2020 Virtual Fall Biology Research Symposium (Poster Session)

The poster session of our 2020 Virtual Fall Biology Research Symposium features ecological niche reconstruction research from several our groups who have learned GIS methods in our Ecology Lab course [BIOL 364].

Click on this link to see all of the presentations!



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Grasping the Opportunity: A Research Experience

Brianna Garrett

The last semestester in Biology Research has provided me with amazing experiences I will never forget. I have always been interested in working on a research project, but I did not think I had the skills or experience necessary, especially as a freshman, to be a good candidate for a team. However, when I was given the chance to join Dr. Brokaw’s research team, I knew I needed to take a leap of faith and join. As the only research I had experience with were small high school projects, I had no idea what to expect from participating in college-level research. Even though I did not know what the other side would look like, this leap paid off greatly, and I have been able to learn just as much outside of the classroom as I have learned in the classroom.  

So far I have been able to focus my attention on a single project with Dr. Brokaw, where we have been working to determine the species of unidentified specimens of the plant genus Mentzelia. In order to distinguish species from one another we utilized both the physical characteristics and DNA analyses of the flower specimens. Even though I did not need to learn any new techniques to determine the morphological differences between the specimens, measuring the different flower parts helped with my own understanding of the curriculum being taught in my General Biology I course. In addition to emphasizing curriculum, I have been able to learn many different lab techniques on my journey to determine DNA differences between specimens. Techniques include the process of amplifying DNA through PCR, running a gel electrophoresis, DNA purification, and how to edit raw DNA sequence data and draw conclusions from the resulting sequences.

This new knowledge has not gone to waste, as I have been able to share my findings alongside my labmates Sophia Wagle and Mariana Castillo with the ACU community and beyond. We have had the honor of presenting our research to our peers during the Biology Research Chapel, as well as to fellow researchers at the 2020 Texas Academy of Science Conference:

Wagle, S., Garrett, B., Castillo, M. and Brokaw, J. M.  “Investigating Origins of Enigmatic Populations of Mentzelia Section Trachyphytum (Loasaceae) from Western California, USA.” Annual Meetings of Texas Academy of Science, 2020, Nacogdoches, Texas.

 These experiences have not only allowed me to do things outside my comfort zone, but the process of formally presenting your data to a group of people makes the entire experience even more real. 

    Overall, this last semester of Biology Research has given me opportunities to both learn and grow as a scientist under the direction of Dr. Brokaw. I would encourage anyone who is even slightly interested in Biology Research to entertain their curiosities and join a team. I have learned more this semester than I ever thought I would, and I am looking forward to more research experiences within the Biology Department. 

Mariana Castillo

For the past two semesters, I have been involved in Biology Research with Dr. Brokaw. These past two semesters have been an amazing experience for me in and out of the lab! I have gained so much knowledge and experience for future endeavors in Biology Research here at ACU. After attending a Research Chapel last semester, I was intrigued by the amazing opportunities that other research students have had in the past. Thankfully enough, a friend of mine who was already a part of Biology Research, had mentioned to Dr. Brokaw my interest in his research! I am beyond grateful for the opportunity that Dr. Brokaw gave me by accepting me into his research group! Over the past two semesters, Dr. Brokaw has been an excellent mentor in helping me better understand our research and allowing me to grow along the way. 

So far in our research with Dr. Brokaw, I have been able to work with species of the plant genus Mentzelia from Southern California. Our research included phylogenetic reconstruction based on DNA sequences to identify unknown Mentzelia specimens. As a part of completing research, I have learned the process of amplifying DNA through PCR, gel electrophoresis, and how to edit sequencing data. This past spring semester, I was able to present our research at the Texas Academy of Science Conference, along with Sophia Wagle and Brianna Garrett. It was such an amazing experience and learning opportunity! 

Working in the research lab has taught me many lessons! As a beginner in research, it was important to understand that lab techniques take practice and that not everything was going to be performed correctly the first time! Having patience with yourself and those around you was also something I learned that helped make completing the labs more successful! Being a part of research involves collaboration with other members of your research group. Although there were some unsuccessful moments in the lab, it was an overall learning opportunity for me.

