both healthy and diseased states, because a baseline level of autophagy is essential to an organism’s physical wellbeing. Conversely, a grossly dysregulated autophagic process affects and mediates pathogenesis and progression of cancers, neurodegenerative diseases, and metabolic disorders [2]. The pseudophosphatase MK-STYX and its roles in cellular processes represent the primary research focus of the Hinton Lab.  As a pseudophosphatase, MK-STYX lacks the catalytic ability to remove a phosphate group from proteins, but can bind targets with its pseudophosphatase domain and protein-interacting CH2 domain.  The importance of pseudophospahtases has only recently been accepted, thus MK-STYX and the other proteins in this group populate an exciting forefront of scientific inquiry.  Previous findings from our research lab have demonstrated that MK-STYX activity helps clear stress granules (made of translationally halted mRNA and associated proteins) from cells [3].  The two pathways that clear stress granules are the autophagy and ubiquitin protease pathways.  Based on recent studies conducted by our lab that showed MK-STYX altering the activity and expression levels of autophagy proteins, I decided to focus my research efforts on further characterizing MK-STYX’s roles in this critical intracellular homeostatic process.

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