The Kentucky NSF EPSCoR Program has recently made 21 awards through its annual academic year programs, aimed at bolstering Kentucky’s burgeoning research infrastructure. For more information on each of the awarded projects, please read below.

The Effect of Plant Extracts on Apoptosis, Stress Response and Cell Cycle – A Hands-On Research Project for High School and Undergraduate Students

Principal Investigator: Chandrakanth Emani
Institution: Western Kentucky University

EOC Award

The overall goal is to mentor a select group of up to 20 high school and undergraduate level students from Daviess County in advanced experimental mammalian and plant molecular biology. This select group will be comprised of students from Western Kentucky University-Owensboro (WKU-O), Owensboro Community & Technical College (OCTC) and the Life Sciences Academy (LSA) with a focus on underrepresented students. LSA is a multi-district biomedical science program serving advanced high school students in the Greater Owensboro Region. During the spring semester (February – May 2017) the students will meet for a minimum of 3 hours per week during this 12-week course. They will be introduced and trained in the use of modern molecular and cellular biology techniques through both classroom instruction and advanced hands on laboratory exercises. The goal is to provide exposure to advance biological principles that are not taught in their normal classes. The model system will consist of mammalian cells exposed to various plant biological extracts to demonstrate key cellular processes including apoptosis, stress response and the cell cycle.

Enhancing Karst Groundwater Management through Real-time, Data-driven Public Outreach in the Bowling Green Metropolitan Area

Principal Investigator: Leslie North
Institution: Western Kentucky University

EOC Award

Few urban areas have real-time water quality monitoring data available to the general public that is of high quality, used for engaged research, and able to inform urban stormwater protection efforts. Such real-time water quality monitoring data are available in the Bowling Green Metropolitan Area (BGMA), through the efforts of the PIs and the City of Bowling Green (CofBG), yet these data are not readily accessible to the public, and, thus, are not used meaningfully in educational and outreach efforts. This project aims to make accessible high- resolution, real-time data through various outreach avenues to regional community members. More specifically, the objective of this project is to collect, analyze, and publicly distribute high-resolution, real-time water quality and quantity monitoring data to better protect drinking, recreational, and ecological water resources in the BGMA.

Expanding Your Horizons: A STEM Conference for Middle School Girls

Principal Investigator: Ellen Crocker
Institution: University of Kentucky

EOC Award

Funding this proposal would result in the organization and hosting of a conference called Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) at the University of Kentucky (UK). The conference will feature a day of interactive STEM workshops for female middle school students led by UK undergraduate and graduate students, and will also include college preparation sessions for accompanying parents. We plan to hold the conference on a Saturday in April 2017 on UK’s campus. The primary goal of this conference is to to encourage middle school girls to consider STEM studies by providing them with memorable interactive workshop experiences, visible (female) role models in STEM fields, and exposure to different career paths in STEM. UK undergraduate and graduate students designing and leading these workshops will develop their outreach skills and build confidence in their own scientific and leadership abilities. Finally, parents who attend this conference with their daughters will gain insight into the college preparation process and learn skills to become better advocates for their children as they continue their studies in STEM fields.

WKU South Campus Makerspace for Underrepresented/Underprepared STEM Students

Principal Investigator: Anne Heintzman
Institution: Western Kentucky University

EOC Award

This proposal aims to establish a makerspace on WKU’s South Campus for the 2016-2017 academic year, evaluate the impact of the makerspace on underrepresented and underprepared STEM students on WKU’s South Campus, and use that research to pursue further internal and external grant funding to establish a permanent makerspace that will offer effective makerspace opportunities to those STEM students. Funding will be used to expand the current makerspace, begun with a $2000 internal grant that allowed the lead investigator to purchase a 3D printer and a few other basic essentials. The requested grant would add to these materials and allow the lead investigator to hire an advanced STEM discipline student to assist in the makerspace. The lead investigator will conduct research on the effect of the project on at- risk freshmen seeking to enter STEM disciplines using observation, survey and institutional data, and will evaluate that data at the end of the academic year to develop recommendations for continuance of the project.

