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Biology lab

Alice Stone Ilchman Science Center, Second Floor

Photo by Don Hamerman

Students conduct hands-on research in molecular biology as part of the Summer Science Program. This summer, about two dozen undergraduates and students from Yonkers high schools will help unlock the secrets within our cells.

Drew Cressman

1 Drew Cressman (biology) is trying to understand a gene that controls the immune system, called Class II Transactivator (CIITA). Without CIITA, you have no immune system—it’s the master factor that allows cells to produce the antibodies that fight infection.

Water Baths

2 Water baths To study CIITA, Cressman and his students make modified versions of the gene. They produce the many copies needed for experiments by inserting the gene into a hardy strain of E. coli that they incubate in hot water baths. The bacteria reproduce rapidly in the comfortable environment, making thousands of copies of the modified gene overnight.

Culture hood

3 Tissue culture hood The researchers insert the modified genes into animal cells that they grow in flasks, manipulating the cells under a sterile hood.

Gel box

4 Gel box The modified gene may or may not change the kinds of antibodies the cells produce. The researchers check by suspending the proteins in a gelatin matrix, then running an electric current through them. This separates the proteins by size, making them easy to examine.

Leah Olson

5 Leah Olson (biology) uses a similar process to examine the effect of a hormone called leptin in the brains of inch-long fish. At first, students don’t think it’s possible to dissect a brain that small, she says, but “it’s not that hard. You do it under a microscope, using tiny scissors.”

Results notebook

6 The results The majority of undergraduates who have participated in the Summer Science Program have gone on to do graduate work in the sciences, Cressman notes. Several students have published the results of their research in respected journals: Last year, Cressman and three students co-authored a paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

student Khari Slaughter

7 Khari Slaughter ’12 is one of Olson’s donnees. Beginning science students often struggle with the miniscule scale of molecular biology, Cressman says—but they get used to it. “It’s easy to imagine an elephant or a plant. What we’re dealing with is harder to imagine, but no less real. This is a process happening in your body right now.”

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