Biology Trio Presents at National Conference

Three Reed biology students were invited to present posters at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in St. Louis, Missouri, in February. The event culminated three years of effort supported by grants from the Merck Institute for Science Education, meant to encourage collaboration between the chemistry and biology departments.

“By attending [AAAS], students are exposed for the first time to professional science meetings,” says biology professor David Dalton. “They get to see how science really operates at the cutting edge.”

Brian Howell ’06 and Reed biology professor Keith Karoly examined the genetic basis that determines the color of two related Pacific Northwestern larkspur species, by extracting and examining plant RNA.
Besides determining the genetic roots of the plants’ color, the findings were also used to examine the ecological consequences of the color differences, concentrating on the effect on pollinators.

Zach Turner ’07 worked with Dalton to explore the role of nicotianamine, a chemical found in plants that instigates the process of absorbing minerals from the soil. Nicotianamine contributes to a plant’s ability to support itself, but its function has not been widely studied.

Jillian Anderson ’06 and Karoly, along with Portland State University professor Niles Lehman, examined the presence and development of a particular gene found in two species of larkspur, in order to understand the role of evolutionary selection in the plants.

The 2004 grant from the Merck Institute for Science Education provided $20,000 annually for three years. The award continues for one more summer, and may support another student presentation at AAAS next year.

—Erin Coupal ’09