Fun with Fyn!

This spring and summer my lab team has been hard at work trying to determine novel proteins that bind to the Src Family Kinase Fyn. The big picture you ask? Fyn is a protein important for normal growth and development of cells, but also is implicated in a number of cancers. So, figuring out which proteins Fyn binds to cellularly, particularly those that have never been known to bind to Fyn before, may reveal important cellular signaling pathways that lead to normal or abnormal cellular growth. My awesome team of undergraduates each worked on a different potentially novel Fyn binding partner. Students included Alex Frank, Abby Haswell, Kayla Inouye, and Devon Lindner. They made great progress, and although Alex and Kayla graduated in spring 2015 (congrats!), Devon and Abby are excited to get started again this fall. Happy hunting!

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Students presenting at the Student Scholarship Celebration at Norwich in Spring 2015. From left: Alex Frank, Abby Haswell, Karen Hinkle (me!), and Kayla Inouye.

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Spaulding High School/Norwich University Science Exploration Series: A Huge Sucess!

Today wrapped up an exciting and inspiring week of the first Science Exploration Series to be held at Norwich University’s College of Science and Mathematics.  Teachers and students from Spaulding High School (Barre, VT) spent the week with Norwich University science faculty to work on a Barcode of Life Project that they can potentially bring back to their high school classrooms in the future.  The week started with the entire team going down to the Dog River, adjacent to Norwich’s campus, putting on waders and dragging D nets to collect a variety of animals in the river, including insect larvae, snails, and even fish. Norwich Geology and Environmental Science professor Chris Koteus led the team by describing the geology of the Dog River Valley, explaining how the river changes constantly and how the animals respond to those environmental changes. Under the guidance of Karen Hinkle, a professor in the Biology department, participants used molecular biology techniques to dissociate animal tissues, isolate genomic DNA, and perform PCR amplification of a portion of the CO1 mitochondrial gene for eventual DNA sequencing.  Once the DNA is sequenced, the team will be able to use sophisticated DNA analysis tools and publicly available databases (NCBI/BLAST and BOLD) to genetically identify the species collected and to determine evolutionary relationships between the groups.  Heather Driscoll, a research faculty member at Norwich University funded through the Vermont Genetics Network, led the participants in an overview of the Barcode of Life project and in using these tools to analyze DNA sequences.  In addition to the aforementioned experiments, the faculty and students also took part in a day of Chemistry experimentation, where professor Dick Milius led the group in separation of analgesics from common pain medication using thin layer chromatography, another exciting project that Spaulding faculty can take back to their students.  Throughout the week, the Norwich and Spaulding participants had breakout sessions where they reviewed data, troubleshooted experiments, and also had some time for socializing and planning for future events.  The strong connections made between Norwich and Spaulding faculty and students through this program are sure to spark collaborations between the two institutions in the future! 


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I have amazing colleagues!

This week at Norwich we celebrate Faculty Scholarship. The kick-off event was the Faculty Scholarship celebration on Monday, October 23rd in the Kreitzberg Library, where recent scholarly works of my colleagues all over campus were on display. Like every year I attend this event, I was in awe of all of the amazing works that my colleagues have produced. I also saw a fantastic group presentation yesterday by Kathleen McDonald, Patricia Ferriera, Lea Williams, and Amy Woodbury-Tease, all faculty members in the Department of English. Each of them presented their schoarly investigations on different literary women throughout history, and I was so intrigued by all of the information they uncovered. These are friends of mine, colleagues I see both professionally and socially, and yet I rarely get such a wonderful opportunity to see the details of the projects they are working on. With the presentations yesterday and the works I’ve seen by my colleagues throughout the week, I’m inspired and motivated to get back into the lab and work on my research!

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Thinking about medical/dental school?

The Norwich Pre-Med Club activities are in full-swing this semester, with an exciting opportunity to meet with Dr. Stephen Sonis this Friday, Sept. 28 at 12:00 in U125.  Dr. Sonis, a 1967 graduate of Norwich University, is a Clinical Professor of Oral Medicine at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. He holds a DMD from Tufts University and a DMSc from Harvard and he currently holds positions as Senior Surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and is the Chief of the Division of Oral Medicine and Dentistry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.  Dr. Sonis will meet with students to talk about preparation for medical/dental school and ways to be the best candidate possible.

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Happy “New Year”!

After a year-long sabbatical, I’m back in the classroom at Norwich.  It’s fun to be back to see my students and colleagues again!  I was reminded yesterday why Norwich is such a great place to be…I was preparing a lecture on Evolution and I remembered that the faculty members in the Geology department have beautiful fossils that perfectly demonsrate the concepts of evolution that I wanted to convey.  About an hour before my Cell Biology class started, I found myself in a GEOLOGY classroom, oohing and ahhing over some awesome stromatolites (2 billion years old!) that the Geology faculty let me borrow for the morning.  This is why I love Norwch, the ability to simply walk down the hall and have access to the expertise of such stellar colleagues who are willing to give their time to help me make my lectures more effective.  And while I miss being able to work at the lab every day up at UVM, I’m delighted to with my colleagues at Norwich on a daily basis again.

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Let the Games Begin!

