So ‘Sexta Can Wait

[Hey, this is Meg; It says Amanda because she logged in for me.]

My project is finally underway after several issues with the set-up. I had started out with the first group of manduca in their boxes, but they decided to make like Houdini and disappear on me. So I got a new group of eggs and set them up in tubes to grow until they are too large to escape. I had to wait what felt like a week for them to hatch, but finally they are all hatched and growing. Most have reached second instar by now, and pretty soon I will be moving them to their boxes.

None have reached third instar yet, when I will take their measurements and record their responses to being handled. So right now, I am just waiting for the little darlings to grow bigger so I can move on to the next part of the project. However, today I did notice that two partnered caterpillars were going at it in their tube: the larger one chasing the smaller one around and biting him. This seems to be unusual, as I have not observed it with any of the others; usually they bite when their face randomly ends up near another caterpillar’s body, but this particular bully seemed to have ill intention. We shall see if this has any effect on either of their responses later.

Fishing & Feeding in the Larval Behavior Lab


Summer is one of my favorite times at McDaniel, because this is when I put aside the demands of teaching, and the administrative chores of being a professor, and get to focus on research with students!  This summer the Jacobs lab is focusing on larval behavior and feeding in two very different systems: dragonfly larvae, and tobacco hornworms.  I’ll let the student researchers introduce their specific questions in later blog posts, but for now I’ll introduce the teams:

IMG_20140529_111850540_HDRJosh Viar and Meghan Sturgill are my field team – they are spending the summer investigating the distribution and behavior of dragonfly larvae in a range of local ponds.  Their project is entirely field-based, and involves hunting in the mud for dragonfly larvae, observing their behavior for hours in large floating arenas, and sampling for fish with minnow traps and fishing poles.  In other words, if you like to splash around outdoors and aren’t afraid of a little mud, they have designed the perfect summer project!

IMG_20140604_130838675Meg Knauff and Amanda Horst are my lab team – they are spending the summer investigating the effects of diet on growth, feeding, and behavior of the tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta.  They have designed an ambitious and labor-intensive project, and are working in close collaboration to make it happen.  This was a project they started in my larval biology course in the spring, and it was so interesting that we just had to continue it over the summer!

Greta_fishingFinally, every lab needs a mascot!  My daughter Greta (7 months) sometimes visits my office or comes along on field work.  As a working mom, I’m grateful for the more flexible schedule of summer, which allows me to spend more time with her, and to McDaniel for being a supportive workplace for women in science!  So far we haven’t put her to work fishing, but she’s ready!


EPE Research: Keep Climbing!

“You can’t fool me. There is no top of the hill!”

A participant attempted to relay this to the researchers through his mask while running at a percent grade on the treadmill during his VO2max test. Of course, his words could not be understood during the test, so we had to wait until the conclusion of the test to know that Dr. McCole failed to fool him.

This not only served as the comedic relief for the week, but verbalized our realization that there is always more to do in the research field. As the six student-researchers become more familiar and deeply engrossed in the study, each of us has moments where we think of all the possibilities for data collection and analysis in just a single study. Some of us even Endurance runspend our free time pondering new studies to explore different components related to ours.

Last week wrapped up the pre-training portion of the study where we obtained participants’ body composition and physical fitness level via underwater weighing, a VO2max test, and an endurance run on the treadmill. Dr. McKenzie, Dr. Laird, and Matt ventured to Orlando for the national ACSM conference last week, so Dr. McCole and the five gals held down the fort.

While they were gone we…

  • Conducted a majority of the endurance runs. This test consists of a three minute warm up period before setting the treadmill at the speed determined to elicit their VO2max and having the participant run for as long as possible without any sort of time cues. This involved creating an individualized regression equation from the participant’s VO2max test. Let us tell you from experience, running without a grasp on time is difficult.
  • Made a snack drawer! Filled with anything from fruit snacks to crackers or nuts, this drawer has become our/mostly Kerrin’s saving grace when blood sugar runs low over the course of our days. In research, it can be the little things that keep you motivated.
  • Started a new secondary study! For those individuals who felt so inclined as to run more than one VO2max test, we are now going to have data for a reliability study on the equipment used during our research.
  • Continued our research by reading articles related to our chosen topics and have begun to prepare for our senior capstone projects. As rising seniors, it’s exciting to be starting our work and getting a jump start on the school year, but incredibly terrifying all at the same time.
  • Learned how to be quick on our feet. Conducting research on human subjects is tough work! Our schedule is determined by each individual’s schedule and changes from day to day. As researchers, we must be flexible and think creatively in order to meet the subjects’, researchers’, and study’s needs.
  • Don’t worry, even after two weeks we all still love each other! Glad to have the full team back in action, increasing physical fitness one day at a time :)

This week marks the beginning of the three-week training programs! Participants have been randomized into either the high-intensity interval or the standard training groups, both running 31-minute training sessions four days per week. The excitement of training is just so high that you’ll have to tune in next time for the scoop!

