Class Spotlight: Marine Science

The Marine Scicence class following an excursion on San Francisco Bay.

The Marine Scicence class following an excursion on San Francisco Bay.

by Charidan Jackson

Marine Science with Dr. Floyd Hayes was an amazing adventure. We were privileged to learn from someone who has had firsthand experience with many of the creatures we learned about. His stories of scuba diving and marine research made the material easier to learn.

To engage us further with the material, Dr. Hayes took us on a variety of field trips. We rode on the research vessel, Robert G. Brownlee, in the San Francisco Bay to learn about four areas of oceanographic study. We broke up into groups and learned benthology, hydrology, planktology, and ichthyology. Each station was very hands on, requiring students to use the machinery marine researchers use on a daily basis. We used micronets, YSI machines, Van Dorn bottles, and the Peterson mud grab to collect data and specimen. I especially enjoyed using the dichotomous key to identify the fish we caught. The whole experience broadened my understanding of marine life and the work marine scientists do.

The trip to Bodega Bay Research Facility was also eye-opening. There we learned about the research graduate students and marine scientists are currently conducting on animals such as the endangered white abalone. We talked extensively with the scientist in charge of the survival of the species. She told us about her practical struggles keeping the abalone alive that is threatened by infection from bacteria that are more prevalent as water temperatures increase. She showed us how the discovery of a bacteriophage is already helping to grow the captive populations and hopefully safe the species. The research facility was especially amazing because it showed us firsthand the tedious yet challenging work required to save endangered species.

The longest and most exciting trip this quarter was the trip to the Farallon Islands. We left from the San Francisco Bay in an all-day whale watching vessel with a group of individuals passionate about marine life. As we left the bay, the swells were large and the air was cold, but as we got further out, the beauty of the Pacific Ocean was before us. Harbor seals were seen following the boat and showing a playful display called porpoising. A blue shark swam right up to the boat; it seemed mere feet away. Porpoises were graciously jumping out the water. A single gray whale was very diligently migrating south. Thousands of breeding marine birds were nesting on the secluded rocks of the Farallon Islands. We were lucky enough to see at least 10 humpback whales; the males were singing and performing majestic breaches for what seemed like hours. The trip was an educational and life-changing experience. Never have I felt that close to nature in its undisturbed form. The Farallon Islands are really a special place.

I am so happy I took the class and got to see and learn more about the creatures God created.

To learn more about biology at PUC, visit the department of biology website.

Student Research Profile: Erika Thalman and Emily Castellanos

Emily and Erika collaborated with Dr. Floyd Hayes on a study of two bird species native to Paraguay.

Emily and Erika collaborated with Dr. Floyd Hayes on a study of two bird species native to Paraguay.

Meet Erika Thalman and Emily Castellanos, both junior biology majors. Last summer, they conducted research in various locations in the South American country of Paraguay. After PUC, Erika plans to go into the field of marine biology and eventually obtain a master’s degree, while Emily plans to go to veterinary school and become a wildlife veterinarian. 

Tell us about your research.

 We participated in a research project led by Dr. Hayes where we studied the calls of two birds, the Chaco nothura and the spotted nothura. We then compared the two birds calls to see how similar their call songs were and whether this suggest whether they could be the same or different species. In the field research portion we helped scout for the birds and recorded data and the field conditions while our guide operated the bird call recording equipment. Once we got back to school we edited the bird calls and analyzed the call sonograms to compare the vocal differences.

What did you learn during your research?

Erika: Before this trip I didn’t realize how much communication and collaboration with others takes place before, during, and after a project. I also learned it’s important to have a backup plan for a project in case something doesn’t go according to the original plan, such as if the research subjects are difficult to find or if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Emily: Following a lot of what Erika said, I also learned how to use previously recorded bird calls to initiate a response from a desired species as well as how much planning it takes before you can actually execute the methods for research.

How did PUC help prepare you for this experience?

Erika: Biological Foundations 113 lab really helped prepare me for research because it introduced me in how to design and carry out a research experiment and was reinforced by the Introduction to Research Methods course.

Emily: The class that really helped in preparing me for this trip was Introduction to Research Methods as it taught me how to construct and write about a research topic I make up myself. Other courses that really enhanced my experience were Ecology because it taught me various factors about animal distribution as well as environmental factors and Vertebrate Biology because of the bird section that is during the class.

To learn more about biology at PUC, visit the department of biology website

Class Spotlight: Biotechnology

Biotechnology students (like Charlene Wang’s classmates shown here) learn to use a variety of lab equipment.

