East Georgia State College students enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Biology program are required to perform research under either the supervision of a member of the EGSC faculty or an outside researcher. This semester, a record number of four Biology students conducted research. Joleishia Cooper and Derick Thompson worked with Dr. Breana Simmons, Associate Professor of Biology, and Alicia Winfrey worked with Dr. David Chevalier, Interim Head of Biology. Kaitlin Warren worked with Dr. Jimmy Wedincamp, Dean of the School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, and Jen Hilburn, the Altamaha Riverkeeper.
In conjunction with students enrolled in BIOL 3500 (Ecology), Cooper measured physical, chemical and biological characteristics of a suburban lentil system to assess water quality and evaluate the habitat for use in local K-12 educational programs. Natural and anthropogenic factors, such as plant diversity and surface runoff, can influence inputs to ponds and lakes in suburban areas, affecting their suitability for research or recreation. Information from this study will allow local administrators to manage the property more effectively to meet educational and recreational goals as well as develop plans for future acquisitions.
Thompson is prepared to conduct a terrestrial survey of 136 wooded acres adjacent to the college for evidence of current gopher tortoise activity. A threatened species, gopher tortoises are found only in the sandy soils of the longleaf pine wire grass ecosystem, where their burrows provide shelter and refuge critical to the survival of other native species, such as indigo snakes and gopher frogs. During the survey, burrows will be tagged, evaluated for signs of recent activity, measured as a proxy for occupant size, and investigated for current inhabitants. This information will compliment tortoise surveys from 2003 and 2013 on the campus of EGSC.
Winfrey’s research identifies microRNAs from the algal species Dunaliella salina. This algal species is phototropic and resistant to salt due to the production and accumulation of high concentrations of beta-carotene. This alga is used to produce beta-carotene for cosmetics and dietary supplements. MicroRNAs are small, single-strand non-coding RNAs. Their main function is to regulate the expression of genes. They are involved in several biological processes, including cell cycle control, apoptosis, stem cell differentiation, and skeletal muscle development. This research is a continuation of the collaboration of Dr. Chevalier and Dr. Glen Borcheret from the University of South Alabama.
Warren’s research in collaboration with the Altamaha Riverkeeper investigates the condition of the Oconee River from Buckeye Ramp in East Dublin to the Brickyard boat ramp. This five-mile stretch of river has industry (a paper mill) and a municipality (the Dublin wastewater treatment facility) and, at the beginning of the project, the Riverkeeper was unaware of the condition and impact of this effluent to the Oconee River. No other known effluent is entering the Oconee River in this section. Warren’s job was to do the initial evaluation of the condition of the known (or any unknown) effluent going into this identified section of the river.
“Hands-on research is a very important part of becoming a biologist,” said Dr. Chevalier. “It allows students to develop their laboratory skills while enhancing their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.”