The pre-recorded talks and posters on this page showcase the work of students who received NC Space Grant research funding during 2021-2022. The menu at right provides links to pre-recorded talks and posters by other funded students on additional topics.

Chloe Alexander

NASA Internship Award at Kennedy Space Center – Spring 2021 
North Carolina State University
Undergraduate Student (Senior), Plant Biology

Gaps List KSC Space Crop Production Project Scientist: Interview Evaluation

The Space Crop Production (SCP) Program at the NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is aimed at achieving nutrient supplementation and moving towards caloric independence from Earth by growing crops for astronauts. However, growing crops outside of Earth’s orbit creates many new challenges. The KCS SCP Project Scientists have developed a method of organizing these challenges, called the Gaps List. This Gaps List is a dynamic, taxonomically arranged list of missing knowledge and technologies needed to reach production goals. The purpose of this evaluation was to assess the effectiveness and current research coverage of the Gaps List by using it to document KSC SCP Program research. It was determined that there are several needs within the SCP Program that are not being met, as well as, many deficiencies within the Gaps List. Gaps involving hardware were largely unrecognized by both the KSC researchers and the funding sources that would typically support them. The KSC SCP Project will require more engineering and physical sciences support to fill those gaps. The Gaps List was found to be out of date and in need of rearrangement. A recommendation from this review was that the Gaps List be reassessed at regular intervals to ensure all gaps, and relevant research topics are included. To better understand the gaps within the list, any assessment needs to include a measure of priority, dependency, and breadth. These measures may be included within or alongside the current taxonomical arrangement of the Gaps List.

Mentor: Gioia D. Massa, Kennedy Space Center

Maha Amjad 

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
Wake Technical Community College
Associate Student, Nursing

Building an Augmented Reality (AR) Library for Visualizing Protein Structures

Alzheimer disease is a progressive disease that harms the memory and other mental functions. In this disease, the structure of protein disrupts, causing the misfolding of proteins. The main protein involved is amyloid-B protein. The structure of this protein will be visualized in augmented reality through this project. This will help the future students to understand how amyloid beta protein abnormally misfold, form plaques and accumulate in the brain cells, causing a harmful effect to the memory.

Faculty Advisor: Candice Roberts, Wake Technical Community College

Quinn Anderson

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
Wake Technical Community College
Associate Student, Science

Cost Savings Analysis Between a Centralized and Decentralized CPR Certification Program

Employers requiring professional certifications for employment can require staff to pursue these certifications externally, where staff go to off-site training centers or internally, where the employer provides on-site certification using either contracted or in-house staff. The Joint Commission requires health centers to employ staff who provide direct patient care to have American Heart Association Basic Life Support and First Aid certification. This ensures staff know what to do during a cardiac arrest or an emergency. Piedmont Health Services is a federally qualified health center that operates 10 health centers and 2 senior care centers. Using mathematical modeling and scenario analysis features of MS Excel, this project will evaluate the financial implications of implementing an in-house centralized, in-house decentralized, and outsourcing of BLS and FA certification needs. We will present differences in cost, mileage expenses, staff productivity, lost revenues, and savings between the three methods of provision of required certifications for staff and choose one for implementation.

Faculty Advisor: Michael Traylor, Wake Technical Community College

Sydney Baker

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
Wake Technical Community College
Associate Student, Biology

Displaying Alpha-Synuclein Misfolding in Augmented Reality as a Result of Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive nervous system illness that degenerates the central nervous system and destabilizes body movement by misfolding the protein alpha-synuclein. The goal of this project is to model the initial structure of the alpha-synuclein protein in augmented reality, illustrating how the progression of Parkinson’s Disease misfolds this protein. The structure of this newly misfolded protein will also be explored in augmented reality to understand how its changed shape enacts the negative effects of Parkinson’s Disease. In conducting this research and displaying the findings in augmented reality, Wake Tech students will have the opportunity to learn more about the roots of Parkinson’s Disease and the importance of structure to the function of all proteins, including alpha-synuclein.

