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Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Maykeling Aráuz Gutiérrez Biology Sophie Cronck Biology
Advisor(s): Shauna McGillivray Biology


Investigating the effects of phosphorylation on the BRCA1/PALB2 interaction

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Audrey Dolt Biology Hayes Martin Biology
Advisor(s): Mikaela Stewart Biology

BRCA1 and PALB2 proteins suppress tumor formation by promoting homologous recombination when DNA damage has occurred. Mutations in BRCA1 and PALB2 are associated with a higher prevalence of breast and ovarian cancers. Phosphorylation of BRCA1 and PALB2 occurs upon DNA damage and is vital for maintaining genomic integrity. The molecular mechanism of how phosphorylation directs the activation of these proteins is unknown. It is established that phosphorylation of BRCA1 and PALB2 occurs in or near the coiled-coil regions of both proteins. The proteins use this domain to heterodimerize, so we hypothesize that the phosphorylation events could promote efficient BRCA1/PALB2 interactions. Our study aims to determine the effect of phosphorylation on the BRCA1/PALB2 binding affinity. The serine and threonine residues that are phosphorylated on BRCA1 or PALB2 were mutated to a glutamic acid to mimic phosphorylation. Glutamic acid carries a negative charge and thus mimics the negative charge added to the protein upon phosphorylation. We overexpressed and purified the protein using a bacterial expression system and measured their heterodimerization affinity with isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC). We will share ITC data suggesting phosphorylation of PALB2 does not affect its binding affinity to BRCA1. The phosophomimicking mutations in BRCA1 have also been generated, both individually and in tandem, and we will share results from these binding studies that are ongoing and hypotheses generated from our results regarding phosphorylation as an activation switch to control BRCA1/PALB2 interactions.


Repurposing a Serotonin Receptor Antagonist as a Potential Novel Antibiotic

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Sheridan O'Coyne Biology Alex Caron Biology Mikaela Stewart Biology
Advisor(s): Shauna McGillivray Biology

With the surge of multidrug resistant bacteria and increasing antibiotic resistance, there is a critical need for the development of new drug therapies. A new antimicrobial technique revolves around targeting virulence factors, which enable the bacterial pathogen to evade host immune defenses. Inhibitors that target pathogenicity hinder the capacity of the bacterium to cause an infection, thus allowing the host immune system to better clear the infection. In this study, we aim to inhibit the ClpXP protease, a highly conserved intracellular protease involved in virulence in different bacterial pathogens. Previous studies have shown that inhibition of ClpX completely attenuates virulence in Bacillus anthracis, rendering the pathogen more susceptible to cell envelope targeting antibiotics such as penicillin, daptomycin and LL-37. Computational modeling was performed and ten commercially available inhibitors with predicted activity against ClpX were identified, with ritanserin showing the most promise. In this study we explore the antimicrobial effects of ritanserin, a previously identified serotonin 2A receptor antagonist that underwent clinical trials as a potential treatment for schizophrenia and substance dependence. We hypothesized that if ritanserin inhibits ClpX in B. anthracis Sterne it should mimic the phenotype of the knockout clpX mutant, ΔclpX. We found that ritanserin increased WT Bacillus anthracis susceptibility to the cell envelope targeting antibiotics penicillin and daptomycin. Future studies will look at interactions host defenses such as antimicrobial peptides including LL-37. This demonstrates that ritanserin could be potentially repurposed as an antibacterial drug with the potential to be used by itself or in combination with antibiotics.


Anti-Virulence as a New Antibiotic Class: Searching for Novel Virulence Genes in B. anthracis

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Abi Plylar Biology
Advisor(s): Shauna McGillivray Biology