Solar Science: A Workshop for Middle School Science Teachers in Preparation for the 2017 Solar Eclipse

Principal Investigator: Les Pesterfield
Institution: Western Kentucky University

EOC Award

The PIs propose offering two one-day workshops on solar science for middle school science teachers in the Western Kentucky University service region. During the workshops, participants will: 1) build their own telescope, sun funnel and pinhole projector, 2) work through a variety of inquiry-based activities and lessons to use in their classroom. Each workshop will be limited to sixteen participants each in order to permit the grant team to work with the participants individually on the building activities and in modeling best practices in conducting inquiry-based activities in the classroom. At the conclusion of the workshop, each participant will have built a telescope, sun funnel and pinhole projector to take back to their home institution. The plans and parts list for each build will also be given to the participants so that they can build additional units if desired. Additionally, each participant will be provided with a complete set of classroom materials use in the workshop for use in their classroom.

Integrating Collegiate Ecological and Molecular Research into the K-12 STEM Curriculum

Principal Investigator: Lou Hirsch
Institution: University of Kentucky

EOC Award

The activities outlined in this proposal integrate ecological and molecular research taking place at the University of Kentucky (UK) into the STEM curriculum at Garrard County High School in Lancaster KY, and Leestown Middle School in Lexington, KY. The proposal outlines a field study that investigates the interactions between two different strains of fungal endophytes that infect the common forage grass tall fescue. The two fungal strains differ in their ability to produce specific alkaloid compounds, which are chemicals involved in reducing mammalian and insect herbivory and provide a fitness advantage to the infected grass host. Replicated treatments of specific ratios of different endophyte-infected tall fescue will be planted at each location. The plots will become part of the permanent educational infrastructure at each school, where K-12 STEM students will investigate different biological phenomena in line with the framework of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Specifically, students will become valued collaborators in a longitudinal science experiment by sampling tall fescue plants for analysis by UK researchers, and observing and recording the impact of different endophytes on insect populations over time.

Seismic Communication in Chameleons: Form and Function of a Novel Signaling Mechanism

Principal Investigator: Steve Huskey
Institution: Western Kentucky University

REG Award

Although less studied than airborne acoustic communication, a number of animals, across diverse taxonomic groups, communicate via vibrations through the substrate. One taxonomic group that has been understudied in terms of vibratory communication is reptiles, likely because their sound production abilities are often lacking and entire reptilian groups are completely deaf (e.g. snakes). An exception to this is the veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus), which produces a low-frequency buzzing sound emanating from the throat region. This sound results in a vibratory signal detectable on the branch upon which the chameleon is positioned and is often used when the animal feels threatened or during courtship and mating. This is the first documented case of plant-borne vibratory signaling in any reptile, but this phenomenon has not been examined further in C. calyptratus or in other chameleon species.

 

The purpose of our proposed project is to systematically examine potential communication in veiled chameleons via substrate-borne vibrations. The aims include examining the mechanisms of vibration production and reception. We will address the following questions:

 

1) What are the characteristics of veiled chameleon vibrations?
2) How are these vibrations produced?
3) How do veiled chameleons behaviorally and physiologically respond to these vibrations?
4) Do chameleons have specialized mechanoreceptors to detect these vibrations?

The Evolution and Function of the Allorecognition Determinant Across a Family of Marine Chordates

Principal Investigator: Marie Nydam
Institution: Centre College

REG Award

Allorecognition, the ability of an organism to differentiate self or close relatives from unrelated individuals, occurs throughout the tree of life. The colonial ascidian Botryllus schlosseri undergoes an allorecognition reaction when two individual colonies come into contact. If the two colonies share at least one allele at a gene called fuhcsec, colony fusion will result. If no fuhcsec alleles are shared, a rejection reaction will occur. Because each individual can discriminate kin from potentially hundreds of unrelated neighbors, fuhcsec is highly polymorphic. This project addresses both the function and evolution of fuhcsec. From a functional perspective, what is the role of fuhcsec in the allorecognition reaction? From an evolutionary perspective, which selective forces are maintaining the extraordinary polymorphism at fuhcsec in B. schlosseri and across the Family Botryllidae?

