Undergraduate Competitive Research Grant Awardees

The NSU Undergraduate Competitive Research Grant program offers annual awards to support undergraduate students' research projects, which can be part of a student's honors thesis or related in some other way to the student's course of study. The money can be used for expenses such as travel, materials/supplies or publication.

 

2021-2022 Funding Period

Ryan Clay

Biotechnology student from Aberdeen, S.D.

Grant total:  $2,500

“Expression, Purification, and Characterization of a Novel Insect Cuticle-Like Protein with Chitin and Graphene Binding Domains”

 

Project Abstract

Chitin is one of the most common biopolymer components found in nature, and is an integral part of natural materials like arthropod cuticles. Carbon nanotubes are an emerging nanomaterial with extraordinary predicted properties.  Both of these materials are difficult to work with and require chemical modifications to functionalize. This work aims to utilize a specially designed recombinant protein that binds to both of these materials in a way that allows for the formation of biomaterials without the need to chemically modify them. The protein I’ve designed for this project is based on insect cuticle proteins (ICP). As such, I refer to it as a double-binding cuticle protein (DBCP). It possesses three important properties: a conserved chitin-binding domain (CBD), a graphene-binding domain (GBD) for binding to graphene nanoparticles such as carbon nanotubes, and regions for the formation of dityrosine cross-links between proteins. I will first genetically modify E. coli with the gene for DBCP using the pET-41 expression vector. This will create a strain of E. coli that can be induced to produce DBCP. I will then harvest the protein using affinity chromatography and confirm its presence using western blotting. Once isolated, I will test DBCP's ability to bind to chitin and carbon nanotubes and to form cross-links. If the protein functions as designed, it will be able to bind chitin chains and carbon nanotubes simultaneously, and cross-link to form rigid molded structures. These structures should be lightweight, durable, and have high tensile strength, and could have applications in medical devices, protective equipment, and even recreational equipment.

 

Taite Hensley

Junior human performance and fitness major from Kelso, Wash.

Grant total:  $1,400

“Pitching Efficiency and Strength in Relation to Risk of Injury and Velocity”

 

Project Abstract

The kinetic chain is an important process that allows energy transfer from the lower body to the hand. This project will analyze the kinetic chain of pitchers ranging from ages 14-18+. We will analyze each pitcher with the intent to correlate pitching efficiency with risk of injury as well as velocity. Along with this, we will analyze bilateral strength in relation to risk of injury as well as pitching velocity.

 

 

2020-2021 Funding Period

Parker Heger

Junior chemistry major from Underwood, N.D.

Grant total:  $2,000

“The Effects of Dehydroabietic Acid on Sirtuin Regulation as a Possible Novel Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease”

 

Research Abstract

Sirtuins are a family of enzymes who function as an NAD+-dependent deacylases. Sirtuin activity has been linked with genome stability, cellular metabolism, and increased lifespans. Sirtuins have been widely studied because of their influence over several metabolic pathways and aging. Research has yielded implications that sirtuins are linked with neurodegenerative disease. Altering sirtuin expression has shown to impact neurodegenerative disease models, lending insight into a potential sirtuin-mediated therapy for neurodegenerative disease. With this information, research has turned to finding molecules that can be synthesized into a drug that could regulate sirtuin activity and act as a therapy for neurodegenerative diseases. Dehydroabietic acid (DAA) is a naturally occurring chemical found in pinus species (Pinus densiflora, Pinus sylvestris) and grand fir (Abies grandis) and has been shown to activate sirtuin activity. Our project uses DAA and CRISPR, a genetic editing technique, as a therapeutic agent to regulate sirtuin activity in a mutant strain of Caenorhabditis elegans displaying Parkinson s disease (PD)-like phenotypes. This project uses CRISPR to activate SIR2.1, the C. elegans homolog of the human SIRT1 gene coding for a specific type of sirtuin, to examine the effect of sirtuin activity on C. elegans with mutations to the LRRK2 gene. Next, this project is examining the effects of DAA on SIR2.1 activation to develop a novel therapy for PD. To measure the effectiveness of DAA and CRISPR, we use fluorescent microscopy to detect SIR2.1 activation in C. elegans as well as examining phenotypical effects. Researchers hypothesize that DAA could be a potential therapy to prevent PD, but measures such as dosing and DAA s effectiveness post-diagnosis are still unknown. Results from this research could have large implications in the field of molecular medicine and could give insight into potential therapies for PD.

