BEST Students Assisting in Stem Cell and Regeneration Research
Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Jason Pellettieri and several undergraduate students are researching the regenerative characteristics of planarian flatworms this summer. The goal is to break ground on understanding the biological workings behind stem cells and regeneration.
“Some animals naturally exhibit this capacity and therefore provide ideal experimental subjects for studying cellular and molecular mechanisms of regeneration. Research in my laboratory deals with one such model organism – the planarian Schmidtea mediterranea,” said Dr. Pelletieri. “This aquatic flatworm has the remarkable ability to form entirely new individuals, complete with nervous, digestive, and reproductive systems, from tiny body fragments. My students and I are using the recently completed S. mediterranea genome sequence to investigate the genetic basis of this phenomenon.”
“This project will help expand the field of flatworm research by characterizing new genes that control how stem cells respond to injury,” said undergraduate researcher Chris Abel ’18. Abel is one of seven researchers in Dr. Pellettieri’s lab. He began conducting research with another faculty member before transitioning into his current position. He says that a lot of the skills needed to be proficient in the lab came first from the classroom, but that he also brings back new skills from his research experience.
“I frequently use skills from chemistry classes for determining solution molarity, proper solution preparation, and solubility behavior of different chemicals. I also take lab skills to the classroom during in-class labs, allowing me to be more proficient in completing tasks during these labs,” said Abel.
Through the Building Excellence in Science and Technology (BEST) program, summer research students are receiving on-campus housing support in order to be closer to their labs and receive a more immersive research experience.
Though Abel has extended experience with conducting research, some newer biology students are working in the lab, having been connected to summer research through the BEST program. Samantha Boulanger ’20 is a biology major who decided to stay on campus this summer to get experience working in a research lab.
“Doing research keeps you engaged in the science field. This motivates you to continue to push your boundaries and grow your lab skills,” said Boulanger. “The BEST program allows us to be paid for our work and motivates us to start research. It’s the first work experience for a lot of us.”
Max Foisey ’19 is another student dedicating his summer to Dr. Pellettieri’s lab by conducting RNAi experiments to discover which genes are responsible for regeneration in planarians.
“I am interested in a career in medicine, so doing research gives me first-hand experience working with live animals in a lab setting and helps me to learn biological processes as well,” said Foisey.