A vinaigrette in which the vinegar and oil have separated

Miami biologists’ research part of a new phase in cell biology

Antarctic toothfish
Dr. Andor Kiss and his colleagues use antarctic toothfish, like the one shown here, as a model in their studies of protein-protein interactions.

Liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS), analogous to the demixing of oil and vinegar in a vinaigrette salad dressing, is now one of the hottest topics in cell biology, according to Science magazine.

In their announcement of the 2018 Science Breakthrough of the Year and the nine runners-up, Science magazine states: “Beginning in 2009, researchers discovered that many proteins separate, or condense, into discrete droplets, concentrating their contents, especially when the cell is responding to stress.”

Recent research shows that LLPS promotes critical biochemical reactions and appears to be a basic organizing principle of the cell, Science editors wrote.

This emerging field in cell biology — “How Cells Marshall Their Contents” — was named one of the nine runners-up to the 2018 Science Breakthrough of the Year.

Recent work by Miami researcher Andor Kiss and colleagues from the University of California, Irvine, is shedding more light on LLPS. In a study published last month in the Journal of Molecular Biology, they demonstrate a model system which they can control, and/or tune, to either prevent or encourage LLPS droplet formation.

“We now understand that within cells there are areas where certain components are brought together in regions of very high concentrations, called LLPS droplets,” Kiss said.

“Within these LLPS droplets are very high concentration of components needed for a specific cellular process or needed to prevent a cellular process. The control of the droplet formation is dictated by specific proteins and their specific sequences,” he said.

But, “when the process goes awry, what should be a liquid can become a gel, and a gel can solidify, forming the kinds of aggregates seen in neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,” Science editors wrote.

Predicting the factors associated with protein-protein interactions is difficult, mainly because we lack the fundamental models to understand these events, according to Kiss.

“Often we only observe the aftermath of the problem — the Alzheimer’s plaques, the lens cataract,” he said.

Antarctic toothfish as a model

Kiss and his colleagues study these protein-protein interactions in the eye lens of the Antarctic toothfish — a vertebrate that is adapted to extreme environments.

The eye lenses of vertebrates are made of high density proteins called lens crystallins. Human lenses (and those of other warm-blooded vertebrates) can develop a “cold cataract” at temperatures below 20 degrees C (68 degrees F). This cold-cataract process has been used to model age-related cataracts and other protein condensation diseases such as Alzheimer’s and sickle cell disease.

But the lenses of the Antarctic toothfish, which lives year-round in -1.9 degrees C (27 degrees F), can resist cold cataract even in subzero waters, Kiss said. This indicates that “evolution has solved the lens clouding problem and can alter globular protein stability,” Kiss said.

Looking at eye lens crystallins

In their study, Kiss and his research team investigated six types of eye lens crystallins in the toothfish.

They identified specific amino acid differences and specific key locations in the protein structure that had controlling influence on their aggregation (how they accumulate and clump together) and stability (the specific three-dimensional structure that determines the activity of the protein).

They found that by simply changing three amino acids — from lysine to arginine and vice versa — they could control the temperature at which the protein aggregated and formed cold cataracts.

Now, Kiss said, by using animals adapted to extreme environments, we have models to understand protein-protein stability and models to test potential modifications (corrections) to those proteins to alter their stability.

A “new phase” in cell biology

According to a review in the June 2018 issue of Trends in Cell Biology, a combination of techniques “are starting to help establish the molecular principles of an emerging field, thus paving the way for exciting discoveries,” such as novel therapeutic approaches for the treatment of age-related disorders and human diseases associated with protein aggregation.

The work of Kiss and his research team is directly related to this new understanding of cellular physiology.

Their study, “Controlling Liquid-Liquid Phase Separation of Cold-Adapted Crystallin Proteins from the Antarctic Toothfish,” was published in the Dec. 7, 2018 issue of the Journal of Molecular Biology.

Study authors include senior author Rachel Martin, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at University of California, Irvine, and first author Jan Bierma, doctoral student in biochemistry, UC Irvine.


Written by Susan Meikle, University News and  ommunications, with Andor Kiss, Director, Miami’s Center for Bioinformatics and Functional Genomics, and adjunct assistant professor of biology and microbiology. Originally appeared as a “Top Story” on Miami University’s News and Events website.

Vinaigrette photo by Tasha via Flickr. Antarctic toothfish photo by Pcziko via Wikimedia Common. Both used under Creative Commons license.

