Dr. Jeff Shaver, associate professor of biology at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, was awarded a grant of nearly $40,000 this month from the Arkansas IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) which will allow him, and two UAFS students to conduct a research project during the summer and fall semesters of 2020.
Shaver will use the $39,750 grant to fund an investigation of the “Influence of Membrane Desaturation and Biotic Stress on Chloroplast DNA Integrity.” The project will take place in collaboration with Dr. Fiona Goggin, professor of plant-insect interactions at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
“This project will increase our understanding of how the structure of organelle membranes effects the maintenance of organelle DNA,” Shaver said, “and will also enhance the collaborative nature of research between faculty and students at UAFS and UA-Fayetteville.”
Jeremiah Smith, a second-year UAFS biology major from Sherwood and Molly Reeves, an incoming UAFS freshman from Alma will assist Shaver as student research assistants.
Smith has previous experience in research under Dr. Shaver, having presented his research “Impact of Tall Grass Prairie Restoration on Soil Microbiome,” in October of 2019, mentored by Shaver, at the Arkansas INBRE conference.
Reeves will enter UAFS as a freshman biology major in the fall of 2020. Having presented a science fair project each of her four years at Alma High School that included a large-scale field study on the effects of probiotic treatments on soybean production,
she will be participating in the project to continue her research experience.
“For me it is always important to spend time in the lab to better understand equipment but to also get the results your wanting,” Reeves said. “With just being an incoming student this year, this is an amazing opportunity, and I am very thankful to get the chance to be a part of such a great program. I look forward to time in the lab and learning more every day.”
“I feel that giving students of all ages the opportunity to participate in research increases their interest in science and their understanding of the scientific method and nature of science,” Dr. Shaver said. “It is my goal to engage K-12 students and teachers and UAFS undergraduates in meaningful science that connects to ongoing faculty and student research at UAFS. I don’t hesitate to involve freshmen in research because, like Molly and Jeremiah, many high school students have already been involved in research and are ready to bring their knowledge and skills to UAFS.”
This summer research project involves studying the effects of chloroplast membrane saturation on the maintenance of chloroplast DNA and susceptibility to aphid infestation using wild-type and mutant Arabidopsis and tomato plants. Research will take place at both UAFS and UA-Fayetteville, utilizing a variety of techniques, including fluorescence microscopy and DNA gel electrophoresis. Results will be presented by participating UAFS and UA-Fayetteville students at the fall 2020 Arkansas INBRE conference.
“I am grateful for the support I have received from the campus leaders at UAFS, who champion the continued advancement of research on our campus for our faculty and students,” Dr. Shaver said. “By participating in collaborative research, our UAFS undergraduate students will gain valuable experience that will increase both their future educational and career opportunities.”
In addition to this project, Shaver is also collaborating this summer on a tallgrass prairie restoration project with Drs. Emily Bellis and Jake Qualls, assistant professors of bioinformatics at Arkansas State University, and Jay Randolph, superintendent for Ben Geren Golf Course. This research is also funded by Arkansas INBRE.