Recent Advances in Biology: Comparative Analysis

On Monday, May 8, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Associate Professor of Biology Jamie Lyman Gingerich presented her research at Lawrence University. The presentation was titled, “Zebrafish, C. elegans and Human Polycystic Kidney Disease: Identifying Potential Disease Biomarkers through Comparative Analysis.” It was held in Steitz Hall Room 102 from 3:10 to 4:10 p.m.

Dr. Lyman Gingerich earned her Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She earned her undergraduate degree in biology at Kalamazoo College—a private, undergraduate institution similar in size to Lawrence in Kalamazoo, Mich. At Kalamazoo, Dr. Lyman Gingerich said, “I learned to ask questions, think broadly and develop a diverse skill set.” She went on to say, “Working in science requires so much more than simply having ‘good hands’ at the bench: you have to be able to communicate well, work with others who may have different perspectives or approaches and apply knowledge from diverse fields. One challenge for me was learning about lab culture and the different roles in a research lab. Because we had only undergraduates at Kalamazoo College, the opportunity to do research at an R1 university and interact with graduate students and post-docs before going to graduate school, was a key part of my success when I did pursue my doctorate.”

Polycystic kidney disease has symptoms that include the development of cysts in the kidneys and high blood pressure. It is considered a genetic disease as specific versions of inherited genes have been linked to this disease. Genes encode proteins that are needed for cellular functions. The versions of the genes in individuals who develop polycystic kidney disease encode altered proteins that affect these cellular functions, leading to the health problems associated with the disease.

Dr. Lyman Gingerich’s research focuses on how the versions of genes associated with polycystic kidney disease affect the function of cilia—a cell structure crucial to vision, heart, and kidney function in humans. Her lab uses nematode worms known as C. elegans, and fish known as zebrafish to identify these genes and study their effects.

Dr. Lyman Gingerich became interested in researching polycystic kidney disease after working with a lab studying polycystic kidney disease using C. elegans. When asked what she likes best about working with the nematodes and fish, Dr. Lyman Gingerich said, “I think that the variety of scientific questions that can be explored with C. elegans and zebrafish is amazing. I have to admit—I am still fascinated by watching a zebrafish embryo develop from a single cell into a complex organism.” Senior Brenna Ori, majoring in biology and history, commented that she was interested in the use of two different model organisms in Dr. Lyman Gingerich’s research on polycystic kidney disease.

One of Dr. Lyman Gingerich’s teaching interests is “inquiry-driven science education.” She said, “I enjoy the opportunity to mentor the next generation of scientists.” As an assistant professor of Biology at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Dr. Lyman Gingerich works with undergraduate students in her research lab. She said, “It is rewarding to see my students succeed, whether that be finding something novel in the lab, telling the story of their science at research conferences, or pursuing their passion after graduation (even when that passion isn’t science).” She continued, “Sometimes, it is hard to let students graduate—when students open new avenues for our research, I wish that they could stay in the lab.”

Ori commented that current science research presentations given at Lawrence help students understand “our own research as well as introduc[ing] us to new ideas and techniques we may not otherwise learn about.” Dr. Lyman Gingerich also commented on her own experience in attending research seminars as an undergraduate. She said that a speaker at a research seminar “sparked questions in my mind that started me on my path to becoming a trained scientist. It would be incredible if I could pay it forward.”