Office of Research for Undergraduate Director Joe Johnson, Coordinator of Undergraduate Research Martha Weber, and two other personnel stand in front of a banner that reads "Miami Undergraduate Research Forum."

Video describes research presented at Miami University’s 2016 Undergraduate Research Forum

This video offers an overview of the role students have played in the research of Miami University biology professor Katia Del Rio-Tsonis. This research was presented at Miami’s 2016 Undergraduate Research Forum, which was held April 27.


Video by Miami University College of Arts & Science, with thanks to Jason Barone, College Director of Communications. Photo of Office of Research for Undergraduates staff by Scott Kissell, Miami University Photo Services.

Three women pose in front of a Hilton hotel.

Biologist helps explain why cardiovascular health tends to vary by sex

A woman stands in front of a very large poster. She points to her name -- Minqian Shen -- within a long list of names. Visible text: ENDO. 2015 Abstract Awards and Travel Grants. Early Career Forum Travel Awards. Supported by the Endocrine Society. These application-based travel awards are presented to graduate students, medical students, postdoctoral fellows, and clinical fellows in endocrinology. 125 travel awards supported by the Society; 2 additional travel awards supported by Women in Endocrinology.
Minqian Shen, a graduate student of Dr. Haifei Shi, points to her name on a list of students who received Early Career Forum Travel Awards for the 2015 Endocrine Society Annual Meeting.

There are a number of reasons women tend to live longer than men. One of them is cardiovascular disease – on average, women develop it about a decade later than men. The female hormone estrogen seems to play a role, by keeping women’s arteries healthier until menopause. But Haifei Shi, an associate professor of biology at Miami University, thinks brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) may also play a role.

BDNF is a protein that helps sustain existing neurons and encourages the development of new neurons and synapses in the brain and central nervous system of humans and other mammals. In her lab, Shi has found that exposing rats to BDNF causes them to eat less and exercise more.

Assuming the same thing is true in humans, BDNF could one day be used in therapeutic treatments to help control obesity, which is a major risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease.

But to develop safe and effective treatments, scientists need to better understand how BDNF works in the nervous system, and how it might work differently for male and female patients.

Shi is contributing to this understanding by studying rats. She has found that female rats are more sensitive to BDNF than male rats are. That is, it takes less BDNF to produce an advantageous ratio of food consumption to energy expenditure in a female rat than it takes to produce the same advantageous ratio in a male rat. She says this suggests that any BDNF-based drug therapies should be developed with gender-specific dosing in mind.

Dosing isn’t the only consideration, though. The route of delivery is also important. According to the FDA, there are some 100 ways of introducing a drug into the body, everything from auricular (by way of the ear) to oral (by way of the mouth) to subcutaneous (injected under the skin). The form a drug comes in – say, ear drops, pills, or injections – influences how quickly it is released into the system, how it is distributed throughout the system, and how quickly it is absorbed and eliminated. Those things can have a huge effect on the safety and efficacy of a specific treatment.

To determine the optimal route of delivery for a BDNF-based drug, Shi says it’s important to find the parts of neural circuit in the autonomic nervous system that BDNF activates, including brain nuclei, ganglia cells, and nerve terminals.

“If BDNF activates different parts of these neuralcircuits in males than in females,” she says, “then the targeting sites and route of delivery for any future drugs could be different as well.”

Shi plans to study this question using funds from a $390,150 grant she recently received from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“Given how difficult it is to receive funding from NIH right now, at first I was not sure if I could get funding,” Shi says. “When they sent me the award notice I felt very fortunate.”

She was also gratified to find that the program officer and every member of the NIH panel that reviewed her grant proposal characterized Miami’s research climate as excellent.

Contributing to that excellence, Shi says, are the research facilities and internal funding support provided by the Department of Biology, the College of Arts and Science (CAS), and the University Senate’s Committee for Faculty Research (CFR). She has received the Madalene and George Shetler Diabetes Research Award from the CAS and two CFR Faculty Research Grants – one in AY2009-2010 and one in AY2013-2014. These awards helped her gather preliminary data that enabled her to demonstrate the potential of her work in applications to the NIH and other funding agencies, including the American Heart Association.

Shi’s most recent NIH grant uses the R15, or Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA), mechanism. Consistent with this program’s goal to expose students to research, Shi plans to involve students in all aspects of her current study, just as she did with a previous AREA grant study. Graduate students Xian Liu, Minqian Shen, and Qi Zhu and undergraduate students Annie Davis and Anjali Prior will help design, troubleshoot, and carry out experiments. They will collect data, run analyses, write manuscripts, and present results at local, national, and international conferences.

