Biology research in focus at Ozarks

Release Date: 11/21/2005

Students seek answers through science

CLARKSVILLE, ARK. (November 21, 2005) -- The thrill of discovery is in the air at Ozarks, as students look for answers to such global problems as serious illness and world hunger.

Ozarks senior Kendall Wagner is working with Ozarks Assistant Professor of Biology Sean Coleman on a project studying oxidative stress, which is a process by which cells are damaged when the human body converts oxygen to energy. “We need oxygen to live, but oxygen can also kill you!” said Coleman, adding that oxidative stress has possible links to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other aging-related illnesses, as well as cancer and skin problems.

Coleman and Wagner work with yeast, isolating genes to try to determine the impact on oxidative stress at the cellular level. This knowledge can then someday hopefully be applied to other life forms, including humans.

“It’s basic baker’s yeast,” said Coleman. “You can manipulate it genetically and get answers very quickly. With yeast, we can knock out a gene in a week.”

The process, however, is labor intensive, requiring up to 20 hours a week in the lab. “Studying the genetic structure is like building a house," said Wagner as he prepared a sample for examination in Ozarks' Smith-Broyles Science Building. "There are many different parts.” Wagner is looking at a gene called GTT2 and its link to oxidative stress.

“I’m sure anything we accomplish here, Dr. Coleman will continue build on,” said Wagner of Waldron, Arkansas, who hopes to go on to study pediatric medicine after completing his B.S. in Ozarks’ pre-med program.

Senior Nathan Brown, meanwhile, is searching for a way to make sweet potatoes more resistant to cold temperatures. “The idea is to hopefully strengthen the tolerance of certain plants to temperatures lower than their usual threshold,” explained Brown. “It’s an application that would prove beneficial to other agriculturally significant crops like rice.”

Coleman added that such research could eventually provide a way to increase production of sweet potatoes, particularly in impoverished areas that need a steady, nutritious food supply.

Senior biology major Victoria Sayarath has a wide range of research interests, studying the genetics of fruit flies with neurobiologists at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences on a summer internship sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, then moving on to her senior research project looking at herbal alternatives to antibiotics. “I’m treated like a graduate student,” said Sayarath, of Van Buren, Arkansas, who has applied to graduate school in pharmacy.

Senior biology majors must write up the results of their research with an eye toward publication in a scientific journal, said Coleman. He pointed out that in addition to answering specific questions, research prepares students for life after college.

“Graduate school can last four to six years, and we want them to know what they’re getting into!” said Coleman. He added that some Ozarks biology majors have gone directly into the workforce with a bachelor’s degree, doing research in industry including for companies like Tyson Foods.

Ozarks students complete some sort of senior research project in many different disciplines, including history, theater and business.

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