Trinity Alums Publish Scientific Paper


Scientific Paper - A Thaliana PlantFour Trinity alumni recently published a scientific paper based on work and research they began during their time at the College. Derek Frejd ’16, Kiera Dunnaway ’14, Jennifer Hill ’12, and Jesse Van Maanen ’12, along with Dr. Clay Carlson, associate professor of biology, co-authored “The Genomic and Morphological Effects of Bisphenol A on Arabidopsis thaliana,” which appeared in the journal PLOS One.

According to Carlson, the work was started by Hill and Van Maanen in a Genetics course during the spring of 2012 and then completed by Frejd and Dunnaway, who received Vander Velde Research Scholarships for their work.

The paper explores the effect that environmental toxin bisphenol A (BPA) has on the plant known by its scientific name Arabidopsis thaliana or more common name thale cress. “I came into it primarily as an ecologist, so I didn’t want to end up doing a project that felt very abstract or purely molecular,” said Hill, who was a Founders’ Scholar at Trinity. “Dr. Carlson suggested the beginnings of this study because environmental pollutants affecting plants was something I could get much more excited about.”

Hill and Van Maanen, who is doing his residency at Sanford School for Medicine at the University of South Dakota, designed the parameters of the original project and began growing the plant under different conditions. “We found that BPA was disrupting the plants’ ability to respond to normal hormonal signals, which can hinder their flowering and proper development,” she said. Hill and Van Maanen received results just in time for OPUS, but they could only do a preliminary analysis before graduation.

Frejd and Dunnaway took up the project and conducted more experiments to confirm and expand the original findings. Dunnaway, who is currently attending Veterinary School at Ross University, first presented her work at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR) in 2014. Frejd presented his work at the same conference in April 2016.

Carlson’s genetics class ended up being formative for Hill. “Not just because the research resulted in my first scientific publication–although I’m so elated that it did. It was also the first time I was exposed to genetics in a way that made me feel excited and curious,” she said. “I realized that most of the ecological questions I was interested in could be best addressed using genetic techniques.”

That led her to receive a master’s degree in ecological genetics at Western Washington University. Currently, she is working on her Ph.D. at the University of New Hampshire.