Faculty Advisor: Candice Roberts, Wake Technical Community College

Lillian Carpenter

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
Davidson-Davie Community College
Associate Student, Biology 

Anti-mitotic Properties of Organic Extracts from Endophytic Fungi Isolated from Davidson-Davie Community College Campus Flora

Cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide, and in the U.S., over 1.5 million new cases are diagnosed every year. Natural products provide sources for anti-cancer drugs as seen in the discovery and use of Taxol producing organisms. Research has indicated that bioactive secondary metabolites produced by endophytic fungi are a potential source for such compounds. The aim of the current study was to determine the anti-mitotic properties of organic extracts obtained from fermentation cultures of endophytic fungi cultured from plants located on the campus of Davidson-Davie Community College. To test the fungal extract’s anti-mitotic abilities, we obtained and rooted onion bulblets, cut their roots, and exposed them to each extract in a bioassay. Root length was measured and compared to a control. Sterilized roots were cut for 1 mm of the tip and stained with toluidine blue. The stained onion tips were observed under a microscope to determine stages of mitosis and to develop a mitotic index. The results of root-tip bioassays will be presented along with recommendations for further testing of isolated fungi and their extracts as sources of mitotic inhibitors.

 Faculty Advisor: Joseph W. Felts, Davidson-Davie Community College

Elayna Cooper

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
Wake Technical Community College
Associate Student, Microbiology

Crowdsourcing Novel Antibiotics

In today’s world, we are experiencing a crisis in the medical field. We are quickly running out of effective and useful antibiotic therapeutics. This project is designed to search the environment for novel antibiotics that exist in the environment for the purpose of being possibly used as future therapies. This is done by culturing environmental bacteria collected for soil samples in the local area and completing it against pathogenic analogs to find new antimicrobial compounds. Done in conjunction with the Small World Initiative, this project searches for new environmental antibiotics and picks up where pharmaceutical companies left off.

Faculty Advisor: Anthony Blair, Wake Technical Community College

Lane Diesa

2021-22 NC Space Grant Undergraduate Research Scholar
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
Undergraduate Student (Senior), Agriculture Education

Analysis of Phototropism and Gravitropism in Arabidopsis thaliana: a Ground Control for Spaceflight Experiments

The use of plants for space exploration will be important for bioregenerative life support systems. We seek to understand the basic biology of plants by exploring the mechanisms of tropic responses, like gravitropism and phototropism. This project provides a ground control for a spaceflight project performed on the International Space Station (ISS). We performed experiments with an analog that simulates (clinostat) microgravity of low Earth orbit by rotating plants in different planes. Our working hypothesis is that plants grown on the analog clinostat will exhibit similar results to those obtained in the spaceflight experiment on the ISS. We used three different genotypes to complete the experiment including the WT Ler, PhyA and PhyB. The seeds were placed on petri dishes and received a cold stratification before being placed in a dark, and a red-light treatment was provided to stimulate germination. Upon germinating, the seeds are then placed under a white grow light for 96 hours. The petri dishes are then placed on a rotating clinostat for 48 hours with unidirectional photostimulation with either red or blue light. The roots and shoots were measured after the 48 hours of rotation. The measurements collected from this experiment will be compared to measurements from similar experiments conducted on ISS in order to analyze whether an analog clinostat can simulate similar tropic responses in plants as those produced in microgravity.

Faculty Advisor: John Z. Kiss, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Katherine Foster

2021-22 NC Space Grant Undergraduate Research Scholar
East Carolina University
Undergraduate Student (Senior), Biology and Geology

Interpreting the Mineral Microstructures of Mariprofundus erugo P3 as a Potential Biosignature

Biominerals of chemolithotrophs are capable of being preserved within the geological record as biosignatures and are often used as a window to provide insight into past environments. These minerals include Fe(III) oxyhydroxides, which are produced by neutrophilic iron-oxidizing bacteria in patterns such as twisted stalks, sheaths, and dreads. These morphologies, which are distinct from abiotic iron oxides, serve as biosignatures that indicate the presence of iron-oxidizing bacteria. However, it remains unclear to what extent temperature may affect the chemical and physical characteristics of biologically produced Fe(III) oxyhydroxides and thus our ability to discriminate between biotic and abiotic iron minerals. To test this, we are currently culturing Mariprofundus erugo, which produces Fe(III) oxyhydroxides as twisted stalks, in three different temperatures: 4°C, 20°C, and 30°C. Fe(III) oxyhydroxide morphology and mineral composition will be analyzed using SEM-EDS and compared between temperatures. From this, we hope to gain insight into how temperature affects our ability to distinguish between biosignatures and geochemically produced minerals, which is crucial to detecting life on Mars and within our own geological record.