I have always enjoyed being able to share information that I obtain with others. Being able to present our data, and to represent our university was an amazing experience that I hope to experience again! Over these past two semesters, my interest to be a part of Biology Research here at ACU has genuinely increased. I cannot wait for other amazing research opportunities that I may have in the future to further my learning experience. 

Sophia Wagle

Coming into ACU I knew I wanted to participate in research and become experienced working in a laboratory setting. I was happy to come to ACU and find a community of individuals devoted to understanding the world around them through research. I was blessed to find Dr. Brokaw’s research team at the beginning of my freshman year. I was beyond excited to start logging hours in the lab, begin developing new skills, and understanding new aspects of science. Destiny Brokaw, our research tutor, is the first person I met when I embarked on this new experience. 

Destiny was an amazing research mentor and taught me a lot of what I know today. Our research this year included looking into the phylogenetic origins of plant species in the genus Mentzelia. My research subgroup investigated the origins of populations using DNA analysis. I learned how to obtain results using PCR which amplifies the DNA of our collected samples. We also conducted a gel electrophoresis several times allowing me to practice pipetting and using lab technology. I also gained experience with presenting research when we were able to attend the Texas Academy of Sciences Research Conference. 

I have grown to love the process of research and appreciate the time and effort it takes to produce results. I have also been humbled through this process because of the often disappointing results we obtained. If our gel electrophoresis did not produce bands that we could properly analyse, it would certainly remind me to be patient and practice my skills.

I am very thankful to have gained so much experience working in the Brokaw Research Lab. Working in research gave me the opportunity to learn more about the discipline of research and more about myself. The Brokaw Lab has been a great stepping stone towards greater opportunity, and I would suggest participating in research to anyone who is willing to spend the time to learn. 


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Remembering Research Before There Was COVID-19

Kylie Davis 

I have always been interested in science and, in high school, I discovered scientific research. During Wildcat Week at ACU, I went to a job fair and found the Biology Research Club writing down the names of those interested in doing Biology research. I quickly got my name on the list and was soon contacted by Dr. Brokaw. In his lab, I have measured specimens and performed PCR’s, gel electrophoresis, and DNA sequence editing for the plants in Mentzelia section Trachyphytum. We also used principal components analysis (PCA) to show the relationship between a species and its phenotype. 

During the semester we worked weekly on laboratory research and creating a presentation poster. I presented our research findings alongside Meghan Moten in February 2020 at the Annual Meetings of the Texas Academy of Science in Nacogdoches, Texas. The meeting was a fantastic place to present our work and see the presentations of the other attendees in their areas of scientific research. Both Destiny, our research tutor, and Dr. Brokaw were very helpful in getting both involved in research and preparing me for my first poster presentation. 

I was disappointed that we could not continue research after the presentation because of the coronavirus outbreak because I was looking forward to doing more research and getting more experience. However, we submitted a digital version of our poster to the 2020 ACU Virtual Undergraduate Research Festival and won the title of Outstanding Presentation! I love learning new things and researching in a lab. My career goal is to be a scientific researcher so this research opportunity was very enlightening for me, and I am excited to jump into more research in the fall! 

Meghan Moten

Wow! I have never thought I would be here. My incoming spring semester had ended up being an absolute blast and it’s all thanks to my opportunity to do research this semester. It had all started when one of my friends had reached out and persuaded me to do research for the remainder of my fall semester. Naturally, I asked her about her experiences in research, whether it was truly fun or not, and lastly, about the requirements. My friend went above and beyond to tell me how fun, exciting, interesting, non time consuming, and amazing it was. The way she put it, it would be an all out bummer if I chose not to be a part of it. So like anybody who is influenced by someone’s reasonable passion, I decided to try it out. 

