The Effect of Novel Animal Models on the Sexual Reproductive Pathways of Asclepias syriaca

One of the most beloved insect species alive today is the Danaus plexippus, or the monarch butterfly.  Ominously, they have seen concerning population declines which have been strongly linked to a decline in milkweed, specifically Asclepias syriaca (Common Milkweed) populations, the host plant of the Monarch caterpillar.  Between 1999 and 2010, the milkweed and monarch populations decreased by 58% and 81% respectively (Pleasants and Oberhauser 2012), highlighting the need for conservation.  While we know a great deal about monarch and milkweed interactions, we know comparatively less about the milkweed interactions with other specialist insects.  In addition, much of the literature deals with the milkweed’s ability to propagate itself through asexual budding, while the sexual pathways necessary for long term survival remains receive less attention.  By learning more about the milkweed’s sexual pathways, conservation efforts can be more targeted to increasing genetic diversity more efficiently, raising the likelihood that milkweeds can make a comeback.

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Localization of MK-STYX – Abstract

MK-STYX is a pseudophosphatase that has roles in neuronal cell development. MK-STYX is rendered catalytically inactive because of a lack of a specific amino acid sequence that is critical to having phosphatase function. While this may lead to the assumption that MK-STYX does not play a critical role in the human body, psuedophosphatases are actually a part of phosphorylation signaling cascades. I hope to look further into MK-STYX’s role in neurite development. Previous work into this showed that the presence of MK-STYX stimulates neurite formation. In addition, these growths also demonstrated axonal and dendritic properties. My project will be to look at where exactly MK-STYX is localized in the neuron, the cell body or the dendrites, and what other proteins it interacts with to cause neurite growth. The localization of a protein in a cell provides information on its function. For example, if MK-STYX is discovered to be localized in the dendrites of neurons, it suggests that MK-STYX has a role in neurons connecting to each other. This has applications into neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and dementia. When patients have Alzheimer’s, neurons are not able to reach other neurons due to the lack of connections between them, causing problems with memory and other mental functions. Other neurodegenerative disorders are also caused by similar deteriorating brain function. MK-STYX has the potential to treat these diseases by forming those needed connections.

Petal Spot Evolution: Abstract

I seek to understand how the wide variety of petal pigmentation we see today evolved. Using Mimulus as a model system I will weigh in on several questions surrounding the origin of petal spots. These include: Did petal spots evolve once and get passed down through generations, hybridizing with nearby species? Or were there multiple origins of this trait? By analyzing the DNA sequences of different species of Mimulus I hope to see similarities or differences in the genes responsible for this patterning that can then give insights into the origins and evolution of this trait.

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