Davis, a sophomore double majoring in premedical studies and public health, attended the international meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior with Shi and graduate students Xian and Minqian in Denver this past July.

“Annie learned so much. I think it was really good exposure for her,” Shi says. “In the future, I’d like to take more students to this and other conferences.”

Given Shi’s continued success, not only in doing research, but also in securing funding to support it, that seems a likely prospect.

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director & Information Coordinator, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Photo of Xian Liu, Haifei Shi, and Minqian Shen courtesy of Haifei Shi. Photo of Minqian Shen courtesy of Haifei Shi.

Illustration of a physical map of the world. The map is dated April 2004.

Project Dragonfly associates selected as fellows

Photograph of the National Geographic Explorer ship. The ship is seen from the rear while it is in a port. Several people are visible standing on the ship's decks.
Project Dragonfly’s Shasta Bray, Rebecca Detrich, and Laura Schetter are among 35 educators who will embark on Lindblad voyages aboard the National Geographic Explorer and the National Geographic Endeavour.

Three Miami University Project Dragonfly associates have been selected to receive this year’s Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellowships.

Shasta Bray, Rebecca Detrich and Laura Schetter are among 35 educators from the U.S. and Canada to be selected in recognition of their commitment to geographic education.

They will embark on Lindblad voyages aboard the National Geographic Explorer and the National Geographic Endeavour. The one-of-a-kind expedition will provide hands-on professional development and will allow the team to bring immersive geographic learning experiences back to their classrooms and communities.

Project Dragonfly reaches millions of people each year through inquiry-driven learning media, public exhibits and graduate programs worldwide. Dragonfly is housed in the biology department at Miami.

Originally appeared on the Campus News section of Miami University’s News and Events website.

“World map illustration licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. Photo of National Geographic Explorer by Kresspahl via Wikimedia Commons; used under Creative Commons license.  

Giant model of the DNA double helix at a science museum in Ann Arbor. The helixes sides are pearlescent white tubes that twist in toward the center of the frame from the middle left. The "rungs" between the sides are red, blue, green and brown tubes connected by slimmer copper-colored tubes.

Scientist turns to crowd to fund research

Image is a screenshot of a webpage on experiment.com. At the top of the image is the "experiment" logo, a search box, and three links: "Discover," "How It Works," and "Sign up or Login." In the center of the image is a picture of a frozen North American wood frog. Laid over the picture of the wood frog is a screened dark grey box with the words, "Unlock the Secrets of Animals that Survive Freezing! Andor Kiss Miami University." Next to that box is another, white box that shows the progress of the project's funding. "$3,031 Pledged" appears in large type at the top of the box. Underneath that, a green bar stretches from margin to margin. Below the green bar are the following words: "101% Funded $3,000 Goal 0 Days." A smaller grey box appears below the funding "thermometer." The text in it reads, "Success! This project was funded on: 8 November 2014." Below the picture of the frog are navigation links: "Overview," "Abstract" (this is the one highlighted), "Lab Notes (12)," and "Comments (20)." Below that are three columns of text. The heading on the first column is, "What is the context of this research?" Below that heading is the following text: "The North American wood frog is an animal that has adopted a strategy of overwintering by burrowing to the leaf litter and other forest floor material and freezing. The frog can do this by flooding its blood with glucose and urea and other small molecules. The glucose acts in a similar manner to antifreeze, and the urea." The remaining text is cut off. The heading on the second column is: "What is the significance of this project?" Below that heading is the following text: "The wood frog is an example of a vertebrate animal who can undergo freezing and survive. One of the biggest problems with human organ transplants are the incompatibility and unavailability of the correct organ to correct recipient within a critical time frame. If we could freeze and/or chill preserve organs, we could save." The remaining text in this column is cut off. The third column heading is: "What are the goals of the project?" Below that heading is the following text: "I have wood frog tissue and the all the necessary skills and equipment to isolate, sequence, assemble and annotate the wood frog genome. If funded, I will: (1) Isolate the genomic DNA of the North American wood frog." No more text in that column is visible.
Miami University adjunct assistant professor and supervisor of the Center for Bioinformatics & Functional Genomics, Dr. Andor Kiss, received the funding he needed to sequence the genome of the North American wood frog on the crowdfunding site experiment.com

Once the domain of musicians, filmmakers, and tech innovators, crowdfunding is beginning to capture the attention of scientific researchers like Andor Kiss, adjunct assistant professor and supervisor in Miami University’s Center for Bioinformatics & Functional Genomics (CBFG).