Faculty Advisor: Erin K. Field, East Carolina University

Alexis Griffin

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
South Piedmont Community College 
Associate Student, Biology

Poster forthcoming

Comparing the DNA of vertebrate and invertebrate species after processing DNA barcoding is a method of species identification using a short section of DNA from a specific gene or genes. In this research, part of the cytochrome c oxidase (CO1) gene located on the mitochondrial DNA will be amplified. A universal primer will be used to recognize conserved areas in the CO1 gene in many invertebrate species. The PCR reaction will be performed at a low annealing temperature since the primer sequences will not be an exact match to the CO1 target sequence in all vertebrates. This allows primers that are not an exact match to still anneal well enough to form a stable duplex for the PCR reaction. To analyze and compare these sequences, DNA will first be extracted and analyzed from the sample. The target DNA barcode region will then be amplified using PCR. After the target DNA barcode region is amplified, the PCR products will be sequenced. With the sequenced PCR products, the resulting sequences will be compared against reference databases to find the matching species. It is not expected to see the same primer sequence in all invertebrate species, but it is expected to see a repeating DNA sequence of telomeres identical in all vertebrate species. The expected conclusions are that there are going to be obvious differences between invertebrate and vertebrate species such as invertebrates comprising 34 phyla and vertebrates representing one subphylum.

Faculty Advisor: Nickolas Davros II, South Piedmont Community College

Valerie Haller

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
Wake Technical Community College
Associate Student, Engineering

Using Augmented Reality to Understand the Role of Protein Structure in Glucocerebrosidase

Gaucher’s Disease is a genetic disease where the body has a mutated version of the enzyme Glucocerebrosidase (beta-glucosidase). Normally, this enzyme aids in the breaking down of glucocerebroside, a glycolipid that lives in the membranes of cells. In Gaucher’s, the protein cannot break down the lipid, causing the immune cells to swell in the spleen, liver, and bone marrow. The goal of this project is to see the difference between the beta-glucosidase protein normally and in Gaucher’s disease through augmented reality, giving a full understanding of this protein. Augmented reality will give students a fuller understanding of the effects Gaucher’s disease has on glucocerebrosidase.

Faculty Advisor: Candice Roberts, Wake Technical Community College

Carson Hester

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
Piedmont Community College
Associate Student, Arts

Ocean Acidification Impacts on Sea-Life and the Economy

Ocean Acidification is known as the “evil twin” of Global Warming. Ocean acidification results in a slight drop in the ocean’s ph. Since the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere has increased 20%, largely due to human activities. Our oceans are great at absorbing this excess CO2, but with great detriment to our sea life, as this more acidic atmosphere is impairing the growth and maturation of many shelled organisms and corals. Another negative effect includes the migration time shifts, which greatly impact the food chain. For example, due to changes in temperature and pH, krill migration patterns are evolving which greatly reduce their predators’ food supply as feeders such as whales cannot foresee this change in migration. Also, the coral reefs and shelled sea organisms are heavily affected. In a more acidic environment, shelled organisms, such as mussels and clams face difficulties forming their exoskeleton and corals have trouble making new reefs. As the oceans absorb the excess CO2, a reaction takes place to form carbonic acid. This results in decreased carbonate ions which corals need to thicken and grow. Some studies show that certain corals could decline as much as 20% in this century solely due to ocean acidification. As coral reefs serve as a home for a melting pot of ocean life, this is having dramatic impacts on the ecosystem. Our research has also revealed the impacts of ocean acidification on the economy. In America alone, the seafood industry employs well over one million people and contributes over $140 billion to the economy. Since 2015, fishing employment opportunities have decreased by 6%. There has also been a shortage of seafood on a global scale. Some estimates indicate $480 million in losses per year by the end of this century. In our own lab, we are working with seashells in 2 different controlled environments, normal ocean pH and the current, more acidic, ocean pH. The goal of the experiment is to show the acidic water’s impact on organisms’ exoskeletons, which would mimic ocean-shelled organisms’ current state – being thinner, weaker, and not feasible as a crustacean shell. We are also attending webinars and conducting interviews with current researchers working on global warming and ocean acidification to obtain support documentation that dictates if ocean acidification continues, life in our oceans, both in the form of living organisms and the benefits to humans, will cease to exist.

