Biology Department Update

This past summer, the department had 21 on-campus research students working on the following projects. 
  • The AIR lab (Dr. Jennifer Bankers-Fulbright) researches the interactions of human airway cells with pathogens and immune cells.
  • Dr. Matthew Beckman’s lab studies neural development in Daphnia magna.
  • The “Soy Squad,” under the guidance of Dr. Ann Impullitti, studies the fungal biome in soy beans.
  • Dr. Nidanie Hederson-Stoll’s research uses the African beer yeast, Schizosaccharomyces pombe to study normal human cellular proteins that undergo abnormal changes leading to cancer initiation, progression, and metastasis.
  • Dr. David Crowe’s lab studies how the brain generates the perception of visual stimuli, abstracted from the pattern of light that falls on the retina and is represented in early visual areas
  • The “Dirt Lab” (Dr. Emily Schilling) works to understand the habitat requirements and current distribution of a rare species of dragonfly – the Spatterdock darner – in Minnesota.
In addition to the 21 students working on campus with Biology faculty, the department had three students working on campus with faculty outside the department and six majors who did research off campus at places such as The Mayo Clinic, Cornell University and The University of Minnesota.  Also, we had two students study abroad–one in Tanzania and one in the Galapagos.
In other department news…
  • David Crowe and his collaborators at the University of Minnesota have received two grants (one from the National Institutes of Health and an internal grant from the University) to study an animal model of schizophrenia.
  • The department has a lab manager coming on staff in couple of weeks. Lisa Raetz will be joining the department bringing a wealth of lab and research experience. Lisa has a Masters in Plant Biology from the University of Illinois.
  • Two students are working with on and off campus resources to map the trees on campus in preparation for a landscaping project aimed at earning arboretum certification for the campus.
  • Planning for the internal spaces of the Center for Science, Business and Religion is in full swing. Dr. Dale Pederson is spearheading the efforts for the Biology Department.

Summer Research Abstracts

Summer 2015 saw 18 biology students conduct on campus research. Below are the abstracts for those students who were funded by the URGO program.


Amanda DeChaney (‘15, Biology)

Dr. Nidanie Henderson-Stull

Src family kinases are enzymes that function to add phosphate groups to specific amino acids on itself and other proteins. Src is present in all human cells and has important roles in cell division and migration. As such, increases in Src activity can lead to metastasis of breast, colon and prostate cancers. Our lab aims to determine the three-dimensional shape of the enzyme when it is active and as it transitions to its inactive state so that we can understand its role in metastasis better. This summer my goal was to prepare and extract the inactive version of the Src enzyme in the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Specifically, I expressed Src with another enzyme Csk that phosphorylates the amino acid tyrosine in position 527 on Src. After preparing the enzymes, I used anti-Src, anti-phosphotyrosine, anti-pY16 and anti-pY527 antibodies to detect that Src was expressed and that key phosphorylation states needed for Src inactivation were appropriately absent or present in the inactive form of the Src enzyme I prepared.

Andrew Jewell (‘18, Computer Science)

Dr. David Crowe

It has long been agreed that leaky integrate and fire (LIF) spiking neural network models require the long time course of NMDAR-mediated currents to maintain their stability (Wang 99, Wang and Brunel 2001). In addition, recent animal studies have shown that the acute injection of a NMDA receptor antagonist such as phencyclidine causes a decrease in the number of action potential coincidences in the prefrontal cortex. We investigated the role that NMDARs have on such coincidences by assembling a fully-interconnected LIF model consisting of 2000 excitatory neurons and 500 inhibitory neurons. We found evidence of zero-lag spike timing coincidences within the active excitatory cells and a reduction of zero-lag coincidences within the inhibitory neurons. We also tested the effects of NMDAR blockade in the model for comparison to the animal data.


