FCRH Undergraduate Research Symposium

Fordham College at Rose Hill

Welcome to the 2021 FCRH Undergraduate Research Symposium Poster Session! Presenters will be available live from 2:00-3:00, 4:00-5:00, or have recorded their presentations. Thank you so much for visiting our students' amazing work!


More info: https://
Show Posters:

Decreasing Stress With Writing Exercises

Andres Salgado and Amy Roy

Abstract
A large body of research has demonstrated that writing interventions, specifically expressive writing, can help students cope with anxiety and stress and positively impact academic performance. The current research study adapted an expressive writing exercise from Rozek et al. (2019) to be used with students enrolled in Introduction to Biology courses at Fordham University. In light of previous findings, we hypothesized that students in the expressive writing intervention would show fewer depressive symptoms, lower stress levels, less test anxiety, and better exam grades than students in a control condition. Moreover, we predicted that differences between students in the expressive writing intervention and those in the control condition would be greater for underrepresented minority (URM) students than others. Thirty-nine students in Introduction to Biology agreed to participate in the study. Students were randomly assigned to either the expressive writing or control condition. Participants completed a brief battery of questionnaires on Qualtrics assessing stress, test anxiety, and depressive symptoms at 3 time points (beginning, middle, and end of the fall semester). No significant effects of the expressive writing intervention were demonstrated for measures of stress, test anxiety, or depression. Unexpectedly, students in the expressive writing intervention scored lower than students in the control group on midterm and final exams. Results did support increased stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms in URM students. Although primary study hypotheses were not supported, the current study can serve as a basis for future work aiming to use expressive writing to reduce student stress and improve academic performance.
Presented by
Andres Salgado
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Psychology

"The Tyranny of Their Mirrors": Social Backgrounds and Variations in Conservative Judicial Philosophies

Andrew Millman

Abstract
This project seeks to examine and compare the judicial behaviors of the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court, especially John Roberts and Neil Gorsuch, through the lens of their social backgrounds and opinion-writing and -joining patterns. The research for this project focused on the frequency with which all nine justices on the high court joined each other’s opinions and were joined by each other justice, as well as a control group of three earlier Supreme Court terms for comparison. This is the best indicator of whether justices are in alignment on a case, not just on the outcome but also the reasoning behind the outcome. I will lay out four hypotheses relating to either Roberts or Gorsuch and how their social backgrounds influence their jurisprudence in ways that deviate from the expected and then use this research to confirm or reject those hypotheses. In doing so, this project seeks to shed light on a set of Supreme Court justices, especially among the conservative bloc, whose votes seem increasingly harder to predict. As seen in recent terms, there is no longer a single usual swing vote, as there might have been in the past, but at least two conservative justices who are liable to side with liberals on certain cases. This research seeks to determine on what issues and in what circumstances those unexpected votes occur.
Presented by
Andrew Millman
Institution
Fordham University, Political Science Department

Employee Participation, Productivity, and Public Goods: A Real-Effort Experiment

Andrew Souther, Subha Mani, Utteeyo Dasgupta

Abstract
In a traditional workplace the employer dictates the task to employees, who decide on an effort level in response. In this project, we investigate the impact of worker autonomy over task. Our laboratory experiment mimics a stylized workplace where, in stage 1, subjects are offered a choice between multiple real-effort tasks. Across treatments, we vary the amount of control subjects are offered in choosing the task. In stage 2, subjects choose to allocate a portion of their future earnings from the task into a public good. In stage 3, subjects complete the real effort task along with a survey. By varying the amount of employee participation in stage 1, we have experimentally isolated the effect of worker autonomy on worker’s productivity, pro-social behavior, and job satisfaction. Further, we can ask: is there a behavioral difference between meaningful participation in this process, compared to the simple effect of completing the task you wished to complete? Our experiment design allows us to untangle these subtleties in the concept of autonomy.
Presented by
Andrew Souther
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Economics

The Criminal Justice Reform Movement in New York: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Caitlyn Humann

Abstract
Prison reform has been a contentious issue in the United States since the eighteenth century. Yet despite the countless attempts to reform the prison system, many Americans believe that people are put into prisons that are unfit to live in. Punishments on a racial bias, inhumane living conditions, and increased risk of reincarceration are just some flaws of the American prison system. Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, which was first reported to have infected a New Yorker in March 2020, inaction by government officials is more troubling than ever before as the virus continues to spread throughout ill-equipped correctional facilities. Unfortunately, that means that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recently proposed Criminal Justice Reform legislation that has been in motion since 2018 has been inactive. Advocates say his actions don’t match his redemptive tone. This research investigates how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the success of the Criminal Justice Reform Movement in New York, specifically regarding Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recently proposed Criminal Justice Reform legislation. Drawing on qualitative data from 2018 to 2021 regarding various criminal justice reform advocacy groups and NYS legislation, this analysis also uncovers how various criminal justice reform advocacy groups were affected by the pandemic and have since transformed their advocacy strategies and found new mobilizing structures. This study contributes to social movement literature by underscoring the importance of flexibility and attentiveness when it comes to advocating for policy reform.
Presented by
Caitlyn Humann
Institution
Rose Hill Honors Program, Fordham College Rose Hill

Heart Specific Knockout of Mitochondrial RNaseZ and its Impact on Drosophila Heart Morphology

