Research projects

Luther College students conduct research projects to study gene expression and function | Securities

This summer, Luther College students Anneke Knauss, Hamid Ahmed and Julia Schulte collaborated with Brian Hiester, visiting assistant professor of biology, using C. elegans (a type of worm) to study the expression and function of a gene family. Their research examined how stress affects gene expression and how reduced expression affects an organism’s development. Their findings may help explain how human diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, are formed. Knauss and Schulte worked together on an experiment studying the effects of heat stress, while Ahmed studied the consequences of protein suppression.

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“We tested two types of genes and four types of complementary DNA (cDNA),” Schulte said. “We made the cDNA ourselves. We tested the expression of the different cDNAs against a normal population of worms using heat shock. Then we harvested the worms to see if their genes were different from the unstressed ones.

Completing this research has not only been personally beneficial, it also has important applications to real-world problems. For example, Ahmed’s research on unregulated proteins in worms may help understand how unregulated proteins in humans can lead to serious disease.

“The protein I studied basically deals with other proteins,” Ahmed said. “Because proteins need to be replenished from time to time, if this protein isn’t doing its job, old proteins can start messing up cells. You can link this to Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, or other diseases resulting from dysregulation.

This is the kind of real-world research that Hiester is proud to facilitate. He wants his students to have the opportunity to develop their own scientific abilities and to do meaningful research in a real laboratory environment.

“Ultimately, for all of my research students, I want to build their sense of independence, their ability to work on their own, to develop their ability to design and run their own experiments. I really see it as a training experience,” Hiester said. “For many of these students, this is the first time they have had the opportunity to conduct real intensive research. I want to give them a taste of what it is and give them the opportunity to choose whether or not research is something they want to pursue in the future.

The process was tedious, but these students found the research personally rewarding. They say the experience was insightful and broadened their career interests.

“Through this experience, I learned that I was interested in many more facets of biology than I otherwise thought, which is good and bad,” Knauss said. “It’s a bit bad because now I have less narrow goals in the future, but it’s also pretty good because I feel like I’d be happy to go in a lot of different directions. .”

Hiester and his students plan to share their findings by presenting their research on campus and at conferences. Research from the Hiester Lab contributes to a larger conversation among professional researchers around the world, and for Hiester, Summer Research is an opportunity to connect to this global discussion.

“You kind of think of scientific research as trying to build an ocean through little drops of water,” Hiester said. “We’re just trying to add a few drops to it and, over time, contribute to our overall understanding. If we can understand a little more about how these genes work, it could tell us about how genes work in mammals and how dysregulation of these genes can contribute to certain human diseases.

Luther’s Summer Student/Faculty Collaborative Research Program offers students the opportunity to engage in collaborative research projects with Luther faculty members. It is a chance for students to develop their research skills; actively learn in Luther’s natural areas, precision labs, or independently; and it provides an opportunity to delve deeper and gain expertise in a specific facet of a larger field of study.

About Luther College

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