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Moravian College

Kayli Silimperi '17 

Major/ Minor: Biochemistry
Hometown: Nazareth, PA
Project Advisor(s): Dr. Christopher Jones

“Effect of Bang-sensitive Mutations on Memory in Drosophila melanogaster”

Briefly describe your project.

Recently, I spent the past summer working in the field of genetics,  specifically studying bang-sensitive mutant fruit flies.  These flies experience seizure-like symptoms when they are shaken. I conducted research to see if the mutant flies’ memories were affected by their seizures. Overall, fruit flies go through a very precise mating ritual when courting each other. Males can also experience courtship depression if they are rejected by the female they are attempting to court. I was trying to determine whether the mutant flies also experienced courtship depression, and if they did, if it was in the same capacity as the wild type flies.

Why did you decide to turn your idea into a SOAR project?

I previously earned a degree in Biotechnology from Northampton Community College. I am very interested in the field of genetics and how it relates to medicine.  In order to pursue my Biochemistry degree,  I transferred to Moravian and I was able to take a genetics class. Dr. Jones was my teacher, I really enjoyed his class and the way he taught the subject material.  I thought it would be an invaluable experience to do research in the genetics field. I had approached Dr. Jones about working with him over the summer doing a SOAR project.  He gave me a list of projects that he was working on or had had previous students start. I chose the one which I found the most interesting.  

How did your faculty advisor guide you through your research?

Overall, Dr. Jones guided me in many ways, his help really impacted my research. I enjoy working with Dr. Jones because he challenges you to think about the problem.  He does not approach the situation like there’s only one right way to do it.  He encourages me to problem solve and he does a great job of facilitating discussion about the answer. He doesn’t just want a yes or no answer; he wants you to think about the question.  That challenges me to think about the big picture, as well as the details.

What has been your biggest obstacle so far?

Fruit flies are living organisms and they don’t always do what you want.  My project ended up without any concrete results.  However, it really made me appreciate positive mentality in the workplace.

What has been your biggest takeaway from this experience?

I enjoyed the entire experience that the SOAR program offered me. My goal is to work as a medical researcher in the near future. This opportunity helped me gain more knowledge in my field of interest. I think it has been a valuable experience. I was also able to present at my first academic conference thanks to my participation in SOAR.

What was the result of your project?

Unfortunately, I did not get any concrete results. The experiment I chose was based on previous research. However, I could not get my controls to match what had previously been done. For this reason, I was not really able to spend much time working with the actual mutant flies. However, I definitely learned a lot about patience and problem-solving.

Will you expand on your research after this summer is over? If so, where would you like to see it go?

I am currently working on an Honors Project with Dr. Jones. I am continuing to work with bang-sensitive flies, however, now I am trying to mediate seizure symptoms using various chemical compounds.  These compounds were chosen based on previous success in mammals (e.g. nicotine in rats and CBD in humans). I am not studying memory in mutant flies anymore, but I am still working with them.

In your own words, how do you feel about being awarded this opportunity?

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity SOAR offered me. I was able to work in an environment which facilitated creative thinking, and I was able to work with some amazing peers. I really enjoyed the challenges this unique program offered me, and I learned a lot. I would highly recommend the SOAR program to other students. It is a one of a kind experience which I can never replace.