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                                                                            Volume 6, March 2010 [Table of Contents]

ASCB: Lake Forest College Students at the Forefront of Biological Research


Alina Konnikova

Department of Biology, Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, Illinois 60045


Eukaryon is published by students at Lake Forest College, who are solely responsible for its content. The views expressed in Eukaryon do not necessarily reflect those of the College. Articles published within Eukaryon should not be cited in bibliographies. Material contained herein should be treated as personal communication and should be cited as such only with the consent of the author.



Pictured from left to right: Dr. Shubhik DebBurman, Michael Fiske, Keith Solvang, Alina Konnikova, and alumnus Andrew Ferrier.

Participation of Lake Forest College students at the American Society of Cell Biology (ASCB) conference is an annual tradition. At this year’s 49th meeting held from December 5th-9th, 2009 in San Diego, California, three students shined once again. ASCB promotes and advances the field of cell biology by hosting annual meetings during which researchers from all over the world present their work. This year, the meeting hosted about 5000 graduate students, scientists, postdoctoral fellows, and professors. Moreover, only 200 undergraduates attended the conference, making it a great honor to present at the meeting. As expected, Lake Forest students did not disappoint; we successfully presented our work and received numerous compliments.

Each of us was given the opportunity to share our research and data collected throughout the semester on Parkinson’s disease (PD), a devastating neurodegenerative disease. Michael Fiske and Keith Solvang presented their work on the phosphorylation of á-synuclein in budding and fission yeast models, while I presented the cumulative effort of many colleagues from Dr. DebBurman’s lab on the role of autophagy in á-synuclein degradation. Keith and I also presented our data from our class with Dr. DebBurman, Advanced Cell Biology, in which eight students performed novel research in the PD field.

Opening night was filled with diverse sessions in a variety of cell biology topics and an undergraduate poster presentation, which enabled undergraduates to share their research with each other. The poster stands were purposely positioned closely to one another, encouraging students to interact with each other. Presenting was a true challenge for me because I had never presented without a partner. I thus had to bring my confidence to the table and present the work to my best ability. To my relief, many people visited my poster, asked interesting questions, and gave me helpful advice. The day ended with an exciting keynote speech by the leader of stem cell research, Rudolf Jaenisch. He discussed the different potentials of stem cells and the current progress the field. His work is truly inspiring because it offers hope to one day treat many incurable diseases. Overall, the day was filled with plenty of learning, presenting, and eating. What more can biology nerds like us ask for?

Since we were in San Diego, we could not help but take advantage of a beautiful Sunday. We rented a car and drove to La Jolla, and on December 6th, I fell in love with California. We visited the University of San Diego and spent time at the beach enjoying the perfect weather and observing the seals playing in the sand. To top it off, we visited Coronado Island in the evening, which welcomed us with the stunning Hotel del Coronado, a beautiful beach, and a restaurant with a fireplace by the beach, which stimulated interesting discussions. After the relaxing day, we were ready to conquer the rest of the meeting.

The remainder of the meeting was filled with the main poster presentations. Each of us presented more research on December 7th. During my poster session, I was visited by autophagy and PD experts, undergraduates, and professors. It was helpful to hear innovative ideas that can be incorporated into my research. Keith reflects on his experience, “Attending ASCB allows for students like myself, who are planning on careers in medicine, to see the true potential of research. The diversity of topics sparked my interest, and it has made me think about applying to an MD/PhD program so that I could help with patient care and to truly be at the forefront of medicine helping find the newest treatments for human diseases.” Interestingly, we were recruited numerous times by graduate schools during the meeting. The recruiters admired our research abilities and encouraged both Keith and I to continue research in the future.  In addition, we met many alumni, including Andrew Ferrier, who presented his PhD research on Dystonia musculorum, a neurodegenerative disease. Meetings such as this demonstrate that teamwork and sharing ideas are two keys to success and advancement in the biological field.

I did not know, however, that the most exciting session was yet to come. On December 8th, Dr. DebBurman, Michael, and I presented at an education poster session. Dr. DebBurman presented a poster on initiating a class like Advanced Cell Biology, while Michael and I presented a poster on Eukaryon, an undergraduate, student-run journal which highlights the best life science scholarship accomplished by Lake Forest College students. Michael reflects, “I think one of the most substantial benefits of presenting our college’s teaching-associated activities is sparking ideas in the minds of other educators. Numerous posters visitors commented on what a novel idea Eukaryon is, and several others were on the verge of creating a similar group, but just needed evidence that it can be done. Apart from enhancing our own college, presenting at the education session allows for our ideas to inspire others.” Such recognition reflects the innovative efforts that Lake Forest students have invested into Eukaryon.

During the evening of each presentation day, we explored the beautiful city of San Diego. We experienced the tasty cuisine of the city, such as Thai food and sushi. The night usually ended on the 40th floor of the Hyatt overlooking the spectacular view of the waterfront while raising our glasses to a successful day. Once again, the meeting was filled with diverse activities, both educational and fun.