While going into the lab for the first time, I did not know what to expect. I was unaware of how long this team of people were working on their research, and I certainly did not want to do anything that would slow their progress, but it was the exact opposite of my worries that happened. First, we were greeted by our lovely student mentor who reassured all of us that we were going to do fine and that it was her goal to lead us every step of the way while ensuring that our head mentor Dr. Brokaw was satisfied. It was from that moment on that I had felt a connection to research and had started to believe in the capabilities that God has entrusted me with. This later led me to accept the offer that Dr. Brokaw has made me and my fellow peers to engage ourselves in a class dedicated to research. 

I have had the honor to study the characteristics of the unidentified voucher plant specimens of the Mentzelia section Trachyphytum that had come from the Southern Coasts of California. My lab group and I had spent countless hours measuring the different components of these voucher specimens with our digital calipers, inserting our data into a nicely organized google sheet, and later making a Principle Component Analysis or PCA, for short, to help us get a better understanding of how these morphological characters of the Mentzelia specimens relate to one another. Later on, I had the opportunity to present my research at Stephen F. Austin University for the Texas Academy of Science conference that the school was hosting.

From a very young age, I always asked the questions that not too many people around me were interested about. One thing I love about research and about science, in general, is the ability for me to feed my curious nature. What makes research even more enlightening is that I am discovering these different types of phenomena before my eyes, and with a bit of guidance, can end up making a completely new discovery. As a former drill team/dance team member, I was well acquainted with the idea of working as a team in terms of creating beautiful art, but from my research experience, I got to see how well established a team can be in the foundation of STEM disciplines. My team and I had done a great job working together and critiquing one another to help us effectively reach our goals. Research is an interesting concept. In my opinion, it is an art that seeks to learn and inform the world around us just like any other art form. As I mentioned before, I had a blast doing research this semester and I encourage anyone who is considering to at least try it out.

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Confusing Variation or Incipient Species?

This fall I was glad to have another opportunity to work with Dr. Brokaw in the research lab. This year we researched the genus Mentzelia, a group including several American flowering plants. Having worked with animal DNA in previous semesters, I was glad I got the chance to study plant life and broaden my experience. I learned how to extract DNA from Mentzelia leaves in a process that involved crushing them up with a pestle and centrifuging them while treating it with different washes before and in between intervals of the spinning. I was prepared well for other procedures involved after that process, such as prepping the DNA for the PCR from my research sessions with Dr. Brokaw and other research students where we took a closer look at DNA from the rodent genus Thomasomys

I saw parallels between the two projects, not only in that similar methods were used, but because for the Thomasomys research we had extracted DNA from the mitochondria of the animals, and this semester we took our Mentzelia DNA from the chloroplast, which is believed to have a similar origin to the mitochondria. This semester our results were not as conclusive as we had hoped they would be, so we could not prepare a poster; however, this means there is opportunity for research to be continued in this area by future groups. 

That being said, there were some findings and interesting observations that took place. For instance, we saw that species M. gracilenta bears a strong (almost indistinguishable) resemblance to M. pectinata, but since we were able to count their chromosomes, we could tell the two apart. Likewise, we observed that there are differences between the northern and southern populations of M. gracilenta and that these variants may well be separate species and even play different roles in their respective ecologies. As Dr. Brokaw put it, “I guess we still do not fully understand species boundaries (if they exist) between some of these things.” 

Another thing that caught our interest was that some of the samples of M. lindleyi were found in vertic clay and with orange petals; both of these are atypical for the species. We believe this might be an example of incipient speciation (which many forget still happens today) or that these samples might be a hybrid of M. lindleyi with another plant. On a related note, we found that both M. lindleyi and M. gracilenta samples collected in the Griswold Hills – Ciervo Hills region were unlike the more standard examples of their respective species and that the climate they were growing in was abnormal as well. Another thing to consider was that there is likely cross-breeding going on between the different Mentzelia species in these areas, which makes distinguishing between the different types and defining what exactly is characteristic of an individual species difficult. Further research is needed to give us more clarity on the subject.

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Digging Deeper, Branching Out

For the past two semesters, I have had the most amazing experience being involved in Biology Research. I had been interested in research in the past, but had never gained the courage to ask how to be a part of this opportunity until the beginning of my sophomore year. We were presented all of the research opportunities at a Research Chapel, and I had felt compelled to take the chance. I decided to reach out to Dr. Brokaw, and I am extremely grateful that I did. Dr. Brokaw has gone above and beyond as a research mentor and has provided me with opportunities that have helped me grow in so many ways.