Risk Assessment of Plant-derived, Ecofriendly Gold Nanoparticles using an Animal System

Principal Investigator: Nilesh Sharma
Institution: Western Kentucky University

REG Award

Application of metal nanomaterials in consumer items has increased at an alarming pace in the 21st century. Specifically, the use of gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) has extended to a range of medical applications, e.g., disease diagnostic, drug delivery, and therapeutics. The general notion of the safety of gold particles is challenged by a plethora of recent investigations, showing potential toxicity to biological systems and environmental degradation. The conflicting observations are considered to be the result of differential responses that arise out of different classes of an elemental nanoparticle. It is increasingly felt that the toxicity depends on individual morphologies (size, shape and surface properties) of a nanoparticle. Therefore, this research focuses on biologically-synthesized AuNPs of a particular dimension (40nm; spherical) and characteristic. Biological AuNPs differ from chemical AuNPs primarily in the surface properties such as radicals or conjugates that coat their surface. Surface characteristics are critical to the nanoparticle interaction with cells or macromolecules. Thus, we hypothesize that plant-induced AuNPs will be different in their toxigenicity, if any, because of their different surface features. The project thus aims at the following objectives 1) Biofabricating AuNPs using Alfalfa cell culture system: Alfalfa cells will be grown in a nutrient solution enriched with aurochlorate under controlled conditions. Size and shape distribution curves of harvested nanoparticles will be prepared, 2) Determining a profile of peripheral proinflammatory and antiinflammatoy cytokines in laboratory mice exposed to nano-gold obtained through both methods (plant- and chemically- synthesized) and, 3) Mapping the inflammatory gene expression pattern by analyzing the transcriptional abundance.

Mechanochemical Synthesis of Transition Metal Catalysts and Liquid Crystalline Compounds

Principal Investigator: Rachel Allenbaugh
Institution: Murray State University

REG Award

Mechanochemical synthesis, where reactants are ground together to induce reaction, is emerging as an alternative to solution-based, thermally-induced methods for producing a wide variety of products and materials. Often accomplished through ball-milling, these reactions use little to no solvent. Mechanochemical methods often result in vastly more sustainable compound preparation through (1) reduced solvent use, (2) reduced reaction time, and (3) reduced waste. The proposed $25,000, one-year project seeks to develop mechanochemical syntheses for transition metal complexes including liquid crystalline materials and catalysts. Although ball-mill methodologies are beginning to be utilized for an increasing number of organic syntheses, and continue to be popular for preparing metal oxides and alloys, only a limited amount of work has been carried out on transition metal complexes. A similarly small body of work has focused on preparing air and/or moisture-sensitive transition metal complexes, an area that will be a primary focus of the proposed work. In addition to demonstrating the utility of mechanochemical processes for a wide variety of syntheses, the kinetics of these reactions will be analyzed to help understand how and why mechanochemical reactions tend to be faster than their solution counterparts. The proposed project will also focus on the unique benefits that smaller organizations and primarily-undergraduate institutions can reap by using mechanochemistry for exploratory synthesis.

Microencapsulation of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids using Protein-Polysaccharide Complexes

