Biology students conduct groundbreaking summer research

Posted August 28, 2012

For biology students, summertime offers opportunities for exciting research opportunities and new discoveries. Three senior biology students, Grayson Allred, Tori Moore and Blaine Smith, recently returned from a summer spent participating in hands-on research with professionals in their field.

Allred spent his summer working at the Otonga Nature Reserve in the Cotopaxi province of Ecuador. He joined Dr. Thomas E. Lee, professor of biology, alumnus Andrew Hennecke ('11) and one student and one professor from PUCE, a university in Ecuador.

"My research expedition was truly the opportunity of a lifetime," says Allred, a senior from Abilene. "I gained invaluable knowledge and hands-on experience in the field I am pursuing."

Allred's work consisted of collecting over 100 tissue samples for DNA analysis of 16 different mammal species in the Ecuadorian rainforest. The specimens will be used in the Natural History Collections at both ACU and PUCE and increase understanding of the Ecuadorian ecosystem.

"This research will prepare me for graduate school and for my future as a mammalogist," says Allred. "I also got to experience South America for a month!"

Tori Moore, a senior from Houston, spent her summer with Dr. Qiang Xu, assistant professor of biology, at the USDA ARS Knipling-Bushland facility in Kerrville, Texas. Moore worked with the USDA researching horn flies and how they affect bovine milk production.

Horn flies are a major cattle pest. They feed on bovine blood, causing a significant decrease in bovine milk production and weight gain. Moore and Dr. Xu investigated which horn fly genes are involved in insecticide resistance in order to develop more effective methods of population control. Their efforts will lead to better bovine milk production with less insect interference.

"Working with Dr. Xu and the USDA has been an invaluable source of practical knowledge and skills, as well as support and encouragement," says Moore.

Blaine Smith, a senior from Keller, Texas, participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Smith completed a research project regarding the function of the Klotho gene and how it relates to protecting the lungs. His findings proved that the Klotho gene does in fact protect the lungs from damage, and his project was a success.

Smith's fellowship taught him how to handle stress in a lab environment and showed him that making a scientific discovery is worthwhile and rewarding.

All three seniors agree: these research opportunities have helped prepare them for their future educational and career endeavors.

Learn more about ACU's Department of Biology.