Biology Students Publish New Research Papers

Story written by Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

Two Bellevue University undergraduate science students have joined the elite ranks of published student researchers. Shawn Freed and Sydney Robertson, both senior Biology students, each received an author credit on “Draft Whole-Genome Sequence of Green Sulfur Photosynthetic Bacterium Chlorobaculum sp. Strain 24CR, Isolated from the Carmel River.” Freed also received an author credit on “Whole-Genome Sequence of the Novel Rubrobacter taiwanensis Strain Yellowstone, Isolated from Yellowstone National Park.”

“It is very rare that undergraduates get published in a scientific peer-reviewed journal, especially as the lead author,” said Dr. John Kyndt, who co-authored the papers with his students. “Even at larger research universities it is rather unusual that undergraduate students get a first author publication during their undergraduate studies. We are able to give students this opportunity because of our smaller class sizes, close professor involvement, and a deliberate focus to integrate more real life research.”

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The science department celebrated the article publications with a pizza party on Tuesday, March 26. Among those in attendance were Dr. Mary Hawkins, University President; Dr. Mary Dobransky, Dean of the College of Science and Technology; Dr. John Kyndt, Dr. Tyler Moore, and Dr. Scott Pinkerton, science faculty; and Johnny Farnen, Science Lab Assistant, as well as the authors themselves.

The first paper was written in collaboration with the University of Arizona, while the second was a collaboration with the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). Both papers have been accepted by Microbiology Resource Announcements. The Carmel River paper was published on March 21, 2019, while the Yellowstone paper is being scheduled for publication in the next few weeks.

The research in each paper is focused on identifying and characterizing new bacteria from the environment. Bacteria are crucial for nutrient recycling in soils and for human and animal health. It is estimated that we have only identified less than 2 percent of all microorganisms on Earth, so we have a lot to discover and learn from characterizing new species, Kyndt said.

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Dr. John Kyndt

“As far as the bacteria described in these two new publications, one is an organism that is important for recycling sulfur into the environment (so it can be in a useful form for plants and animals) that was isolated by our collaborator from the University of Arizona from the Carmel River in California,” he said. “The other species was isolated from a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park by Dr. Ramaley, our collaborator from UNMC, and is interesting because these species are able to survive high amounts of heat and gamma radiation which normally would kill other cells. Understanding how these bacteria do this can be helpful in designing protection and treatments for heat and radioactive damage in human and animal cells.”

The Illumina MiniSeq was the primary piece of equipment used for the research. Illumina is the leading company in next-gen sequencing and the model is designed to sequence small whole genomes (for example from bacteria, viruses or algae) or complex microbiomes.

“It’s great working with students – seeing their enthusiasm with this research. That was motivating for me. It keeps me going in my research when I see them getting excited about it,” Kyndt said. “They’ve been committed to it, putting in overtime.”

Sydney Shawn IlluminaMiniSeq

BU Biology students Sydney Robertson and Shawn Freed Jr. with the IlluminaMiniSeq

Freed, a senior Biology student from Bellevue East High School in Bellevue, Nebraska, has been accepted into Creighton University’s Medical Microbiology Ph.D. program

“When the paper got accepted, I was really excited,” Freed said. “My first publication is a nice achievement.”

Robertson is a senior Biology student from Millard South High School in Omaha, Nebraska.

“I’m hoping to go to dental school. I’d like to get a job in a dental laboratory around town, take my DAT and apply to dental school,” she said. Creighton University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, as well as several other Midwest schools are on her short list.

Kyndt noted that the research would not have been possible prior to the remodel of the science labs in 2016. “This is a consequence of doing the remodel – not just the new equipment, but it’s the whole setup of the curriculum, how we treat the students, how we treat the courses,” Kyndt said. “It has opened up opportunities for the students to conduct research and that’s all a consequence of the remodel.”

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