Principal Investigator: John Khouryieh
Institution: Western Kentucky University

RSP Award

The objectives of this research project are to develop a delivery method to enhance the stability of the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (ω-3 PUFA) and to study the environmental stresses (ionic strength and pH) impact on the stability of the encapsulated ω-3 PUFA. Due to the health benefits of ω-3 PUFA there has been an increasing industrial interest using fish oils in foods in recent years. However, the use of fish oils in foods is limited owing to their susceptibility to oxidation. Since this susceptibility has restricted polyunsaturated fatty acids’ application in food products, it is important to develop effective protection systems. In recent decades, much attention is given to the use of natural antioxidants for the prevention of oxidation to minimize the use of synthetic food additives. Proteins and polysaccharides are present together in food systems, with both types of biopolymers contributing to product shelf-life, texture and stability of food through their thickening or gelling behavior and surface properties. Whey protein isolate (WPI) is a surface-active globular protein and can be adsorbed to oil droplet surfaces. It contains cysteyl residues, disulfide bonds and thiol function groups which can scavenge free radicals to inhibit lipid oxidation. Therefore, WPI-stabilized emulsions may act as an antioxidant system. The addition of polysaccharides enhances the protein adsorption at interfaces and increases the emulsion stability. The research hypothesis is that synergistic interaction between polysaccharide-polysaccharide mixtures and WPI would provide an effective stability to ω-3 PUFA emulsions. Therefore, the influence of selected polysaccharide mixtures on the oxidative stability of WPI-stabilized ω-3 PUFA will be investigated and a delivery system to allow incorporation of the ω-3 PUFA into food products will be developed. The effects of the synergistic interaction between xanthan gum and locust bean gum or guar gum combined with a protein on emulsion stability will be investigated. The effectiveness of synergistic polysaccharide- polysaccharide-WPI mixtures on the oxidative stability ω-3 PUFA will be assessed using physicochemical (peroxide value and TBARS) and microstructural analyses (particle size, viscosity, creaming index, and transmission electron microscope).

Using Carboxylate Ligand Sterics to Systematically Control Cu Doping in ZnS Nanocrystals

Principal Investigator: Judy Jenkins
Institution: Eastern Kentucky University

RSP Award

Rationale chemical synthesis of highly functional materials from earth-abundant sources is critically important to the development of highly efficient solar energy conversion technologies, motivating the work described here. Our key scientific objective is demonstration of controlled copper (Cu) doping of zinc sulfide nanocrystals (ZnS NCs) via cation exchange (CE) by systematically varying the availability of the Cu dopant through the steric hindrance of ligands in various Cu(II) carboxylate complexes.

 

Cation exchange (CE) is a post-synthetic strategy used to enhance the utility of NCs by altering chemical compositions to yield improved optical, electrical, and transport properties in the resulting NCs. For instance, ZnS NCs are attractive materials for solar hydrogen generation because of the material’s high conduction band energy, which is sufficient to reduce hydrogen ions in aqueous solutions. However, the wide ZnS bandgap (3.7 eV) limits the amount of sunlight absorbed. Cu-doped ZnS NCs absorb more of the solar spectrum and show improved photocatalytic activity, but because the extent of doping and the physical location of dopants cannot be systematically varied, it is difficult to fundamentally understand how these improvements are realized.

 

During CE, host nanocrystals are exposed to a solution containing cations (dopants) that can adsorb to the host crystal surface, diffuse into the host nanocrystal, and substitutionally replace some or all of the host cations. CE involves multiple simultaneously occurring processes influenced by a wide range of variables, but this work focusses solely on the dopant. Dopant adsorption to the host crystal surface is a key parameter influencing the extent to which CE occurs and/or the location(s) of CE. The extent of CE can be thought of as the percentage of host cations replaced by the dopant cations, while the location at which CE begins may be determined by the atomic spacing on an exposed crystal face of the host NC and the degree to which surface NC atoms are undercoordinated.

 

In this work, a series of Cu(II) carboxylate complexes will provide cations to dope ZnS NCs. Because these complexes have square-planar geometry, an association-like mechanism—where the complex first associates with the ZnS NC surface followed by the dissociation of carboxylate ligands from the Cu—is anticipated. Specifically, we hypothesize that the carboxylate ligand size, shape, and flexibility will impact cation adsorption by affecting the proximity of the Cu center to the host ZnS NC and by influencing the crystal face of the host ZnS NC to which the copper can most readily adsorb (Scheme 1). Any differences in the extent and/or location of Cu adsorption are expected to impact the CE processes that follow adsorption and ultimately the doping realized in the NCs.

