Summer Immersion Project Example

Sample project provided by biologist, Dr. Bruce Cahoon.

This is an example of how he would mentor rising sophomore biology majors in an in-depth experience in genetics.

Biologists often collect data from several different conditions or locations and measure one or more variables from each sample. One of the challenges is to determine if there is a significant difference between any of the samples. The Cahoon lab at MTSU studies several aspects of chloroplast biology including nuclear and plastid gene expression. For example, he and one of his students are currently measuring the expression of 24 genes required for lipid (fat) biosynthesis important for chloroplast function. The mRNA levels of the genes are quantified at several growth conditions (differing temperature and light) known to affect lipid content. The quantification technique, real-time PCR, produces sets of numerical data that can be compared with statistical techniques. In this case, the expression of each gene is compared at each growth condition. From this they are able to determine which gene(s) are modulated to control lipid content at different light or temperature conditions.

A group of 5 students in the proposed program could perform a similar analysis. Under the guidance of Dr. Cahoon, students would design an experiment and learn to collect gene expression data at different points in development or different environmental conditions. The project would dovetail with an ongoing research project and produce novel data that could become publication quality. Dr. Cahoon would be responsible for teaching molecular techniques, RNA extractions, trouble shooting the data collection process, and understanding the results. An upper level undergraduate could help them understand and perform the needed statistical tests.