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BHSU students and faculty present at Ecological Genomics Symposium

Students and faculty from Black Hills State University recently presented at the Eighth Annual Ecological Genomics Symposium in Kansas City, Mo. Jason Nies (left), graduate student from Spearfish, and Jordan Sheets (right), graduate student from Vacaville, Calif., discuss their presentation at the symposium.

Students and faculty from Black Hills State University recently presented at the Eighth Annual Ecological Genomics Symposium in Kansas City, Mo.

Seven students enrolled in the ecological genomics course at BHSU, a core course in the Integrative Genomics graduate program, presented their research that is part of an ongoing project on natural range limits of plants. The project was initiated by the original cohort of graduate students in 2006 when the graduate program began.

Graduate students presenting at the symposium included Joey McAllister, Choctaw, Okla.; Jason Nies, Spearfish; Jordan Sheets, Vacaville, Calif.; Kyle Kennedy, Lake City, Minn.; Amanda Murphy, Rapid City; and advanced undergraduates Sierra Parker, Gillette, Wyo.; and Nick VanAsma, Piedmont. Dr. David Siemens, associate professor of biology, and instructor of Ecological Genomics, co-presented.

“We presented two papers -- one showed that competitive interactions outside a range may create genetic constraints between signaling pathways, and another on epigenetics, which are environmentally induced effects that are inherited. The students think that epigenetic effects might be a way to circumvent the genetic constraints. The projects give students experience with the key concepts and techniques emphasized in the course,” Siemens said.

“Integrative genomics is an interdisciplinary approach to science, and ecological genomics is a mix between ecology and molecular biology, or big biology and little biology,” said Siemens. “Traditionally these disciplines have been separate and have actually fought with one another, but at institutions like BHSU, which pride themselves in innovative teaching and research, scientists are trying to mix them for a more thorough understanding of questions that concern both disciplines.”

On the way to the symposium, the group toured the research facilities at the new Sanford Research Medical Center in Sioux Falls and the Konza Prairie long-term ecological research station in Manhattan, Kan.

“Medicine is leading the way in molecular techniques, and Konza is well-known for ecological research. The different tours represented the two disciplines that the course mixes. The tours set the tone for the symposium,” Siemens added.

The trip was funded by a recent National Science Foundation grant awarded to Siemens that also funds stipends for the graduate students.

When asked what was next for the student project, Siemens replied “I’m trying to acquire external funding for experimental plant growth facilities in the new science building on campus. Without these facilities, the project cannot continue.”

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