CodeCloud: Software as a Service Programming Interface for Computer Science Education

Principal Investigator: Jeffrey Galloway
Institution: Western Kentucky University

RSP Award

This proposal describes a solution for integrating a local Software as a Service (SaaS) computer science educational web application hosted on a vertical Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud/cluster architecture into undergraduate, high school, and middle school computer science courses. The proposed research involves an economical approach to using existing heterogeneous computing equipment to increase student involvement in the highly needed computer science STEM field. This research is also an ideal platform for training two undergraduate students from Africa who are underrepresented in research environments involving computer science and software engineering. The students have undergone preliminary training in distributed computing with exposure to previous undergraduate courses involving programming, web development, computer networks, and computer architecture. The short-term goal is to generate a local IaaS cloud architecture used for deploying specific Software as a Service applications targeting computer science education. The long-term goal is to integrate the CodeCloud computer science educational application with the Infrastructure as a Service cloud cluster and make installation, usability, scalability, and maintenance as dynamic and user friendly as possible since the target audience is computer science educators and students at the university, high school, and middle school levels. The short-term and long-terms goals of this research are designed to encourage the participation of undergraduate, non-traditional, and underrepresented students in computer science and software engineering research.

Exploring Smart Yellow-Change Signal Control at Intersections: Towards Safer, Greener, and More Efficient Operations

Principal Investigator: Zhixia Li
Institution: University of Louisville

RSP Award

At high-speed intersections, drivers’ indecisiveness when making stop/go decisions during the yellow time can be characterized by a physical zone in advance of the intersection, which is termed as dilemma zone. Drivers located in dilemma zone at the onset of yellow signal can potentially make incorrect stop/go decisions, which may result in rear-end crashes if an abrupt stop occurs or right-angle crashes if the driver attempts to run the red light. Existing methods widely applied in field, such as inductive loop detector based detection control systems are not effective in addressing the safety problem and may pose mobility and environmental issues as side effects. With advance of vehicle detection and Connected Vehicles technologies, this safety issue can be potentially addressed by developing an advanced signal control strategy, which minimizes effects of dilemma zone, potential of crashes, vehicle emission and energy consumption, and improves mobility at high-speed intersections.

 

The objective of the proposed research is to conduct a proof-of-concept research that will eventually develop a next-generation signal control system, named Smart Dilemma Zone Control System (SDZCS). SDZCS will be empowered by digital wave radar sensing technology which can track vehicles’ trajectories in real time during the course when they approach the intersection. SDZCS will also utilize the newly released Connected Vehicles technologies, i.e., vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to- infrastructure (V2I) communications, which will be equipped in all light vehicles manufactured after 2017.

SOSS: Study of the Sunbury Shale

Principal Investigator: Jennifer O’Keefe
Institution: Morehead State University

RSP Award

SOSS: Study of the Sunbury Shale represents an undergraduate-led, faculty-mentored palynological, petrographical, and geochemical examination of a black shale source rock. While significant work has been completed on underlying shale units, relatively little work has been completed on the Sunbury Shale. A new KY Department of Transportation core was obtained in fall 2015; we aim to complete study of this core during Academic Year 2016-2017. The objectives of this project are to: 1) complete palynology on 10-cm spacing through the core, 2) complete organic petrography of polished block samples the length of the core, and 3) complete geochemistry of samples “matched” to the palynology samples. Two undergraduate students, Morgan Black, and a yet-to-be identified student, will be co-investigators in this project. Ms. Black will be responsible for palynology and geochemistry, while the second student will be responsible for organic petrography. Palynology will be completed using a modification of the O’Keefe and Eble (2012) low-acid technique coupled with treatment with cellosolve to remove amorphous organic matter (Eble, 2016) and heavy density separation. Organic petrography will follow methods outlined in Taylor et al. (1998). Geochemistry will be completed either polished blocks using SEM or on powdered samples using chemical methods. Students will present their results formally at two meetings in the spring semester: the Ohio Valley Organic Petrographer’s Meeting and the Morehead State Celebration of Student Scholarship. They will also develop a display to be part of the rotating highlights of current/recent research for the Lappin Hall Geology Museum display.