Andrew Konieczny (‘17, Biology)

Dr. Matthew Beckman

In this study the effects on Daphnia magna swimming force production of serotonin receptor (5-HTR) agonists and antagonists were tested. Daphnia magna are keystone species in many freshwater ecosystems worldwide. Freshwater reservoirs are often contaminated by drugs and chemicals, some of which interact with the serotonin neurotransmitter system. To better understand how these contaminants affect animal behavior we wanted to know if Daphnia magna swimming was modulated by 5-HT receptor activation or inhibition. A force transducing instrument that employed a calibrated fiber to record the force exerted was used to collect data. Two synchronized cameras were used to record, 1) animal swimming and 2) fiber displacement from different perspectives, simultaneously. Custom software was employed to analyze data and perform statistical tests. Preliminary data suggests a change in swimming force and swimming episodes when treated with differing concentrations of Xaliproden, a 5-HT1A agonist. Further experiments are required to determine the role that the 5-HT1A receptor signaling pathway plays in Daphnia magna. This study provides the first data we are aware of that documents the role of 5-HT1A signaling in Daphnia magna swimming and suggests this is a useful model organism to study the role of 5-HT in motor control.

Davy DeKrey (’17, Biology)

Dr. Ann Impulitti

The fungal pathogen Phialophora gregata causes the disease brown stem rot (BSR) of soybeans (Glycine max) and is known to decreases crop yield. BSR can be difficult to diagnose due to the lack of symptoms of disease during the long latent phase of the disease. Previous studies have shown that stress caused by diseases can modify the light reactions and carbon fixation cycle during photosynthesis. Therefore, we investigated the physiology of soybeans at different stages in order to determine if the impact of BSR could be detected during asymptomatic infection. Resistant and susceptible varieties of G. max where inoculated with type A, which causes foliar symptoms, and type B, which does not cause foliar symptoms of P. gregata. The light reactions were assessed by measuring chlorophyll fluorescence and non-photochemical quenching and the carbon fixation reactions were measured by CO2 assimilation every two weeks post-inoculation. The presence of the pathogen was confirmed by using a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with primers specific to type A and B of P. gregata. In the future quantity of the pathogen in the plants will be determined using real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). Results will further the understanding of the relationship between G. max and both forms of P. gregata.

Elise Linna (‘17, Biology) & Jubilee Prosser (’18, Biology)

Dr. Emily Schilling

Our research addresses knowledge gaps on the habitat preferences, geographic distribution, and colonization history of Rhionaeschna mutata (Spatterdock darner dragonflies) in Minnesota. This species is rare within its range and is listed as a species of concern in most states where it is known to occur. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it does not co-exist well with fish and has other habitat requirements that limit its distribution. We used a multipronged approach to provide preliminary information that may be useful in conservation planning for this species, including: 1) identifying potential breeding ponds based on site characteristics, 2) surveying a subset of potential breeding ponds to catalog invertebrate communities, water quality, and habitat characteristics, 3) searching for adult dragonflies and their exuvia , 4) extracting and rearing eggs oviposited into lily pad stems, and 5) analyzing pond sediments to determine if paleolimnological techniques could be useful for determining colonization history. No adult or larval R. mutata were found during our six-week field season. Additionally, no dragonfly remains were discovered in our sediment samples, suggesting that paleolimnological analysis of their colonization history is not feasible. These results are preliminary and lays the groundwork for further study of potential breeding sites.


Kaitlyn Terrio (’17, Biology & Chemistry)

Dr. Jennifer Bankers-Fulbright

In lung secretions there are many proteins that serve as anti-microbials that can fight off bacterial infections, including those caused by P. aeruginosa. Most humans easily clear this bacteria if it is inhaled, but people with cystic fibrosis do not and this particular bacteria is the dominant cause of death for these patients. Previous research done in the Airway Inflammation Research (AIR) lab indicates that there may a protein within normal lung secretions that can inhibit P. aeruginosa which is absent in CF lung secretions. The goal of this research is to identify the protein(s) responsible for this inhibition and determine the defect in CF secretions.