B. anthracis is a gram-positive, spore-forming bacterial pathogen and the causative agent of the deadly disease, anthrax. This pathogen produces a lethal infection due to the potency of its virulence factors in inflicting harm upon and defending against their host. While anthrax toxin and capsule encoded in the B. anthracis plasmids are well-studied, there is minimal research into the over 5,000 chromosomal genes. To identify potential chromosomal virulence factors, a B. anthracis Sterne strain transposon mutant library containing thousands of randomly disrupted genomes was created and previously used to successfully screen for loss of virulence-associated phenotypes. In our current screen, we examined attenuation of mutants exposed to oxidative stress in the form of H2O2. ROS are released by innate immune response cells and destroy invading pathogens lacking adequate defense mechanisms. While there are some known antioxidant-encoding genes in B. anthracis, like the catalase gene, we predict there are others that may influence the bacteria’s susceptibility to ROS. To search for additional genes, we screened over 1,300 transposon mutants using H2O2 and selected mutants with growth attenuation compared to wild-type B. anthracis Sterne. Mutants with increased H2O2 susceptibility were further tested to confirm in-vitro phenotypes. Ultimately, we want to screen selected mutants in the G. mellonella invertebrate infection models to prioritize mutants with both in-vitro and in-vivo phenotypes. Our goal is to discover novel virulence factors while also developing validated methods and procedures to study B. anthracis pathogenesis.


Assessing extinction risk for a group of neotropical ferns

Type: Graduate
Author(s): Lucia Vargas Biology
Advisor(s): Matt Hale Biology Alejandra Vasco Biology

Understanding the diversity and distribution of species on Earth is crucial in the face of contemporary threats to biodiversity, such as climate change and unsustainable economic practices. Unfortunately, the process of documenting and describing biodiversity often cannot keep pace with habitat loss and species extinction, especially in tropical regions where the number of undescribed and poorly known species is highest, and where biodiversity is most severely threatened. If this diversity is not documented, it will mean a loss of valuable understanding of the natural world and a failure to recognize species whose societal values remain undiscovered or underappreciated. This research will assess the extinction risk of selected fern species to understand their conservation status. The focus lies on understanding the classification, distribution, and conservation status of a group of species within the fern genus Elaphoglossum, the Elaphoglossum dendricola Clade, consisting of around 12 species distributed in the Tropical Andes, mostly at high altitudes (over 2400 m). This assessment aims to serve as a baseline for future conservation studies of this neotropical group of ferns.


Predicting pKas of flexible polybasic pyclen derivatives: A pKa challenge

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Tatum Harvey Chemistry & Biochemistry
Advisor(s): Benjamin Janesko Chemistry & Biochemistry Kayla Green Chemistry & Biochemistry

Predicting pKas is an outstanding challenge in computational chemistry. The Green group
at TCU is working to develop a library of pyclen derivatives that can successfully reduce oxidative
stress within the brain of people afflicted with neurodegenerative diseases1. Predicting the various
pKas of these flexible molecules, which are charged at neutral pH, challenges conventional
approaches to predicting pKas. For each pyclen derivative, we combine an extensive survey of
protonation site isomers, with conformational sampling using the CREST package2, DFT
calculations with continuum solvent models, followed by a linear fit to correct the solvent models
limitations for calculating energy of highly charged species. We can predict three to five measured
pKa values for each pyclen derivative with a RMSD of 0.9 pKa units, which is competitive with
the best-physics based method in the SAMPL6 blind challenge for the first pKa3. We are pushing
the boundaries of computational chemistry and its abilities to predict multiple pKas of flexible


Studying the Mode of Action of Novel Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Halley Tamene Chemistry & Biochemistry
Advisor(s): Giridhar Akkaraju Chemistry & Biochemistry

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is ranked as the seventh leading cause of death in the US with over 6 million Americans currently diagnosed, and that number is projected to reach about 13 million by 2050. AD is currently believed to be caused by numerous factors ranging from genetics, lifestyle, and environmental conditions (such as pollution). The pathogenesis of Alzheimer's however remains even less certain as scientists continue looking into theories based on the factors related to the disease such as the formation of amyloid beta peptide (Aβ) plaques and neurofibrillary tangles composed of the protein tau in the brain. In a healthy individual, these proteins are key regulators of the nervous system, functioning to assist in growth and repair, as well as aid in the stabilization of the neural cells respectively. Our study aims to understand the mode of action of novel anti-Alzheimer drugs. The Aβ plaques seen in AD disrupt normal function and induce inflammation, activating microglial cells, which produce cytokines and induce chronic inflammation. Cytokines are signaling molecules produced by immune cells that mediate inflammatory signaling. Activation of the inflammasome protein NLRP3, found in microglial cells, produces the cytokine IL-1β which has been implicated in Alzheimer’s due to its ability to induce and maintain the cycle of inflammation. Studies have shown that the removal of NLRP3 results in decreased deposition of the proteins involved in AD. Our research into novel anti-inflammatory drugs and their potential to reduce NLRP3-mediated inflammation-induced brain damage may ultimately ease cognitive impairments associated with Alzheimer’s.


