Biology at the Beach

Whitney Lab’s Biology at the Beach Symposium was created in order to bridge the gap between young researchers at the Gainesville campus and those completing their studies out here on the coast. The event consists of a Saturday filled with casual research discussion, presentations, sunshine, kayak eco-tours the beach, and BBQ.

Undergrads, graduate students, technicians and post-doctoral fellows from more than 20 different departments come out to the symposium, providing a low-pressure opportunity to present your research to a diverse audience united by scientific curiosity.

All attendees are given the option to present research in one of three formats, allowing them to practice poster and oral presentation skills. There is also an optional vote-based competition for best poster and best talk with prizes!

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For photos from the 2015 Biology at the Beach Click Here!

Here are some abstracts of research presented at the 2015 Biology at the Beach:




FIRST PLACE WINNER: Nicole Little– Is Gray Matter Damage Following Spinal Cord Injury a Rational Target for Neuroprotection and Repair Strategies?

Abstract/Short description of research:

Studies have indicated that even without white matter loss, gray matter disruption is capable of causing relative deficits. We and others described respiratory dysfunction following cervical contusions at the level of the phrenic nucleus (C3-C5/6) which could be attributed to a significant loss of phrenic motoneurons (PhMNs) by 24hrs post-injury.


RUNNER UP: Emily Dabe- The evolution of epigenetics in the nervous system

Abstract/Short description of research:

I work on discovering the mechanisms regulating of neuronal identity in molluscs.


Alberto Maria Cattaneo- Functional characterization of heterologously expressed Codling Moth Olfactory Receptors

Abstract/Short description of research:

Olfaction plays a dominate role in ‘host’-selection behavior of the Codling Moth (Cydia pomonella L.), one of the most notorious pest species threatening apple and other fruit orchards worldwide. With the aim to target olfaction, we identified a number of critical elements of the moth olfactory system: potential Pheromone Receptors (CpomOR1, CpomOR3, CpomOR4, CpomOR5, CpomOR6) and the co-receptor (CpomORCO). Adopting Human Embryonik Kidney cells, we have functionally expressed CpomORCO, CpomOR1, CpomOR3 and CpomOR4 and we have deorphanized CpomOR1 for the strong pheromone antagonist Codlemone acetate ((E,E)-8,10-dodecadienyl acetate).


Daniel Dixon- The expression of carbonic anhydrase in the ovaries of the mosquito, Aedes aegypti

Abstract/Short description of research:

Mosquitoes are a major threat to global human health. My work aims to study the expression of the housekeeping gene carbonic anhydrase (CA). My research probes into transcriptomic data (Akbari et al. 2013) and uses western blots and immunohistochemistry to characterize the expression patterns of CA genes in response to blood meals. So far, this research indicates that CA is up-regulated at later time points in oogenesis.


Judit Cserny- Development of Nanoparticle-coupled Regulatory T cell Vaccine for Treatment of Type 1 Diabetes

Abstract/Short description of research:

We intend to improve regulatory T cell therapy for autoimmune diabetes. This cell subset plays a role in maintaining self-tolerance but they require interleukin-2 for their survival and function. We are supplying Treg with IL-2 by loading it into biodegradable nanoparticles and cross-link them to the cell surface before infusion.


Julie Meyer- Determining the role of microbiome disruption in coral disease

Abstract/Short description of research:

Disruption of the microbiome often correlates with the appearance of disease symptoms in complex meta-organisms, including corals. In the case of Black Band Disease (BBD), a polymicrobial disease consortium dominated by a filamentous cyanobacterium, Roseofilum reptotaenium, displaces members of the healthy commensal microbiome. We examined the surface microbiomes of healthy corals, healthy tissue from corals with BBD, and BBD consortia on a total of 60 corals from Belize, Honduras, and the Florida Keys. The microbiomes of healthy corals were dominated by Gammaproteobacteria, in particular Halomonas spp., and were remarkably stable across spatial and temporal scales. In contrast, microbiomes from the black band consortium were generally more diverse in terms of both the number of taxa present and the phylogenetic breadth of dominant taxa than those from healthy corals. Nevertheless, members of the disease consortium were present in all sampled healthy surface microbiomes of Montastraea, Orbicella, and Pseudodiploria corals. Examination of co-occurrence patterns revealed that Roseofilum exhibited negative interactions with Gammaproteobacteria representing the stable microbiome. At least in part, these antagonistic effects may be due to the production and accumulation within BBD of lyngbic acid, a broadly distributed cyanobacterial secondary metabolite. Lyngbic acid strongly inhibited quorum sensing (QS) in the Vibrio harveyi model, and its effects on the QS reporters depended on the presence of the CAI-1 receptor CqsS. The effects of this naturally occurring QS inhibitor on bacterial regulatory networks potentially contribute to the structuring of the interactions within BBD consortia.

