Molecular and Cell Biology

MCB1: Centromeres: Getting a Grip of Chromosomes

Mentors: Dr. Barbara Mellone, Assistant Professor, Molecular & Cell Biology, and her Research Team

Please note: Background experience or coursework in biology is recommended for participation in this site.

During cell division, it is essential for chromosomes to be separated accurately into the two daughter cells so that the genetic information contained within each cell remains identical. Each chromosome needs to be found, captured, and then segregated to the right cellular pole in a complex and intricate process called mitosis. If something goes wrong, cells may acquire an incorrect number of chromosomes (too many or too few), a condition that can lead to cell death, and other severe conditions including cancer, mental retardation, and pregnancy loss. In our lab, we focus on the study of a region within chromosomes called the centromere, which is responsible for the accurate capture and segregation of chromosomes. Here, you will learn how we use genetics, molecular biology, microscopy, and biochemistry to understand what centromeres are made of and how they work. You will visualize functioning and defective centromeres and watch chromosome segregation happening in living cells. If you are curious about how cells “get a grip of chromosomes” when they divide, come and join our team!


MCB3: Comparative Genomics: Gene Transfer Between Bacteria

Mentors: Dr. J. Peter Gogarten, Professor, Molecular & Cell Biology, Shanon M. Soucy and Seila Omer, Graduate Students

Please note: Background experience or coursework in biology and computer programming is recommended for participation in this site.

In recent years our understanding of microbial evolution has undergone a major revision. Genomes are no longer seen as slowly changing information repositories, but have been revealed to be changing rapidly through gene duplications, deletions, rearrangements, and the acquisition of genes from unrelated organisms. Over 10,000 completely sequenced bacterial genomes are publicly available and many more are being sequenced at accelerating speed thanks to recent progress in sequencing technology. Comparison of genomes from closely related organisms allows us to detect footprints of natural selection and to identify recently acquired genes; data bank searches often allow us to determine the likely donors of these genes; and compositional statistics and inspection of the genes’ neighborhood may provide clues regarding the transfer mechanism. Participants in this site will learn how to compare and analyze genomes with the aim of detecting transferred genes. This work will involve analyzing genomes and gene families using analytical tools that are already established and available as web-based applications, along with simple scripts and programs.


MCB4: Getting to Know Your Beneficial Bacteria!

Mentors: Dr. Joerg Graf, Professor, Molecular & Cell Biology, Mike Nelson, Ph.D., Susan Janton, M.S.,Emily McClure, M.S., and Jaquelynn Benjamino, B.S.

Please note: Background experience or coursework in biology is recommended for participation in this site.

So you think that you are really a human. Actually, every one of us carries ten times as many bacterial cells than human cells. Who are these bacteria and what do they do? This is what the human microbiome project is about. Many people think that bacteria only cause diseases or spoil food, but most bacteria do not cause harm, and many even provide us with a benefit. These bacteria we call symbionts. We know very little about these symbiotic bacteria. In this project, program participants will identify these bacteria from the mouth and armpit of fellow students. DNA will be isolated and the 16S rRNA gene amplified using PCR. The DNA will be sequenced using Next-Generation Sequencing and analyzed. In the end, the students will describe the microbiome of the human mouth and armpit. This project is designed for participants interested in biology to get some hands-on experience in a molecular biology lab and learn more about how symbiotic microorganisms interact with humans.


MCB5: Exploring the Evolution of Kangaroos and Wallabies

Mentors: Dr. Rachel O’Neill, Professor, Molecular & Cell Biology, Sarah Trusiak and Zachary Duda

Ever wonder why there are so many different species on the planet…or how they evolved to their modern state? The macropod marsupials, wallabies and kangaroos, are an informative model for molecular evolution studies as the 65 different macropod species have evolved very rapidly and recently. Many species can also reproduce to produce macropod hybrids, although the hybrids are typically infertile and suffer from chromosome defects, especially in the “black hole” of the chromosome, the centromere. In this project, you will extract RNA from different wallaby species, make cDNA and isolate an important centromere gene using PCR. The genes will be cloned into a vector, sequenced using Sanger sequencing, and analyzed for nucleotide changes between the species. We will also visualize the location of the genes on wallaby chromosomes using fluorescent techniques. After completing this project, you will have learned molecular biology techniques and protein evolution analysis using an exciting model system


MCB6: From Chromosomes to Cancer

Mentors: Dr. Rachel O’Neill, Professor, Molecular & Cell Biology, Brianna Flynn and Brendan Smalec

The Peromyscine mice provide an ideal model system to study the genetic factors that contribute to metastasis in some types of cancers. We use this system to study the effect chromosome changes have on cancer cell survival and metastatic potential. Using cell culture analyses, we can also tease apart the molecular mechanisms that lead to the initial chromosome damage in these cancers. In this project, you will extract DNA and RNA from normal and tumor cells, make cDNA and isolate candidate sequences for further analysis. We will also visualize the location of the specific mutated sequence and regions on normal and tumor chromosomes using fluorescent techniques. After completing this project, you will have learned molecular biology techniques and cytochemistry using an exciting model system.