Cellular and Molecular Biology at COA

Although COA biologists are mostly known for their work in natural history, field ecology and evolutionary biology, we also have a significant number of students that work on some aspect of cellular and molecular biology, either through comparative genomics, population genetics, bioinformatics, gene expression, the study of disease and other areas in molecular biology.  These students often go on to a wide range of professional schools, including medical, public health, and nursing programs, veterinary school, research advanced degrees in some aspect of biology, and there is even a lawyer or two with enhanced knowledge and a hands-on feel for molecular biology.

In addition to taking classes at COA, students interested in this area of study typically do work at one of the local laboratories, either the Jackson Laboratory (www.jax.org) or Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory (www.mdibl.org).

Students work in labs during the academic year, as well as working in the summer.  Much of this work is supported by a grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH).  This collaborative grant partners COA with several institutions in Maine, and is called the INBRE grant (IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence).   The Maine INBRE webpage for the collaborative project can be viewed here (http://www.maineidea.net/index.php)

Two main ways that students take part in intensive hands-on laboratory experiences are through short courses and summer internships.

Short courses. Once a year, the college offers at course in some aspect of molecular biology. These courses run for two weeks, typically with some or most of the course occurring over spring break, and can count as one of a student’s spring courses.  Students in these courses spend their time at MDIBL working on research problems, and the results of their work are typically presented as a poster at the Maine Biological and Medical Science Symposium in April.  The course is intense, meeting all day every day Monday through Friday for one or both weeks of spring break, and emphasizes applying techniques to a research question.  Past classes have focused on population genetics of species using DNA micorsatellite or DNA sequence data, gene expression, and developmental biology.

Below is a list of some recent short courses, together with a pdf of some of the posters that have been presented at the Maine Biological and Medical Sciences Symposium.

Spring 2014.  Introduction to Developmental Biology.  Taught by Dr. Jim Coffman. MDIBL.

Spring 2013. Molecular Evolutionary Genetics.  Taught by me and Dr. Charles Wray of MDIBL.  The 2013 class will focus on population genetics of local species, trying to get a handle on population structure by using microsatellites to understand linkage among populations.  In 2012 we did a toxicology experiment on fish from a local estuarine superfund site, and we may be still examining that data set in this class as well. The main output of the 2012 class was a microarray analysis of gene expression of fish from the superfund site after exposing them to heavy metal contamination.

Spring 2011. Ecological Developmental Biology.  Taught by Dr. Jim Coffman, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory. Developmental biology has traditionally emphasized how a small set of model organisms grow and differentiate in a relatively controlled environment.  This emphasis has limited the role of the environment in affecting development, and how organisms have evolved to deal with unpredictability and change. This course will introduce students to the concepts and methods of developmental biology, with an emphasis on adaptive phenotypic plasticity in animals and the role of environmental context in determining developmental outcomes.  Lectures and assigned reading will provide background material and broad context, while the laboratory will focus specifically on the phenotypic plasticity of sea urchin larvae. Methods employed will include morphometry, fluorescence confocal microscopy, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and RNA interference.  Lectures and labs will take place over spring break, and students will finish the class by attending the Maine Biological and Medical Sciences Symposium in April and presenting a poster if their results warrant.  Assessment will be based on participation in lab and lecture, one written assignment, and work on the group poster presentation for April. Students are encouraged to take the class as a credit/no credit option. Prerequsites: an introductory course in cellular and molecular biology.  Class size limited to 12. Permission of instructor required. ES  Class fees covered by the INBRE grant.

Spring 2010. Molecular Evolutionary Genetics. Taught by Drs. Charles Wray, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory and Dr. Chris Petersen, College of the Atlantic.  This course examined the genetics of an estuarine fish, Fundulus heteroclitus, at a contaminated mine site in Cape Rozier, Maine (Goose Cove).  Students examined both the potential genetic isolation of this population and compared the evolution of a specific gene (Major Histocompatability Complex, or MHC), between this population and a nearby “clean” location.  The results of their work can be viewed in this poster, which was presented at the Maine Biological and Medical Sciences Symposium meeting in April 2010:

Bosworth, J, Kahamba, G, Karppinen, J, Lanphere, J, McCordic, J, Munger, K, Pecor, K, Perry, A,  Ross, K, Ruel, E, Van Dyke, R, Petersen, C and Wray, C .  Estimation of gene flow and comparison of amino-acid substitution in MHC  for Fundulus heteroclitus at a polluted and non-polluted site in Maine (pdf)

Summer and Academic Year Fellowships

Each summer, the college supports two students to work with a researcher on an INBRE related project.  These students typically work at MDIBL or JAX, although they can apply to work with any INBRE investigator in the sate (mentor list).  Summer fellows get room and board as well as a stipend.  During the academic year, some students spend time working in labs in addition to their normal course load, while other students carry out independent studies or senior projects as part of their normal COA coursework.

Summer fellowships.  All COA students are eligible to apply for a summer internship through the INBRE program, as well as other broader fellowships that exist at local biological laboratories and research institutes.

More information and how to apply can be found here (http://www.maineidea.net/UndergraduateResearchFellowships.php).

Academic-Year Fellowships. Any COA student can apply for an academic-year fellowship to work at any INBRE sponsored institution, including Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory and the Jackson Laboratory.  Students apply through COA and are then placed through the educational coordinator at the institution they are interested in working at. Details on how to apply are given here. Students often start by volunteering 10-15 hours a week in a lab, and then move on to larger commitments of time, either through internships or senior projects.  Several students have often continued to work at the labs after graduation, often before moving on to graduate school, medical school, or other advanced degrees.

For more information, please contact faculty member Chris Petersen.