North Texas Daily

Biology students earn placement in national medical program

Biology students earn placement in national medical program

March 17
11:14 2014

Steven James // Staff Writer

Biology seniors Son Le and Zane Gibbs are two of 80 college students in the nation who have earned placement in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Exceptional Research Opportunities Program.

The HHMI Exceptional Research Opportunities Program is a national research program comprised of exceptional students from around the U.S. Le and Gibbs will be conducting research for the program later this summer.

Both received placement in HHMI after being nominated by their mentors. Nominated students receive online applications from the Research Opportunities Program. Le and Gibbs were both chosen to attend different universities this summer to work in their field of research.

Le will attend Oregon Health & Science University and Gibbs will attend the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Le’s research field is neuroscience, the study of the nervous system. He said he did not become interested in neuroscience until taking biology professor Guenter Gross’ animal physiology class in the fall of 2012. Gross is also Le’s research mentor.

“After subsequent conversations with Dr. Gross and visits to his lab, I decided to go into neuroscience,” he said. “Neuroscience is a fascinating but very challenging field. There’s still a lot that remains unknown about the human brain and needs to be answered, such as treatments for neurological diseases such Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease.”

At the Oregon Health and Science University, Le will be studying glutamate receptor and biogenic amine transporters, which are critical in both learning and memory. Together, they help transmit information between nerve cells.

“Such studies have helped elucidate the mechanisms of how information is transferred between nerve cells and how therapeutic drugs such as antidepressants work within our nervous system,” he said.

Le said he believes the work he is currently doing in Gross’ lab will help him accomplish his goals after he finishes his undergraduate career. After graduating, he wants to pursue a doctorate in neuroscience and become a principal investigator at a research university.

Gibbs’ research field is bacteriophages, which are viruses that infect bacteria, and his mentor is biology professor Lee Hughes.

Gibbs was first interested in bacteriophages during his freshman year when he was in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Phage Hunters lab, which was a replacement for the general biology lab.

“In that lab we worked on isolating new bacteriophages from dirt samples and eventually sequencing their genomes over the course of the year,” Gibbs said. “I became extremely interested in learning about the genomes of bacteriophages and eventually began my own research project.”

In Hughes’ lab, Gibbs has done work that involves DNA sequencing newly discovered bacteriophages and learning about their genetic makeup.

This summer, Gibbs will study a surpressor gene that he said has been associated with the development of many types of cancer. He will collect mammalian cancer cells and study the effects of mutated genes as well as their specific activity in the cell with the goal of treating cancer.

Hughes said Gibbs has been a dedicated student ever since he started doing research.

“It’s really good that Zane continued to do bacteriophages research in my lab,” he said. “He’s also really fast with the computer stuff, making it easier for him to research genomes better and more quickly.”

Hughes said he is proud of Gibbs and Le, and hopes that other UNT students will continue to do research in their fields of study.

“These opportunities for research placement are something that every student should consider doing before graduating,” he said. “This just comes to show that students from UNT can compete with students at any other school.”

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