Ozarks student wins award at Tri-Beta regional convention

Release Date: 4/5/2012

Senior Andrea Muffuletto has won the coveted John C. Johnson Award as the result of her presentation at the Beta Beta Beta (Tri-Beta) Biological Honor Society South Central Regional Conference, held last weekend at the University of Oklahoma Biological field station on Lake Texoma, Oklahoma. This award comes with money to attend the National Tri-Beta Meeting later this year in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

"I presented my research in a poster session," says Muffuletto, "and I used the poster I prepared over my summer research at UAMS. I presented this research earlier in the year on campus as well as at the Arkansas Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) conference in Fayetteville, but it was pretty exciting to get to continue sharing it at our regional conference."

Muffuletto's research involved separating and identifying levels of a certain protein in both cancerous and non-cancerous melanoma. "Basically we wanted to see how much of this protein was present in both a normal lesion or mole, versus a 'cancerous' melanoma site," she said. "We wanted to do this because we've seen trends with this protein in other forms of cancer, and we wanted to determine if this protein showed a similar trend in melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer. And as a matter of fact that's exactly what we found."

The South Central region of Tri-Beta includes all of Texas, Oklahoma, and western Arkansas and Louisiana.  "We are by far the smallest school that attends the conference," said Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Sean Coleman. "All of our students represented the University well." 

In addition to Muffuletto's presentation, students Emily Toombs and William Davenport presented their preliminary study on contamination in the White and Buffalo Rivers, a project funded by Ozarks Biology Department and NASA.

The study tests whether residential and commercial development on the White River has resulted in higher levels of contaminants, when compared to the levels of the compounds in the relatively undeveloped Buffalo.

"The judges were impressed with Emily and William, especially considering they are 'only' sophomores," said Dr. Coleman, "and they said they look forward to viewing their completed project next year." 

Davenport, a sophomore from Deer, Arkansas, was excited about the event. "Having to present our poster concerning our research on the E. coli contamination of the White and Buffalo Rivers to three judges was nerve racking because you didn't know what questions they were going to ask!" he said. "They judged us on how well the presenter knows the research, whether the data was obtained and displayed correctly, and how enthusiastic the presenter was about the research. Our first judge was actually very confidence boosting! He told us, 'I can see Toombs and Davenport in a health magazine in the future!' He also said, 'Don't be discouraged with the amount of work you are going to have to do because it will be worth it in the end!'"

Toombs, a senior from Lamar, agreed. "The conference was a lot of fun. It was great hearing all the oral presentations and finding out what others were researching. Our poster presentation went very well I thought. We were the only group doing a dual presentation, and it was good to hear the judges' feedback on our presentation. We made sure to take notes so we can do even better next year."