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Intrepid explorers BY SUSAN ROSENBERG; PHOTOS BY MARK MCCARTY Student-faculty research kept Skidmore hopping this summer, with about 70 students working full-time for five, eight,


or ten weeks. Projects were wide-ranging as usual, from Afghan women in leadership and the lives of Mexican migrants to the effect of metals on bacteria and the cellular mechanisms of weight loss. Here are a few spotlights:


SCUMMY GREEN ALGAE may have a very bright future—as biofuels. Unlike more complex plants, algae have simple cell walls that break down more easily for burning and yielding up energy efficiently.


Algae biologist David Domozych (at right) says, “In the past few years, algal biofuels have really caught on among re- searchers.” He and Berke Tinaz ’16 are part of that movement, studying cell-wall construction and deconstruction in a uni- cellular alga called Penium. Domozych explains, “We use enzymes to dissolve particular components of the cell wall —say, pectin or cellulose—and then see how the organism regenerates those components.” They can even remove the entire cell wall and keep the cell alive in a sugar solution. By diluting that solution gradually, Domozych says, they can stimulate the cell into building a new cell wall “and learn whether it first generates pectin or cellulose or a different


polymer, and which comes next as the structure is rebuilt.” The duo was joined this summer by Maja Rydall, a PhD student from the University of Copenhagen, which is devel- oping the use of antibodies to live-label parts of the cell wall for microscopic detection. Domozych also partners with Cor- nell and other Penium researchers in the US and abroad. What Skidmore brings to the partnerships, he says, is visual: “With our confocal laser-scanning microscope, we can see antibody-labeled areas and create 3D images, and our elec- tron microscopy gives us a view inside the cell as its secre - tory system creates polymers to repair its cell wall.” Tinaz, a summer researcher last year too, says he’s pretty adept now with the microscopy: “There are a lot of options for setting lasers and filters, to let us detect the chemical labels we’ve attached and to get the multilayered imaging correct.”


FALL 2014 SCOPE 9


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