Ambiguity and Context Processing in Young and Older Adults’ Causal Learning and Judgment

Principal Investigator: Sharon Mutter
Institution: Western Kentucky University

RSP Award

At present, little is known about how adult aging affects the ability to acquire and retrieve causal knowledge and the use of this knowledge for prediction and judgment. However, basic learning and memory processes are of central importance in virtually all theories of causal learning and judgment and there is a large body of research showing that these processes change over the lifespan. Older adults have particular difficulty encoding and retrieving context or background information (for a review, see Spencer & Raz,1995), which could, in turn, produce problems in their ability to use context in causal learning and judgment. The meaning of causal cues may vary depending upon the context in which they are experienced. Imagine a driver who drives through yellow lights (cue) at most intersections and experiences no negative outcome. The driver knows that at one intersection a police car waits to pull over people who fail to stop, so she stops for yellow lights at this intersection. Context (no police car vs. police car) allows the driver to predict different outcomes and respond flexibly to the traffic light cue. Because of difficulties with context memory, older adults may not show the same degree of flexibility in their behavior as young adults. The objective of the proposed research is to determine how this age-related deficit in context memory might affect older adults’ causal learning and judgment. This question will be addressed in experiments that explore whether there are age differences (1) in contextual control of latent inhibition (i.e., slower causal learning after cue pre-exposure) and (2) in context encoding during causal learning tasks with ambiguous cue-outcome relationships. A second objective of the proposed research is to provide a mechanism to train a female undergraduate student in research design and analysis in experimental psychology and cognitive science, both of which are areas in which females are underrepresented.

Large Area Deposition of Molybdenum Disulfide (MoS2) on Si(100) by Pulsed Laser Deposition with In-Situ Electron Diffraction Monitoring

Principal Investigator: Ali Er
Institution: Western Kentucky University

RSP Award

Recent developments in two dimensional materials beyond graphene have opened new opportunities for devices based on single semiconductors, dielectrics, opto-electronic devices, and engineering of two- dimensional heteromaterials. These are of particular interest since their bandgap can be tuned from direct to indirect by adjusting the number monolayers. Although transition metal dichalcogenides are structurally different than graphene, they still share some of graphene’s impressive properties. In transition metal dichalcogenides, MoS2 have been studied extensively due its potential use in solar cells, gas sensors, phototransistors, and electrodes in ion batteries. However, like most atomically thin two dimensional materials, high quality growth is challenging. Some of the fabrication methods include chemical vapor deposition, exfoliation, and lithium intercalation. However, these techniques are burdened by several undesirable features. For example, mechanical exfoliation is an excellent method producing monolayers and multilayers with good quality but it lacks the control of exfoliated area, geometry, size, and thickness. Chemical vapor deposition can grow MoS2 but it involves expensive and dangerous precursors and it is limited by thickness control. Moreover, the sheets produced by chemical vapor deposition often aren’t as pristine as those produced by mechanical exfoliation, tending to contain more defects. Another problem with chemical vapor deposition is high growth temperature, typically more than 700 °C. Low temperature growth is strongly desirable since it is more convenient, environment-friendly, and economical in microelectronic fabrication. To provide a solution to those issues, we propose to explore pulsed laser deposition (PLD) as a viable mechanism to grow multi-layer molybdenum disulfide, which is only a few molecular layers thick, onto a silicon substrate, at lower temperatures than hitherto possible. The structural characteristics will be investigated by micro-Raman spectroscopy, reflection high energy electron diffraction, scanning electron microscope, UV-visible spectrophotometer, and atomic force microscopy. Key elements of the proposed research are:

 

1. Synthesis and characterization of MoS2 on Si(100) at different temperatures and laser wavelengths while monitoring the growth real time using electron diffraction.
2. Lowering the growth temperature using surface electronic excitation of substrate.

 

After determining the optimal experimental condition of MoS2 growth on silicon in Goal 1, surface electronic excitation of the substrate during the growth will be employed to lower growth temperature. The proposed research will allow us to obtain preliminary data for NSF Division of Material Research (DMR) proposal submission.