Thanks for reading! HIIT Team signing off!

World Beyond the Plastic- Letter 1

Dear world beyond the plastic,

I don’t know where I am or how I got here, but it feels like I’ve been here forever. Now, some of the other Manduca sexta have gotten it into their heads that this isn’t so bad- they have tomato for dinner every night. I, on the other hand, have been fed nothing but stinky yellow goop that the oddly-shaped beings call artificial diet. I’d like to see them eat the stuff. Needless to say, I only eat when I have to.

It’s odd though, you see, because some of the others are poked and lifted away at times and then returned home to find their meals have changed. But never me. I’m just a little guy, still in my second instar and only larger than the new guys that just arrived… so I guess you could say I’m easily overlooked. Not the big guys though, they get different meals practically all the time (OK, not all the time, but like twice…) and me? Well, I’m just sitting here on my throne of artificial until the day they notice me. I digress though…

Oh yeah! I wanted to talk about the oddly-shaped beings…Well, let me tell you they’re huge and not too friendly. Odd hours, they pick us up and move us from one place to another and then back to the start. WEIRD, RIGHT?! Now, they’re getting faster though. We’re handled less, and for shorter times, but we fear for the worst. Some of our friends and neighbors have gone missing, only to be replaced by younger ones. It started with a few, but then there were many, causing whispers of a world beyond the plastic to emerge. Mmmm, but who can say for certain where they’ve gone? Maybe the oddly-shaped ones know, but they only speak to us in shrieks and high voices…morons. Anyway, the box is growing dark now so I must go. I know you can’t hear me, world beyond the plastic, but I will speak to you again.

Dreaming of you.
M. sexta in A2




-Amanda Horst
Eaton 207
Subject of Dr. Jacobs


Just “dropping a line” from the Staab Lab!

Hello, world!  This is Sophia Fricke reporting in from the Staab Lab.  So far, summer research is off to a great start.  Now, by the end of our second week, we are in full swing and are easily falling in to the rhythm of our days.  By the same token, every day is a new adventure and we can never quite predict what it will bring.  This, I feel, is the nature of discovery, and it keeps us on our toes.

Paola (left) and Sophia (right) cleaning the lab

Paola (left) and Sophia (right) cleaning the lab

Our lab group has developed a great sense of camaraderie and collaboration, and we’re learning to work as a team, while each of us is specifically pursuing different and unique research questions.  Maybe I’m biased, but I think the project that I’m working on is one of the coolest that I’ve encountered!  Right now, I’m working on identifying and classifying new types of cartilage and connective tissue in fish, with the long term goal of applying our findings to human medicine (i.e., treatments for arthritis) in the future.  To do this, I will use a technique called immunohistochemical analysis to detect different proteins and fibers that make up different areas of tissue.  Basically, this means that I will use antibodies that bind to different proteins, such as collagen type II, to stain samples different colors that I can use to distinguish the molecular makeup of tissue.

Since many bones develop from cartilage precursors, and develop in response to external forces, I’m also curious about how ossification might change in response to different forces. My first specific experiment will be to look at the mechanisms of cartilaginous ossification/mineralization in zebrafish, using tanks with varying levels of viscosity.  My hypothesis is that I’ll see increased amounts of ossification in the fish living in more viscous water.  I will use a fluorescent Calcein stain to determine the amount of calcium ions in matrix at multiple points of time during the development of the fish.

Zebrafish – from

This experiment will function as a baseline for my knowledge of cartilaginous ossification, and will provide a springboard for future work.  Once I know which types of cartilage are more likely to ossify, and how, I will be able to move forward with testing different methods of molecular inhibition of excess ossification.  While this would be done preliminarily in vitro, the goal would be to later test it in zebrafish, before finally bringing forward a new type of treatment to the medical world for osteoarthritis.  This technique would not only be minimally invasive, moreover, it would also prove to be a significant step forward in the field of advanced tissue engineering.

I know I’m only two weeks in to my summer research at McDaniel, and I don’t want to get ahead of myself.  However, I firmly believe that vision is necessary for any achievements or advances in science.  So for now, I’m going to stick with “reeling myself in” to address one step of my first experiment at a time, and look forward to welcoming some new baby zebrafish to our lab!

And finally… a joke so terrible that you might even laugh!