Morgan presents research at Arkansas science conference

Release Date: 4/18/2012

Paul Morgan is rightly proud of his work. The senior, a composite science and chemistry major from Belize, has submitted an article to the Journal of the Arkansas Academy of Science. His article, "Mutations Induced by Gamma Radiation on the Wild Type Drosophila melanogaster," co-authored with U of O professors Dr. Bill Doria and Dr. Salomón Itzá, was the subject of his recent presentation at the 96th annual meeting of the Arkansas Academy of Science at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, Arkansas.

"At this meeting, students from all over Arkansas come to share their work, both graduate and undergraduate," said Morgan. "Basically for two days everybody presents their current research work, which is one of the prerequisites for publication in the Academy Journal. I presented for 15 minutes, with a period after for questions. The presentations were judged by five scientists from all over Arkansas, primarily in physics and chemistry. I was fortunate enough to come in as 3rd runner up among the undergraduates. The person just ahead of me was a student from Southern Arkansas University who'd done her research at UC Berkeley in California. I didn't feel too badly, coming in just behind someone who had done her work at such a prestigious institution!"

Dr. David Gross and Paul Morgan.

Ozarks' Paul Morgan poses for a picture with Nobel Laureate Dr. David Gross, who was the keynote speaker at the 96th annual meeting of the Arkansas Academy of Science.

Morgan said he felt what made his work stand out from the others presenting included the fact it was interdisciplinary, primarily biophysics, studying the effects of radiation on the DNA of fruit flies.

He began his research this year. "When I started exposing these flies to radiation, I was waiting for legs to grow where the eyes were, or heads to grow in their stomachs, these kind of weird mutations," Morgan said. "To my disappointment, I did not get any of these colorful sci-fi mutations going on. But what I did start to notice was a pattern. All the wings of these fruit flies were severely damaged. Either the left or right or both. So we paid attention to that, refined everything, and came up with some information I could contribute to the scientific body of knowledge."

Morgan explained his work results. "The fly wings grow from a group of cells called 'imaginary cells,' and those cells reproduce fast, extremely fast. And when flies get into their pupal stage, guess what happens? These imaginal cells enter what's known as their G2 phase of the cell cycle, and in that stage they produce double the amount of DNA. At that point the chances of those DNA cells being damaged rises two fold."

How does this sort of research apply to the real world? "The implications are much greater when it comes to cancer research," Morgan said. "What I mean by that is, if we can control and target the proliferation of cancerous cells in the body - in other words, if we can slow them down at the G2 phase, then we can keep such cancerous cells in a very very vulnerable position in regard to radiation treatment. That means the radiation could be used to much more easily target and destroy these cancerous cells than when they are reproducing at their normally accelerated rate, or at least with more efficiency. This should help to significantly improve cancer treatment in this world. And of course that's an ongoing field of constant research, so I think the implications of this type research are extremely significant."

Morgan says his next step is to measure overall DNA damage in the flies. "What is the magnitude of the damage? That will tie into the cancer research aspect of it as well," he said.

Morgan credited much of his success to the availability of U of O's Academic Enrichment Fund. "That fund has allowed me and others to tap into original research and is one of many real contributions Ozarks makes to science and other fields," Morgan said. "I'm very honored to be a part of this campus."