Biotechnology students (like Charlene’s classmates shown here) learn to use a variety of lab equipment.

by Charlene Wang

From obscure fields such as the science of pharming, to popular controversial topics such as GM foods, biotechnology covers a vast variety of subjects. Introduction to biotechnology illustrates and teaches the various procedures and techniques behind significant scientific findings, such as the creation of DNA sequencing and the development of vaccinations. Though biotechnology did open up many topics, my experiences both in the class and in the lab were aimed primarily towards the medical field due to my choice in research topics and my own personal interests.  This course deals with real life applications of biology and problem solving.

One of the most important aspects of biotechnology is the way it is used to diagnose societal health issues, such as in the case of edible vaccines. Though vaccines are highly accessible in the U.S. and other western countries, this is not the case in impoverished third world countries. The lack of accessibility to protection for the impoverished led to the idea of edible vaccines through the injection of cloned genes into the chloroplasts of plants. This new technology aimed to produce crops that could orally administer vaccinations, allowing societies to cultivate and distribute their own vaccines in crops such as potatoes. Biotechnology seeks to provide solutions to societal and medical issues, constantly evolving to improve current human conditions. The course covered a wide variety of conflicts and solutions, including the development of genetically modified (GM) foods and creation of artificial proteins through pharming.

Biotechnology is a quickly developing field of science, eliminating problems in areas such as medicine. Much of biotechnology focuses on identifying and solving problems, such as understanding why experiments fail and how they can be modified. During the lab, I was introduced to new equipment and techniques while actively participating in research. We sought to find a connection between overeating and the development of Alzheimer’s in humans through the use of C. elegans, a model organism that shares Alzheimer’s genes with humans. Throughout the lab I was able to experience firsthand the importance of purification methods and the process of improving lab procedures through trial and error. The lab taught us how to use machines such as the autoclave, spectrophotometer, and the centrifuge, enabling us to measure optical densities of E. coli and stressing the consequences of lab errors such as contamination. In order to improve our technique and experimental procedure, we were given the opportunity to look through research articles to review and analyze newer procedures being utilized in other laboratories. Much of the time spent within biotechnology lab was funneled towards error analysis and learning from previous mistakes, teaching us how scientific research relies on building off of the past work of not only ourselves, but others as well.

Biotechnology was a unique course in the way it introduced new scientific discoveries and provided relatable real-life examples of how essential science is in our day-to-day lives. The laboratory allowed us to experience firsthand the obstacles and the successes that often come with research, as well as the importance of reevaluation. Overall, biotechnology was an enjoyable course I would recommend to anyone with an interest in seeing the practical applications of biological research.

To learn more about biology at PUC, visit the department of biology website.

Student Internship Profile: Amanda Garcia

Amanda Garcia uses a small syringe to feed a goldfinch chick.

Amanda uses a small syringe to feed a goldfinch chick.

Meet Amanda Garcia, a senior environmental studies major. Last summer she completed her internship at the Wildlife Rescue Center of Napa County in the Song Bird Clinic. Her goal is to someday work as a wildlife conservationist at Yellowstone or Yosemite National Park.

Tell us about your internship.

 As a volunteer intern, I properly prepared and cleaned bird cages for the hatchings, juvenile, and adult song birds. I gave oral medicine to the towhees, finches, and scrub jays.

What did you learn during your internship?

There needs to be a lot of people involved in order for the Center to run smoothly. At all times, there needs to be three people at the center to feed the small and large hatchlings every 30 to 45 minutes, one person to give medicines and stitch up birds that have been attacked by cats, and one person to feed and take care of the juvenile and adult birds and help with the birds of prey. I learned the diet of different bird species, and I learned how to mend broken legs and stitch up wounds.

How did PUC help prepare you for this experience?

The Vertebrate Biology class helped me identify the different species of birds found at the Center and helped me know what habitat they can be found in, to better know how to take care of them. The Biological Foundations labs helped me to record information accurately about the behaviors of the birds so the next volunteer could continue care for the birds, and knowledge of a microscope helped me to find any worms or parasites in the fecal samples in order to give the proper medicines to the birds.

To learn more about biology at PUC, visit the department of biology website

Student Research Profile: Daniel Newport

Daniel Newport studied the effect of chlorogenic acid on C. elegans lifespan.

Daniel studied the effect of chlorogenic acid on C. elegans lifespan.

Meet Daniel Newport, a senior biology major. Last summer, Daniel conducted research at PUC. He plans to attend graduate school at CSU East Bay for a master’s degree in cell and molecular biology.

Tell us about your research. 