Yes, that’s a “shout out” to the 2012 Olympic Games which will be held this summer in London.  But really, it’s in celebration of the beginning of an exciting summer of research with Norwich University students Zac Fulton and Liz Chapdelaine!  Zac, a Norwich rising junior who is also a member of the men’s ice hockey team, won a highly competitive NIH-INBRE-funded Vermont Genetics Network Fellowship for work titled “Functional investigation of novel SFK phosphotyrosines in src-1 mutant worms”.  Zac will be working for most of the summer in the laboratory of Dr. Bryan Ballif, Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Vermont, in whose lab I recently completed a year-long sabbatical.  Zac will become the “resident expert” in functional studies in worms, and will help me transition this model system back to Norwich University where we can continue these experiments. 

Liz Chapdelaine, also a rising junior Biology major and herself a standout on the women’s lacrosse team, won a prestigious Weintz Fellowship to support her work in my laboratory this summer.  Liz’s project, titled “Functional investigation of novel phosphotyrosine residues in the Src family kinase Fyn”, also represents work stemming from my sabbatical studies in Dr. Ballif’s lab this year.  Liz will be primarily working in human cell culture for her studies, in which she will be conducting sophisticated biochemical experiments to study Fyn, an enzyme that has implications in development and cancer.  Liz will also be traveling up to UVM this summer to learn valuable techniques and to help me establish this new project at Norwich University where we all will continue this work.

Speaking of the Olympics, rumor has it that up at UVM there will be a “Ballif Olympics”, to which I’m hoping to bring my star athletes Zac and Liz to crush the competition.  (I of course will be on hand to bring orange slices.)  Here’s to a wonderful, productive summer of research!  And to my colleagues who happen to pass by the VGN lab at Norwich this summer and hear us grooving to really good hip-hop while we’re performing our experiments, come on in and groove with us!

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Sabbaticals are awesome….

I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to be spending my 2011-2012 Independent Study Leave (a.k.a. sabbatical) in the laboratory of Dr. Bryan Ballif in the Department of Biology at the University of Vermont!  I am spending the year in Dr. Ballif’s lab studying post-translational modification of the Src family kinase, Fyn, an enzyme important in a host of biological processes including neuronal migration.  Using large-scale proteomic approaches, Dr. Ballif previously identified novel phosphorylation sites on this protein that may play a functional role in the development of the nervous system.  I’m having a blast learning new techniques (immunoprecipitation, Western blotting, site directed mutagenesis) and working with extremely talented faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates on this project.     

While I miss my daily interactions with students and colleagues at Norwich University, I am completely stoked about this work in Dr. Ballif’s lab!  I look forward to continuing my collaboration with Dr. Ballif’s lab when I’m back at Norwich next year as well as in the future.  And despite the fact that on most days I can be found up at UVM in the lab, my family and I still religiously attend the NU hockey games.   Go Wick!

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Something’s Cookin’ in the Lab….

I’m fortunate to be working with four awesome students this summer:  3 Norwich undergraduates (Blake Forkey, Sarianne Lynn, and Patrick McGrath), and 1 Montpelier High School Student (Carl Vitzthum).  The students are CRANKING in their projects and generating a lot of exciting data!  One of the most exciting developments is the new addition of Xenopus laevis (African clawed frog) cell culture in our lab.  Sarianne Lynn is now “The Master” of cell culture in our lab; after acquiring this cell line from the lab of Dr. Jacques Robert at the University of Rochester, she set up this cell culture system at Norwich and is using the cells to analyze the effects of the lampricide in these amphibian cells.  Carl Vitzthum is assisting Sari in her Xenopus experiments and will be taking over her project when she leaves the lab at the end of June.  Meanwhile, Blake Forkey is analyzing gene expression alterations in yeast that have been exposed to lampricide, while Patrick McGrath is analyzing lampricide-induced reactive oxygen species production, also in yeast. 

I’m so proud of the work that these students are performing in my lab!  They are all so motivated and committed to their projects, and it is so great for me to watch the development of these young scientists!

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Summer Research Begins!

Today was the start of an exciting summer of research in my laboratory.  I have three students working with me:  Patrick McGrath (Junior Bio major), Sarianne Lynn (Senior Bio major) and Blake Forkey (Junior Bio major).  Each of them won competitive Norwich University Student Research Fellowships, and they started their work today.  Patrick is investigating reactive oxygen species (ROS) production in lampricide-treated yeast.  Sari is analyzing gene expression changes in Xenopus (African clawed frog) cells exposed to lampricide.  And last but not least, Blake is studying DNA repair mechanisms in lampricide-treated yeast.  We have our work cut out for us, but as of this afternoon, the lab is clean, organized, and open for business!

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Hinkle Independent Study Leave 2011!

I’m thrilled to have received the news that I was awarded Independent Study Leave (sabbatical) for Fall 2011!  Although I’ll miss the students while I’m gone, I’m so excited to have the chance to commit uninterrupted time to my research questions.  One of the things that is challenging for us profs at small institutions is not having enough time to sit down and THINK about our research.  We scramble to find time during the academic year to write grant proposals, and then during the summer we rush to generate as much data as we can before all the craziness starts again in the fall.  However, there is little time to fully dive into the literature, to examine new avenues to explore, or to think deeply about new questions and hypotheses to test in the lab.  So, I’m excited to get into my lab for full days to run experiments!  I’m also excited to travel to some hot laboratories around the country to learn some new techniques that I can bring back to my own lab.  And mostly, I’m excited to get the chance to THINK!

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