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URD@C 2018 Student Participants


Joseph Allen

Joseph Allen

Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Major: Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Ryan D. Mohan
Mentor's Department: Biology
Funding Source: UMKC SUROP grant & UMRB


Genomic Engineering for the Analysis of Multiprotein Complexes Regulating Neural Stability 

Nine neurodegenerative diseases are caused by expansion of cytosine-adenine-guanine (CAG) trinucleotide repeats in a group of seemingly unrelated genes. In the subsequent proteins, these expansions mediate disruption of protein function result in progressive degeneration of the central nervous system and, in Spinocerebellar Ataxia 7 (SCA7), the retina and macula. With no current treatments available, these diseases lead to critical loss of motor control, blindness, and death. Myself, and the rest of the team at the Mohan Laboratory ( are focused on advancing our knowledge of the Ataxin-7 protein, and understanding the factors that lead to the development of SCA7. These insights are applicable to the development of potential treatments, pathogenesis (the biological mechanisms behind disease), as well as oncology (cancer). To facilitate our research endeavors, we use the CRISPR/Cas9 and CRISPRi/dCas9 technology to study Non-stop, Ataxin-7, and the greater SAGA complex. Over the course of the year, we designed and prepared specific components of the CRISPR/Cas9 and CRISPRi/dCas9 systems. Subsequently, we injected wild-type fly embryos (in vivo), as well as transfected Bg3 and S2 fly brain cells (in vitro) with our CRISPR/Cas9 system in order to insert GFP tags in several relevant genes. Our analysis verified through epi-fluorescence imaging that we successfully inserted the GFP tags. These experiments have proven that we can use the CRISPR/Cas9 system to create in vivo and in vitro models for studying neural stability and potentially discovering novel neuroprotective mechanisms.


Joseph Allen

Stephanie Caples

Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri
Major: Geology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Tina Niemi
Mentor's Department: Geosciences
Funding Source: UMKC SEARCH & SUROP grants

Using Drone Technology and Imaging Software to Track the Locations of Boulders on the Island of San Salvador, The Bahamas and Concrete Slabs in Brush Creek, Kansas City

Wave generated energy of tropical storms is capable of moving boulders of various sizes across shorelines and into the mainland, which shapes the development of the shore platforms in coastal regions. Relatively little is currently known about the magnitude of the waves on shorelines during tropical storms but by utilizing long-term monitoring of boulders throughout storm surge cycles we can collect valuable information which can be used to protect infrastructure and save lives. In urban areas, where above-ground water sources are kept in place by man-made means, we see a lot of similarities to the boulders being moved along shorelines. In the same way that boulders are ripped up during tropical storms, concrete slabs can be ripped up during floods and transported downstream which degrades stream stability over time. By comparing the boulder movement patterns on San Salvador due to tropical storms to the concrete slab movement of Brush Creek in Kansas City due to floods, we can create a fuller understanding of the energies in affect during these events which will help to establish more appropriate engineering practices for these environments in the future.


Megan Connor

Megan Connor

Hometown: Leawood, Kansas
Major: Biology & Chemistry
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kathleen Kilway
Mentor's Department: Chemistry
Funding Source: UMKC SEARCH Grant


Attack of Bone Infections: An Alternative to Commercial Bone Cements

The number of knee and hip replacement cases are growing exponentially and are projected to increase by around 170% and 670%, respectively.1 Not only are the number of replacement surgeries rising, but the number of infection related complications are also expected to rise. With the number of antibiotic resistant, pathogenic microbes increasing, it is pertinent that surgeons have a large arsenal of antibiotics at their disposal. Currently, an antibiotic incorporated bone cement, known as poly(methyl methacrylate) or PMMA, is used to treat infection directly at the implant site, as systemic antibiotics have a difficult time reaching the site of infection without reaching toxic levels. However, PMMA is known to have adverse side effects such as high curing temperatures and monomer toxicity. Due to the chemical composition, only heat and chemically stable antibiotics and antifungals are able to be included into commercial bone cements, drastically reducing surgeons’ options.

In order to address the many problems presented by PMMA, we have developed an alternative, silorane-based bone cement. Preliminary studies show that our bone cement cures well below body temperature and is non-toxic, while maintaining comparable mechanical strength. As a result, we expect to be able to incorporate and elute a wide variety of antibiotics and antifungals. Currently, our research is focused on optimizing the synthesis of the two components of our cement and quality control tests were performed on the products.


