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TODAY news for Thursday, January 15, 2007

Loma Linda University news

Students, faculty collaborate among University schools

Janelle Shives, third-year MS biology student, begins analyses on haemolymph samples with the spectrophotometer.
Janelle Shives, third-year MS biology student, begins analyses on haemolymph samples with the spectrophotometer.
Great things are accomplished by working diligently. Coupling diligence and collaborative efforts significantly increases this potential. Such is the case happening on campus at Loma Linda University between two of the lesser-known departments.

Three collaborations between graduate students from the department of earth and biological sciences (EBS) and faculty in the department of basic sciences are currently increasing the breadth of research occurring at LLU. The biology students are Zia Nisani, Janelle Shives, and April Sjoboen.

Mr. Nisani is a PhD candidate working on venom regeneration in the common, but deadly African scorpions, Parabuthus transvaalicus. Since this species is a major source of envenomations in Zimbabwe with some deaths recorded, there is value in understanding how scorpions use and regenerate their venom.

Beyond the medical applications, the energy costs of venom production also have implications for the behavior and ecology of the animals. Mr. Nisani’s collaborations with Wayne Kelln, immunology tech, Immunology Center, LLUHC, and Danilo Boskovic, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry and microbiology in the department of the basic sciences, have used fast protein liquid chromatography and matrix-assisted laser desorption time-of-flight mass spectrometry, in order to analyze the venom chemical profile of these scorpions as it is regenerated. 

Mr. Nisani hopes that his research results will show the relationship between metabolic rate o
April Sjoboen, second-year MS biology student, and Danilo Boskovic, PhD, examine readouts from the gas chromatography analyzer.
April Sjoboen, second-year MS biology student, and Danilo Boskovic, PhD, examine readouts from the gas chromatography analyzer.
ver time and the type of peptides/proteins that are synthesized in the venom. He has already submitted one paper for publication with co-authors Stephen G. Dunbar, PhD, assistant professor of biology, EBS, and Bill Hayes, PhD, professor of biology, EBS.

Janelle Shives is a third-year MS student who is investigating links between hermit crab behavior and physiology, and hermit crabs in the fossil record. There are few records of fossilized hermit crabs occurring with their gastropod shell homes. In almost every case, fossil hermit crabs are found separated from the shells they had once inhabited.

Ms. Shives is attempting to discover why some hermit crabs abandon their shell when buried, and why others do not, by testing hypotheses on the common hermit crab, Pagurus samuelis.

With assistance from Dr. Boskovic, Ms. Shives has expanded her research to include tests for lactic acid buildup over time in hermit crabs that are trapped below layers of sediment.

Testing involves extracting the hermit crab blood (haemolymph), deproteinizing, then adding lactate dehydrogenase and NAD+ to react with the lactate. Absorbance is measured on a spectrophotometer in the department of biochemistry and compared with standard curves to determine the original concentration of lactic acid.

Ms. Shives hopes her results reveal that when faced with hypoxia, the hermit crabs will undergo anaerobic respiration, thus providing a possible explanation for the shell abandonment behavior.

April Sjoboen is a second-year MS student conducting much of her research analyses in conjunction with the department of basic sciences. Dr. Boskovic and Jason Herring, a PhD student in the department of chemistry, are assisting Ms. Sjoboen in analyzing fatty acids in the common shore crab, Pachygrapsus crassipes, to determine if the animals preferentially store different fatty acids as an adaptation to changes in environmental temperatures.

Using recorded temperatures from past years, Ms. Sjoboen has divided the year into cold and warm seasons, and plans to compare the stored fats in the crabs between the two seasons.

Once she has captured the specimens and removed their fat-storage organs, she extracts the fatty acids from the tissue sample and converts them into a form conducive for the analytical tests. A small fraction of each sample is then injected into a gas chromatography/mass spectrometer, where it is compared to commercial standards for identification and quantitative purposes.

Ms. Sjoboen’s studies may reveal seasonal differences in fatty acid storage, which will suggest that they are able to optimize these stores for use in the fluctuating temperatures of the intertidal environment. Discovering how they cope in these circumstances can help us understand more about the life of Pachygrapsus and prospectively lead to continuing research on this topic.

As a result of invitations by Lawrence Sowers, PhD, associate dean, basic sciences faculty, these collaborations are providing opportunities for graduate students in the department of earth and biological sciences to learn new skills and ask further questions about their research organisms.

Biochemistry faculty are also benefiting. “It’s a chance for us to look beyond the molecules to whole animals in an ecological context—that’s exciting stuff!” says Dr. Boskovic. 

By Stephen Dunbar, PhD, & Patricia Thio

TODAY news for Thursday, January 15, 2007