When Kiss needed a relatively small amount of money – $3,000 – to purchase some genome sequencing technology, he knew he’d have to think outside the box of federal funding because most of those agencies are limited in their ability to fund a project with such a small budget.

The genome Kiss wants to sequence is that of the North American wood frog (Rana sylvatica). He and other Miami researchers are interested in this organism because of its ability to freeze in winter, and then resume normal function after thawing in the spring.

“Very few vertebrates have the capacity to freeze and survive,” Kiss says.

Past media coverage of Miami researchers’ work on the wood frog (including this post and this episode of PBS’s science program, NOVA), reflected public fascination with the amphibian’s seeming superpower, and that’s what Kiss banked on for funding his genome-sequencing project

“I thought, ‘Well, because of the inherently attractive nature of this particular organism in capturing the public’s imagination, maybe I could crowdfund this and get a significant chunk of people who are interested in science to do this,’” Kiss recalls.

In the end, 41 backers donated a total of $3,031 – 101% of the goal – to Kiss’s project through Experiment, a site that Bill Gates has said “helps close the gap for potential and promising, but unfunded projects.”

The victory was hard-won.

“You have to work at it,” Kiss says of this kind of crowdfunding. “You have to tweet about, it. You have to do an ‘Ask Me Anything’ on Reddit. You have to really work the Internet hard, because a lot of people are not going to find it on their own. You have to contact colleagues, go to meetings, talk to people who are interested.”

The donated funds, coupled with a discount from the manufacturer, have allowed Kiss to purchase an Illumina Tru-Seq Synthetic Long-Read DNA Kit.

With this kit, Kiss hopes to answer two questions about Rana sylvatica:

  • Does this frog have the same genes every other frog has, but expresses them in a unique way?
  • Are there certain genes unique to this frog?

But even if he doesn’t get the answers he’s looking for, Kiss says his crowdfunders’ investment won’t be wasted.

“I would be extremely surprised if we didn’t find novel and unexpected things with the assembly of this wood frog genome,” he says. “But let’s just assume that’s the worst case scenario: we don’t find anything about the wood frog per se. At least we have developed a technology here at the CBFG that we can apply to other projects. Gaining this technical capability is a very good, valuable goal.”

Just the same, it’s the very uncertainty of a project that can make it an ideal candidate for crowdfunding. For some investors, the prospect of funding a project that could one day lead to a major discovery or innovation is thrilling, and since the stakes are usually small – the average donation to Kiss’s project was about $74 – not much is lost if the project hits a dead end.

That’s good news for scientists like Kiss, who can find it difficult to get projects that are risky or exploratory through the peer review process at government funding agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Miami University’s Associate Provost for Research & Scholarship, Jim Oris, anticipates crowdfunding will play an increasingly important role for scientists, innovators, and creators at universities.

“Social media has broken down and worked around hierarchies in many industries, removing gatekeepers and letting many more voices through,” Oris says. “Crowdfunding has the potential to do the same for research and creative activity at universities.”

To facilitate grassroots investment at Miami, Oris is leading the development of a homegrown crowdfunding platform. The yet-to-be-named system will allow Miami students, faculty, and staff to register projects and set a funding goal.

“We’re still very much in the beginning stages of developing the system, and there are many details to be worked out,” Oris says. “But the goal is to engage Miami alumni, family, and friends from around the world by offering them an opportunity to have a meaningful and measureable impact on work happening at Miami today.”

Kiss agrees that the measurability inherent in crowdfunding campaigns – fundraising “thermometers” are a hallmark of virtually every platform – is part of their appeal.

“People like to donate to a specific target,” he says. “They like being able to point to something concrete and say, ‘I contributed to that.’ And if the goal is to raise $2,500, there’s no question that a $100 donation will make a difference.”

Today, investors in Kiss’s wood frog genome project can point to equipment in the CBFG and say, “I contributed to that.” But Kiss hopes one day they’ll be able to point to more.

“Nature has already solved a lot of the problems. We just have to figure out how nature did it. Once we’ve sequenced the genome of the wood frog, we may eventually be able to read nature’s instructions to improve organ transplants and other medical treatments.”

