Ashland University Students Assisting in Summer Research Project

Junior Mary Brown of Elyria conducts research in Ashland University's Kettering Science Center labs.

7/25/12 - ASHLAND, Ohio - Two Ashland University science students – senior Zach Haley from Ashland and junior Mary Brown from Elyria -- spent much of their summer involved in a unique scientific research project on the Ashland University campus.

The students worked with Dr. Mason Posner, Ashland University professor of biology. Posner explained that the research project being conducted in AU’s Kettering Science Center labs is being funded by a $185,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.

“This research will help us better understand how lens proteins work and point to ways that we can prevent lens cataracts, one of the leading causes of human blindness,” Posner said.

Posner said the research conducted by he and his students continue to use zebrafish to study how the protein alpha crystallin maintains lens transparency as the body ages.

“We have used a classic comparative biology approach to find how nature alters this small heat shock protein to function in different settings,” Posner said. “Most work on these proteins focuses on individual species, and usually mammals. By using fishes as a model group, we have shown how comparing multiple species can identify small changes in proteins that positively affect their function, hopefully in ways that will be helpful for preventing cataracts in humans .”

Posner also discussed the individual research being conducted by the Ashland University students. He said:

• Haley is trying to understand how cells control where and when to produce the protective alpha crystalline protein, which is important for normal growth of the body and protection against disease.

• Brown is studying the effect of removing the protein alpha crystallin from larval zebrafish (zebrafish babies) to better understand its normal role in the body of not just fishes, but mammals like humans.

“I became interested in doing research because it sounded fun and it is a great way to develop different laboratory skills and broaden my scope of different areas of biology,” Brown said about the research and her interest.

Haley said he has already found some conclusions to his research.

“Different lengths of the small heat shock protein, mouse alphaB crystallin, promoter have been amplified and injected into zebrafish,” he said. “These modified genes are labeled with green fluorescent protein (GFP) so that the fish glow wherever the protein is being made. We have shown that our mouse genes can produce expression in zebrafish. Continued research will help with greater knowledge of small heat shock proteins, which are highly expressed in many diseases.”

Posner noted the important role these students are playing in this research effort. “Zach and Mary show the high level of research that can be done by undergraduate students,” he said.

Ashland University, ranked in the top 200 colleges and universities in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities category for 2012, is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University ( values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students.