I formulated and implemented a lifespan assay on Caenorhabditis elegans by exposing them to glucose, which shortens their lifespan. The goal of the study was to measure the effectiveness of the compound chlorogenic acid, an inhibitor of glucose absorption, in attenuating the effects of glucose on lifespan.  

What did you learn during your research?

I learned there is an immense amount of reading required in order to understand the basics of a topic, let alone enough obtain information to formulate an entire experiment. I had to read a handful of papers just to verify the correct volume of one reagent in my media. However, the process was extremely fun, because you gain so much information on cellular processes, common statistical methods, and cutting edge research in published journals. After a while you learn what questions haven’t been answered, and you begin thinking about how you can answer those questions yourself! Research can be long and tough, but implementing critical thought, controlling an experiment, and studying life was exhilarating.

How did PUC help prepare you for this experience?

Classes like Cell and Molecular Biology and Systems Physiology equipped me with a basic, yet cohesive understanding of cell, tissue, and organ mechanics I found invaluable. This gave me a hunger for more information on cell systems, and led me to ask serious questions to Drs. Wyrick and Sung. They were consistently available for ideas and help honing in on research topics; the magnum opus of the department of biology is the care and interest professors like Wyrick and Sung provide to students.

To learn more about biology at PUC, visit the department of biology website

Class Spotlight: Histology

By Iris Lee

iris-lee-histology

Iris Lee and classmates learn to identify cells and tissues during Histology lab.

I never imagined myself taking histology, which is the microscopic study of cells and tissues. Looking back after completing the course, I can definitely say I am glad I decided to take the class and have gained a better understanding of a subject in biology that is not visible to the naked eye.

In the beginning of the quarter, we focused on the four basic tissue types: epithelial, nervous, connective, and muscle tissue. We then expanded to various body systems, such as the respiratory and the lymphatic systems, as well as pinpointing the specific cells which make them up. One of the most interesting parts of this class was studying the eye under the microscope and being able to differentiate the tissues of the eye, such as the retina from the choroid layer and the cornea from the sclera.

A large portion of the class was spent in the laboratory, and we spent our time there twice a week. Lecture was spent mostly previewing the tissues we would look at during lab and learning a little bit of their physiological and clinical aspects. Much of what I enjoyed about histology was becoming more comfortable with light microscopes. Although there was not a lot to do in terms of preparing slides and staining, it was fascinating to take images from the textbook and see what they look like in real life. For example, we were able to see neurons with their axons and dendrites (as well as the myelin sheaths and individual nodes of Ranvier!) in various nervous tissues. One takeaway I got from working with microscopes is pictures in textbooks do not reflect reality, and it takes patience and specific attention to detail to identify the correct tissues and cells. Thankfully, under the guidance of Dr. Robin Vance and his microscope camera, it was much easier to find the various tissues and cells.

As a biology major, I found histology complements systems physiology, and it helps to take these two classes together. Furthermore, for pre-medicine or pre-dental students, these classes are on the list of recommended courses that will come in handy for professional school. Histology deepened my appreciation for the microscopic world, and it was fascinating to learn extensively about how these cells and tissues have specific functions that contribute to the functioning of a body as a whole. I highly recommend this class to anyone interested in learning about the various tissues and cells vital to the human body and hope it is just as enjoyable to them as it was for me.

To learn more about biology at PUC, visit the department of biology website

Student Internship Profile: Alicia Bedolla

Alicia worked with injured and sick waterfowl. In this picture she is holding a domestic duck who is a pet. Wild birds are not handled like this at the rescue center.

Alicia worked with injured and sick waterfowl. In this picture she is holding a domestic duck who is a pet. Wild birds are not handled like this at the rescue center.

Meet Alicia Bedolla, a senior environmental studies major at PUC, and has worked at International Bird Rescue in Fairfield, Calif., for her internship during the last two quarters.

Tell us about your internship.

For my internship I worked at a bird center rehabilitating injured and sick waterfowl and pelagic birds. We performed regular examinations for each bird “patient,” administered medications, and did common chores to keep the facility up and running. On a daily basis, we would also have to clean a variety of fish to feed the birds.

What did you learn during your internship?

While working at International Bird Rescue, I learned so much about pelagic birds by having hands-on experience. I learned how to properly handle birds for examinations and about different illnesses/conditions certain birds are more prone to. I also learned about specific fish each bird preferred. From this experience, I learned proper techniques of administering medications and also how to hand feed sick birds.

How did PUC help prepare you for this experience?

Prior to this internship, I took courses such as Vertebrate Biology, Ecology, and Marine Science, which provided me with background knowledge on common pelagic birds and waterfowl.

To learn more about biology at PUC, visit the department of biology website.