Author List: Julie L. Meyer1, Sarath P. Gunasekera2, Valerie J. Paul2, Max Teplitski1,2

1Soil and Water Science Department, University of Florida-Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Gainesville, FL 32611

2Smithsonian Marine Station, Ft. Pierce, FL



Mitch Walters          – The effects of urban noise pollution on Northern Mockingbird acoustic signaling and territorial behavior

Abstract/Short description of research:

I will be talking about how urban noise impacts Northern Mockingbird song frequency, mimicry composition, song perch height, and visual flight display behavior.


Pritesh Desai- The LIGHT side of CD8 T cells

Abstract/Short description of research:

CD8 T cells are very efficient in eliminating viral infections. However, the precise molecules that regulate the anti-viral CD8 T cell response is not fully understood. My research is focused on understanding the role of tumor necrosis factor molecule called LIGHT during antiviral CD8 T cell response.


Sofia Beas- Cortical Inhibition and Behavioral Flexibility in Aging

Abstract/Short description of research:

The experiments in this study were designed to determine if reduced GABA(B)R expression in aging is associated with deficits in behavioral flexibility and if modulation of these receptors can enhance flexibility in aged rats.


Steve Chrzanowski– Seeing dystrophic and damaged muscle through a new light    Abstract/Short description of research:

We use magnetic resonance and near infrared optical imaging to assess the state of health of muscle in damaged and dystrophic muscle models with the intention of developing new outcome measures for clinical trials for boys who have duchenne muscular dystrophy.





FIRST PLACE WINNER: Anna E Normand– Road trippin through Louisiana coastal wetlands: student experience and educational implications

Abstract/Short description of research:

In May 2015, the UF Wetlands Club embarked on a week-long traveling course all over south Louisiana to interact with government agencies, academic researchers, and the local stakeholders about coastal land loss issues. This poster outlines student experiences and the implications for a potential future educational course at UF.


RUNNER UP: Rosha Poudyal- Epigenetic Heterogeneity in Kaposi’s Sarcoma-Associated Herpesvirus

Abstract/Short description of research:

KSHV is an oncogenic herpesvirus. Evidence suggests epigenetic basis of gene regulation. Using a chromatin footprinting assay, we have shown epigenetic heterogeneity at few key promoters, where a wide range of chromatin structures is seen: open to completely closed. We would like to investigate if this is a genome-wide phenomenon.


Alexis Lanza*- Investigating an embryonic organizing signal in axis formation of the annelid Capitella teleta


Bailey Steinworth*- Environmental and genetic factors regulating strobilation in the jellyfish Cassiopea

Abstract/Short description of research:

Strobilation is a scyphozoan-specific process in which the asexually-reproducing polyp produces and releases the sexually mature medusa. Temperature and water chemistry provide important cues for strobilation in some scyphozoan species. The upside-down jellyfish Cassiopea provides a particularly interesting example, since polyps must acquire endosymbiotic dinoflagellates in order to strobilate.


Bradley Wilkes*- Using DTI to Investigate Neural Circuitry of Repetitive Behavior


Brianna Keenan- Effects of Food Predictability on Growth and Body Composition of Mice

Abstract/Short description of research:

The purpose of the present study was to examine whether food insecurity or unpredictability has adverse implications for longevity and other health outcomes in mice. The results suggest that fat storage is enhanced by unpredictability of food.


