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Collaborative Research Projects

Collaborative Projects are research projects that engage University and Wyoming Community College researchers and students in projects with the potential to produce publishable results and develop into fundable programs at NIH and other federal agencies. The projects engage undergraduate students at the collaborating institutions and graduate students and postdocs at UW in the collaboration and facilitate the development of undergraduates into independent researchers. Projects also help undergraduates identify and pursue pathways to the baccalaureate degree and graduate training in the biomedical sciences.

Current Collaborative Project Summaries

Eric Atkinson, Dept. of Biology, Northwest College and Matt Carling, Department of Zoology and Physiology, University of Wyoming. Which factors influence the distribution and impacts of diseases in wild birds?

Understanding the ecology of infectious diseases has become increasingly critical to the health of both humans and the animals upon which we rely. Similarly, as our climate and the environment continues to change, understanding how those processes may impact the distribution of infectious agents is also becoming more important. Using wild bird populations as a model, we propose a multi-faceted research program with the following aims: 1. Investigate the impact of disease state on fitness-related parameters in Dark-eyed Juncos. 2. Investigate how habitat, land use and elevational gradients influence disease state in wild birds and establish a long-term disease monitoring program across such gradients. 3. Train undergraduates in the scientific process and expose them to techniques and tools useful in myriad biomedical, ecological or evolutionary biology fields. 4. Use the data generated in this proposal to help establish a long-term collaboration between Atkinson and Carling and to submit a proposal to an external funding source. Using a multitude of molecular biological techniques, and incorporating aspects of field-based eco-physiology, our work will investigate how carrying chronic pathenogenic infections influences metabolic parameters and how environmental variation influences the distribution of disease causing agents. The work we propose here will be the bedrock for a budding collaboration between us (Atkinson and Carling), which we anticipate will result in a long-term 'cross-pollination' experiment between students at Northwest College and the University of Wyoming. Not only will this research provide new insights into the ecology of diseases infect wild animal populations, but it will serve as a training program for undergraduates interested in pursuing biology based careers.

Bud Chew, Department of Biology, Western Wyoming Community College and Jun Ren, School of Pharmacy, University of Wyoming. Environmental Exposure and Cardiometabolic Syndrome.

The obesity epidemic has gripped the developed world for the past decades and is resistant to various approaches for obesity management. Recent evidence depicts a tie between environmental exposure to hazardous substances and the risk of chronic metabolic diseases. Exposure to ambient air pollution increases the risk of cardiometabolic disease, although this is not well understood. It is speculated that exposure to particulates or volatile organic chemicals (VOC) can induce or  exacerbate cardiometabolic diseases, which manifests as insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, obesity and cardiovascular complications. A recent survey of 72,000 individuals living near 258 heavily polluted areas (Superfund sites) reported a significant higher prevalence of type 2 diabetes (T2D) due to VOC exposure. Moreover, individuals working in a polyvinyl chloride plant exhibited a high prevalence of fatty liver disease and insulin resistance. Therefore, exposure to VOC may disrupt cardiometabolic processes, induce or exacerbate obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular complications. Uncorrected obesity is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease and is becoming a global health threat. Insulin resistance seems to be a pivotal cause of obesity and T2D. Multiple signaling pathways have been implicated; autophagy has emerged as a critical regulator of insulin resistance. Autophagy is a highly conserved cellular process for degradation of aged or damaged organelles. Our recent studies show that exposure to acrolein, an abundant VOC, interrupts autophagy, insulin sensitivity and cardiac function. Our earlier finding reported that like acrolein, 4-hydroxy-nonenal (HNE), an aldehyde generated by oxidized lipids, is also a potent inhibitor for autophagy and disrupts cardiac homeostasis. Thus, aldehydes generated by VOC-induced oxidative stress or metabolism could be one mechanism by which VOC exposure induce interruption of autophagy. Thus, our central hypothesis is that aldehydes generated upon exposure to VOC diminish insulin sensitivity in heart tissues through autophagy interruption, which triggers a series of metabolic changes that accelerate ectopic lipid deposition, obesity risk and cardiac defects. Collectively, these changes contribute to T2D and increased cardiovascular risk.

Ami Erickson, Department of Biology, Sheridan College and Sadanand Dhekney, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Wyoming. Studying Grapevine Cellular and Physiological Response to Abiotic Stress.

The goal of the project is to increase our understanding of Vitis response to drought and salinity stress, which can be potentially applied for improving grapevine abiotic stress tolerance via precision breeding technology. The specific objectives include Specific objectives include 1) evaluate cellular changes and physiological responses to salinity and drought induced water stress, 2) insert the SOS2 and AVP1 genes in embryogenic cultures of target grape cultivars and rootstocks and 3) screen genetically modified grapevines, rootstocks and grafted combinations for drought and salinity tolerance in greenhouse trials. Grape is the 10th most valuable agricultural crop in the United States. Global shifts in climate change resulting from rising temperatures and drought can severely affect grape yield and quality attributes, and limit distribution in regions otherwise suitable for grapevine cultivation. We will study differences in tissue development, leaf water potential, gas exchange and transpiration rates of various grapevine cultivars exposed to abiotic stress. Candidate genes for salt tolerance will be inserted in grapevine embryogenic cultures to generate modified plants that will be screened for abiotic stress tolerance in greenhouse trials. The research would ultimately increase our understanding of vine response to abiotic stress at the cellular level. Information obtained on differences in drought physiology of various cultivars will also serve as a starting point to dissect the underlying molecular mechanisms involved in drought stress and can be utilized for improving grapevine abiotic stress tolerance using precision breeding technology.

Hayley Lanier, Department of Zoology and Physiology, University of Wyoming at Casper and Merav Ben-David, Department of Zoology and Physiology, University of Wyoming.

