CLEMSON – The latest iteration of the Clemson Biological Sciences Annual Student Symposium (CBASS) was held on Saturday, March 10 in the Life Sciences Facility, bringing together college and high school students to celebrate a science discipline that encompasses all aspects of life.

corker and Lynch

Corker and Lynch work in Professor Matthew Turnbull’s group.
Image Credit: College of Science

A two-hour poster session was held in the atrium of the LSF, at which point students involved in original research projects could showcase their latest findings and discuss methods for moving forward in their experiments.

Alexa Corker, a junior in microbiology, and Sydney Lynch, a sophomore in genetics, work together in professor Matthew Turnbull’s biological sciences lab. Together the students study how a baculovirus – called Autographa californica multinucleopolyhedrovirus (AcMNPV) – infects a family of caterpillars.

“Initially, we were looking at how binding of the virus affected cell membrane polarization – if it would hyperpolarize, depolarize or stay normal, and we found that it actually depolarized the membrane. Then this semester, we’ve been seeing how oubain, an inhibitor of sodium-potassium ATPase, influences infectivity.”

ATPases are a class of enzymes that decompose ATP into ADP, releasing energy within cells. Corker and Turnbull discovered that when treating caterpillar gut cells with both the virus and oubain, the cells were less infected, indicating that ATPases might have a role in the severity of the virus.

foster points at board

Foster is a senior double major in genetics and psychology.
Image Credit: College of Science

Corker and Lynch’s plan is to consider other inhibitors to see which ones block infection. Their experiment has applications in biotechnology and also provides a model for how other virus-host systems could prevent infection.

Mackenzie Foster, a student in professor Jennifer Mason’s genetics and biochemistry lab, studies a protein — known as RAD51 — that is involved in repairing harmful breaks to DNA.

Without a repair mechanism in place, double-stranded breaks to DNA can cause mutations and alter the cell’s ability to transcribe genes. In the particular repair mechanism that Foster studies, a protein called BRCA2 – commonly known for causing breast cancer when its mutated – is responsible for loading RAD51 onto single-stranded DNA. RAD51 then “searches” the genome for a complete DNA strand that can fill the break.

“Once RAD51 finds a complement, it has to be taken off the DNA to resolve the repair. RAD54-L and -B are translocases that do that,” Foster said. “What’s essential to my project is that when you knock down the BRCA2 protein that loads RAD51, RAD51 overexpresses itself because it’s necessary for DNA repair to occur. But it also has the tendency to bind nonspecifically to double-stranded DNA, and if there’s too much of that occurring, it’s toxic to the cells.”

Foster is interested in discovering what happens when RAD54 translocases are taken out of the DNA repair pathway in tumors that are deficient in BRCA2. It’s expected that without the proteins responsible for removing RAD51 from DNA, that RAD51 will overaccumulate and specifically kill tumor cells.

students point at board

The WOW project teaches students about water quality and the importance of natural resources.
Image Credit: College of Science

“We’re looking at the potential for this to be a chemotherapeutic technique,” Foster said.

Students from Daniel, Pendleton and T.L. Hanna high schools were also in attendance Saturday to present the results of their “What’s In Our Waters” (WOW) project. Created in 2013, The WOW project teaches students from local high schools about water quality and the importance of natural resources, and is led by graduate students here at Clemson.

Katie Stephan, Annie Patel and Jackson Zhu participated in this year’s WOW project as part of their AP environmental science course at Daniel High School. The team analyzed the water quality of creeks in the Clemson area to understand the effects of pollution caused by human activities.

“Testing water quality is important because we eat the fish from these creeks, and we use this drinking water,” Patel said.  “Finding out what pollutes our water is important so we don’t get sick, so that fish don’t get sick and the ecosystem isn’t destroyed.”

For more information on the Clemson Biological Sciences Annual Student Symposium, contact Amanda Palecek (