Thus far, I have been able to work with the South American rodent genus Thomasomys and along the way have learned the process of amplifying DNA through PCR, how primers anneal to DNA sequences, gel electrophoresis, DNA purification, and how to edit sequence data and acquire phylogenies from them. I was able to present some of our data at the Texas Society of Mammalogists Conference this past spring with Dr. Tom Lee and Hannah Seah and loved being able to present what we had been working on to others.

Sharing knowledge and data that you have obtained with others is something that is of great importance to me, and it was an amazing experience to be involved in. Research has taught me that experience and practice are essential in the research lab just like they are in other parts of life. When I had first started learning about the process and techniques of PCR and gel electrophoresis, there were disappointing moments when bands didn’t show up in the gels like they should. Learning these techniques required practice and patience, but the work has been well worth it.

My desire to gain more experiences working in the research lab here at ACU has led to many exciting opportunities to acquire knowledge and learn new research protocols. Toward the end of this past semester I have been able to work with cave bacterial isolates in the genus Pseudomonas and South American species of the plant genus Mentzelia, and I couldn’t be more thankful for Dr. Brokaw and Dr. Huddleston for taking the time and having the patience to work with me and mentor me in something I have found deeply interesting.

Biology Research is something I will always recommend to people interested in learning more and who love biology. I have had an amazing time learning so many new things this past year and can’t wait for all of the new experiences and opportunities to learn from in the coming years!


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The journey of Bacterial Identification continues…

Ben Bernanke, an economist at the Brookings Institute once said “the research itself provides an important long-run perspective on the issues that we face on a day-to-day basis.” While thinking about writing this blog, this quote reminded me of the experience I have had with my work as a biology research student. Before I began to understand and experience this statement, I was really enthusiastic about being part of research, excited to do hands-on work, work with microorganisms and use the new research gadgets available at our new lab, and to top it all to “find something.” Frankly, isn’t that we all hope to do or achieve someday? I remember starting my research work at the beginning of Fall 2016. I wanted to be a part of finding something, without anticipating the day-to-day issues and hurdles that I would be facing.

Reflecting on my experiences from the last three semesters, this semester was rather less exciting. To quickly summarized, during Spring of 2017, our team had learned a new technique of bacterial DNA extraction, which involved utilizing additional steps within the experiment compared to that of the regular bacterial DNA extraction method. We also learned and understood the PCR technique and gel electrophoresis.  In addition, the biggest lesson from this experience was to have patience and to be more focused on accuracy of experiment rather than aiming to get quick results. Once we had learned this aspect of research, we were able to actually identify a few species of cave bacteria. I can say that this was a consolation price, which I was glad to receive after numerous failed attempts.

For Fall 2017, we were looking forward to being more cautious and using reliable techniques in order to ensure we got more results during this semester. Since we were able to identify one bacterium in Fall 2016 and one in Spring 2017, our aim was to identify a set of bacteria this semester using the same technique we had mastered last semester. But as always, surprises and setbacks are an integral part of research, and this was confirmed once again this semester. We were glad to welcome a new student on our group. We felt good that we were able to show and explain to him some of the skills that we had been able to learn over the last two semesters. Hence, we spent a lot of time trying to teach the techniques of PCR, gel electrophoresis and DNA extraction; most of our lab time in the Fall of 2017 was spent in practicing these techniques rather than being focused on getting results. I am sure many would agree that good teaching and being a good researcher go hand and hand. This is because the researchers should have the ability to explain the results of their research in a way that another person can understand and interpret. I sometimes wonder if I can positively say that this statement applies to me. I know that I possess the skills to do experiments and get results despite the struggles; however, I cannot positively say that I am a good teacher yet.

Nonetheless, the biggest take away for me from this semester was the reminder that we are gaining a “long-run perspective,” and that, as a researcher, it is wise to keep this in our mind always.