Faculty Advisor: Katie Hester, Piedmont Community College

Svea Hulstedt

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
Wake Technical Community College
Associate Student, Public Health

Data Analysis for Piedmont Health

It is estimated that 10% of people in the United States have diabetes. Prolonged and untreated diabetes leads to more severe conditions such as heart attack, stroke, eye, and kidney disorders. To further understand the prevalence of diabetes, we analyzed Piedmont Health Services (PHS) empanelment profiles to determine factors that contribute to a patient having diabetes. PHS is a federally qualified health center serving 45,000 patients of mostly uninsured and underinsured status. Using excel modeling, we discovered that gender, number of days between visits, and ethnic identity influence hemoglobin A1C levels (HBA1C). The results of this study can provide strategies such as public health care, appointment reminders, and healthier lifestyles to decrease diabetes in the population.

Faculty Advisor: Jan Lee Santos, Piedmont Health

Mohammed Hussain

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
Wake Technical Community College
Associate Student, Science

Cost Savings Analysis Between a Centralized and Decentralized CPR Certification Program

Piedmont Health has 500 staff scattered throughout 12 locations in 4 counties that require biennial CPR and First Aid certification. This project will look to answer the question: What would be the cost to outsource this task? Possible factors to review are certification cost, mileage reimbursement, absence from clinic time, and if a provider has to be absent from the clinic, what is the loss of not seeing 10 patients attend certification.

Faculty Advisor: Michael Traylor, Wake Technical Community College

Marielise Ishak

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
Wake Technical Community College
Associate Student, Biology

Aquatic Flora and Fauna

Wake Technical Community College offers a unique undergraduate research experience called START (STem Academic Research and Training) to help prepare students for a career in the STEM sciences. As an intern in the Aquatic Flora and Fauna project, I will help collect data to determine the water quality and species diversity of a stream found in Wake County, North Carolina.  The stream of interest is located just south of the current highway N.C. 540 construction site along the northern perimeter of Wake Tech’s southern campus. My mentor and I are concerned about how this upstream disturbance is potentially impacting this aquatic ecosystem. This project will allow me to learn more about field research and sampling techniques, as well as how to utilize different environmental detection tools while gaining a better understanding of human impacts and population ecology. The knowledge I gain from this research experience will help direct my future educational and career goals in the STEM sciences.

Faculty Advisor: Melinda M. Gibbs, Wake Technical Community College

Jon Kizer

2021-22 NC Space Grant Graduate Research Fellow
North Carolina State University
Graduate Student (Doctoral), Plant Biology

Plant Responses to Plasma Activated Water

Nitrogen (N) is an essential nutrient in plants because it is used for the synthesis of proteins and DNA and is needed for photosynthesis. N is taken up by plants in the form of nitrate (NO3-) or ammonium (NH4+) by specific membrane-protein transporters. New and sustainable technologies of producing nitrogen fertilizer are needed as methods for creating synthetic fertilizers containing NO3-, mainly the energy-intensive Haber-Bosch process. Non-thermal plasmas (NTP) can use electricity to fix N2 gas from ambient air into water in the form of NO3-, a form readily available to plants. This plasma-activated water (PAW) also contains reactive oxygen species (ROS) at various concentrations which may also be relevant to plant health. PAW represents an untapped potential for a new kind of sustainable fertilizers for agriculture. There is no unified standard for PAW. 

It is proposed that PAW-treated plants will show enhanced growth due to the presence of both NO3- and ROS. We will explore the effects of PAW on plant health and the underlying biological causes for these responses such as phytohormone responses to better understand and more effectively utilize this tool. This is novel, but it has potential to serve as an alternative tool that may have invaluable uses for the purposes of off-Earth agriculture. To achieve these ends we aim to achieve three specific objectives. 

1. Developing practical procedures to apply PAW effectively to a growing system. 

We will utilize gel media containing PAW to control all nutrients inputted into the system. 

2. Identify any specific alterations in cell biology and physiology. 

We will grow plants on media and soil to characterize effects on growth parameters such as biomass and shoot and root measurements. 