Ecosystem Services of TCU Campus Trees

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Megan Boneck Environmental Sciences Audrey Haffner Environmental Sciences Gisela Pacheco Environmental Sciences Zoey Suasnovar Environmental Sciences
Advisor(s): Bredan Lavy Environmental Sciences


Water availability for winged residents: geospatial analysis of drinking water sources for bats in the Lower West Fort Trinity watershed of Fort Worth

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Katherine Davis Biology
Advisor(s): Esayas Gebremichael Environmental Sciences Victoria Bennett Environmental Sciences

Although bats are extremely important ecosystem service providers, they face challenges accessing suitable drinking resources in urban environments. The objective is to conduct a comprehensive geospatial analysis to assess water sources within Tarrant County. Factors such as tree cover, surface area, and proximity to roads will be evaluated and mapped to determine the suitability of these water sources for bats. The resulting data will contribute valuable insights into the spatial distribution of drinking resources for local bat populations, aiding in conservation efforts and habitat management in the region.


The Human Impact on Deer: Integrating Spatial Analysis technology to help sustain White-Tailed Deer populations in the Southern United States

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Jackson Galloway Environmental Sciences
Advisor(s): Esayas Gebremichael Geological Sciences

Whitetail-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are a crucial component of the Southern United States Ecosystem. 5.5 million deer live in the southern regions of the country, and all are impacted by human activity. Hunting and suburban development have created a rift on the species population distribution. This study is aimed at investigating the impact of creating suburban communities and hunting practices in the Southern regions of the United States. Establishing sustainable habitats for white-tailed deer populations using spatial analysis techniques will allow for populations to remain stable. Implementing strategies for property owners and public land attendants to tend for vegetation growth and clean water sources will be crucial for the species' ability to thrive. The objective is to create a distribution map of the white-tailed deer population throughout the southern regions of the United States on data collected from the variability of the land and the physical soil composition for potential vegetation growth.


Using Socio-economic Status and Greenspace to Locate Potential Survey Sites for Bat Foraging

Type: Graduate
Author(s): Elizabeth Hargis Environmental Sciences
Advisor(s): Victoria Bennett Environmental Sciences

Urbanization refers to the process of converting natural habitats into human-friendly areas, consisting of concrete structures like buildings and roads that are not typically conducive to wildlife. Despite this, many animals, including bats, are able to adapt to urban landscapes and even provide crucial ecosystem services. Bats, in particular, play a vital role in controlling pests in both agricultural and urban areas. Thus, it is imperative to understand the factors that affect their foraging activity. The aim of this project is to identify potential survey sites that can provide insight into the factors that influence prey availability and abundance.


Sustainability Progress of Global Companies Using GRI Standards

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Maria Pertz Environmental Sciences
Advisor(s): Brendan Lavy Environmental Sciences


Mapping pollinator habitats to assess park connectivity in Fort Worth, TX

Type: Graduate
Author(s): Maddie Rzucidlo Environmental Sciences
Advisor(s): Brendan Lavy Environmental Sciences

Urbanization drives decreases in pollinator biodiversity, species richness and abundance due to loss of habitat and fragmentation. Urban characteristics such as densification and impervious surfaces can cause pollinator declines and loss of pollinator services. As of 2022, Fort Worth, TX has a population of 956,709, making it the 13th largest city by population in the United States. Fort Worth has a population growth rate of 4.1% making it the fastest growing city of the 30 most populous cities in the country. Additionally, the city maintains 300 different parks spanning 13,066 acres. The city of Fort Worth is also located in a major pollinator migratory pathway. Studies show that both population density and city size impact pollinator populations. Such rapid population growth has the potential to impact pollinators and their habitats. Due to the rapid population growth, land use change, and densification occurring in the city of Fort Worth and the existence of major pollinator habitats within the city, Fort Worth parks are a compelling place to conduct landscape connectivity research on pollinators. The objective of this project is to assess the connectivity of pollinator habitats in the highly urbanized Fort Worth area and surrounding cities within the boundary of highway 820 and 20. This project strives to understand how urban parks as pollinator habitats connect to one another at a range of distances for pollinator travel.


