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Undergrad research symposium showcases life sciences projects

Senior Joe Morrissey knows his beer.

Morrissey compared the germination performance of Stander and Robust barleys as part of a research project highlighted at the 16th Annual Life Sciences Undergraduate Research Symposium held at the Earle Brown Center in St. Paul on Wednesday.

The symposium was started as part of the College of Biological Sciences Honors Program, but it today involves all the life sciences, including biology and psychology, said Rogene Schnell, symposium organizer.

“People are here from five or six schools,” she said.

Schnell said approximately half the participants, ranging from
computer science students to
Medical School scholars, presented their research as part of a requirement to earn an honors degree. Their work represents the culmination of their thesis research, she said.

Morrissey’s study found Stander barley’s germination problems might be attributed to environmental variables such as temperature and moisture levels.

When Stander was introduced in 1984, brewers had high hopes of yielding more barley for beer production in the Midwest. But now it’s rejected by malters because of the difficulties in its germination, Morrissey said.

Another presenter, psychology major Sarah Mansavage, showcased her research on how raising the cost of one drug could cause subjects to increase use of a fixed-cost drug.

A group of five monkeys were first addicted to a smoked form of liquid cocaine over at least six months, she said. The monkeys were given the drug after pushing a lever a certain number of times, which increased over time, Mansavage said.

Sixteen-proof alcohol was then made available to the monkeys at eight pushes of a different lever. Over time, the monkeys had to push the cocaine lever more times to get the drug, while the amount of pushes to receive alcohol remained the same.

Although Mansavage and her mentor in the project, Marilyn Carroll, have not yet had enough time to derive any conclusions, their preliminary findings indicate the harder it is for the animal to get cocaine, the more consumption of alcohol occurs.

One computer science student, Trenton Wood, created an artificial life simulation – a computer program that models evolutionary behavior with organisms that respond to stimuli such as food availability, he said.

The program is designed to allow for mutations to develop in the genetic makeup of the organisms, which they would then pass on to future generations, Wood said.

The eventual goal, he said, is to create a computer program that could evolve intelligent creatures from basic ones. Although Wood said he finds his research interesting, he is currently more interested in finishing school and getting a job.

“I may come back and look at it again in grad school,” he said.

Morrissey said he did not let the outcome of his research affect his social life.

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