Maifa Belghoul (‘15, Biology)

Dr. Nidanie Henderson-Stull

Fifty percent of colon, lung, liver, breast, and pancreas tumors possess activated Src protein (1). The activity of Src is regulated by the addition of phosphate groups on tyrosine amino acids at two different locations on the protein. When Tyr-416 is attached to a phosphate group, Src activity is turned on, and when Tyr-527 is attached to a phosphate group, Src activity is turned off. Numerous laboratories have attempted to determine the three-dimensional structure of Src in its different activation states in order to improve our understanding of its role in cancer. Here we report the expression of Src of what we predict to be its transition state when no phosphate group is attached to the protein. We used gel electrophoresis and Western Blot to confirm the phosphorylation state of our protein. Our results are the first step towards future structural studies of the unphosphorylated, intact Src protein.

Markus Singh (’16, Biology)

Dr. Ann Impullitti

Soybeans (Glycine max L. Merr) grown in the United States are used to manufacture many different soy-based products around the world. However, many soybeans are damaged by Rhizoctonia solani and Fusarium virguliforme, which cause Rhizoctonia Root Rot and Sudden Death Syndrome, respectively. One potential way of addressing the problem of diseased soybeans is to use endophytes as a means of biological control. Therefore, we investigated the use of endophytic fungal metabolites to reduce pathogenic growth of R. solani and F. virguliforme in soybeans. We grew 23 native Minnesota fungal endophytes in potato dextrose broth (PBD). After 7 days, the fungal mass was removed by vacuum filtration, and the remaining fungal broth was used to make concentrations of 10% and 20% (v/v) metabolite plates in order to determine if growth of R. solani and F. virguliforme was reduced. The results suggest that 20% of the fungal metabolites from MN endophytes reduced growth of both pathogens. If effective when directly applied to plants, then soybean growers could then use these fungal metabolites as an alternative to chemical pesticides.


Nick Talmo (‘16, Biology)

Dr. Ann Impullitti

Fungal pathogens of soybeans cause an estimated 3.58 million acres in crop loss each year in the United States. Fungicides are applied to seeds prior to planting to inhibit the growth of these fungal pathogens, however the impact of fungicides on the non-pathogenic fungal community within soybeans is unknown. Soybean stems from two varieties of soybeans that were treated with fungicides or non-treated were collected at the V1 and V4 growth stages, surface sterilized and used for culture dependent (CD) and culture independent (CI) analysis. For the CD analysis, cross sections from above and below the soil line plated onto acidified MEA to produce fungal cultures for DNA extraction and identification. For CI analysis, DNA was extracted from tissue samples, DNA amplified using fungal specific primers (ITS1F and ITS4), and then sequenced. Vast fungal diversity can be seen across all treatments and controls. Fungal morphotypes were separated by color, hyphal growth pattern and rate of growth and preliminary results from CD analysis indicate that at least 15 morphotypes were identified. Currently we are amplifying the fungal DNA from the soybean tissue using the fungal specific primers ITS1F and ITS4 in order to sequence and identify fungal species. Once fungi are identified and impacts are assessed, knowledge of this diverse community can be used to study endophyte interactions, further increasing crop yields and sustainable agriculture.


Oksana Burt (‘17, Biology)

Dr. Matthew Beckman

Daphnia magna are freshwater microcrustaceans that have been used in toxicology research for decades. One common test involves exposing Daphnia to a drug or chemical and assessing its movement. Daphnids possess a rich motor program, yet, not much is known about the neurochemical control of movement. We sought to use D. magna as a model organism to determine the role of serotonin in movement, an understudied area of research. Daphnia were treated with agonist and antagonist drugs targeting 5-HT 1A and 5-HT 7 receptors. Animals were filmed for one minute from above to make 2D movies at various time-points following treatment with 10 μM drug solutions. CTRAX, an open-source software, was used to track Daphnia swimming. Statistical analysis showed the effects of two of these drugs on 5-HT 1A receptors were significant. Xaliproden hydrochloride, a 5-HT 1A receptor agonist showed inhibition by decreasing the total swimming distance; whereas, NAD 299 which is a 5-HT 1A antagonist, increased total swimming distance. These findings indicate that a serotonergic signaling pathway is involved in the neural control of Daphnia movement. Additionally, this research supports that Daphnia magna are valuable model organisms in studying the role of serotonergic signaling in animal movement.

