ISU awarded four Indiana Academy of Science Senior Research Grants

By Office of Sponsored Programs

The Indiana Academy of Science (IAS) has been awarding Senior Research Grants to Academy member faculty and graduate students since 1964, but this year is a banner year for ISU. The maximum IAS award is $3,000 to cover research materials and/or research travel. Over the years, this has been a very popular grant application for early career faculty and graduate students making early attempts at grant writing. The Senior Research Grants have two cycles each year, September 15 and March 1. On average, ISU submits from five to ten applications each round and will generally receive one, maybe two awards. The most recent round on September 15, 2022, had five submissions, from which four students received awards. This is astounding, and congratulations to the award recipients are deserved.

Three doctoral candidates, Marcus Jorgensen, Nicole Castaneda, Adam J. Farmer, and an undergraduate student, Abbigayle Gamble in the department of Biology each received a Senior Research Grant award from the Indiana Academy of Science to support their studies. Dr. Diana Hews, a professor of biology, serves as the doctoral advisor for both Jorgensen and Castaneda who are studying the big brown bats known as Eptesicus fuscus, while Dr. Kris Schwab, Assistant Professor of Biology, serves as the doctoral advisor for Farmer who is studying Hox gene expression regulation, and Dr. Shaad Ahmad, Associate Professor of Biology supervises Gamble’s research focused on cardiac cells.

Jorgensen received a $2,303 award for his research “Do hair cortisol, and plasma cortisol differ among demographic groups of the big brown bat in a stress-handling paradigm?” He aims to determine if and how hair and plasma glucocorticoids (e.g., cortisol) are correlated in bats from a maternity colony of Eptesicus fuscus. He also will determine if more chronic exposure to elevated glucocorticoids, as revealed by the hair cortisol levels, alters the short-term response to an acute handling stressor. His work will analyze cortisol levels in both plasma and hair samples from the same bats, something rarely done in wildlife health studies. Jorgensen states he will collaborate with Castaneda on one of the outcomes of his study to evaluate whether the magnitude of the hormonal stress response, as measured by 30 minutes post-captured level of plasma cortisol, affects the lymphocyte numbers; elevated plasma cortisol levels can alter lymphocyte ratios because some white blood cells can move from the circulation into tissue beds after stress exposure.

Castaneda received a $1,689 award for her research: “Association of parasites with N: L Ratio in the Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus)” which aims to do an in-depth evaluation of the neutrophil to lymphocyte ratio (N:L ratio) in relation to parasitism in big brown bats. She will first determine the loads and prevalence of ectoparasites (mites, bat bugs, ticks) and of endoparasites, including the blood-borne pathogenic bacterium Bartonella, using genetic detection methods, and trematode parasites in the GI tract, as detected by counting their eggs in guano pellets. She then will evaluate how these parasites and pathogens are associated with the N:L ratio, obtained by counting white blood cell types in thin blood smears from the bats. Castaneda explains that she and Jorgensen will study only lactating versus post-lactating adult females and juvenile males and females born in early summer to avoid disturbing pregnant bats.

The big brown bats they will study are from a maternity colony of this species at Saint Mary of the Woods College, which has been under study by ISU researchers for some years. Their study field sampling will start in late June and continue through early August 2023.

Farmer received an amount of $3,000 for his research “Regulation of Hox Expression in Heart Development using Drosophila melanogaster.” He aims to investigate the regulation of Hox gene expression in the developing heart using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism. The research will identify and characterize the cardiac activity of putative candidate Bithorax complex enhancers, a cluster of Hox genes, and define the potential function of trithorax, which is a critical regulator of the Bithorax complex Hox expression during the cardiac patterning of the dorsal vessel. According to Farmer, Hox genes are critical for proper heart development and are implicated in human congenital heart defects, hence, there is a pressing need to further understand the mechanisms of Hox regulation and how they may contribute to developmental defects. The study is expected to be completed by end of December 2023.

Gamble received $2,953 for her research: “Analysis of the roles of castor in cardiac progenitor cell division and specification of cardiac cell subtypes.” The research aims to identify the castor pathway genes mediating cardiac progenitor cell divisions in Drosophila and analyze the role of castor in specifying cardiac cell subtypes. Gamble explains that her research will lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the conserved cardiogenic pathways mediated by castor and its human counterpart, the zinc-finger transcription factor-encoding gene CASZ1, thereby opening potential avenues for new diagnostic and therapeutic measures for congenital heart defects.

In another development, Jorgensen and Gamble each received other awards in support of their studies. Jorgensen was awarded $1,000 from the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology to support his research, while Gamble received a $400 Victoria Finnerty Award from the Genetics Society of America to present her research at the 64th Annual Drosophila Research Conference in Chicago, IL, from March 1 through 5.