Potential impacts of anthropogenic water sources in a natural landscape for bats

Type: Graduate
Author(s): Gloria Serrano Environmental Sciences
Advisor(s): Esayas Gebremichael Geological Sciences Victoria Bennett Environmental Sciences

As water resources fluctuate more with global climate change, access to and the availability of water for wildlife is becoming a concern. Bat communities, for instance, are dependent on water as a drinking and foraging resource. Consequently, as water in natural sources becomes scarcer in environments with increasing temperatures, bats are becoming more reliant on anthropogenic water sources, such as swimming pools and livestock troughs. For these anthropogenic water sources to be more available or accessible to the bats, increasing the number of anthropogenic water sources would help increase availability, while increasing landscape connectivity (e.g., commuting pathways) would aid accessibility. For this study we address the latter by mapping the existing landscape connectivity 1) to determine which natural water sources are accessible with no more than a 10 m, 20 m, & 40 m gap within tree connectivity, 2) to determine which anthropogenic water sources are accessible with no more than a 10 m, 20 m, & 40 m gap within tree connectivity, and 3) to compare water accessibility of natural sources to that of both natural and anthropogenic sources. We expect to see increasing bat water source accessibility with increasing landscape connectivity (smaller gap distance) on bat accessibility to water sources on a game reserve in South Africa and how the addition of anthropogenic water sources increase availability.


Austin's Walkability: Tree Canopy Cover of Austin's Sidewalks

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Zoey Suasnovar Environmental Sciences
Advisor(s): Esayas Gebremichael Geological Sciences Brendan Lavy Environmental Sciences


Assessing Urban Heat Island Intensity Using Landsat Data

Type: Graduate
Author(s): Daniel Ayejoto Environmental Sciences
Advisor(s): Gebremichael Esayas Geological Sciences


Tracking Soil Organic Carbons Near the Trinity River

Type: Graduate
Author(s): Julie Crenwelge Geological Sciences Christelle Fayad Interdisciplinary
Advisor(s): Omar Harvey Geological Sciences


Using Spatial Analysis to Identify Patterns in Reptilian Dermal Ornamentation

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Sarah Foxx Geological Sciences
Advisor(s): Esayas Gebremichael Geological Sciences Arthur Busbey Geological Sciences

The dermal ornamentation of reptiles and lower vertebrates is a largely untouched field of research, and thus common patterns or a specific purpose for the ornamentation has yet to be identified and/or agreed upon by paleontologists. This study strives to use various spatial and image analysis techniques to identify any patterns in the ornamentation on the skulls of both ‘lower’ vertebrate captorhinids and modern crocodilians to better understand the purpose of such ornamentation and why it has persisted from lower vertebrates to modern-day reptiles. Any information that can be derived from the research may aid modern understanding of the evolution from lower vertebrates to modern reptiles.


Heat Severity Influence on Median Household Income Across Fort Worth, TX

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Audrey Haffner Environmental Sciences Blake Harrison Environmental Sciences
Advisor(s): Esayas Gebremichael Geological Sciences Brendan Lavy Environmental Sciences

This research identifies the relationship between heat severity and median household income across Fort Worth, Texas. As global temperatures continue to rise the urban heat island (UHI) effect becomes more severe, especially in low-income communities due to disparity to past discriminatory housing policies. This study utilizes the ArcGIS Pro software to create a series of maps using census data to acquire the objectives of this study.