Anne Crawford

Anne Crawford

Hometown: Blue Springs, Missouri
Major: English
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jane Greer
Mentor's Department: English & Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Funding Source: UMKC SEARCH Grant


Exploring Women’s Communication with Public Figures: A Study of Angelica Schuyler Church’s Letters to Founding Fathers

America’s founding fathers are remembered in large part for their written works. However, they were surrounded by intelligent, insightful women whose writing is often forgotten. One such woman was Angelica Schuyler Church, a woman of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries who wrote letters to Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. This study examines some of Schuyler Church’s letters and identifies three writing styles: political, flirtatious, and petitionary. She used these writing styles to navigate the social and political restrictions society imposed on women during her lifetime so that she could express her opinions without fear of backlash. While recovering women writers like Schuyler Church is critical to understanding our past, the current figuration of women in sites of public memory raises questions about how their past contributions to civic life are analyzed and interpreted in the present. To this day, Schuyler Church’s letters and those of other women in the early American republic are overshadowed by the work of their male addressees. The website Founders Online (where transcribed versions of many of her letters are stored) and the musical Hamilton were analyzed as factors that contribute to public memory of Schuyler Church. This study aims to promote further research on women’s letter writing in the early American republic as well as additional research on how women use the written word to interact with public figures. Moreover, it is a resource for future studies of women whose writing is overshadowed by the written works of prominent men.


Melody Kimbrough

Melody Kimbrough

Hometown: Independence, Missouri
Major: Chemistry
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Xiaolan Yao
Mentor's Department: Biological Sciences
Funding Source: UMKC SEARCH Grant


Investigating the Role of Jaspine B on the Function of Ceramide Transfer Protein

In the United States, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer (melanoma) each year than all other cancers combined. Previous studies have shown that human melanoma cells with low levels of ceramide are more resistant to induced cell death. Ceramide is a waxy molecule that is important in maintaining the cell membrane and regulating important cellular processes. Ceramide is trafficked from one part of the cell to another with a protein called CERT, or ceramide transfer protein. Understanding how CERT functions could not only apply to melanoma cells but could also potentially help combat several pathogens such as the Hepatitis C virus and Chlamydia that have been shown to hijack CERT to use the lipids for their own replication.

In this study, we are currently working to characterize a compound isolated from marine sponge, Jaspine B, that could potentially inhibit CERT. Inhibition of CERT function could lead to elevations in ceramide levels that could promote death in cancer cell lines, and possibly be used as chemotherapeutic agents for cutaneous melanoma, one of the most aggressive forms of skin cancer. Biochemical transfer assays and crystal structures will allow us to further understand how Jaspine B inhibits CERT. Through this research, we can gain a better understanding of the structure and functions of CERT and could perhaps lead to applications for medical treatment in the future.


Shana Malone

Shana Malone

Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri
Major: Civil Engineering
Faculty Mentor: Dr. John Kevern
Mentor's Department: Civil and Mechanical Engineering
Funding Source: UMKC SUROP Grant


Effect of Water to Cement Ratio on Pervious Concrete Performance

Pervious concrete is a type of hardened concrete designed with about 20 percent to 30 percent void space to allow water to soak through and infiltrate the ground. While pervious concrete is not uncommon, some of the basic relationships needed for proper design are still unknown. Ideally, the cementitious paste fully coats the coarse aggregate without draining off. Using a high water to cement ratio reduces the viscosity of the paste and causes the paste to flow down and fill the voids at the bottom of the concrete with an impermeable layer. A balance must be achieved between having enough water to allow good mixing and prevent balling in the mixer while not draining down. There is currently no literature that discusses the different water to cement effects on pervious concrete. My hypothesis is that if void content and workability are controlled, then an optimum water to cement ratio could be developed.

The void content and permeability of all samples was within the precision and bias of the selected test methods, meaning that all measured changes were a factor of the mixture proportions. The relationship between water to cement ratio and strength for pervious concrete is not linear as typical for conventional concrete.
This project consisted of mixing five batches of concrete mixes, each with different amounts of high range water reducer. There were nine cylinders made for each batch of concrete. Each mix was tested for strength, amount of void space and how much water was allowed to pass through it.