3. Determine the influence of PAW on hormone pathways. 

We will use confocal microscopy and fluorescent hormone markers to identify potential pathways affected by the accumulation or alteration of phytohormone partitioning in plant tissues. 

Our team is investigating the molecular pathways that are responsive to PAW treatment in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. We have developed an effective protocol to treat plants with PAW in a controlled system at different stages of development. Treatment of 3-day old seedlings with PAW results in increased primary root elongation and increased elongation of lateral roots. These results cannot solely be explained by the NO3- content of PAW as plants grown under similar levels of NO3- were significantly different. Preliminary studies using a reporter for the plant hormone auxin indicate that PAW treatment does not alter the auxin maxima at sites of lateral root initiation or the root tip. Therefore, PAW may control root architecture outside of auxin accumulation during lateral root development and emergence. Our current studies are addressing other phytohormone pathways and characterizing the PAW-treated plant phenotype.

Faculty Advisor: Marcela Rojas-Pierce, North Carolina State University

Mauricio Linares

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
Wake Technical Community College
Associate Student, Chemistry

Fungus DNA Barcoding

DNA barcoding helps scientists defend environments by offering quick species identification. The barcode registry for fungus in particular needs expansion. To develop the DNA barcode registry for fungi it is imperative to effectively extract their DNA. The aim of this research is to optimize fungus extraction by testing different methods of sample acquisition and storage. To optimize the DNA extraction of fungi, the same species of fungus were stored in different environments and were tested for their subsequent quality of extraction. After extraction of the DNA, all extractions were processed with the same protocols for PCR and gel electrophoresis. Successful DNA extractions were then sent for DNA sequencing.

Faculty Advisor: Rachel Walsh, Wake Technical Community College

Imani Murph

2021-22 NC Space Grant Graduate Research Fellow
North Carolina State University 
Graduate Student (Doctoral), Human Factors and Applied Cognition

Training Using Diminished Reality

Combining theories of learning and a novel technology, diminished reality (DR), may aid in the creation of training for complex tasks in distracting environments. DR can de-emphasize elements of an environment to improve attention and there may be a benefit in extending these effects to training methods. One method of diminishment, called emphasis training, aids learning by directing attention to a specific part of a task, rather than the whole task, which may improve performance. However, high initial performance can hinder learning, suggesting that “desirable difficulties,” such as outside stressors during a task, are key to designing training that scaffolds learners to be able to work with distractions. Although, there may be a level of distraction that is an impediment to learning. We hypothesize that using DR to gradually introduce desirable difficulties will train the operator to perform in distracting environments, enhance long term retention, and promote transfer of skills.

Faculty Advisor: Anne Collins McLaughlin, North Carolina State University 

Sam Teague, Nathalie Seferovic, Kevin Reza-Villa, Justina Uwa, Luismy Alvarado, Lizbet Resendiz-Alas

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
Wake Technical Community College
Associate Students, Microbiology

Undergraduate Research in Microbiology at Wake Tech

The Antibiotic Resistance Research Group (ARRG) at Wake Tech began in 2014 to provide research experience to undergraduates interested in microbiology and antimicrobial resistance. This presentation summarizes the ongoing research of six ARRG students. Two projects are investigating Janthinobacteriumlividum, a purple, Gram positive coccobacilli. While not a clinically relevant species, the J. lividum genome harbors genes conferring antibiotic resistance. The J. lividum  projects are developing molecular tools to examine the expression of resistance genes. Another project is determining if antimicrobial disks can be used in combination with a 96-well microplate reader to simultaneously detect resistance to multiple antimicrobials in multiple environments. Two other projects are investigating bacterial resistance to ciprofloxacin, an important broad-spectrum antimicrobial. In one, water samples are used to inoculate ciprofloxacin-containing medium, and the resulting colonies are tested to detect the presence of ciprofloxacin-degrading enzymes. Another project is determining how quickly Staphylococcus aureus can develop ciprofloxacin-resistance. The final ARRG project is investigating the prevalence of Bacillus cereus, the cause of a serious gastrointestinal disease, in different commercially available foodstuffs. It is sometimes thought that science must be complex and time consuming to be worthwhile. However, simple undergraduate research projects based in microbiology and molecular biology can provide valuable experience for aspiring scientists, and while doing so, can reveal interesting and important scientific discoveries.

