Hampden-Sydney is uniquely positioned to encourage student research. Biology majors work closely with faculty performing both course-based and independent research in the lab and in the field. They are addressing exciting questions in biology, including cancer biology/immunology, virus prevalence/pathogenicity in reptiles, whale physiology, invasive plant species, neurobiology, and genomic characterization of bacteriophages, while also honing their critical thinking and oral/written communication skills, ultimately making them more successful upon graduation.

Student Research in Biology

Taylor McGee '23 has been conducting research with Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon '01 to investigate the clinical significance of interferon pathway gene expression in tumor tissue. Specifically, Taylor has utilized RNA-sequencing data from The Cancer Genome Atlas to evaluate expression levels of individual interferon pathway genes as potential biomarkers of patient response to cancer immunotherapy. He and Dr. Hargadon recently published an article related to this work in the journal Expert Review of Clinical Immunology. Taylor also presented aspects of this work at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, where he was awarded a Margaret Foti Foundation Undergraduate Prize for Cancer Research (Honorable Mention Award).

Jacob Siler ’23 and Luke Carter ’22 have worked the past two summers under McGavacks Associate Professor of Biology Michael Wolyniak on uncovering the nature of the microbiome that can be found in one’s mouth and how that microbiome can be affected by diet and other lifestyle choices. Both Jacob and Luke are aspiring dentists that designed this research project to enrich their preparations for dental school. Luke has done extensive work with characterizing the specific microenvironments that may promote the growth of microbial strains that are harmful to oral health while Jacob has sought to combine this data with both molecular sequence and human survey data to correlate particular microbial strains with particular behaviors. They have presented their work at the Sigma Xi Research Showcase and the Virginia Academy of Science Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting.

Henry Carman '23 is currently working with Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Rachel Goodman on a study of ranavirus impacts on turtle growth and survival. In the summers of 2021 and 2022, they are trapping turtles in both Chalgrove Lake and Tadpole Hole on campus to weigh, measure, and permanently mark and collect tissue samples via skin biopsy. During the school year, they conduct genetic testing for the presence of the virus in turtle tissues. Ultimately, they will compare rates of growth and survival between turtles that carried ranavirus and those that did not.

Paul Mahaffy '22 is conducting a survey of local snakes on campus to determine if they carry ranavirus and an emerging fungal pathogen that has been sweeping across the east coast, Ophidiomyces ophidiicola. Although snakes are known to be potential hosts for ranavirus, there has been no thorough survey to date of any wild population to determine prevalence and impacts of the pathogen. Working with Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Rachel Goodman in summer 2021, Paul Mahaffy and Henry Carman recreated two survey networks on campus that had fallen out of use or been partially destroyed by the construction of new dorms. In total, 200 artificial cover objects (ACOs) were placed over several acres in the woods and are now checked twice per week for snakes that may have taken up residence underneath. They are weighed, measured, and pit tagged, and skin swabs and tissue samples are collected for genetic testing of O. ophidiicola and ranavirus, respectively. Paul is continuing this work for his Departmental Distinction senior project in Biology, and he will conduct the genetic testing for O. ophidiicola with collaborators at Virginia Tech, Gaelle Blanvillain and Dr. Joseph Hoyt.

Joe Corbett ’22, working under the supervision of Trinkle Professor of Biology Alex Werth, is currently studying a marine biology project on ways in which low-oxygen (hypoxic) zones in water affect the visual acuity of fish and other marine life. He is looking both at ways that hypoxic water has different physical properties that affect water clarity, and also at ways that water with varying oxygen content influences the vision of different fish (mostly using a zebrafish model) by affecting their eyes and perhaps also their nervous systems. He plans to investigate effects of varied oxygen environments on the vision and other senses of marine invertebrates as well.

Jeb Wall '22, working in the lab of Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon '01, has spent the past year employing bioinformatics approaches to gain molecular insights into cancer progression. Utilizing RNA-sequencing data from The Cancer Genome Atlas, Jeb has performed Kaplan-Meier survival analyses to determine how expression of genes that regulate the oxidative stress response influence melanoma patient outcome following treatment with chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy. He presented aspects of this work at two national meetings: the Annual Sigma Xi Symposium and Student Research Conference and the Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research. Additionally, Jeb has recently initiated a new project to gain insight into the FOXC2 transcription factor as a driver of melanoma progression. Again using clinical datasets from melanoma patients, Jeb is currently performing pathway impact and gene ontology analyses of FOXC2-correlated genes to better understand the oncogenic activity of FOXC2.

James Patterson '21 completed Departmental Distinction work in Biology under the mentorship of Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon '01. In an effort to identify transcriptional biomarkers of melanoma progression, James analyzed RNA-sequencing data from melanoma biopsies and evaluated the prognostic significance of metabolic pathway gene expression. Assessing a comprehensive panel of genes linked to glycolysis, lipid metabolism, and amino acid metabolism, James identified several individual genes from each pathway for which dysregulated expression is a predictor of patient survival. Prior to graduating in 2021, James presented his work at the Annual Meeting of the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, and he is currently enrolled in the Master's Program in Biomedical Science at Wake Forest University.

Andrew Howell '20 and Dr. Kristin Fischer had a manuscript entitled “Reusability of Autoclaved 3D Printed Polypropylene Compared to a Glass Filled Polypropylene Composite” accepted in July 2021 for publication in the 3D Printing in Medicine journal. Healthcare waste can be a costly expenditure and it may be possible to create custom medical devices at a low cost that can be reused without fear of disease transmission after steam sterilization exposure. We investigated whether polypropylene (PP) cubes and glass-filled polypropylene (GFPP) cubes could be successfully 3D printed and survive one, four, seven, and ten rounds of steam sterilization via autoclaving. This research was funded by a grant Dr. Fischer received from the Virginia Academy of Sciences (VAS).

Find out more about the Student Research program at Hampden-Sydney College:

Student Research at H-SC