 

Nolan McLaughlin

Junior medical laboratory science major from Isanti, Minn.

Grant total:  $2,000

“Genetic Factors of Biofilm Inhibition”

 

Research Abstract

Bacterial biofilms are becoming a nuisance in nearly all aspects of society.  They have the ability to cause severe infections in humans, disrupt industrial production, and decrease the overall cleanliness of our daily lives. Therefore, new products and strategies are needed to prevent  biofilms from forming on a variety of surfaces.  Preliminary research indicates that a chemical called zingerone disrupts biofilm production by a variety of bacterial species on contact lenses and other abiotic surfaces.  However, the exact mechanism Zingerone uses to inhibit biofilm formation remains unclear.  Our proposal seeks to understand the genetic and molecular requirements for Zingerone activity.  This information would be valuable for medical and industrial applications, because it could help us develop better chemicals and prevention strategies to block biofilm formation.  

 

Laurie Rogers

Freshman biology and chemistry major from Aberdeen, S.D. 

Grant total:  $1,000

“Gene Variations Linked to Sweet Tooth Trait”

 

Project Abstract

I will be studying the possibility of the sweet tooth trait being linked to gene variations in the gene SLCa2 and the FGF21 gene. In order to do this, I will first use IDT's PrimerQuest design tool to create different primer sets in order to determine which I can use to detect and amplify each of these gene regions. I will use BLAST for comparing the sequence information to a database to identify genes and locate variations. I will then acquire the saliva of several human subjects divided into two groups of those classified as having a sweet tooth and those who do not. Next, I will extract DNA from the saliva and use polymerase chain reactions to amplify the DNA. In concert with genetic screening, tooth impressions will be taken of the participants' upper and lower jaws to count cavities and fillings and salivary pH will be measured to investigate the connection of high-sugar diets to lower oral health. In the long term, these results could highlight the importance of understanding the role of gene variants with regard to heightened sugar preference which could then lead to tooth decay. Diets consisting of a lot of sugar are linked to lower salivary pH because the high intake of sugar causes an increase in oral bacteria that consume the sweet foods and release acidic products in sucrose fermentation. Those who have the variant could benefit from being aware of their susceptibility to cavities caused by a sugary diet to take precautionary measures for preventing cavities or be more conscious of their diets. Further, dentists could implement and use gene screening methods to identify patients more prone to cavities as a result of the presence of "sweet tooth" genes.

 

 

Spring 2020

Vanisa Petriti

Sophomore majoring in chemistry and medical laboratory science, from Korçë, Albania

Grant total: $2,500

"Synthesis and biological evaluation of sulfonamide thiazole derivatives as antibacterial agents"

 

Through her project, Petriti aims to create more effective antibmicrobials by synthesizing and testing derivatives containing a chemical group known as sulfonamide thiazole.  She has already generated several variations, which will be tested against several species of bacteria and fungi.  Likewise, the most successful compounds will be evaluated for safety in human kidney cells.   This research should shed light on the long-term usefulness of a promising new class of antimicrobials.

 

 

Fall 2019

Madison Rutter

Junior medical labratory and biology major, from Lakeville, Minn., and Shayla Steinley, a junior biology major with minors in chemistry and pyschology, from Lakeville, Minn.Grant total: $2,500

"The Effects of CRISPER Cas-9 System on Progeny of Hereditary Parkinson's Disease in C. elegans."

 

The project will study the use of gene editing as therapy for treating Parkinson's disease. As proof of concept, the students will be studying this human disorder in the model organism C. elegans. Mutant strains of this nematode worm suffer an analogous disease when the Irk-1 gene is mutated. Two molecular biology techniques, CRISPER and RNA inference, will be used to edit the DNA sequence of Irk-1, restoring it to its unmutated, functional form. If successful, this should eliminate the disease symptoms in the worms, showing that this technology could be applied to humans suffering from Parkinson's disease. 

 

 

Spring 2019

Darcy Usher

Sophomore majoring in history and minoring in public history, from Sisseton, S.D.
Grant total: $2,000
"From Country Boy to Soldier: Discovering How To Tell The Story of William H. Daly"
 

The project will involve finding the best way to tell Daly’s story. Usher will write an academic paper, create a digital exhibit online, create a physical exhibit in the NSU Beulah Williams Library, and then measure which is the best way to get Daly’s information to the public.

