It has been a long time since the lab traveled to a scientific conference. Our last meeting as a group was in 2019 – pre-pandemic. It was a little bit of a whirlwind to head down to Durham, NC for the Southeastern Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society at the end of October. I gave a talk and four students – Haley, Sonia, Camryn, and Auden – did poster presentations. Unfortunately our travel didn’t overlap super well so I was unable to make it to their poster sessions, but according to reports of my spies (aka other people at the conference), they did a great job! 

As with every conference, I encourage my students to make the most of it and attend as many scientific sessions. In the end, they write up about their favorite talks. See below for their reports for the experience, as well as some great photos!


This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the SERMACS conference in Durham North Carolina in order to present my research! During my visit to the SERMACS conference I had the chance to explore various research posters and presentations, each shedding light on intriguing and groundbreaking projects. One particular poster that captured my attention was presented by Jacobs Adams and Cristina Calestani from Valdosta State University. Their project centered on Mytella charruana, an invasive marine mussel found along the southeastern US coastline. What made their research stand out was its relevance in the context of environmental biology, genomics, and the study of invasive species.

Mytella charruana’s invasion of the southeastern US coastline is a matter of concern due to its significant impact on the local ecosystem. This invasive mussel species has been associated with the displacement of native species and the ability to thrive in a wide range of salinities. Adams and Calestani’s project aimed to contribute to our understanding of this invasive species by sequencing its genome, a task that had not been previously undertaken.

The research project’s objectives were clear: to optimize DNA extraction methods for obtaining high molecular genomic DNA and longer sequence reads, which would facilitate genome assembly. Longer sequence reads are instrumental in achieving more accurate genome assemblies. To achieve this, the researchers utilized two distinct methods for DNA extraction. The first method followed the manufacturer’s protocol for the DNeasy Blood & Tissue Kit, while the second was a modified protocol designed to minimize DNA shearing.

One of the key takeaways from their research was the influence of the tissue source on DNA extraction. They found that gill tissue yielded longer sequence reads, which is a crucial factor when working on genome assembly projects. In contrast, DNA extracted from the foot or mantle tissues resulted in shorter sequence reads, possibly due to the longer time required to homogenize these tissues, which could lead to DNA degradation.

What fascinated me the most about this project was its broader implications. The study of invasive species is critical for understanding their impact on local ecosystems and for identifying potential solutions or management strategies. Mytella charruana’s ability to adapt to various environmental conditions, including changing its sex in response to nutrient availability, adds an extra layer of complexity to the research.

The modification of the DNA extraction method to reduce DNA shearing is a valuable contribution to the field of genomics, one of which I hadn’t heard much about previously. Obtaining longer sequence reads from gill tissue showcases the importance of optimizing protocols for specific sample types, an insight that can be applied to various genomics projects. Moreover, the consideration of tissue-specific factors affecting DNA extraction is a valuable lesson in experimental design and methodology. They also made it clear that further replication and statistical analysis would be necessary to confirm the observed differences in sequence reads.

One of the most significant achievements of the project was the sequencing of 195 million bases (Mb) of the Mytella charruana genome. This milestone reveals a valuable resource for future studies and contributes to our understanding of the genetic makeup of this invasive mussel.

Overall, I felt the poster presented by Jacobs Adams and Cristina Calestani from Valdosta State University at the SERMACS conference was a remarkable example of how scientific research can provide insights into real-world issues. Their work in optimizing DNA extraction methods for Mytella charruana genomics not only contributes to the field of environmental biology but also serves as a model for thoughtful experimental design and methodology. The research findings and the sequencing of a portion of the mussel’s genome hold promise for future studies, offering a foundation for further exploration into the genetic mechanisms that underlie this invasive species’ adaptability and its impact on local ecosystems.

~Camryn (BMB ’25)

While hopping from room to room for presentations, there was one presentation that I found to be really interesting. It was a presentation by Gillian Su of Virginia Polytechnic Institute. She discussed her lab’s work on the synthesis of polymer-nucleobase composites for chemotherapy drug capture. She specifically talked about liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) and how the common treatments for it are either surgery or chemotherapy. Doxorubicin is the common chemotherapy drug that is injected into the liver. However, only a portion of the drug actually attacks the tumor—the rest of the drug can migrate into healthy tissue, and can cause organ failure. Her lab was looking at how to mitigate the off-target toxicity without completely minimizing the drug’s tumor toxicity. While there are currently drug capture devices that have been developed, many of them are very expensive. Her lab was able to create a crosslinked resin with nucleobases in the material that was cost-effective and reduced the potential of immunogenicity. The individual nucleobases within the resin were used for chemotherapy capture (specifically DOX) and they proved to have competitive capture efficacy compared to other more expensive methods currently on the market. I found this presentation to be exciting because of the implications it could have for cancer patients in the future. While chemotherapy is an effective treatment for cancer, it can cause a lot of extra sickness for patients since it targets all rapidly dividing cells—not just cancer cells. Because chemotherapy is non-specific in that regard, it can attack healthy tissues, causing hair loss and other symptoms. Intravenous chemotherapy, as described in Gillian Su’s presentation, can cause patients to have side effects because of its off-target toxicity via the bloodstream. Creating methods for removing the off-target agents from the bloodstream can greatly reduce the amount of side effects that cancer patients currently get from these toxic chemotherapy treatments, making it a really exciting innovation.

~Haley (BMB ’24)

Dr. Don Warner’s presentation at the SERMACS 2023 conference was truly inspiring and left a lasting impression on me. He, along with his dedicated team from Boise State University, delved into the development of small molecule inhibitors targeting inflammatory cytokines as a means to combat breast cancer metastasis. Their research centers on an inflammatory cytokine, Oncostatin M (OSM), which activates the pivotal JAK/STAT pathway responsible for angiogenesis, cell growth, and migration. OSM abundance is correlated with an aggressive phenotype and poor survival rates, which emphasizes the importance of their research in the field of cancer research. What truly captured my enthusiasm was the fact that there are currently no approved drugs specifically targeting OSM, rendering it an interesting therapeutic prospect. The laboratory’s pioneering work in creating multiple small molecule inhibitors, designed to disrupt OSM’s binding with its putative receptor, holds immense potential for restraining cancer growth and enhancing survival rates. This presentation resonated with me deeply as it aligns with my aspirations to delve further into the intricate mechanisms of cancer development and progression and my unwavering passion for pioneering novel cancer therapies.

~Sonia (BMB ’24)

I went to a poster presentation about the contamination of heavy metals in food products and the associated difference between organic and non-organic certified products. This poster stood out to me because the science that has shaped history often started from someone questioning “normal” things in their life. It is so important to question everything, and this was a great reminder that science is alive and well. The student did not find significant differences between organic and non-organic certified food products, but her line of questioning should not stop there. Heavy metal contamination is a real threat in 2023 and we need scientists like her to evaluate our risks.

Still in the same line of questioning, what kinds of compounds are present in the products we use and consume? The government does not know enough about compounds like plastics to keep us adequately protected; it is essential that scientists stay on the forefront of potential public health risks so that informed regulation can follow.

~Auden (BMB ’25)