Faculty Advisor: B. Scott Nunez, Wake Technical Community College

Jackson Poulnott

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
South Piedmont Community College
Associate Student, Mechanical Engineering Technology

Effects of Extreme Weather Conditions on Biological Materials

Extreme weather conditions will be something that colonizers of other planets will have to deal with. Increasing the knowledge base of how biological materials such as plants and microorganisms perform under such conditions will be useful to future exploits to other planets. With that in mind, the SPCC HARP team will be sending up (Insert seed name here) and tardigrades to see how they perform and change under the extreme weather conditions of the mesosphere and stratosphere. By sending up a sample of (Insert Seed name), through the rapid germination time of the seed, it will allow for several generations to be examined. The rapid turnaround time coupled with the ability to see possible physical and genetic changes exhibited in the seeds will allow for magnification of the changes to be seen. The various developments within the first generation of seeds and how it affects the subsequent generation of seeds will be compared. It is expected that the seeds will have a slightly modified structure that is magnified in future generations of the seeds. The tardigrades are expected to survive and be as lively as before they were launched into the stratosphere. This will allow for possible future implementations with other crops. Tardigrades are useful for testing to see how resilient these biological organisms are. Through seeing how resilient the organisms are to the extreme conditions, possible resilient abilities of the tardigrades could be implemented to help create structures that improve biological resistance of other organisms.

Faculty Advisor: Nickolas Davros II, South Piedmont Community College

Ysabel Rey

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
Wake Technical Community College
Associate Student, Biomedical Engineering

Piedmont Health Data Analysis

It is estimated that 50% of adults in the United States have hypertension. Chronic hypertension can result in more severe conditions such as heart attack, stroke, eye, and kidney disorders. To further understand the prevalence of hypertension, we analyzed Piedmont Health Services (PHS) empanelment profiles to determine factors that contribute to a patient having hypertension. PHS is a federally qualified health center serving 45,000 patients of mostly uninsured and underinsured status. Using excel modeling, we discovered after analysis that aspects such as gender are not as much of a factor, but alternatively, ethnicity and the ability to pay and visit medical facilities can have a higher influence on high blood pressures. The results of this study can provide strategies to those of different ethnic groups and economic backgrounds to decrease hypertension in the population.

Faculty Advisor:  Jan Lee Santos, Piedmont Health

Brynn Shelley

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
South Piedmont Community College
Associate Student, Marine Biology

Poster forthcoming

Invertebrate Survey and Water Quality Assessment of Urban Ponds in Union County

For my project of Invertebrate Survey and Water Quality Assessment of Urban Ponds in Union County, I ran experiments on two man-made ponds: the run-off pond on the SPCC campus and a pond in my neighborhood. My goal was to examine the contrast between an untouched run-off pond vs. a pond that gets consistent testing maintenance and treatments. I observed and logged data on both ponds to see the water quality and invertebrate population/variety difference between them. I have used provided equipment such as a water quality testing kit, and lab microscopes for testing the water to count and identify the invertebrates/microorganisms found. Within my observation, I have seen that pollution of dependent factors and water treatments show vast variation in the two ponds and how the water quality conditions affect the population and diversity of invertebrates living in the ecosystems.

Faculty Advisor: Kholoud Alkhayer, South Piedmont Community College

Hyein Shin

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
Wake Technical Community College
Associate Student, Arts/Pre-Nursing

Community Outreach for PHGS, a Genomic Screening for Certain Health Risks

Genetic screening tests can be used to see if a person has an increased risk for developing certain diseases, such as high cholesterol and some types of cancer. The Precision Health Genetic Screen (PHGS) is a pilot program for genomic screening in otherwise healthy adults. The community outreach program for PHGS is designed to increase awareness of genomic screening for certain health risks. A literature review and annotated bibliography will inform the community outreach efforts for PHGS, including social media promotion and events such as health fairs for patient recruitment.

