Biology Senior Thesis Research Projects

abbe Case quality

A water quality assessment project: With the aid of a dissolved oxygen meter, the Project team tries to determine the concentration of oxygen in the water at J.I. Case Wetland Wildlife Refuge habitat -- headed by Biology Professor Dr. Ella Ingram (center) with Civil Engineering's Dr. Michael Robinson (right).

The ability to conduct valid scientific inquiry is critical for the professional development and success of science students. Therefore, every biology major completes a four-quarter independent research project under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Students are responsible for proposing the scope of the research, designing and conducting experiments, collecting and analyzing data, and drawing defensible conclusions. Competence is demonstrated by presenting the results of their work to the community in a formal oral presentation and an archived written thesis. This unique opportunity allows undergraduate students to practice their scientific inquiry, project management and communication skills in ways not possible in typical course projects or laboratory exercises.

Recent biology theses include:

“Assessing Visual Perception Using Behavior Conditioning in the Rat Model.” - P. Bacala

This work developed a training protocol that could be used to compare visual perception of normal rats and rats with retinal degeneration – a model used in visual neural prosthetics development.

“Synthetic Obligate Mutualism Between S. cerevisiae and E. coli.” - B. Carter

Biofilms harbor multiple cellular species and effect biochemical conversions that are not possible for a single cell type. This work used a synthetic biology approach to design a simple biofilm of two divergent cellular organisms, yeast and bacteria. Each species is engineered to be dependent upon binding the other. Such synthetic aggregates could provide a platform for engineering complex bioconversions.

“Identification of BARE-1 Retrotransposon in Barley.” - G. Conway

Retrotransposons are self-replicating DNA sequences which move around the genome. This work investigated a potential mechanism whereby the activity of ~10,000 copies of BARE-1 are regulated.


“Preparation of a Virus Discovery Protocol for Use in Apis mellifera.” - B. Davenport

In response to the alarming and continued decline in honey bee populations, this research developed a protocol to be used in detecting and characterizing viruses that may infect honey bees.

“Identifying Sources of Paromomycin Dependence in Yeast Mutants.” - B. Harvey

Yeast are typically not affected by common antibiotics. However, earlier research generated novel strains of yeast which are dependent on a particular antibiotic to survive. This work sought to identify the specific genetic mutations responsible for the antibiotic dependence.

“The Effects of Posture on Learning: An Investigation of Power-Posing via Confidence Mediation.” - A.B. McNamara

Literature indicates that physical poses associated with high social power are associated with changes in hormone levels and increased confidence.  This work explored whether power posing had an effect on academic performance.

“Design of a Yeast Mating Type Detector Utilizing Genetic Memory.” - A. Nighswander

Determining the sex (mating type) of yeast cells is typically a tedious and time-consuming process. This research used a synthetic biology approach to design a cellular “sex detector”, which can quickly determine the mating type of yeast cells and indicate the result with a fluorescent report.

“Theory and Practice: Implementing a Novel Positive Feedback Reporter System in S. cerevisiae.” - T. Reeb

Latching switches remain on even after the signal which activated them is removed. This research was directed to engineer a genetic latching switch to maintain expression of a fluorescent protein after the switch is momentarily activated by a signaling pathway in yeast.

BBE Lab3

“Detection and Characterization of Phytoplasma in Trillium grandiflorum.” - N. D. Wheeler

Phytoplasma are plant pathogens, often resulting in floral variation and potentially leading to plant sterility.  This research identified a potentially new species of phytoplasma in T. grandiflorum from southeastern Michigan.

“Cooperative Sociobiology of SUC2 Expression in S. cerevisiae.” - A. W. Zigler

Did you know that yeast – single-celled organisms – can cooperate with one another by secreting enzymes that break down sucrose and promote growth of surrounding yeast cells?  This work explored the expression of the SUC2 gene in various media and developed a protocol for quantifying yeast cooperation in future work.