Discovery motivates award-winning biology students

The process of discovery is a universally motivating factor and every time Alex Waugh and Sabrina Botsford learn something new, they’re a little more inspired to scratch deeper below the surface of their respective research subjects.

“It’s almost like a puzzle, and each and every little achievement you make makes you want to go deeper in to it,” said Botsford.

Both fourth-year students in the behaviour, cognition and neuroscience program, the two students took top honours in the biology department’s undergraduate research colloquium last Friday – Botsford in the cell-molecular division, and Waugh in the ecology, evolution, environment and behaviour category. The event called on more than 40 fourth-year students engaged in research projects under the guidance of 12 faculty members from six science departments to present their findings before their peers.

Waugh, who works in professor Barb Zielinski’s lab, studies the olfactory process in sea lamprey, an invasive, parasitic eel-like species which attaches itself to the side of other fish and slowly sucks their blood out. He studies odor-evoked neural oscillation – the rhythmic firing patterns of neurons as they respond to various smells.

“I analyzed it in a way that hadn’t really been done before,” explained Waugh, who studied the subject from a temporal perspective, looking at the performance of specific neurons, rather than spatially, which involves studying specific regions of the brain dedicated to particular functions.

Botsford, who works in professor Lisa Porter’s lab, developed new tools to study the interaction between tuberin, a protein which suppresses cancerous tumours, and Cyclin B1, another protein which partially controls when cells divide.

“We know that the interaction exists, but we didn’t have a way to study it,” said Botsford, who developed a fluorescent method of illuminating the cells and then using microscopes to create a time-lapsed video image of the effects of mutation on the cell’s growth cycle.

Both students say they plan to pursue their studies. Botsford has applied to medical school, as well as to graduate school with the hope of continuing her studies in Dr. Porter’s lab. Waugh has applied to grad school also, and plans to spend his summer continuing his research in Dr. Zielinski’s lab. Both said the colloquium was excellent.

“I was really impressed by the quality of the presentations,” said Botsford.

“Everyone seemed very dedicated and enthusiastic about their work and that really came through in their presentations,” added Waugh.

Other top finishers in the ecology, evolution, environment and behaviour category were Adrianna Forest, who works in professor Trevor Pitcher’s lab, and Matthew Battiston, who works in professor Daniel Mennill’s lab. In the cell-molecular division Sucheta Sinha, who works in professor Andrew Swan’s lab, and Tek Ting Khoo, who works in professor William Crosby’s lab, took second and third place, respectively.