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An Ongoing Journey to Identify Cave Bacteria

Transferring from a community college, the amount of lab work and experience that I had been exposed to, was always limited to the curriculum of the classes that I was enrolled to take in a given semester. In all honesty, I have to admit that I always enjoyed the labs and the hands-on experiences so much that I remember saying that I wish there was an opportunity as a student to do more in the labs. Part of this is because the best way for me to learn is by doing and applying the theory and concepts in real life scenarios. To me science is fascinating, but it’s even more exciting when I can see it taking place right in front of me. As a pre-dental student, on my first semester at ACU I started considering the possibility of applying to DDS (dental school)-PhD dual programs because I truly enjoyed working in the lab, and I came to know that ACU students had the opportunity to participate in doing research projects under the guidance and supervision of a faculty mentor in different ongoing projects in the department. As I expressed my interest to Dr. Joshua Brokaw, the following semester (Fall 2016) he allowed me to join as a volunteer in one of the teams working on a rather new microbiology project, identifying bacteria from the Sorcerer’s cave located at Terrell county, Texas.

The Fall 2016 experience was the opposite to what any of my previous experiences had been in the class setting and far opposite to what I was expecting the experience to be. I was used to following the instructions of the professor, to be told what was to be expected and if something was wrong, one knew exactly what was the problem (almost like following a cooking recipe!). But research works completely different. To start, I have to learn the PCR technique, which I learn from one of the upper classmen working in our group as well as with the help of Dr. Brokaw. The first two months we met in the lab I felt scared, intimidated and clueless with all the equipment, the steps when doing PCR, Gel electrophoresis and the work required from our group. To make things worse (or at least I thought of it this way then!) the protocol that our group was following to extract the DNA was not working, therefore we were not getting results. I have to admit that at one given point I was so frustrated and disappointed at myself that I remember thinking that after all maybe the lab work was not 100% for me and certainly there was nothing fun about it or the feeling of failure! That first semester we spent the whole time trying to figure out what was the best way to make the KOH-EDTA DNA extraction protocol work. For this, we tried different ways to take the bacterial samples, we used different amounts of bacteria samples and even different amounts of chemical used. None of the PCR’s our group did worked, it was only with Dr. Brokaw’s help that we were able to identify one species of bacteria (Pseudomonas vranovensis) after a whole semester worth of work. Even though I was somewhat disappointed at myself and thought I had been wasting my time, during the evaluation process at the end of the semester I realized six main things:

  • Things will not always be what we expect, but we decide to make adjustments and learn from the struggles.
  • It can be easy to quit out of frustration, but research takes dedication, perseverance and a lot of effort. Only by having those qualities can one continue to work despite the errors or disappointments.
  • Team work is important, but equally important is to push oneself to learn what needs to be done, to be reliable and to work independently.
  • It is ok to start all over if it’s necessary and keep trying until one gets the results one needs.
  • Most importantly, I learned to have a little bit more patience with myself, and others. Learning to be patient and relying on others can also be a humbling process.
  • The one result we got at the end of the semester was so exciting and rewarding that probably if it had been an easy task I would not have valued it as much as I did at the end.

Thus, despite the struggles I decided to keep working on the project and give myself the chance to keep learning not only science and lab techniques but also learning from others and life. I decided then to continue to work on the project the following semester.

During Spring 2017, we not only started the year with a new protocol but, to add to the excitement, we also worked in a new facility, The Halbert-Walling Research Center. Although everything was new, it was also equally frustrating to have everything disorganized, from finding the specimens to ensuring proper working of the machines and equipment. Reorganizing by itself took a couple of weeks out of our schedule and put us behind on our research. One of the things which also set us behind was the utilization of new protocol (E.Z.N.A. DNA extraction kit) that required the bacterial cultures to be incubated in LB broth. This DNA extraction method was more extensive in the required steps, and the fact that none of us had ever used or done it also added to the delay. The first time we did the extraction the whole process took around six hours, just to extract the DNA. However, after performing couple of PCRs and gel electrophoresis, we were able to see that we were obtaining some results. This was very rewarding but also frustrating as the results we got were inconclusive, indicating possible error in the PCR process (technique). At this point we were trying to work as much as we could in order to be ready for the annual Research Festival, given the length of the procedure and the need for repetitions, we were able to identify only one type of bacteria (Pseudomonas clororaffis) for this second semester. Even though we did not obtain a large amount of results, we were still able to identify an effective way to obtain the DNA required to do a PCR that will yield accurate results, which in turn led to the bacterial identification.