This project will develop a research and teaching collaboration among investigators and students from the University of Wyoming (UW) main campus, University of Wyoming at Casper (UWC) and Casper College (CC) to look at the role of relatedness in habitat usage and spatial overlap among individuals. Building on a long-term study of least chipmunks (Tamias minimus) conducted in the Medicine Bow National Forest, this project harnesses molecular biology and bioinformatics techniques to address fundamental questions in spatial ecology and to train undergraduate students in biomedical techniques and wildlife biology. Since 2006, the UW Wildlife Ecology and Management class (ZOO 4300/5300) at UW (Laramie) has been studying population dynamics in least chipmunks through an annual trapping and tagging project. The proposed population genomics work will add to and build on those student questions, allow the research team to examine at the factors influencing spatial overlap among individual chipmunks and the fitness implications of that habitat usage. Through the work of students in ZOO 4300/5300 this fall, chipmunks are currently being trapped, tagged, and radio collared. These chipmunks will be radio-tracked daily until they go into hibernation mid-October, providing evidence on shared hibernacula. DNA will be extracted from chipmunk blood samples and reduced-representation genomes (ddRADseq) will be sequenced for each individual. The resulting data will be cleaned, aligned, and analyzed using bioinformatics approaches to evaluate relatedness among individuals relative to habitat overlap, differential reproductive success, and gene flow among habitats. Undergraduate researchers, as well as students in courses in Laramie and UWCasper, and  throughout the state, will benefit through either direct participation (wildlife biology techniques, DNA extraction, processing of next-generation sequencing data) or through indirect involvement (e.g., data analysis, class modules on population genomics). The rich dataset that exists though the previous 10-year trapping history and the diverse array of techniques provide a unique opportunity to train undergraduates in scientific inquiry and the development of scientific questions. Not only does this help build their skills as scientists, this experience will help them identify pathways to baccalaureate degrees, biomedical careers, and graduate school. The resulting data will also be used to develop funding proposals for a long-term project integrating research and education directed at an external funding source.

Steve McAllister, Department of Biology, Central Wyoming College and Baskaran Thyagarajan, School of Pharmacy, University of Wyoming. Analysis of mechanisms by which TRP protein activation protects from vascular.

Metabolic syndrome comprising of obesity, impaired glucose metabolism, dyslipidemia and cardiovascular complications leads to stroke, a major cause of death worldwide. This necessitates the development of a strategy that can treat high blood pressure, dyslipidemia, hyperglycemia and vascular dysfunctions. Contemporary research demonstrates a role of transient receptor potential (TRP) proteins in the regulation of metabolic syndrome. Specifically, transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) channel protein expressed in non-neuronal vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC) has been identified as a new target to treat atherosclerosis and  hypertension. In our efforts to investigate the role of TRPV1 in high fat diet (HFD)- induced obesity in mouse model, we discovered that HFD significantly suppressed the expression and activity of TRPV1 and dietary capsaicin (CAP; TRPV1 activator) decreased HFD-induced weight gain. Moreover, treatment with atorvastatin (ATS, 10 micro M; an HMG CoA reductase inhibitor that is used to treat hyperlipidemia) increased the expression of TRPV1 and potentiated CAP stimulated currents and Ca2+ influx in vitro. Consistently, the use of statins to treat hyperlipidemia decreases hypertension and the incidence of stroke in patients with coronary heart diseases. Therefore, we hypothesize that “TRPV1 expression and activation are important for vascular functions. HFD-induced hypercholesterolemia leads to lipid accumulation and oxidative stress to cause hypertension. TRPV1 activation prevents hypertension by upregulating lipolysis and decreasing oxidative stressis”. This research proposal is developed to systematically 1). Analyze the effects of CAP and ATS feeding on HFD-mediated hypertension and vascular dysfunctions.; 2). Investigate the effects of TRPV1 activation on PPARα expression and its interaction with sirtuin-1 and 3). Evaluate the mechanism by which ATS potentiates TRPV1 expression and activity in VSMC. The outcome of this work will provide new insight into the role of TRPV1 in the regulation of vascular functions and advance strategies to treat obesity and vascular dysfunctions.

Florence Teulé-Finley, Department of Biology, University of Wyoming at College and Patrick Johnson, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Wyoming. Generation of Electrospun Spider Silk Nanofiber Mats for Medical Applications.

Alternative improved wound dressings that are more suited to a specific application must be investigated to address a real public health need when standard commercial bandages may fall short. Wound dressings promote healing by providing a protective barrier against microorganismal infections. According to the American Burn Association, hospitals in the US treat close to 450,000 patients for burn injuries each year. In 2014, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 29.1 million or 9.3% of the US population suffered from diabetes and most of these patients may eventually suffer chronic non healing dermatologic/skin ulcers. Additionally, every year, millions of surgical procedures are performed and all of these will generate wounds that need to be treated. The focus of this research is to generate of spider silk-like nanofiber mats from recombinant spider silk-like proteins (SSLP) to provide improved alternative wound dressings for both acute and chronic wounds. These materials may be more suited to a specific application due to their unique structure function relationships allowing a better control over  physical factors such as pore size, gas permeation and high surface volume ratio. The first aim of the project will be to optimize the production of selected engineered SSLP variants through recombinant technology in bacteria (Escherichia coli) and to purify these through affinity chromatography. After lyophilization (freeze drying process that preserves the integrity of proteins), these spider silk-like proteins will be electrospun into nanofiber mats under various conditions and the mechanical and chemical properties of these materials formed, as well as their interactions with mammalian cell cultures will be analyzed.


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Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 277-3106

Email: sseville@uwyo.edu

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