A pair of senior Longwood biology majors were chosen to participate in one of the most prestigious research showcases in the country.
Kathryn Bates and Dori Tignor’s multigenerational study of environmental and hereditary effects of motherhood within a rodent population was exhibited at the exclusive Posters on the Hill event last month, which showcases work by just 60 undergraduate researchers from across the country.
Bates and Tignor, both members of the class of 2021, have worked in Dr. Adam Franssen’s neuro-biology lab for years—Tignor starting in her freshman year and Bates the year after. Their research looks at the effects of how mother rats care for their pups and how environmental factors can contribute to enhanced behavior over several generations.
Put simply, what are the long-term effects of motherhood and environmental enrichment on developing rat pups? And do those effects get passed on to the next generation?
Dori and Kathryn’s work this year has been nothing short of amazing. They have dealt with an incredible amount of adversity stemming from the pandemic, but have approached it all with grace and a can-do attitude that kept them moving forward.Dr. Adam Franssen Tweet This
“We test them on a number of different measures,” said Bates. “We are looking for spatial awareness, memory, anxiety, and resiliency in rats who have different experiences—good moms and bad moms; enriched and non-enriched environments. The pups go through a number of different behavioral tests and we carefully observe their behaviors.”
Their favorite test: an X-shaped structure with two “safe” sides with high walls and a dark corner, and two “danger” sides where the bravest rats can venture into the open. By measuring how much time each rodent spends in the “danger” areas versus the “safe” spots, Bates and Tignor can measure how much anxiety they are able to deal with. That data is then compared with the environment and type of mother that the pup experienced.
“The idea was to study four or five generations to reveal some observations about how mothers pass on genes, and how learning and memory are linked,” said Tignor. “The broad scope of the project got interrupted by the pandemic over the past year, but we were able to complete a good portion of what we originally set out to do and were overjoyed that the project was accepted by Posters on the Hill. I think it will really help grad schools see that we are capable professional researchers as we take the next steps in our careers.”
Posters on the Hill is put on annually by the federal Council on Undergraduate Research, which supports and promotes high-level mentored undergraduate research, scholarship and creative inquiry. Typically, posters are presented on Capitol Hill and researchers present their findings to lawmakers, staffers, and the public gathered there. This year, the event was held virtually at cur.org.
“Dori and Kathryn’s work this year has been nothing short of amazing,” said Franssen, associate professor of biology. “They have dealt with an incredible amount of adversity stemming from the pandemic, but have approached it all with grace and a can-do attitude that kept them moving forward. They plowed through almost two semesters worth of work in just one, which is crazy. I’m proud that they have been recognized by the Council on Undergraduate Research and know they are going on to great careers in research.”
Bates ‘21, of Durham, N.C., is majoring in biology and psychology with a minor in neurostudies. Tignor ‘21, of Glen Allen, is majoring in biology and is a LifeSTEM student. Both are members of the Cormier Honors College for Citizen Scholars.