Research Projects

This is a list of research projects that may have opportunities for undergraduate students. You can browse all the projects, or view only projects in the following categories:

Life Science


Cationic Amphiphilic Polyproline Helices for Antibacterial Activity

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Life Science, Other
School/Dept.: Chemistry
Professor: Jean Chmielewski
Preferred major(s): Chemistry
Number of positions: 1

The passive uptake of genes, polypeptides, particles and, at times, small molecules into cells is prohibited due to their inability to adequately cross the membrane bilayer. We have designed a class of molecules, cationic amphiphilic polyproline helices (CAPHs) that have been shown to effectively translocate mammalian cell membranes and display potent antibacterial activity. The goals of the proposed research are to probe the specific structural features within CAPHs that allow for efficient cell uptake and antibacterial action, while developing a mechanistic model for CAPH activity. Additionally we will seek to harness the remarkable cell penetrating and antimicrobial characteristics of CAPHs to target elusive pathogenic bacteria within mammalian cells.

With the knowledge that diverse CAPHs result in effective cell penetration, subcellular localization and antibacterial activity in vitro and in cyto, and with the mechanistic insight that resulted from these studies, we propose to address the following questions:
1. What effect does further structural modification of CAPHs have on cell penetration and subcellular localization, and how are these data linked to antibacterial activity in vitro and in cyto?
2. What is the mechanism of antibacterial activity and cell penetration of the designed CAPHs?


Detecting genomic regions responsible for disease resistance in Arabidopsis

Research categories:  Agricultural, Environmental Science, Life Science
School/Dept.: Botany and Plant Pathology
Professor: Anjali Iyer-Pascuzzi
Preferred major(s): anything to do with Biology, Genetics, or Plant Biology
Desired experience:   General Bio or Plant biology, Genetics preferred but not required
Number of positions: 1

Plants are constantly assaulted by pathogens – bacteria, fungi and viruses – and rely on the action of disease resistance genes to help protect them from microbial invaders. The identification of plant disease resistance genes is a key component of crop improvement, as without these genes, plants either die or their production severely decreases. This project will identify genomic regions in Arabidopsis that are responsible for resistance to the plant bacterial pathogen Ralstonia solanacearum. The SURF student will grow, infect, and phenotype 75 - 100 different Arabidopsis lines. Phenotyping will include analysis of root growth and development with the image processing program ImageJ and chlorophyll content analysis. The student will be exposed to multiple different aspects of biology, including plant development, plant pathology and image analysis. The SURF student will work with a postdoctoral associate and the lab PI.


Inside the carrot root microbiome

Research categories:  Agricultural, Bioscience/Biomedical, Life Science
School/Dept.: Horticulture and Landscape Architecture
Professor: Lori Hoagland
Desired experience:   Coursework in microbiology, molecular biology, soil biology and/or plant pathology.
Number of positions: 1

The root microbiome represents the dynamic community of microorganisms associated with plant roots. Root microbiota affect plant fitness and productivity in a variety of ways that operate along a continuum from beneficial to parasitic. Our understanding of how root microbial communities are assembled and factors that influence the nature of their interaction with plants are still are in their infancy. This project seeks to address these knowledge gaps by quantifying how soil management and plant genotype affect the composition of the carrot microbiome and affect plant fitness under pathogen stress. A combination of culture dependent and independent techniques will be used to determine the identify and activity of microbes associated with carrot roots.


Weed seed preferences and C and N isotope tissue-diet discrimination factors of deer mice and white-footed mice

Research categories:  Life Science
School/Dept.: Forestry and Natural Resources
Professor: Elizabeth Flaherty
Preferred major(s): Wildlife
Desired experience:   Coursework related to wildlife or animal sciences and must be comfortable with providing husbandry and general care for captive animals. Experience collecting/recording data and experience with basic data processing (i.e. Microsoft Excel).
Number of positions: 1

Native mice are known to provide agricultural ecosystem services by consuming weed seeds and waste grain within crop fields, yet their preference for seed types is poorly understood. Knowledge of seed preferences of native mice will help elucidate their functional role as ecosystem service providers in agro-ecosystems. Therefore, the objective of this research will be to understand the preference of weed seeds by sympatric deer mice and white-footed mice collected from fragmented agro-ecosystems in central Indiana. To achieve this objective, the selected student will conduct discrete-choice feeding trials on captive deer mice and white-footed mice to investigate their weed seed selection preferences. A second objective of this research will be to simultaneously quantify the tissue-diet discrimination factors and turnover rates of C and N isotopes of captive deer mice and white-footed mice. This will be achieved by provisioning captive mice with isotopically distinct diets (i.e. C3 weed seeds versus C4 corn) and measuring C and N isotopes from diet items and animal tissues.


iGEM Project 2015: Canary in the Cornfield

Research categories:  Agricultural, Bioscience/Biomedical, Life Science
School/Dept.: ABE and BME
Professor: Jenna Rickus
Preferred major(s): Biological Engineering or Biomedical Engineering
Desired experience:   prior participation in the iGEM club or activities is preferred.
Number of positions: 3

This year’s iGEM project is focused around designing a natural indicator for plant stressors in an industrial agriculture setting. A major problem in the world exacerbated by the increasing global population is food security. Currently, about 40 percent of crop losses are due to pests and disease. If farmers can realize and address these problems early, they may be able to mitigate losses. All plants have natural responses to both pathogenic and environmental stressors. If these responses can be indicated by an external change in the plant, it would act as an early warning system for the plants around it. For instance, if a diseased plant were to change color, it would notify the farmer of disease in an area of the field, enabling targeted termination of diseased crops while prompting increased preventative measures for the surrounding crops. The project revolves around the identification of natural biochemical response systems, the design of genetic circuits to be transformed into the plant via agrobacterium that would cause the plant to have an external indication and amplification of the internal response, and evaluation of the effectiveness of these genetic devices. As a SURF project, we are looking for students to manage different parts of this design process, including researching the biochemical responses to various stressors, determining the proper genetic parts to create the desired response, design and prediction of function of a genetic circuit from the parts, and implementation of the parts/circuit into actual plant tissue.

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