Southeast Student Participating in Summer Research Experience at National Institute

Photo of Christa Wisniewski

Christa Wisniewski participates in a summer research experience with the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis.

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., June 27, 2011 — Modeling feral cat populations and E. coli in cattle, and investigating the maternal investment in the offspring of bird species are among the projects facing a Southeast Missouri State University student during a summer research experience with the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS).

Christa Wisniewski of Chatham, Ill., a biology major with an option in wildlife conservation and a minor in environmental science, was selected for this highly competitive Research Experience for Undergraduates program currently underway. Located the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, NIMBioS is a National Science Foundation-sponsored initiative to foster interdisciplinary research at the interface between mathematical and biological sciences.

NIMBioS’ Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) and Research Experiences for Veterinary Students (REV) programs run for eight weeks and include 16 undergraduates, five veterinary students and one high school science teacher. Wisniewski is living on campus and working in teams with NIMBioS postdoctoral researchers and University of Tennessee faculty on research at the interface of mathematics and biology.

“I am really enjoying my experience at NIMBioS, so far,” she said. “I have met wonderful people, and they all have been very friendly and knowledgeable about their specialties. My group works well together, and our mentors have been very hands-on with our project.” 

Wisniewski said she applied for the position to gain laboratory experience.

“I thought this would be a very good way to better understand the research part of biology,” she said. “I also wanted to get a better grasp of the mathematics used. I wanted to increase my skills in research and the math that accompanies that. The project I am working on is very interesting, she added.”

Other projects in which Wisniewski is engaged this summer include modeling intracellular movements in plants, modeling the effect of essential oils on a biocontrol fungus and modeling the early dynamics of simian immunodeficiency virus.

Wisniewski is working on a project studying the effect of Borneol, an essential oil from the Monarda plant, on the growth of the fungus, Beauveria bassiana. This fungus, she says, is a beneficial species because it grows in plants and keeps plant diseases from attacking it. The fungus also kills disease carrying insects.

“My group is measuring the growth of spores of this fungus in different concentrations on Borneol at four times – 16, 20, 22 and 24 hours,” she said. “We are trying to find the optimal concentration of Borneol for the fungus to grow. This concentration would be beneficial because the optimum concentration of the essential oil and fungus could be used as a biocontrol agent and replace the chemical pesticides that are currently used.”

Wisniewski said she is considering pursuing graduate school after completing her undergraduate studies at Southeast.

“Having an internship at a major university will give me the experience that I will need to be successful at many graduate programs,” she said. “I will also be gaining a lot more experience dealing with groups, especially groups that have members from all over the world.

“I would recommend an internship with NIMBios for other biology students who are interested in learning about research and want to know more about how math and biology work together in research,” Wisniewski said.

Co-sponsors of the NIMBioS include the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.