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Meet Nicole DeBruyne, a Junior Biology and Mathematics double-major and Neuroscience minor, who worked in the Estes Lab at NC State University as part of a summer National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates with Dr. Patricia Estes. The Estes Lab studies how the central nervous system is constructed during embryonic development by analyzing genes and gene networks that are active in specific neural and glial cells using the model organism, Drosophila melanogaster.

Tell us about your research. I interned with the NSF-funded Biotechnology Sequencing-based Undergraduate Research Experience (BIT-SURE) program at NCSU. My project was concerned with a particular line of fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) in which a certain group of neurons expressing the transcription factor single-minded had been genetically silenced using tetanus toxin. These so called sim-silenced flies were hyperphagic, obese, and exhibited a significantly shortened lifespan. I used next-generation sequencing technology to compare the microbiome of these flies to that of wild-type to determine if there are differences between the two, and how these differences might be connected to the neural pathways involving single-minded. Our results uncovered a significant distinction in the composition but not in the quantity of bacteria present in these flies from birth. Research is ongoing in the Estes lab to explore these differences and attempt to determine the role of single-minded on metabolism and health in the fly model.

What did you like most? I enjoyed learning and practicing techniques that are relevant to modern genetic and neurobiological research. I got the chance to utilize cutting-edge technology to explore an area of study I am interested in, while also gaining exposure to all aspects of the research process – from preliminary research, to experimentation, to presentation at a research symposium. The project was mentor-led, giving me guidance on potential directions I could take as well as the tools at my disposal, but I still enjoyed creative and intellectual freedom, and it was overall an excellent research experience.

Has this experience changed your ideas about research? From this internship, I discovered how much thought and planning must go into any research project. Outside research must be done throughout the entirety of the study, as new problems and possible new directions constantly arise that require information to be obtained and referenced from other sources. The sheer number of complications that come up during scientific research was new to me, and is very relevant knowledge to have as I move forward with my studies.

Our Undergraduate Research Series features spotlights on our Psychology and Neuroscience majors and minors who are doing undergraduate research with our faculty! We believe strongly that undergraduate experiences are greatly enriched by inquiry and discovery through undergraduate research. Research experiences allow students to better understand literature, determine areas of interest, discover their passion for research, continue on to graduate studies, and to jump start their careers as researchers. If you are an undergraduate who is interested in pursuing research experiences, we offer PSYC and NSCI 395 as an opportunity to work side-by-side with graduate students and faculty members on cutting-edge psychological and neuroscience research. We also recommend you visit the Office for Undergraduate Research to find research opportunities, apply for research funding, and for helpful tools and advice. Research opportunities abound at UNC – find one that works for you!

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