Savannah Seeger (‘17, Biology)

Dr. Jennifer Bankers-Fulbright

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is ubiquitous and causes disease in patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) and those in hospital settings due to the bacteria’s tendency to form biofilms. When biofilms form, the bacteria are protected from harmful substances, such as antibiotics or natural anti-bacterial proteins. Thus, once the biofilm has formed within the CF lung, it’s difficult to eradicate and ultimately leads to death. However, people without cystic fibrosis clear the bacteria from their lungs within twenty four hours and prevent the formation of biofilms. Our hypothesis is that there is something in normal lung secretions that stops the biofilm from forming. Although previous data in the lab support this hypothesis, the biofilm assay has been very inconsistent. We report that we have able to successfully establish a robust biofilm assay with the PAO1 strain of P. aeruginosa and demonstrate that normal airway secretions significantly inhibit biofilm formation. If the active agent can be identified that are responsible for this action, it’s possible that this could be a treatment for patients with cystic fibrosis.

Stephanie Magill (‘17, Biology)

Dr. Jennifer Bankers-Fulbright

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is relatively innocuous for most people but is the leading cause of mortality in individuals afflicted with the genetic disorder cystic fibrosis (CF). P. aeruginosa has two main modes of motility accessible, which are swimming and twitching. Swimming is mediated by the flagella and typically precedes the twitching motility, which is mediated by type IV pili on the surface of the bacteria. Twitching is an environment-specific stimulated motility and is initiated upon flagella shedding. The bacterium then attaches to the surface or neighboring P. aeruginosa via the pili and motility proceeds in a multi-cellular coordinated manner. Attachment via pili, and likely twitching motility, is required for subsequent biofilm formation – and thus permanent colonization of the CF lung – by P. aeruginosa. In this study I established a functional twitching assay for the PA14 strain of P. aeruginosa and began to explore the effects of normal airway secretions on twitching motility. Preliminary results indicate that normal airway secretions do not substantially inhibit twitching motility directly but may affect some aspect of quorum sensing in the PA14 strain.


Stephen Dols (‘16, Biology)

Dr. Ann Impullitti

Given the economic importance of soybean plants, research is required in order to decrease yield loss due to root rot diseases. Root rot diseases are prevalent throughout the Midwestern U.S. and can be difficult to detect and assess since symptoms are below ground. Therefore, the objective of this investigation was to determine if above ground plant physiological parameters could be used to predict below ground diseases without accessing the root system. We inoculated two varieties of soybean with three known soilborne fungal pathogens Fusarium solani, Fusarium oxysporum, and Fusarium virguliforme and one oomycete, Rhizoctonia solani. A portable photosynthesis system was used to measure the light dependent reactions (electron transport rate and fluorescence) and the carbon fixation reactions (photosynthesis and conductance) once per week following inoculation. Below ground symptoms of root rot were readily apparent during experiments, while leaves and stems appeared healthy above ground. We are currently analyzing the physiological data collected throughout the summer and trying to correlate these data with root rot severity.


Kelsey Merck (’16, Biology)

Dr. Nidanie Henderson-Stull

Protein tags are amino acids of a particular sequence that are incorporated into a protein when it is made. Researchers tag proteins to label them so that they can be easily observed, to target them to specific locations, to block enzymes from digesting them, and to handle specific molecules so that proteins can be easily separated from other protein molecules. Tags are usually engineered at the beginning (N-terminus) or ends (C-terminus) of proteins so where they minimally interfere with their function. In rare instances, such as the protein c-Src, neither terminus is suitable for tagging, making the protein harder to study by these methods. This research project is focused on identifying a novel internal site for tagging the Src protein without disrupting its function. I designed primers to insert a tetracysteine tag into a flexible loop in the Src protein. This presentation describes efforts to introduce this tag into the Src protein.

Students Present Research

For Augsburg’s student researchers, Zyzzogeton is the culmination of months of hard work, trials, and discovery. This year, 23 Biology majors presented their work. Projects included: studying Ebola in chimpanzee populations, gene expression in Daphnia magna, studying the effects of host plant stress on flowering in Dodder, characterization of anti-bacterial protein found in human airway surface fluid, the effects of fungus on soybean physiology and productivity, and the role of NDMA receptors in neural communication.


