Westridge Student Research Impacts Collegiate Science Conferences 

Ryan Skophammer
Leah S. presents her research at SCURR. 
Sophia H.
December 17, 2018

Yeast isn’t the hottest topic of discussion right now, but considering what Ryan Skophammer and some Westridge students are doing with the substance, it should be. For the past year, Skophammer and his AP Bio students have spent arduous hours attempting to evolve yeast samples making them resistant to Antifungal, a substance that prevents the growth of fungus.  

 

Carefully examining a test tube, Skophammer explains what exactly he and the students have been working so hard this past year. “What [the students are] hoping is that some of [the yeast samples] have a favorable mutation that makes them better at surviving when there’s the Anti-fungal around. So when I treat them with the antifungal it’ll kill off all the ones that are susceptible and leave only the ones that are resistant,” Skophammer said.

 

The process began by taking a diverse group of yeast and exposing it to the antifungal continuously over the course of months. The second part of the experiment involved archiving each test tube used by freezing it. This way, students could go back and look for mutations in any of the timepoints during the process. After seven weeks of the experiment, Skophammer sent the archived test tubes to the University of Washington to have the genomes sequenced. Once this was done, the students could analyze the mutations in the yeast to find which ones caused them to be resistant to the antifungal.

 

This research ultimately culminated with three conferences: The Yeast Genetics Meeting, The National Association of Biology Teachers Conference (NABTC), and The Southern California Conference for Undergraduate Research (SCCUR).

 

In August, Skophammer attended the Yeast Genetics Meeting in the hopes of learning more about the work he’d been doing with the AP Bio students.  He attended the conference along with highly specialized yeast scientists in the field. In addition to networking, most scientists who attend the conference were primarily looking for new perspectives.

 

Skophammer explains some of his objectives and some of the results of his attendance. “My goal with that conference was to talk to yeast people, specialists, about what we had done just because I thought that, number one, they would find it interesting, but also because I thought they would know a lot more about yeast biology than I do, that maybe they’d give me some new ideas about the project.”

 

For the second conference, NABTC, the goal was to spread the word about the project. He talked to other teachers and discussed ways his class project could become a transferable curriculum unit that teachers around the nation could use in their classrooms, especially one that could be less expensive and more time efficient.

 

Sixteen students attended SCCUR on November 19th: Sophia K. ’19, Olivia M. ’19, Helena K. ’19, Hannah B. ’19, Ryo G. ’19, Sarah A. ‘19, Kallie P. ’19, Leah S. ‘20, Sophia B. ’19, Bella G. ’20, Hanne I. ’19, Lucy K. ’19, Reese O. ’20, Christine P. ’19, Lyla R. ’19, and Jaya S. ’20. SCCUR invites undergraduates and in Westridge’s case, high school students, to present a poster or research talk concerning the results of their research. While some students presented, others observed and learned from other undergraduate research. In the past, the conference has given an exception to Westridge students, giving them the opportunity to learn from the undergraduates.  

Seniors (left to right) Helena K., Sarah A., Olivia M., Kallie P., and Sophia K. present together at SCURR. 
Ryan Skophammer

While the conference offers students a chance to explain the research they have been doing, it also gives students the opportunity to experience presenting research in front of a science-oriented audience.  “It’s a conference for undergraduates, [the students] are presenting, they wrote the poster. I’m not presenting. I did not write the poster, and I’m not helping them,” said Skophammer.

 

The success of the project at large is due to students’ participation. What started out as a humble class project has developed into a real-world opportunity that culminated with SCCUR.  “Last year in AP Bio we basically throughout the entire year we evolved yeast to become resistant to this chemical that killed them… We sequenced the yeast genome to see what kind of yeast mutations in the yeast had developed, and, with Skop, we did some research about what could be causing increased resistance to the Antifungal” said Olivia M. ’19.

 

As a whole, the project has provided students with both the experience of working on a year-long project and presenting a culminating explanation of the process. For some, their involvement in the conference is a neat opportunity but for others it provides a glimpse into a career in the sciences. Making these real-life connections from high school can be a truly enriching and enlightening for students and ultimately achieves what Westridge strives for: students who are prepared and passionate for the road ahead.