Our ability to identify this effective way of DNA extraction by using a new, untested protocol by our lab was perhaps the biggest success for the semester. For the next academic year, our focus will be on obtaining better quantity and quality of data which will aid in identifying all of the bacteria found in this cave.

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Cytochrome b Sequencing of Thomasomys

I did not join in research at ACU until my senior year. Although I do wish I had gotten involved sooner, I am glad to have gained what experience I did and know that I will carry what I have learned here into my future endeavors. It was also great to apply what I have learned in my classes here to actual hands-on experience. This allowed me to take the concepts I had learned about and turn it into something real.

In fall 2016, I joined with two others to begin work with sequencing the Cytochrome B (CytB) gene from Thomasomys specimens collected by Dr. Lee in Ecuador just the summer before. One member of the group had much more experience than me or the other member and served as a leader to both of us. In spring 2017, though, my group changed and I began working jointly with a team sequencing the RAG1 gene from the same specimens as I have been working with. They were definitely helpful to me as much as they were able to be, but this semester I have had to work more on my own and develop my independence. This was somewhat terrifying as I had no one to fall back on if I made a mistake, but also liberating as I became more able to rely on my own knowledge and skills. Most weeks I was performing either a PCR or a gel electrophoresis, but I also performed one or two other tasks, including cleaning the DNA samples.

I also got to experience the Texas Academy of Sciences conference this spring. The RAG1 team and I presented a poster together, which allowed us all to practice our presentation skills and also to learn more about the research project itself. It was especially enlightening to see the research going on at other universities. I was able to connect every oral presentation I attended and every poster I looked at to something I have learned over the past years here at ACU, which was an amazing feeling.

Hannah (2nd from right) and collaborators at the 2017 Texas Academy of Science Meetings

Overall, my experience of biology research over the past two semesters has been very positive and has taught me several skills which will be useful to me in the future. Among the most valuable lessons I picked up here, though, are working with a team as well as the importance of independence and self-reliance. I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in research here.

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Identifying Bacteria Isolated from Sorcerer’s Cave

Editor’s Note: This blog was composed by Whitney Brantley and Claire Shudde through a research collaboration with Olivia Dahl and Stephanie Sariles.

Sorcerer’s Cave, deepest cave in Texas


As a biology major at ACU, students are given several opportunities to get involved with the department. One of the biggest opportunities students can choose is to participate in is undergraduate research under the supervision of a biology professor. Many of my fellow classmates joined research teams their freshmen and sophomore year, but it wasn’t until my junior year that I chose to get involved with biology research. The fall of 2016, I had the privilege of joining a research team under Dr. Joshua Brokaw and Dr. Diana Flanagan in which we worked to identify unknown cave bacteria isolates that were collected from Sorcerer’s Cave in Terrel County, Texas. Our project was a small part in a larger research project conducted by Dr. Jennifer Huddleston, in which other teams used these isolates to test for antibiotic production or resistance. When I first began working on this research team, I honestly did not think I would find much interest in my work. I thought research would only be another simple extracurricular activity I am involved in. However, I was quickly proven wrong.

Our research was centered on extracting bacterial DNA and amplifying it through PCR. In the lab, Dr. Flanagan taught us several basic techniques of extracting DNA and setting up PCR reactions along with gel electrophoresis. We used these techniques every week for the next two semesters. After weeks of several hours in the lab and attempting many direct DNA extractions, we consistently received no positive bands in our gels to send for identification. To my surprise, I actually began to get frustrated with these results, and wanted to work even harder to receive positive DNA bands. After many more failed attempts by the entire team, we soon switched to a new extraction technique using a KOH-EDTA method. With high hopes about this technique, we spent more hours in the lab and continued to work diligently. However, after a few weeks, the frustration continued as our results only proved to be inconsistent and varying.

