Science Students Luke Laschober and Hanah Mastandrea Working to Find Microorganisms for New Antibiotics

A Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Program Feature

“Discover and Analysis of Antibiotic-producing Microorganisms from Agricultural and Forest Soils”

Sophomore biochemistry major Luke Laschober and junior biology major Hanah Mastandrea have been busy sampling soils this summer, working to find microorganisms that can be used for new antibiotics. The research is part of USF’s SURE program.

Discovering new antibiotics for bacteria is important as bacteria create resistances to existing antibiotics quickly when a bacterium changes a certain part of its DNA. Bacteria has become resistant to the antibiotics for numerous reasons, including the overuse of common antibiotics in the medical field. Eventually, some bacteria can become immune to most types of antibiotics, making them hard to treat. Because of this, finding new antibiotics is important.

The Research Process

Under the guidance of Professor Ben Whitlock, Ph.D., the duo has been collecting soil from several locations, including prairie land recently donated to USF. The soil samples are then put through a serial dilution. The dilutions are then placed onto TSA plates for growth to occur and bacteria to be extracted.

From there, the isolated microorganisms are tested against pathogens with a high prevalence of antibiotic resistance to determine if the isolates will continue to inhibit the bacteria with consistent resistance. Isolates that produce antibiotic microbial bacteria are then further characterized and tested against other strains of the pathogen. The isolates are tested for motility and if the isolate is aerobic or anaerobic to determine if it needs oxygen to survive or not. This will give a basic understanding of the isolates and their function of survival. 

Describing what interested her about this project, Mastandrea said, “This program interested me because the microbiology and the BIEB [Beginning Investigative Experience in Biology] classes I took with Whitlock made me want to do research with something related to microbiology. We also did the same process we are doing now in the BIEB class and we are taking it into more detail and processes, which interested me a lot!”

SURE | Luke Laschober and Hanah Mastandrea - undergraduate research

Hopeful Outcomes

The overall goal of this study is to lower the rates of antibiotic resistance that is increasing in many individuals and to discover new potential antibiotics. Overall, there is a possibility that a novel antimicrobial could be discovered in agricultural soils. Time will tell!

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Recreation & Sport Management Majors Nicole Biegun, Jensen Crenshaw and Lindsay Mohrmann Evaluating Accessibility of Street Workouts for Adults with Mobility Devices

A Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Program Feature

“Wheelchair Accessibility to Street Workouts”

Recreation and Sport Management seniors Nicole Biegun, Jensen Crenshaw and Lindsay Mohrmann are working with Jessica Monu, Ph.D. to evaluate the accessibility of street workouts for adults who utilize a wheelchair and/or power-driven mobility devices, based on the 2010 Americans with Disability Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design. The research is part of USF’s SURE program.

The group hypothesizes that 60% or more of street workout spaces are not accessible (50% or less) to individuals who use a wheelchair or other power-driven mobility, based on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. The SURE study will evaluate 30 street workout spaces located in both urbanized areas and urban clusters. Acceptable locations will contain a minimum of three pieces of outdoor fitness equipment (e.g. pull-up bar) that would allow an individual to perform bodyweight exercises to improve her or his aerobic, strength, and/or stability/balance.

Monu became interested in this topic after a surgery left her struggling to get around. 

“I became interested in this topic after I had foot surgery and I was on a scooter and unable to walk for seven weeks. I know how much I struggled getting around on a scooter, which was much smaller than a wheelchair. Sitting around leads to a higher rate of obesity and health issues, so I wanted to see how accessible workout equipment was to individuals in wheelchairs,” Monu said.

Undergraduate research - “Wheelchair Accessibility to Street Workouts”

Gathering and Analyzing Data

“The main reason why I wanted to research this topic is so I can gain more experience with gathering data and learning how to process it,” Mohrmann noted.

Mohrmann will get plenty of practice gathering and processing data during the research project. During on-site visits to street workout spaces, data at each space is collected by two investigators and recorded to ensure accuracy of the measurements. Data is analyzed using a 1-3 scoring system to maintain consistency and reliability of data: (1) accessible, (2) not accessible, (3) not applicable. Since each street workout space will be slightly different based on the offerings, an overall score will not be calculated, rather an overall percentage of accessibility.

T-tests and correlational analyses will be run to test whether there is a difference in offerings and accessibility in urbanized areas and urban clusters, as well as the differences between accessible aerobic, strength and stability/balance equipment.

Undergraduate research (SURE program) --Nicole Biegun, Jensen Crenshaw and Lindsay Mohrmann -- Wheelchair Accessibility

Shedding Light on Park Accessibility

The group is hoping for some positive effects as result of their research. Mohrmann noted that another reason she wanted to research this topic was to shed light onto parks that may not be accessible, so communities can increase support for their population of people with disabilities. The group’s undergraduate research is sure to bring about a lot of good!