Brittany Lee- Using urine metabolites to track disease progression in Duchenne muscular dystrophy


Caleb Bostwick- Transcriptomic analysis of single neurons comprising the siphon-withdrawal circuit within the sea hare, Aplysia californica

Abstract/Short description of research:

The sea hare Aplysia californica is a highly suitable model for the genomic analysis of learning and memory at the level of individual, functionally identified neurons. Multiple forms of learning and memory are recognizable in this organism, including both associative (classical conditioning) and non-associative (sensitization or habituation) learning. We conducted an extensive RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) analysis of single neurons residing within the siphon-withdrawal circuit of Aplysia californica. This was done to gain a better understanding of the dynamics and diversity of the molecular components orchestrating the neuroplasticity that accompanies learning and memory. Four cell types were considered: the LE sensory neurons, LFs motor neurons, L7 motor neurons, and L29 interneurons, which modulate the circuit. Interestingly, we discovered the CCAAT-enhancer-binding protein (ApC/EBP) was enriched in L29 interneurons compared to LE and LFs neurons. We also found expression of HCN channel transcripts to be relatively higher in LFs motor neurons, while both isoforms of protein kinase C (PKC) are preferentially expressed in LE and LFs compared to L29. Many transcripts did not code for any known proteins, but are various forms of non-coding RNA species, which may serve to regulate the learning and memory process. These differentially expressed protein-coding transcripts and non-coding RNAs provide clues to identify the molecular players involved in the neuroplasticity that takes place during learning and memory.



Charles Pugh- Resurrecting the Ancestral Structural Dynamics of an Antiviral Innate Immune Receptor: Rapid Changes in Structure and Function

Abstract/Short description of research:

We study the functional evolution of the RIG-like receptors (RLRs), a family of proteins that bind viral RNA in the cytoplasm and initiate innate immune responses. Using kinetic binding assays and molecular dynamics simulations, we demonstrate how RLRs altered their RNA-binding preference throughout early metazoan evolution by reorganizing the shape and electrostatic distribution across their RNA binding pocket.


Elizabeth Corey- G protein-dependent activation of PI signaling by a mammalian olfactory receptor

Abstract/Short description of research:

Our lab studies olfaction in arthropods and mammals. We are interested in the mechanisms of olfactory signal transduction – how olfactory receptor neurons convert odor signals into the electrical signals used by the brain. In this project, we are investigating how odorants activate PI3K-dependent inhibition through olfactory receptors.


Eron Raines- Landscape evolution of a carbonate system in south Florida.   Abstract/Short description of research:

Investigation of the biogeochemical behavior of a carbonate ecosystem with special interest in the coupling and interplays of biology and geology. Lithologic geochemical controls on plant population dynamics, both historic and contemporary, are being investigated to better understand the dynamics governing landscape evolution in tropical carbonate systems.


Gabrielle Winters- Cephalopod Neurogenomics

Abstract/Short description of research:

Cephalopod molluscs (Octopus, cuttlefish, squid, and Nautilus) have independently evolved neuronal circuitry and diverse behaviors whose complexity rivals that of many mammals. In particular, the Vertical Lobe (VL), a functional analog to the mammalian hippocampus, is a structure unique to cephalopods that mediates spatial memory and visual discrimination. Our aim is to use integrative Next-gen sequencing technology and bioinformatic analysis, followed by anatomical validation using in-situ hybridization, to identify and produce the first molecular maps of the signaling molecules implemented in cephalopod memory circuitry.



Haiyan Jia- Functional roles of LAFL and VAL transcription factors in regulating the seed-to-seedling phase transition

Abstract/Short description of research:

In order to identify similarities and differences of RNAi in plants and animals at functional and molecular mechanism levels, we experimentally characterized how evolutionary changes in protein sequence differentiate the functional roles of key genes in the pathway, such as Dicers and dsRBPs. /


Kelsey Aadland- Modulation of an Immune Signaling Family by Ubiquitin Modification

Abstract/Short description of research:

Evolution and exploration of innate antiviral immunity.