Faculty Advisor: Rachael Walsh, Wake Technical Community College

Amanda Smythers

2021-22 NC Space Grant Graduate Research Fellow
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduate Student (Doctoral), Analytical Chemistry

Tardigrades

Tardigrades (water bears) are eight-legged, microscopic invertebrates renowned for their ability to survive extreme stress. The hallmark of this survival is their unique ability to form a ‘tun,’ a survival state achieved through withdrawing of limbs, expelling internal water stores, and significantly decreasing metabolism. Tardigrades can remain in this state for years while remaining relatively undamaged, emerging only when the external threat has been removed. The complex biology of tardigrades paired with their innate survival abilities, including the ability to survive high/low pressure environments, freezing temperatures, and UV irradiation, make them a promising biological model for long-term space survival. Our work has revealed a novel dependence of tardigrade survival on the presence of reactive oxygen species (ROS), small cellular messengers present in all living systems. Additionally, we have generated protocols for the analysis of translational regulation that increase previous coverage of the tardigrade proteome by over 80%. Together, we have laid the foundation for understanding how tardigrades initiate their survival to extreme stress that may be applied to develop new technologies for NASA’s space missions.

Faculty Advisor: Leslie M. Hicks, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Aurora Toennisson

2021-22 NC Space Grant Graduate Research Fellow
North Carolina State University
Graduate Student (Doctoral), Plant Biology

Auxin Regulation of Plant Tropisms in Simulated Microgravity

Spaceflight provides a unique opportunity to study plant biochemical signaling pathways in the absence of gravitational stimuli. Transcriptional studies have the potential to identify key genes related to plant adaptation to microgravity. Unfortunately, comparison between spaceflight experiments is often confounded by other variable factors including plant age and the use of different experimental hardware. Additionally, ground-based 1g controls may not fully simulate spaceflight stresses that are unrelated to changes in gravitational stimuli. The Plant Signaling (PS) and Plant RNA Regulation (PRR) flight experiments on the ISS were two transcriptional studies of Arabidopsis plants carried out in the European Modular Space Cultivation System (ECMS). The ECMS allowed for flight-based 1g controls through the use of rotating centrifuges. Significantly, in both experiments, genes related to auxin and light-signaling were upregulated in microgravity-grown plants, compared to plants grown at 1g. 

My current project is a ground-based follow-up to these experiments to further investigate the role these genes may play in adaptation to microgravity. I grew Arabidopsis seedlings on both 2D and 3D clinostats and used RT-qPCR to compare gene expression at different time points after exposure to clinostat-simulated microgravity. I also investigated the gravitropic and phototropic response of T-DNA insertion mutants for key genes of interest. Results to date indicate that several genes of interest show transcriptional changes due to clinorotation, but the intensity and direction of these changes depend on the duration and type of clinorotation. Some of the mutants show altered phototropic or gravitropic responses compared to wild-type plants.

Faculty Advisor: Imara Perera, North Carolina State University

Jared Tuton

2021-22 NC Space Grant Undergraduate Research Scholar
University of North Carolina at Pembroke
Undergraduate Student (Senior), Biology

Role of Modulating Integrin-type Adhesion Signaling During Seizure Pathology that Affects Synaptic Integrity and Plasticity

Astronauts are exposed to several potential stressors and cognitive risk factors associated with aerospace travel. Example stressors on the body include traumatic brain injury (TBI), turbulence-induced mild TBI, sleep deprivation, isolation, and hypoxia, all of which have been linked to increased susceptibility to seizures. Among several avenues that produce hyperexcitability in the brain, previous research indicates that seizures cause synaptic degradation through the overactivation of NMDA-type glutamate receptors, followed by an influx of calcium and the production of reactive oxygen species. Synaptic compromise has been associated with long-term cognitive impairment and an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This project is a follow-up to the previous research conducted under an NC Space Grant in which hippocampal explants that maintain native neuronal organization and circuitry were introduced to a seizure-inducing toxin exhibiting a distinct synaptotoxic profile. Results indicate the presence of an inverted correlation between synaptic decline and abnormal β1 integrin responses. Additionally, to further understand the role of integrin signaling in seizure-associated synaptopathology, an integrin-specific peptide inhibitor was used with the aim of establishing a relationship between seizure-related events and compensatory adhesion responses and thus, potentially arriving at a method of preserving synaptic integrity. Here, the recent results showed that β1 integrin inhibition, via a small molecule, preserved synaptic integrity to a degree against seizure events.