With only a few weeks until our fall research presentation and no consistent data to present, Dr. Flanagan decided to run a few PCRs and gels to test the two techniques we had previously used. Surprisingly, her results came back with four positive bands for unknown isolates using the KOH-EDTA method. This proved that our current method actually did work, but our team was making technique errors that were affecting our results. We were given the option to stop research and present Dr. Flanagan’s results, or try one more set of PCR reactions and gel electrophoresis. Determined to obtain positive results ourselves, our team decided to try once more two weeks before our presentation to receive positive results. I clearly remember the change in our attitudes that research day as each member tried to focus a little extra on each pipette attempt made. Two days after our PCR reaction, we checked our results with gel electrophoresis, and all received positive bands of DNA! It was such an exciting moment in our research to feel our hard work pay off. These PCR samples were then cleaned and sent to Yale DNA Analysis to be identified just in time for our presentation.

Continuing into the 2017 spring semester, our team switched to a new extraction technique using a Zymo DNA extraction kit. We have been able to obtain several new positive results in just a short time using this accurate kit and presented eight identified cave bacteria isolates at the ACU Undergraduate Research Festival. Of all the research topics presented at the research festival, ours may have had little importance, but I along with my fellow team members were extremely proud of our work. These past two semesters of working with these cave bacteria have taught me that biology research is not the least bit uninteresting. On the other hand, research has the power to teach you lessons and spark new interests. This time spent involved with microbiology research taught me patience and determination truly do pay off. It also showed me that cave bacteria and gel electrophoresis can actually be exciting and rewarding!

2016 Fall Poster Session


When I was five, I watched a documentary about scientists. All I remember from it were petri dishes with bacteria growing on them, but I knew I wanted to do that when I grew up. A few months before I came to ACU as a freshman, I was put in contact with Dr. Joshua Brokaw regarding the possibility of doing research with the Biology Department. Thankfully, he added me to the list of people doing research in the fall.

The semester had barely begun when Dr. Brokaw broke everyone into groups and assigned projects. My group was working with Dr. Diana Flanagan on identifying unknown cave bacteria isolated from Sorcerer’s Cave. In the group of four, I was the youngest and the least experienced. I was certain that this would be a semester of shadowing and dishwashing. However, I was completely wrong. I was immediately learning techniques right along with the other students. The process took two weeks. The first week we would attempt to replicate the bacterial DNA running a PCR, and the second week we would check to see if we had successfully replicated the DNA by running a gel electrophoresis. The first time we went through this cycle, I successfully replicated the DNA of one of my samples. This was incredibly exciting. The excitement was short-lived, as we were unable to replicate the DNA using that technique again.

After a month of unsuccessful DNA replication, Dr. Flanagan revised the experiment. This, too, was mainly unsuccessful, and I grew to be quite disappointed in both the research and in myself. This is when I learned an important lesson: research is not always easy. It can be somewhat depressing when results don’t always come about the way you would like them. However, this motivated us to find another way to make things work. A setback in research is not the end of the world, instead it is an encouragement to determine how to overcome. We overcame the obstacle of not replicating DNA at the very end of the semester. We fine-tuned our technique and were able to identify four of the cave isolates.

Using a different DNA extraction technique during the Spring semester, we were able to positively identify four more cave isolates after only one try. After preparing our poster for the Undergraduate Research Festival, we presented the research at the beginning of April. It was an exciting experience. I was able to share the things that I had learned over the past eight months, which is one of the main benefits to research. Research is hard, but definitely worth it. Undergraduate research has given me lab experience that will help in graduate school and later as a scientist. It has been a rewarding year of doing research, and I am excited to continue next semester.


2017 ACU Undergraduate Research Festival


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ACU Wildlife Society Spotlight

This January The Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society featured the ACU Wildlife Society and our research projects in its monthly newsletter!

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