Tri-Beta collects supplies for Augsburg Health Commons

Tri-Beta, the Biology student honor society, collected several boxes and bags of supplies (personal care items, diapers, socks, gloves, etc.) for the Augsburg Health Commons this past week.  In all, about 200 pairs of socks, 5 cases of diapers, hundreds of bottles of shampoo and bars of soap, numerous pairs of gloves, and more were donated.


Support Student Research on November 13!

[scanned image]001

Save the date – Thursday, November 13 is Give to the Max Day, and this year, the Augsburg Biology Department is jumping on board with a project of our own. Your gift will help us reach our $10,000 goal that will fund student researchers and projects.


Over the past 5 years biology faculty have mentored over 50 undergraduate students in faculty directed research programs.  The students are vital to our research programs and the research experience is often transformative for them:


Being able to do research at Augsburg has provided me with an incredible experience to grow academically, professionally, and personally. Research has allowed me to understand more fully the topics I learn in my classes by applying those concepts in a hands-on way. Doing research also provided me with valuable skills to use in my future of continuing education and research. It afforded me an amazing opportunity to research biomedical ethics at the Mayo Clinic. I have been able to develop my presentation skills, as well, as I have presented my research several times and will be presenting it again at the Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington, D.C. in November. Doing research has helped me to realize my passion for genetics, my desire to become a physician, and my aspirations to study further the utilization of genetics in medical practice.

–        Michelle Grafelman ‘15, Sundquist Scholar, and Vann Fellow at The Mayo Clinic


Augsburg has demonstrated its commitment to undergraduate research by funding 40 research students each year, 10 of whom work with biology faculty.  Currently, more qualified students apply to do research than can be funded by college, and the Biology Department’s goal is to raise an additional $10,000 on Give to the Max Day on November 13 to allow more students to conduct undergraduate research in Biology. 100% of the faculty in the department have pledged to support this effort. Please join us and make your pledge today in advance of Give to the Max Day.


City Service Day 2014

Augsburg’s commitment to the city and to giving back is never more evident than on City Service Day. Each year, all of the first year students spend four hours working on a service project. As part of this annual event, nearly 60 Biology students and faculty worked to clean up Powderhorn Lake and weed, compost and transplant strawberries at Stone’s Throw Urban Farm.

Professor Emeritus Erwin Mickelberg

It is with great sadness that I send news that Professor Emeritus Erwin Mickelberg, passed away May 2. Professor Mickelberg was an Augsburg alumnus (class of 1954), a member of the Augsburg Faculty and the Department of Biology.

Professor Mickelberg began his teaching career at Augsburg College in 1956 and retired in 1994. He received his bachelor’s degree from Augsburg College and his master’s degree from the University of Minnesota.
An avid supporter for a new science building throughout his teaching career at Augsburg, a manuscript of Erwin’s was recently published, and all proceeds will be donated to the College’s campaign for the new Center for Science, Business and Religion.

A funeral is planned for this Friday, May 9, 11:00 a.m. (reviewal at 10:00) at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. An obituary will appear in the Star Tribune on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Erwin’s family has requested memorials be made directly to the CSBR campaign, where a fund will be established in his name.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.

Biology Student News

Tuesday, April 8 was a big day for Augsburg Biology Students.

David Fowler presented his research “Methods and tools for studying heart development and function in Daphnia magna” at the Minnesota State Capitol as part of Minnesota Private College Scholars Day at the Capitol. He is pictured with faculty mentor Matthew Beckman.


In addition, six Biology students had the opportunity to have lunch with Dr. Bonnie Bassler. Dr. Bassler, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and Chair and Squibb Professor of the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University, was this year’s Sverdrup Visiting Scientist Lecturer.

Biology students rank nationally on standardized exam

As part of the college’s Assessment Day, 28 Biology seniors took the ETS Major Field Test in Biology. Nationwide, 488 colleges and universities use this exam. Among the Augsburg students, four scored in the top 8% in the country. Congratulations to David Fowler, Anna Herauf, Anna Weitz and Ian Wunder on your outstanding performance!