Faculty Advisor: Ben Bahr, University of North Carolina at Pembroke

Kayla Upshaw

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
Davidson-Davie Community College
Undergraduate Student, Biology

Fungicidal Properties of Organic Extracts from Endophytic Fungi Sampled from Davidson-Davie Community College Campus Vegetation

In the age of ‘Superbugs’, the emergence of pathogenic fungi resistant to current known medical treatments is a growing problem; making treatment of infectious illnesses more difficult to handle. As a result, newer sources of antimicrobial treatments are needed. Bioactive secondary metabolites produced by endophytic fungi are a potential source for such compound discoveries. Previous examination of organic extracts from endophytic fungi isolated from vegetation on the campus of Davidson-Davie Community College have shown antimicrobial effects in agar-well diffusion assays. The current study expands that work to include antifungal effects of organic extracts against Fusarium oxysporum and Candida albicans. Emerging fungi from campus vegetation were isolated and grown in fermentation cultures of potato dextrose broth to promote production of bioactive secondary metabolites. After a minimum of three weeks in room temperature conditions, the fermentation cultures were strained and subjected to organic extraction using ethyl acetate and the product stored in methanol until bioassays were conducted. The results of well-diffusion bioassays against both F. oxysporum and C. albicans will be presented along with recommendations for further testing of isolated fungi and their extracts.

Faculty Advisor: Joseph Felts, Davidson-Davie Community College

Borna Zareiesfandabadi

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
Durham Technical Community College
Associate Student, Science

Isolation and Characterization of Gordonia westfalica Bacteriophages.

Bacteriophages (phages), viruses that exclusively infect bacteria, are the most numerous biological entities on this planet. Due to the rise in global antibiotic resistance, and the ability of phages to infect and kill specific bacteria, phages are a hot topic of investigation. Durham Tech is part of the SEA-PHAGES program which aims to discover and study the diversity of environmental bacteriophages of the Actinobacteria phylum including the Gordonia genus. This project aims to discover and characterize phages of the Gordonia westfalica species from soil samples taken around the Durham area. Currently, there are only two phages from this Gordonia species listed in the Actinobacteriophage database (phagesdb.org). Discovery of additional phages will help to expand our understanding of the diversity of these phages.

Faculty Advisor: Marie Fogarty, Durham Technical Community College

Alexis Griffin

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
South Piedmont Community College
Associate Student, Biology

DNA Barcoding: Comparing the DNA of Vertebrate and Invertebrate Species After Processing

For my project of Invertebrate Survey and Water Quality Assessment of Urban Ponds in Union County, I ran experiments on two man-made ponds: the run-off pond on the SPCC campus and a pond in my neighborhood. My goal was to examine the contrast between an untouched run-off pond vs. a pond that gets consistent testing maintenance and treatments. I observed and logged data on both ponds to see the water quality and invertebrate population/variety difference between them. I have used provided equipment such as a water quality testing kit, and lab microscopes for testing the water and count and identify the invertebrates/microorganisms found. Within my observation, I have seen that pollution of dependent factors and water treatments show vast variation in the two ponds and how the water quality conditions affect the population and diversity of invertebrates living in the ecosystems.

Mentor: Nickolas Davros, South Piedmont Community College

Brynn Shelley

2021-22 Community College Undergraduate Research Program
South Piedmont Community College
Associate Student, Marine Biology

Invertebrate Survey and Water Quality Assessment of Urban Ponds in Union County

For my project of Invertebrate Survey and Water Quality Assessment of Urban Ponds in Union County, I ran experiments on two man-made ponds: the run-off pond on the SPCC campus and a pond in my neighborhood. My goal was to examine the contrast between an untouched run-off pond vs. a pond that gets consistent testing maintenance and treatments. I observed and logged data on both ponds to see thFor my project of Invertebrate Survey and Water Quality Assessment of Urban Ponds in Union County, I will be running experiments on two man-made ponds: the run-off pond on the SPCC campus and a pond in my neighborhood. My goal is to examine the contrast between an untouched run-off pond vs. a pond that gets consistent testing maintenance and treatments. I want to observe and log data on both ponds to see the water quality and invertebrate population/variety difference between them. I will be using provided equipment such as a water quality testing kit, and lab microscopes to test the water and count and identify the invertebrates/microorganisms found. I expect to see that pollution of dependent factors and water treatments will show vast variation in the two ponds and how the water quality conditions affect the population and diversity of invertebrates living in the ecosystems.

Mentors: Nickolas Davros (South Piedmont Community College), Kholoud Alkhayer (UNC-Charlotte)