 

Maida Walters

Senior majoring in English education and Spanish, from Lewiston, Mont.

Grant total: $2,300

“‘Yo Sí Puedo’: Improving Literacy among English Language Learners”

 

The project aims to test an innovative Cuban literacy methodology called the “Yo Sí Puedo (Yes I Can)” or ”YSP” method.

 

 

Spring 2017

Suzanne Higgins

Junior majoring in Management Information Systems, from Hilo, Hawaii

Grant total: $2,500

A Proposal to Study European Union Demographics and European Technologies Institutes

 

Her project aims to increase awareness and understanding of political and economic impacts of technological changes and Internet regulations.

 

 

2016-17

Maris Grewe

Junior majoring in business management, from Aberdeen, S.D.

Grant total: $1,899

"Environmental Sustainability: Millennial Students and Higher Education."

 

The project will examine how higher education influences the sustainability efforts of millennial college students. It will evaluate students' current sustainability habits as well as their awareness of campus habits. The recycling program will be implemented, along with a marketing campaign. A post-survey will then determine if awareness was raised.

 

 

2015-16

Sienna Marcott

Sophomore majoring in business management and entrepreneurial studies and minoring in biology with a biotechnology certification from Aberdeen, S.D.

Grant total: $2,820

"Fungicidal Properties of Essential Oils and Secondary Metabolites against Fungal Strains Common to Damping-Off Disease."

 

Marcott aims to create an affordable, sustainable, agricultural-grade fungicide for the organic grower. "I hope that with the creation of this product, I can head a line of multiple organic agricultural applications that I would sell to horticulturists and farmers."

 

 

2014-15

Ruth Kinyanjui

"Using Big Data and Business Intelligence to Optimize Digital Marketing for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs)."

 

Stephanie Iverson

 

 

2013-14

Megan Czmowski

Chemistry/chemistry education major from Rapid City, S.D.

Grant total: $1,200

 

"For my research project, I will be comparing the susceptibility of bacteria to the antibiotic A23187 and an analog of this antibiotic. To compare the susceptibility I will use the program AutoDock to predict the best analog that can be created from A23187. Then I will take the results and synthesize the new analog using laboratory techniques. Finally, using the Kirby-Baur Diffusion Assay, I will compare the susceptibility of the bacteria to A23187 and the analog I created."

 

Aaron Kern

Biology and chemistry major from Groton, S.D.

Lu Liu

Chemistry and English major from Shanghai, China (team)

Grant total: $2,500

 

"The name of our project is Synthesis of Quinabactin and its derivatives for the study of increasing drought tolerances in plants. Here is the abstract: according to research conducted by a group of Japanese and American scientists, plants such as corn, soy bean, and Arabidopsis thaliana treated with quinabactin are found to suppress water loss and possess higher drought tolerance. However, the low commercial availability and the high price of quinabactin renders further research on drought tolerance of plants a hard task. Our project aims at synthesizing quinabactin and its derivatives, which, if applied to certain crops, would enhance their ability to retain water during droughts. We have designed an economical route of synthesizing quinabactin and its derivatives, and are currently synthesizing intermediates. In vivo and in vitro tests will then be carried out to test the effectiveness of the chemicals after screening. By comparing the results of the in vivo and in vitro tests of derivatives with those of quinabactin, we should gain a greater understanding of the essential functional groups necessary for a molecule to have similar effects as quinabactin while reducing costs and time consumption for synthesis."

 

Nathan Roberts

Environmental science major from St. Paul, Minn.

Grant total: $2,500

 

"With my project, I am going to study the chironomid community of three waterways in Brown County. Chironomids are aquatic insects and are frequently the most abundant aquatic insect present near a waterway. They are used as a biological indicator to determine the health of the waterway, as certain species will thrive in only the very best water conditions, while other species will thrive in poor water conditions. So I am going to use the presence or absence of chironomid species near a waterway to determine the overall health of the aquatic community."

 

 

2012-13

Michael Newman

History major from Vermont

(Noncompetitive grant)

Reconstructed his Jewish grandfather's journey through World War II Europe

 

 

Brock Rose

Biology and biotechnology major from Newcastle, Wyo.

Grant total: $2,500

Analysis of Brown County waterways within a 30- to 40-mile radius of Aberdeen