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director & Information Coordinator, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

DNA model image by Alfred Hermida, via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

A frog floats on top of water in what appears to be a shallow stream. The frog's legs are splayed out behind it.

Researchers unlock the mysteries of freeze-tolerant frogs

A small brown frog sits on a rough black rock.
John Costanzo’s research team studies wood frogs like the one shown here.

Jon Costanzo, senior research scholar in the Department of Biology, is helping unlock the mystery of how wood frogs (Rana sylvatica) can freeze in winter — with their hearts not beating while frozen — then quickly resume normal life after thawing in the spring.

Findings of Costanzo’s work with University Distinguished Professor of Zoology Richard Lee and graduate students Clara do Amaral and Andrew Rosendale were reported in the August 21 issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology. The researchers found that the freeze-tolerant frogs can survive at temperatures much lower than previously reported.

The National Science Foundation-supported research also has led to some new discoveries related to underlying physiological mechanisms that allowed frogs from the interior of Alaska to survive freezing at minus 16 degrees Celsius. They required only two days of thawing to resume normal movements.

The research team’s work was featured on the TV science program NOVA’s “Making Things Colder” and in a David Attenborough production, “Natural Curiosities” earlier this year. A third, yet-to-be scheduled, program — the BBC’s “Hidden Kingdoms” — will also discuss the research.

Focusing on the differences between Ohio and Alaskan wood frogs, the researchers collected dozens of frogs on the verge of hibernation near Fairbanks, Alaska, to study how they prepared for winter.

Back at the Miami campus, the researchers placed the frogs in programmable environmental chambers and manipulated temperature and light exposure for six weeks to simulate the frogs’ normal conditions.

“We kind of faked them out as if they were being subjected to decreasing temperature and decreasing daylight like they would experience in the field,” he said.

While studying how they changed physiologically, they discovered something that surprised even Costanzo, who has been studying the creatures for 25 years.
Costanzo said the finding that the frogs broke down muscle protein at this time, was “completely unexpected” because they would have to breed soon after emerging from hibernation.

The frog “needs good muscle tone, good muscle structure, to be able to pull that off,” Costanzo said. “Yet these frogs were using some of their muscle protein before winter.”

Researchers believe that occurs so the frogs can use nitrogen in the protein to produce urea. Although humans and other creatures also produce urea, a waste byproduct, they quickly release it from their bodies. The frogs don’t.

“Rather than urinating to get rid of the urea, they’re hanging onto it and they really stacked it up,” Costanzo said.

While the researchers have known for a while that the frogs produce urea heading into winter, they don’t yet understand how they are able to retain it the way they do.

“The concentration of urea in their blood was just huge and way more than we’d ever seen in the frogs from Ohio,” he said. “We’ve never seen the accumulation like we’ve seen in these Alaskan frogs. It’s really spectacular.”

Urea, a cryoprotectant, can help tissues survive freezing stresses and also stabilize membranes.

“It can help brain tissue tolerate swings in salt concentration, which you might see in freezing and thawing,” he said, “so urea is probably one of their secrets.”

Costanzo said urea also helps depress metabolism while the frogs hibernate for nearly eight months.

“They are not going to be feeding so depressing their metabolism during the winter is really important to survive because it’s going to help them last longer on their stored energy reserves,” he said.

The research also found the frogs produce glucose, which is ordinary blood sugar, as they’re freezing and accumulate that to high levels, too, which appears to help the cells tolerate freezing.

“We don’t know exactly how they are dehydrating their organs during freezing but we know the organs shrink,” Costanzo said. “The idea is that rather than have all that water remain in the organ and freeze and become big chunks of ice, have that water freeze outside where it’s not going to harm the tissue structure.”

The researchers found the Alaskan wood frogs survived to temperatures of minus 16 degrees Celsius, which is 11 degrees colder than Ohio wood frogs survived in testing.

“They also survived a two-month period of freezing” at minus 4 degrees and required only two days to get back “up on their feet and looking great,” Costanzo said.

The response time for the Ohio frogs was a week or longer.

“Given they came back in two days, we think they probably can go much lower than minus 16,” he said.

Rosendale said that they pursue this kind of research because it’s fascinating but realize that their discoveries may eventually lead to medical breakthroughs.

Scientists for years have been able to preserve simple systems such as embryos by freezing them. Regarding organ transplants, medical personnel ship and store organs on ice because they are trying to lower the temperature as much as possible to reduce damage.