Carolyn Nordengren

Carolyn Nordengren

Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri
Major: Art History
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Robert Cohon
Mentor's Department: Ancient Art, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Funding Source: UMKC SUROP


I Mean to Do That: The Intentionality of Tool Marks on Ancient Greek Tombstones

In in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE, Athenians erected marble stelai, slab-shaped tombstones, over their interred dead. These tombstones, typically between three and six feet high, were carved with images in relief. The depth of these reliefs ranged from a few inches to a foot or more. These images, often figural, were associated farewells between the living and the dead.

This project examines the tool marks left behind in the ancient sculpting process. While sculptors would often use a rasp, a tool covered with a series of metal teeth, and abrasive powder to smooth out tool marks, in the case of stelai, tool marks can still be seen on the surface of the stone. Stelai were left unpolished which means that many tool marks left behind by the sculptor are still visible, provided the stone is in good condition.

The author set out to determine why ancient sculptors removed some tool marks and not others. During six days of research at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, the author examined eight stelai using a combination of visual and photographic examination. This examination occurred under both the natural lighting conditions of the galleries and with a flashlight. The author also adjusted the contrast on photos taken in order to ease the identification of tool marks.

The author concluded that as the size of the stelai and intended quality of their carving increased, sculptors removed more tool marks from the stone.



Sarah Rapp

Sarah Rapp

Hometown: Chillicothe, Missouri
Major: Biotechnology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Ryan Mohan
Mentor's Department: Biological Sciences
Funding Source: UMKC SEARCH grant


Discovery of Novel Therapeutic Targets for Disease Treatment

Cancer and neurodegenerative diseases impact millions of Americans and are only expected to rise in prevalence with an aging population. These debilitating diseases are causes of vast economic, personal, and medical burdens. In effort to eradicate these effects, we are researching a key player in cellular processes associated with these diseases, the SAGA complex.

Several subunits of this multi-protein complex are involved in processes such as DNA damage repair, cell cycle control and regulation of proteins associated with cancer including tumor suppressors and oncoproteins. Abnormalities of SAGA subunits have been observed to cause progressive loss of vision and muscle coordination. As a result, the SAGA complex is linked directly to these debilitating disease and understanding its function within the cell is imperative.

Using a model organism, we are able to investigate molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the diseases associated with the SAGA complex. We approach the research with the knowledge that if the complex malfunctions, its interactors are impacted and their function is altered. Thus, the discovery of these interacting proteins lead to the understanding of how disruptions of parts of the complex lead to disease. Knowing the associated proteins allow us target them and restore their function in the case that the SAGA complex fails. With a better understanding of the proteins it interacts with we progress towards an ultimate goal of new therapeutic treatments and improvement of human health.



Laurie Ray

Laurie Ray

Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri
Major: Biology and Chemistry
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Samuel Bouyain
Mentor's Department: Biological Sciences
Funding Source: UMKC SUROP grant


Protein Expression to Include Criminal Justice Reform

Green fluorescence protein (GFP) is expressed in Aequorea victoria, a jellyfish species found off the Washington coast. GFP interacts with aequorin to give off light and fluoresce when exposed to ultraviolet light. GFP’s non-toxicity makes it ideal for research in living cells, and the protein has been adapted for a wide variety of biological sciences applications. Here we aim to expand these applications to include GFP’s use as a marker in blood samples collected for DNA testing or CODIS profile formation from incarcerated persons. In the past, EDTA, a preservative added to collected blood samples, has been used in this capacity during criminal trial proceedings in regards to the origin of blood evidence. However, EDTA is a commonly used preservative found at detectable concentrations in many household items, such as cleaners, cosmetics, and even food products. This makes its usefulness as an identifiable blood marker fairly limited, as its presence cannot offer a determination on the origin of a blood sample. GFP does not naturally occur in vertebrates, is not used as additive of any kind, and is easily detected, making it an ideal candidate for a blood marker. E. coli bacterial cells were engineered to express GFP, which was then purified and introduced into bovine serum at different concentration levels. The serum samples were run on an ELISA and GFP was successfully detected at all concentrations, even those at half the lower detection limit. These results are encouraging and demonstrate GFP’s potential as an identifiable blood marker.