Facies Characterization of the De Grey River's Delta Plain

Type: Graduate
Author(s): Henry Henk Geological Sciences Jacinto Garza Geological Sciences Matt Kelly Geological Sciences Tripp Smith Geological Sciences Andrew Winch Geological Sciences
Advisor(s): John Holbrook Geological Sciences Esayas Gebremichael Geological Sciences Simon Lang Geological Sciences Victorien Paumard Geological Sciences

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Trends in Energy Consumption With Population Growth

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Kenna Mollendor Environmental Sciences
Advisor(s): Esayas Gebremichael Geological Sciences


Can litter removal in urban parks improve water accessibility for bats?

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Katherine Davis Biology
Advisor(s): Victoria Bennett Environmental Sciences

Despite bats providing essential ecosystem services, such as pollination, seed dissemination, and pest control, bat populations are facing a global decline due to habitat loss from human activities, including urbanization. We can, however, enhance urban areas to support bat communities by ensuring that suitable resources, such as water, are available and accessible. While availability is associated with the abundance of water sources in an area, accessibility dictates whether bats can physically get to and drink from the surface of a water source. One factor that can influence accessibility is the level of clutter. Clutter represents any physical obstruction present on the surface of the water or in the immediate surrounding area, including vegetation, exposed rock, and debris. Yet, not all forms of clutter are natural. The presence of litter can negatively hinder water accessibility. Thus, in urban areas where litter is more prevalent, a simple litter or trash clean-up scheme could potentially represent an effective restoration activity that community groups could undertake to increase water availability and accessibility for bats in their neighborhoods. To explore this concept, we assessed whether such a community-based clean-up scheme could effectively improve water resource accessibility for bats. For this, we cleared water sources in local parks and neighborhoods of trash monthly during the bat activity season, while conducting behavioral surveys using thermal cameras to determine whether bats drank from these sources. We then compared bat drinking activity recorded at ponds from 2021-2022 prior (i.e., no clean-up) with activity post-clean-up in 2023 to establish if more bats drank. From our results, we hope to inform not only local wildlife conservation programs but also efforts to improve community health.


Blood Flow Restriction Related to Chronic Injury – A Critically Appraised Topic

Type: Graduate
Author(s): Ellie Meyer Interdisciplinary
Advisor(s): Ashlyne Elliott Interdisciplinary

Blood flow restriction (BFR) is a technique that has been gaining popularity in the clinical athletic training setting over the past few years both for rehabilitation and recovery. However, most research and emphasis of BFR research has been on post-surgical patients, especially post-operative anterior cruciate ligament repair, rather than chronic injury, specifically lowerbody. Thiscriticallyappraisedtopic searches the literature to find out what research has been done on chronic injury and if BFR is effective in reducing pain and bettering outcomes for chronic lower body injury. Studies were found through various databases including CINHAL, EBSCOHost, MEDLINE, and PubMed. Initial results yielded 270 studies with inclusion/exclusion criteria based on subject, standard of study, and relevance due to date published narrowed results down to only 2. Research on chronic pathologies and BFR use is limited. More research should be done on this topic to obtain more information and evidence. Six studies were found that passed inclusion and exclusion criteria but only two were suitable for this CAT. Based on inclusion and exclusion criteria, only two articles met all criteria to be used in this CAT. Studies included were quality and studied population groups that could yield quality results. For athletes with chronic injury, BFR can be beneficial for alleviation of their symptoms as well as strengthen the lower extremity to help prevent injury in the future. BFR training should be considered for all patients due to the benefits and efficiency of the technique. The research on chronic patients compared to post- operative patients is limited, but that available is quality and focused.

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Computer Based Spanish Phonetic Transcription Training for Bilingual Speech Language Pathologists

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Faith Moore-Thomas Interdisciplinary
Advisor(s): Dr. Ahmed Rivera-Campos Interdisciplinary


TCU Tooth Fairies

Type: Undergraduate
Author(s): Cayla Prophater Interdisciplinary Aleah Appel Interdisciplinary Aimee Garibay Interdisciplinary Abigal Mohun Interdisciplinary Lexi Munch Interdisciplinary Kameryn Smude Interdisciplinary
Advisor(s): Sarah Jung Interdisciplinary