“But they can’t freeze organs yet,” Costanzo said.

If there is something that can be applied from the wood frog research, it is the role cryoprotectants play in improving freezing survival.

“That is something the frogs demonstrated very well,” he said.

Additionally, understanding the winter biology of ectotherms such as frogs may help predict consequences of climate change for their survival, according to Lee.

Written by Margo Kissell, University News & Communications, Miami University. This article originally appeared August 21, 2014 on the Miami University News & Events website, and is re-used here with permission.

Photo of sitting wood frog by Meeshoo via stock.xchng. “Wood frog, floating” photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson via Wikimedia Commons.  Both used under Creative Commons license.

The image centers on a green ball from which many green branches of various lengths and widths extend. In the background are many smaller red blobs with branches of their own.

Undergraduate plays key role in groundbreaking neuroscience research

In the foreground a young man wearing a white checked shirt peers into a microscope. Behind him, a young woman in a head covering and purple lab gloves looks at a slide she's holding. A computer, files, and lab equipment appear in the background.
Senior zoology major Matt Deer (in foreground) and doctoral student Aminata Coulibaly work in the lab of biology professor Dr. Lori Isaacson.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological disease that affects 2.5 million people worldwide. As MS is a “silent disease,” many people who have multiple sclerosis do not look different from any other person, but suffer from a variety of invisible, unpredictable symptoms. What is predictable about multiple sclerosis, though, is irregularly functioning oligodendrocytes.

According to Miami University senior and zoology major Matt Deer, oligodendrocytes “provide an insulating cover of myelin around axons, facilitating communication between neurons.” The loss of properly functioning oligodendrocytes is linked not only to multiple sclerosis, but also to mood disorders, schizophrenia, and other illnesses.

“Since oligodendrocytes play such an important role in the normal functioning of the nervous system,” says Deer, “it’s crucial to understand the biology of these cells if we want to develop therapies to treat these conditions.”

Deer’s knowledge about oligodendrocytes comes from his work in the lab of Miami University biology professor Lori Isaacson. Together with graduate student Aminata Coulibaly, Isaacson and Deer have been studying the distribution and phenotype of oligodendrocytes in the spinal cords of adult Sprague Dawley rats.

In Isaacson’s lab, Deer has gained experience that is unusual for an undergraduate. When Isaacson needed new data on the cervical level of the spinal cord for an article she hoped to publish, she turned to Deer, who had by then been working with her and Coulibaly for nearly two years and was well-versed in the required techniques.

“We asked Matt to learn everything he could about the cervical spinal cord, learn how to identify structures specific to the cervical level, and then make slices of the cervical level, carry out experiments, do the morphometric analyses, make the graphs and figures, collect images, and then help write up the results section of the manuscript and add to the discussion of his data,” says Isaacson.

The article, which lists Deer as a co-author alongside Isaacson and Coulibaly, was recently published in the journal Brain Research. One of the microscopic images of the spinal cord from their article was selected for the cover of the journal.

“I have had a lot of undergraduates in the lab,” said Isaacson, “and most of them do not complete a body of work that earns them a co-authorship.”

Some of this was luck, she says – Deer was in the right place at the right time. But there was more to it than that.

“It takes a lot of motivation to collect the amount of data we needed in the amount of time we had and Matt had that,” says Isaacson.

Isaacson also gives credit to Coulibaly, who she says has worked closely with Deer over the past three years. “She taught him all of the techniques he used in this study. She’s been overseeing his day-to-day activities for quite a while. This project would not have been possible without her.”

In addition to the article in Brain Research, Deer also had the opportunity to present the results of his research at a Washington, DC event called Posters on the Hill. This annual showcase gives Miami undergraduate students an opportunity to share their work with members of the United States Congress.

Deer says he’s always had an interest in science, particularly neuroscience. “I like solving complex puzzles, being able to understand this type of advanced material, and applying my knowledge to further advance research,” he says.

He appreciates that Miami encourages undergraduate participation in research, acknowledging that his ability to work in Isaacson’s lab early was a key factor in his achievements.

After graduating from Miami this coming spring, Deer plans to attend podiatry school, where he hopes to conduct research to advance therapeutic strategies and improve medical technology.

Written by Nicole Antonucci, Communications Intern, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University. 

Photo of Matt Deer and Aminata Coulibaly by Miami University Photo Services.  Photo of neuron GerryShaw via Wikimedia Commons, used under Creative Commons license.