HHMI INTERDISCIPLINARY UNDERGRADUATE FELLOWS

Each summer, a group of 12 to 15 undergraduates undertakes interdisciplinary research projects in laboratories across Harvard University, in fields including systems biology, neuroscience, microbial science, and stem cell biology.  Pairs of students then work together to develop animations based on their research.  We are excited to share the completed animations!

 

Small Molecules: It's the Little Things that Count!

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Content Creator Credits: Ethan Addicott ’14 and Afoma Umeano ‘13

Ethan’s Faculty Advisor:  Anne Pringle, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology
Afoma’s Faculty Advisor:  Emily Balskus, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology

Small organic molecules play a big role in our environment and are important components of complex biochemical pathways. This animation addresses three important questions: 1) What are small molecules?  2) Why are they important? 3) How are they used in biological systems? The animation describes research into the identification of small signaling molecule transporters that detoxify formaldehyde and are essential for cell survival in the fungi Neurospora. It also discusses synthetically tailoring small molecules to drive chemical reactions such as rescuing auxotrophic bacteria by providing essential nutrients in situ.


Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)

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Content Creator Credits: Jeffrey Mulligan ’14 and Emma Templeton ‘13

Jeffrey’s Faculty Advisor: Andrew Murray, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
Emma’s Faculty Advisor:  Jason Mitchell, Department of Psychology

Advances in brain imaging technology allow us to non-invasively connect brain activity to behavior. This animation presents the fundamental principles and methods of one such tool -- functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). As an example, we walk through a simple fMRI experiment that identifies areas of the brain important for facial recognition. fMRI is an important and interesting tool because it can give us better insight into how we make decisions, think about the minds of other people, and process emotion.


Finding Therapeutics to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

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Content Creator Credits: Gunsagar Gulati ‘14

Gunsagar’s Faculty Advisor:  Lee Rubin, Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a debilitating neurodegenerative disease that causes motor neuron death in the brain and spinal cord that can lead to paralysis. A major goal for the treatment of ALS patients is to identify novel therapeutics that can prevent motor neuron death. This animation provides basic background knowledge about ALS. It describes how high throughput chemical library screening of cultured motor neurons is being used to identify compounds that increase motor neuron survival.


Regeneration and Cancer

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Content Creator Credits: Christopher Devine ’13 and Chris Goldstein ‘13

Chris Devine’s Faculty Advisor:  Jeffrey Macklis, Department of Stem Cell& Regenerative Biology; Departments of Neurology & Neurosurgery, Harvard Medical School
Chris Goldstein’s Faculty Advisor:  Lee Rubin, Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology

This animation highlights regeneration, a remarkable process that occurs to differing extents in various organisms. Research with a unique species of salamander that can naturally regenerate its body parts, including the spinal cord and brain, can be used to better understand the mechanisms involved with brain regeneration and repair in more complex vertebrates. This may lead to therapies for neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS and Parkinson’s disease as well as spinal cord injury. Since it appears that regeneration and cancer are so heavily intertwined this allows for an important intersection to also study potential cancer therapeutic targets.


A Primer to Image Analysis in Biology

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Content Creator Credits: Jackson Steinkamp ’15 and Jeffrey Wang ‘15

Jackson’s Faculty Advisor:  John Calarco, Bauer Fellow, FAS Center for Systems Biology
Jeffrey’s Faculty Advisor:  Erin O’Shea, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology; Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology; HHMI Investigator

Microscope technologies have evolved to allow for high resolution observation of cellular processes. Advanced techniques of image analysis include collecting large amounts of numerical data that can be used for molecular modeling. A recurring challenge has been proper interpretation and statistical analysis of this data. This animation highlights two experimental examples of this mathematical process by looking at a collection of data from yeast cells to analyze gene expression and from the animal C. elegans to analyze muscular constructs important for locomotion.


Applications of Stem Cell Technology in Parkinson’s Disease

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Content Creator Credits: Brian Choi ’13 and Daniel Park ‘15

Brian’s Faculty Advisor:  Ole Is

acson, Neuroregeneration Laboratories, McLean Hospital
Daniel’s Faculty Advisor:  Lee Rubin, Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology

Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement. A focus of research efforts is to restore motor function in these patients. The differentiation of stem cells into mature motor neurons is an active area of research. This animation outlines the underlying principles, challenges and goals of cell replacement therapy as a treatment for this debilitating disease.


DNA Repair Mechanisms

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Content Creator Credits: Ana Rivera ’13 and Jenny Shih ‘15

Ana’s Faculty Advisor:  Galit Lahav, Department of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School
Jenny’s Faculty Advisor:  Gregory Verdine, Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology; Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology

The main goal of this animation is to depict current research in the area of DNA damage. DNA damage can occur due to various kinds of stresses, and uncorrected damage can lead to various diseases such as cancer and atherosclerosis. Here, we focus on two areas of research dealing with DNA repair mechanisms. One study focuses on DNA damage due to oxidative stress in an effort to understand how the repair enzyme goes about searching and identifying damaged bases. The other study focuses on the use of stem cells to understand a specific DNA repair pathway mediated by the tumor suppressor p53.


The project was funded by an award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Conception and content of the animations by the Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Fellows. Student mentoring by Jacqueline M. Brooks. Animations by Matthew Bohan.

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