Removing Roadblocks to Make the Conversion of CO2 Emissions to Diesel and Jet Fuel Using Algae an Industrially Viable Process

Principal Investigator: Mark Crocker
Institution: University of Kentucky

RSP Award

Algae-based carbon capture provides a multifaceted solution to the issue of rising greenhouse gas levels. Direct reduction of CO2 gas emissions as well as utilization of valuable algae components are some of the benefits realized through employment of this approach. However, at present the overall efficiency and economic constraints of algal processing and upgrading present challenges that prevent microalgae from becoming a viable fuel source. The proposed work is designed to optimize algal lipid extraction and purification processes in order to avoid the destruction of valuable compounds and develop a simple and rapid approach for obtaining drop-in hydrocarbon fuels via algae grown from flue gas. New methods will be established for the direct transesterification of raw algae biomass as well as crude lipid purification. An activated carbon plug will be utilized as a stationary phase in the purification procedure. Raw algae, crude lipids, purified lipids and upgraded lipids will be analytically analyzed throughout the proposed work in order to obtain a complete profile. Complete lipid profiling and elemental analysis will be performed on all algae and lipid samples as well as UV-Vis measurements and gas chromatography analysis. Thermogravimetric analysis will be performed on spent materials, i.e., the activated carbon used in the lipid purification step and the catalysts used in the upgrading process.

Non-Cholinergic Receptors at the Zebrafish Neuromuscular Junction

Principal Investigator: Dena Weinberger
Institution: Murray State University

RSS Award

Recent evidence has identified a novel form of neuronal plasticity called neurotransmitter respecification. Neurotransmitter respecification occurs when changes in neuronal activity induce the appearance of different classes of neurotransmitters and their matching receptors. The goals of this pilot proposal are to test the expression of non-cholinergic receptor expression in embryonic, larval, and silenced zebrafish skeletal muscle. The hypothesis to be tested is that non-innervated zebrafish skeletal muscle expresses non-cholinergic receptors, which are eliminated when cells are innervated by cholinergic neurons, and re-expressed upon loss of neuronal activity. This hypothesis will be tested through three specific aims: Does non-innervated embryonic zebrafish skeletal muscle express non-cholinergic receptors? Does innervated larval zebrafish muscle express non-cholinergic receptors? Can functionally blocking acetylcholine receptors increase expression of non-cholinergic receptors? These experiments will establish neurotransmitter receptor expression and plasticity in the zebrafish neuromuscular junction. The information gained from these experiments will form the basis to establish a zebrafish model of neuromuscular disease that can be used to test the potential therapeutic relevance of neurotransmitter respecification and other novel approaches aimed at restoring function after damage to the neuromuscular junction.

Acquisition of an Inverted Fluorescent Microscope for Research Infrastructure and Training

Principal Investigator: Simran Banga
Institution: Western Kentucky University

RSS Award

Acquisition of an inverted fluorescent microscope to build research infrastructure and training capabilities in cell biology and microbiology at Western Kentucky University (WKU) by the lead investigator. Fluorescent microscopy is routinely used by researchers to examine the internal working details of cells and tissues by tagging fluorescent molecules to different components of a cell. Being a new tenure-track faculty member at WKU, acquisition of an inverted microscope will enable the Principal Investigator (PI) to acquire high quality images of her research work that will be used to generate preliminary data for NSF grant proposals as well as publications in high impact journals. The proposed microscope is one of the most critical pieces of equipment required by the PI to initiate and sustain a long term research program in host microbe interactions. Thus, the acquisition of EPSCoR funding for an inverted fluorescent microscope will have very high impact on the research capabilities and competence of the PI in seeking funds for continued research productivity. The PI’s research program involves studying host- microbe interactions using macrophage, a white blood cell, as a host cell and a bacteria Legionella pneumophila as a pathogen. The host cells are cultured in a dish and infected with the bacteria. The infected cells are visualized by an inverted microscope and analyzed in their live condition. Thus, the growth and infection of host cells can be monitored over time. The internal components of the cells, primarily cellular proteins, and the bacteria used for infection are tagged with different fluorescent molecules to understand cellular processes and complexities in the presence and absence of a microbe within the host cell.

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