In recent years, many have speculated that climate change is the driving force behind the spike in cases of Lyme disease in the northeastern United States. It would be really useful for the public if we could use climate data to predict places and times at risk for Lyme disease. In her senior project, Sarah Weiner used public records from the United States Drought Monitor to create a climate index. Then, with guidance from professor Felicia Keesing, Sarah built statistical models to see whether this climate index could be used to predict year-to-year variation in Lyme disease incidence at the county level. Sarah found that climate is not a practical way to predict Lyme disease outbreaks, and that other factors, such as location, are much better predictors.
In her senior project, Biz Osborne-Schwartz’ 17 sought to improve oral rehydration therapies (ORT) for cholera patients. Working with her advisor, Professor Brooke Jude, Biz developed a protocol to study the attachment of Vibrio cholerae to chitin (a stand-in for a human intestinal cell) and other carbohydrates. This new protocol allowed her to test if adding a certain type of chemical compounds, called enzyme resistant carbohydrates, to ORT could decrease the number of bacteria in a patient infected with cholera. Biz observed a decrease in Vibrio cholerae attached to chitin beads when incubated in ORT with enzyme resistant starches, which means that more complex ORT are promising for cholera patients!
In November 2017, Bard alum Silas Busch ’16 presented the work he did during his Bard senior project at a professional society meeting “Society for Neuroscience” in Washington DC. His poster won a travel award from the David Hubel Memorial Fund (distributed through the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience society).
In his work, Silas studied how neural cells in the brain of frog tadpoles change their spiking properties when tadpoles experience different types of visual and auditory stimuli. To measure neuronal properties, Silas used a fancy electrophysiological technique, called Dynamic Clamp. He found that neurons become tuned to better process stimuli perceived by the brain, and that when visual and auditory stimuli are combined, it leads to interesting, and somewhat unexpected changes in neuronal tuning.
Presentation info: S.E. Busch, A.S. Khakhalin. Midbrain neurons show temporal retuning of intrinsic properties in response to patterned uni- and multisensory stimulation. Wed Nov 15, 2017. Washington DC.
In her senior project, Daniella Azulai ’17 studied antibiotic resistance of a bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa: a pathogen that plagues patients with compromised immune systems and people with cystic fibrosis. Daniella developed a new method to test how virulent (harmful) different strains of these bacteria are. Using larval zebrafish, she found that antibiotic resistance does not necessarily correlate with virulence, but rather that each strain showed a unique profile, pointing to differences in the evolution of these strains over time.
Sydney Pindling finished her senior project in the fall of 2016, under the supervision of professor Gabriel Perron. Sydney developed a promising new model to study the effects of antibiotics, such as streptomycin, on the animal microbiome. She exposed larval zebrafish (Danio rerio) to very low concentrations of streptomycin; in fact, the concentrations Sydney used were similar to that observed in in environment: rivers and streams near human settlements. Sydney found that that even at these low concentrations streptomycin changed the microbiome in the larval fish, and increased larva mortality. She also observed that the microbes in the fish gut were selected for genes associated with antibiotic resistance. These results may have relevance both for studies of antibiotic effects in humans, and for the environmental research of fish populations.
Biology senior Molly McQuillan and professor Arseny Khakhalin coauthored on a neuroscience paper published in the prestigious life sciences journal eLife. The paper presents new research that explains how the developing brain learns to integrate simultaneous sensory cues—sound, touch, and visual—that would be ignored individually.
Full citation: Truszkowski, Torrey LS, Oscar A. Carrillo, Julia Bleier, Carolina Ramirez-Vizcarrondo, Molly McQuillan, Christopher P. Truszkowski, Arseny S. Khakhalin, and Carlos D. Aizenman. “A cellular mechanism for inverse effectiveness in multisensory integration.” eLife 6 (2017): e25392.
This amazing photo of a Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) was made by Bard biology senior Devin Fraleigh, who is now working with Panthera foundation, in collaboration with the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgzstan, to study populations of Snow Leopards in the Tien Shan mountains. This image of an adult leopard was captured using an automated camera in early March 2017 on a mountain pass in the Ala-Too mountain range, not far from Bishkek.
For her senior project Martie studied the behavioural response in captive common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus – the second smallest primate in the world) to the introduction of a novel foraging-enrichment device. In captivity, animals often become bored, depressed, or stressed, and enrichment is a way in which caretakers can improve the lives of captive animals. Compared to many other animals, monkeys are very smart, and therefore need even more stimulation to keep them physically and psychologically active. Knowing how to keep animals happy and healthy in captivity is a highly important aspect of conservation biology.
In the wild, marmosets don’t just collect fruits and insects like many other monkeys do, but gouge trees with their teeth and suck out the sap. In captivity however, most monkeys are fed fruits and vegetables from stationary bowls, which provides enough nutrition, but gives no practice in natural ways foraging, and makes the marmosets lose their ability to gouge trees. With the help of Bard professor Felicia Keesing, Martie designed a novel enrichment device for captive marmosets living in captivity in Costa Rica. The device was made of a small wooden log with holes drilled all around it, that Martie filled with honey and hang up vertically in the cages. This study was the first ever to try honey as a sap substitute for common marmosets, and Marite found that this simple device increased positive foraging behaviours and decreased inactivity, significantly improving the well-being of captive monkeys.
Shailab Shrestha studied how bacteria develop resistance against antimicrobial agents, such as antimicrobial peptides. Together with prof. Gabriel Perron, Shailab sequenced genomes of several experimentally evolved Pseudomonas fluorescens populations resistant to high concentrations of a certain synthetically modified antimicrobial peptide named pexiganan, and compared these genomes to each other. The results of his original studies were not quite clear due to possible contamination, but Shailab followed up on them during BSRI 2016, and the project has high chances of being eventually published as research paper.
In her senior project, Katherine Moccia studied potential effects hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) can have on microbial communities in streams near fracking sites. Under supervision of prof. Brooke Jude, Katherine tried to understand whether the presence of bacteria that produce purple pigments, such as species of Janthinobacterium, can be used as an indicator for the overall “health” of a natural water stream. She used microbial isolates from a local creek, and added a commonly used hydraulic fracturing material called glutaraldehyde to simulated microbial communities, to quantify the effects glutaraldehyde would have on the number of purple colonies. The results of this project were not quite clear, but are promising methodologically.