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Senior Biology Major Natalie Rozwadowski Conducting Gene Annotation for Drosophila takahashii

A Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Program Feature

“Annotation of Drosophila takahashii on Chromosone 3L”

Senior biology major Natalie Rozwadowski is conducting a gene annotation for Drosophila takahashii as part of the SURE program. Gene annotation identifies all the coding regions for genes within a genome and helps form hypotheses of the function of each gene based upon the similarities between species.

Drosophila takahashii is a model organism due to its similarities to many other organisms, including humans, as well as the ability to breed them at rapid rates and produce large numbers of offspring. Scientists are able to witness the traits that are passed down from generation to generation within a few short weeks or months.

“My interest in this project started in my Genetics and Perspectives in Evolution classes. I thought it was extremely interesting to look at the differences of a species at the genomic level, rather than the phenotype level. I also like how we can use this information to see the changes of a species over time and understand the effects mutations have,” Rozwadowski said.

Summer Undergraduate Research Experience - Natalie

The Research

Rozwadowski is working with Jackie Wittke-Thompson, Ph.D., on this project. Wittke-Thompson is a member of the Genomics Education Partnership (GEP), so the duo is using the GEP annotation workflow and gene report documents to complete and document their research, having the ability to claim projects, publish results, and access all programs and educational materials. The GEP allows undergraduate students to do genomic-level research, as it takes hundreds of scientists to annotate an entire genome quickly and efficiently.

In this study, gene annotation is being completed on one or more contigs (a segment of contiguous DNA sequences from a sequencing project) and will help the larger GEP research group make a better genomic-level analysis of the evolutionary relationship between D. melanogaster, D. takahashii, and other Drosophila species that have been sequenced on a genomic level.

It will be interesting to learn what Rozwadowski’s annotation uncovers!

Senior Psychology Major Christopher Parra Examining If U.S. Senators’ Religious Beliefs Affect Policy Debates

A Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Program Feature

“Religion in Politics: How Religious Beliefs Affect Policy Debates”

Christopher Parra is a senior psychology major working with psychology professor Eyal Sagi, Ph.D., to examine how U.S. senators’ religious beliefs affect policy debates, if at all. The research is part of the SURE program at USF.

Describing why he was interested in this particular topic, Parra said, “I wanted to find out exactly how much religion influenced politicians in their policy-making and in their moral rhetoric.”

SURE (Summer Undergraduate Research Experience) Christopher Parra

Carrying Out the Research

Parra, under the guidance of Sagi, is carrying out the research using a set of texts (frequently referred to as a corpus) that includes all speeches in the U.S. Senate from 1989 to 2013. Basic demographic information on senators, such as their party affiliation, is included in this corpus, but the religious affiliation of each senator is not included, so Parra needs to compile this information from previous scholars who have researched the senators’ religious affiliations in the past.

Once all this information is compiled, Parra will conduct an analysis of the two selected topics (abortion and welfare) based on keyword searches in the existing corpus of Senate speeches. Parra has background in mathematics, through previous coursework at USF, which will help him understand the inner workings of this method.

It will be interesting to see what Parra’s research uncovers!

Biology majors Brittany Cook and Leon Laskowski Analyzing Knee Flexion Angle While Cutting Under Increased Fatigue

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“The effects of intensive exercise on the knee angle flexion while changing direction and thus the correlation with ACL strain”

As the SURE (Summer Undergraduate Research Experience) program carries on, senior biology majors and student-athletes Brittany Cook and Leon Laskowski are researching how higher levels of fatigue may affect the angle that the knee flexes when performing cutting motions. Under the guidance of Susan Renner, Ph.D., Cook and Laskowski designed the research project of analyzing the knee flexion angle while cutting (i.e. changing directions) under increased physical fatigue and its correlation with ACL strain. As athletes on the USF women’s and men’s soccer teams, respectively, Cook and Laskowski are especially passionate about the subject.

“As scholar-athletes we witness many knee injuries, especially of the ACL, within the athletic department across contact and non-contact sports. We researched that different knee angles determine how much stress is put on the ACL while moving. With this information we designed our research question to see how the knee flexion angle moves away from a desirable, ‘healthy’ angle during increased physical fatigue while cutting,” Laskowski explained.

Carrying Out the Research

To carry out the research, subjects run to a designated line and turn. The subjects perform this same task first without warming up, then once they ride a stationary bike until their heart rate reaches increasing intervals (simulating increasing fatigue). Cook and Leon film the participants, paying special attention to the angle of the knees’ flexion, to examine at what point the participants’ form changes and puts them at increased risk of injury. Why the focus on cutting motions? Most ACL injuries in soccer and football occur during cutting, either non-contact or while being tackled.

Explaining what interested the duo about the project, Laskowski explained, “Both Brittany and I wanted to do research in our field over the summer to have the experience of designing and to exercise a research project outside of the regular class schedule. We see this experience necessary for our future in the field of medicine, as we both desire to become doctors in our field of expertise.”

These future doctors are certainly getting valuable research experience this summer!