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Hard work and good genes lead to conference presentation

By Amy Lohmann '14
August 9, 2011

A group from St. Olaf including (from left) Biology Research Associate Erica Zweifel, Lisa Drewry '12, Shane Root '11, Professor of Biology Eric Cole, Jaimee Hoefert '11, and Taylor Penke '12 traveled to Crete to share their research findings with other molecular biologists.

After an extensive amount of lab work and research, four St. Olaf students found themselves floating down "the Gene Stream" toward success this summer.

The students were invited to present their findings at the 2011 Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) conference on Ciliate Molecular Biology in Crete. It was only the second time undergraduate students had been asked to present at an FASEB conference.

Lisa Drewry '12, Taylor Penke '12, and Jaimee Hoefert '11 began researching the ciliated protist Tetrahymena thermophila while taking a course titled The Gene Stream in the spring of 2010 with Professor of Biology Eric Cole. They continued their research with Cole that summer, where they were joined by Shane Root '11.

This summer the four students again delved back into their research and then, along with Cole and Biology Research Associate Erica Zweifel, traveled to Crete to present their findings. The National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health funded their journey.

"Going to Crete was very exciting," says Drewry. "Presenting was definitely intimidating, but a great opportunity. Many of the graduate students there only have posters and do not give presentations — we did both — so to get to talk as an undergraduate is huge."

The students found that their course had prepared them well for the experience. "I feel that the research in our lab, and in other labs at St. Olaf, is similar to the work being done by a lot of graduate students," says Penke. "While listening to other faculty and graduate student presentations, I noticed that our lab is utilizing many of the same techniques and protocols."

This level of experience is one of the goals of the course. "The Gene Stream course is an intensive, hands-on, research-oriented class that trains students in molecular biology, allowing them to clone a gene of interest, research its properties, and ultimately create a fluorescently tagged protein showing where the gene product resides within a living cell," says Cole.

The course was inspired by collaborative work with the Ciliate Genomics Consortium, a team of research scientists across the country who are committed to fostering research experience in the teaching classroom.

"I think The Gene Stream class is how we all ended up working in Eric's lab, but we all have projects now that are pretty independent of what we were doing in Gene Stream," says Drewry.

Many of these projects have spanned academic years, with the students not only conducting research the past two summers but also continuing their work throughout the academic year.

"I am very grateful for my experiences in Crete, and am especially grateful for the opportunity to share my research with some of the best ciliate scientists in the world," Penke says.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or vanderve@stolaf.edu.