Lauren Vetere – Age-Related Alterations in Executive Functions and Cost-Benefit Decision Making

Abstract/Short description of research:

Executive functions such as working memory and cognitive flexibility have been shown to decline in older age, and may combine to influence more complex functions such as decision-making. My research is interested in exploring how age-related changes in the dopamine system contribute to alterations in executive function and decision-making ability in older age.


Lisa Keyes- MHV68 lncRNAs Regulate Epigenetic Machinery.

Abstract/Short description of research:

My research focuses on the interaction between viral long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) and epigenetic machinery. Using MHV68 recombinant viruses lacking lncRNAs, I have observed altered regulation of chromatin remodeling machinery, strongly suggesting a role for viral lncRNAs in the regulation of epigenetic complexes.


Lucas Armitage- Isogenic system to discriminate cell type specific effects of individual T1D risk alleles

Abstract/Short description of research:

The role of PTPN22 in the pathogenesis of Type I Diabetes in dendritic cells.


Matthew Bruner- Chronic Variable Stress Induces Alterations in Expression of iGluR and GABABR Subunits in the mPFC

Abstract/Short description of research:

Glucocorticoids released from the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis (induced by stress) act on glucocorticoid receptors in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), which inhibits the HPA axis. Chronic exposure to stress in rats shows a change in expression of certain receptor subunits (iGluR and GABABR) in the mPFC.


Miguel Salinas-Saavedra*- Par system components are asymmetrically localized in ectodermal epithelia, but not during early development in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis

Abstract/Short description of research:

Evo-Devo of cell polarity and early development.


Miranda Schwabe- Investigating the Role of Interneuron Subtypes in Age-Related Cognitive Decline

Abstract/Short description of research:

Age-related decline in executive functions, namely working memory and behavioral flexibility, may be linked to decline in either Parvalbumin-expressing or Somatostatin-expressing interneurons, or both. Here I present evidence of a potential correlation and a study design using a rat model of aging to test this correlation.


Olgert Bardhi- Exploration of Novel RNA-Mediated Pathogenesis in a Myotonic Dystrophy Cell Model

Abstract/Short description of research:

My research focuses on creating a model cell system expressing microsatellite repeats to study RNA processing, RNA foci formation, RNA-toxicity, and overall RNA gain-of-function mechanisms which are hallmarks of Myotonic dystrophy (DM) and other microsatellite expansion disorders.


Otar Akanyeti*- Fish biomechanics and neurobiology


Rachel Sanford- Genomics of Regeneration in Ctenophores

Abstract/Short description of research:

Ctenophores amazing capacity of regeneration has fascinated biologists for centuries. These comb jellies have the ability to repair a wound in their epithelium in a matter of hours. Mnemiopsis leidyi can also regenerate a concentration of neural cells called the aboral organ, or “elementary brain”, in a matter of days. Here we are using next generation sequencing technology to study the transcriptomic and methylome response during regeneration. We are using both Ion Torrent and Illumina technologies to perform deep RNA-sequencing and methylome sequencing of various time points during regeneration. We then analyzed this data using RPKM expression levels to look at various signaling pathway expression in these projects. Here we show molecular mechanisms that might give us hints as to why these animals have such an exceptional ability to regenerate.


Sruti Rayaprolu- Levels of ALS-associated protein, Matrin 3, are indirectly proportional to disease vulnerability

Abstract/Short description of research:

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is characterized by progressive degeneration of upper and lower motor neurons, leading to loss of motor function and death by respiratory failure. While the pathogenesis of ALS is yet to be completely elucidated, studies of the familial form of ALS have identified several genes that cause disease when mutated. The study of such genes has provided great insight into possible molecular mechanisms of ALS. / Recently, mutations in MATR3 have been linked to ALS and frontotemporal dementia. The function of Matrin 3 is very poorly understood and the mechanism by which mutations in MATR3 cause ALS is unknown. The goal of this project is to describe the expression of Matrin 3 in the CNS of mice during development, adulthood, and aging to obtain clues about the function of the native protein and how it may cause disease when mutated. /


Thomas Stephenson*- Elucidating the origins of Bilaterian Character




*Poster Blitz Presenter