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Monday January 22, 2001

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Biology program offers a chance for discovery

Headline Photo


Philosophy and Spanish senior Nathaniel R. Johnson (left) explains his research on biosensor technology to Carol Bender, director of the Undergraduate Biology Research Program. Students presented their research at the 12th Annual Undergraduate Biology Research Program Conference Saturday in the Life Sciences South building.

By Ayse Guner

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Students share findings at this weekend's Undergraduate Biology Research Program

Kimmey Hardesty wants to know if Pepe, her monkey, will laugh when he watches a funny show on television, or if he will show anger to a certain type of behavior.

Instead of making non-scientific predictions about her monkey's response to a certain behavior, Hardesty, a UA anthropology senior, is researching with electromyography - the process of graphically recording the electrical activity of muscle. In time she will understand a non-human primate's response behavior to various emotional situations.

Hardesty is one of 69 undergraduate students who presented and received an award for their biology research Saturday at the 12th Annual Undergraduate Biology Research Program Conference.

About 250 people attended the conference, held at the Life Sciences South building.

Hardesty's findings and the progression of her research could reveal how ethnicity or culture play a role in facial expressions, she said.

Instead of using animals as research subjects, she has been using humans to learn more about non-human primates. Some of the non-human primates include monkeys, chimpanzees and gorillas.

"If I can glean what they are thinking emotionally, I hope to correlate that to get a perspective of the whole animal organism," Hardesty said.

She has been plugging electrodes to eight people's faces for the last three months to create a pattern for muscle activity as her subjects go through different facial expressions. So far, she has discovered that humans use less than 50 percent of their maximum facial muscles, but the results are not universal, she said.

Even though her research was just an introduction to what she wants to pursue in the future, she has taken the first step, she said.

The Undergraduate Biology Research Program was formed in 1988 out of a program initiated in the Department of Biochemistry. The first poster presentation was held in 1989, said Carol Bender, director of UBRP.

About 70 percent of the students in the program major in the biological sciences, but students with a major outside of biology can also apply to the program as long as they can show how research will meet their career goals, Bender said.

Once the student has at least six months of research experience with the program, they can apply to extend their research abroad. A program affiliated with UBRP, called Biomedical Research Abroad Vistas Open (BRAVO), pays for the student's travel and living expenses - up to $1,000 a month - and students can go almost any where they want, Bender said.

One of those students who took her research abroad is Jessica Dominguez, a veterinary science senior. She spent three months in the Czech Republic to get exposure to international research as well as to see other parts of the world, she said.

"I met a lot of scientists (from) around the world," she said.

However, she was also exposed to financial struggles faced by Czech scientists in the lab that she worked at, the Czech Academy of Sciences.

"They couldn't afford a PCR machine," she said. A PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, machine copies specific segments of DNA.

That is why Dominguez brought samples of data back to UA with her. She extracted the samples with a PCR machine and sent the results back to the Czech Republic, she said.

Her research dealt with necrotizing enterocolitis, a small intestine disease most commonly found in infants which prevents them from absorbing nutrients. Most cases result in death, but if the disease is detected early enough, the symptoms can be minimized.

Dominguez has discovered that breast milk, which has an epidermal growth factor, can protect the infant from developing the disease, she said.

Samuel Ward, professor of molecular and cellular biology, presented the awards at the end of the poster session.

"Every time, we underestimate what our students can do," Ward said. "But we are wrong, and they prove this is wrong."