Senior biology student clones DNA as part of summer internship program

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Senior biology student clones DNA as part of summer internship program

September 3, 2010

 Amanda Moyer
Amanda Moyer works on an assignment during a biochemistry lab at Northwestern Oklahoma State University. Moyer spent the summer working as an intern at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation in Oklahoma City.
Northwestern Oklahoma State University senior Amanda Moyer of Fargo has been interested in science for as long as she can remember, but a recent summer internship with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation in Oklahoma City allowed her to broaden her horizons and even make some discoveries of her own.

Sometime last semester, a poster on campus caught the biology major’s eye. The poster described a summer internship at OMRF, and the prospect of spending a summer surrounded by researchers and scientists sounded promising.

Noticing the deadline was quickly approaching, Moyer put together an essay, gathered letters of recommendation and crossed her fingers. It worked. She learned she had been accepted near the end of March. By the end of May, she was starting her first official research project under the direction of renowned scientist Dr. Judith James, who chairs the Arthritis and Clinical Immunology Program at OMRF.

James is perhaps best known in the scientific realm for her research on autoimmune diseases, specifically lupus. Moyer knew this going into the internship and requested to work under James.

“I chose to work there (under James) because that’s something I’m interested in,” Moyer said. “I actually have lupus.”

Moyer hit the ground running, forming a hypothesis regarding a correlation between Vitamin D and a protein known as BLyS, or B lymphocyte stimulator.

“My hypothesis was that Vitamin D, which usually is low (in autoimmune patients), inhibits BLyS,” Moyer said. “I worked pretty closely with one of the graduate students who is well along in her graduate studies, but I took over (the research project). It became mine.”

Moyer only had until the end of July to learn more about BLyS, which was not enough time to complete her research. It was enough time, however, to get the project started and put some of her ideas to work.

She set up three projects to test her hypothesis.

First, she looked for a correlation between Vitamin D and BLyS by examining blood samples from lupus patients. She measured BLyS levels and Vitamin D levels from those samples.

Moyer found her correlation was right on target.

“Patients who had low Vitamin D levels had high BLyS levels,” she said.

Next, she took a type of cell called a monocyte and stimulated it with a concentration of Vitamin D and also with chemicals known to increase BLyS levels.

“It sounds simple, but it takes a lot of normalization,” Moyer said.

Because of her limited time at OMRF, she didn’t get to finish that part of the experiment, but she said she found a lot of variables that other researchers had not considered.

The third part of her testing was possibly the most enriching for Moyer. She was able to clone a part of the BLyS gene that Vitamin D controls.

“You can almost think of it as a light switch,” Moyer said. “There is a special gene that codes to form the BLyS protein. There’s a region in front of that gene that acts as a light switch. Things can bind to it to turn on the BLyS gene or bind to it to turn off the BLyS gene. That region is called the promoter region.”

Moyer cloned that promoter region and then put the promoter region into a vector, or a circular piece of DNA that helped regulate the experiment.
By the end of her time at OMRF, Moyer had formed a hypothesis: “I think the Vitamin D binds to the promoter region and turns off the BLyS gene.”

She wasn’t able to finalize and prove her hypothesis, but her research gave other scientists a new start.

“I did clone the gene, and it’s frozen, so they can continue that experiment, and I know they want to,” Moyer said.

Although she isn’t sure if she will ever be able to go back to OMRF and work on the same project, she knows she wants to continue medical research and will apply to medical school before graduating in May 2011.

“I do see myself involved in research as a doctor,” Moyer said. “I’ve always wanted to be in the healthcare field and science. I kind of toyed with other ideas, but I just kept coming back to being a doctor.

“As far as I can remember, I’ve always been science ‘something.’ I think I was born that way.”