Cameron Wolschina, Ekaterina Migunova, Edward Dubrovsky

Abstract
Mutations in the human ELAC2 gene produce a dangerous form of cardiac pathology- infantile hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). This gene codes for RNaseZ enzyme which is critical in assisting with the maturation of tRNA. RNaseZ also functions in both the nucleus and the mitochondria. In patients carrying mutations in ELAC2, RNaseZ activity was impaired and they displayed complications like heart disease and mitochondrial dysfunction. Even though this correlation was observed, it is still unknown whether mitochondrial dysfunction is what causes heart disease. Fly homology and protein function is similar to that of humans, allowing us to study RNaseZ activity in the fly model. The purpose of this study is to observe the importance of RNaseZ in mitochondrial function by knocking out the enzyme in mitochondria of heart cells only, allowing it to retain its normal function in the nucleus. I hypothesized that this heart specific mitochondrial knockout of RNaseZ would have an effect on the fly’s heart morphology. Using CRISPR technology, a heart specific promoter and the Cas9 enzyme introduced a heart specific mitochondrial RNaseZ knockout into the flies. These knockout flies were observed and found to be viable into adulthood, so were prepared for histological methods. Following this procedure, the cross sections of the fly hearts were collected and analyzed. Here I present my findings from the observed differences in the fly heart morphology. Gathering this data is significant in further understanding the development of HCM in flies, ultimately providing insight on how it functions in humans as well.
Presented by
Cameron Wolschina
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Biological Sciences

Molecular Dynamics Simulations of Peptide Bolaamphiphile Self-Assembly with Varying Alkyl Chain Lengths

Charlotta G. Lebedenko and Ipsita A. Banerjee

Abstract
Peptide bolaamphiphiles are excellent nanomaterials for biomedical applications due to their highly tunable structures and high biocompatibility. This study uses in silico methods to examine four asymmetric peptide bolaamphiphiles with tryptophan and serine amino acid headgroups. The bolaamphiphiles vary in the length of their hydrophobic alkyl chain that connects the headgroups, consisting of five, seven, nine, or twelve carbons. Self-assembly was studied using molecular dynamics simulations in GROMACS and Desmond, and properties of bolaamphiphiles were examined using COSMO-RS and ADME studies. United atom molecular dynamics simulations in water were run using the GROMOS 54A7 united atom forcefield in GROMACS to examine the early stages of molecular self-assembly into aggregates and nanostructures of various shapes and sizes in low pH conditions. Simulations ran for 100ns, and both the structural and kinetic aspects of self-assembly were analyzed to evaluate the effects of varying alkyl chains on the shapes and stability of structures formed. Atomistic molecular dynamics simulations in water and 0.15M NaCl were run on Desmond to show interactions at varying pH levels and in the presence of a phosphatidylcholine membrane. The results indicate these assemblies are stable at low concentrations, low pH, in physiological salt levels, and in the presence of biological membranes whereas they are unstable in higher pH conditions, suggesting potential for future drug delivery applications. The differences among the varying alkyl chain lengths suggest the ability to fine tune the nanoassemblies, revealing potential applications in scaffolds for tissue engineering.
Presented by
Charlotta Lebedenko
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Chemistry

Quantification of brain-wide inputs to accumbens cholinergic interneurons

Christine Lim, Jenna Yeisley, and Eduardo Gallo

Abstract
Motivational dysfunction is implicated in various neuropsychiatric disorders including drug addiction and ADHD. Characterizing the neuronal populations underlying these altered brain pathways promises insight into potential cellular targets for therapeutic intervention. Nucleus accumbens (NAc) cholinergic interneurons (CINs) have emerged as important modulators of reward-related behavior given their widespread influence on other key neurons and dopamine release in this region. Their neuroanatomical circuitry, however, remains to be fully defined.

The goal of my research project was to generate a brain-wide neuroanatomical ‘map’ of the neurons directly innervating NAc CINs. Our method involves injection of a recombinant virus into the brains of transgenic mice to specifically infect and trace NAc CINs and their immediate inputs. After performing immunohistochemistry and imaging serial sections from 3 mouse brains with fluorescence microscopy, we identified ~200 different brain regions directly contacting NAc CINs.

Using third-party deep learning-based software, we then transformed the 2D serial sections into a 3D volume and mapped these image reconstructions to a universal mouse brain atlas. This enables detection and quantification of NAc CIN input cells by brain region in an accurate and replicable manner. Major input brain regions include prefrontal cortex, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, centrolateral amygdala, and lateral hypothalamus, all of which have been linked to reward seeking.

This quantitative 'mapping' of monosynaptic projections to NAc CINs will inform subsequent studies on the functional contributions of CIN inputs to different aspects of motivated behavior. Such information may advance the search of neurobiological substrates for treatment of motivational dysfunction.
Presented by
Christine Lim
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Biological Sciences

Archaeological Reconstruction Drawings of Medieval London

Clare Lewis

Abstract
This project entails identifying, cataloguing, and researching archaeological reconstruction drawings of medieval London for the Visual Sources section of Fordham’s Medieval Londoners database. The Medieval Londoners website is a collaborative project dedicated to assembling resources about medieval London for the purpose of research and education. The Visual Sources section will provide a searchable catalog of images relating to medieval London including paintings, maps, illuminated manuscripts, and other images. Archaeological reconstruction drawings are often commissioned to enrich published archaeological excavation reports, or to better illustrate historical scenes in books and on websites. Based on archaeological findings, as well as historical descriptions of buildings, streets, and other architectural features, these artistic renderings incorporate other elements like figures to give the images a more realistic, lifelike quality that helps to contextualize scenes of everyday activities in medieval London. Currently, these reconstruction drawings are spread out among various websites and print sources. Although they are valuable resources, the disjointed nature of their records makes it difficult to identify the source and original context of each image. This project will, for the first time, bring together references and descriptions of these reconstruction drawings in one searchable location with full metadata to provide easier access for researchers, educators, and students studying medieval London. In order to further develop the Visual Sources site, this project will also leave a comprehensive body of research notes to facilitate future additions to the archaeological reconstruction drawings collection.
Presented by
Clare Lewis <clewis55@fordham.edu>
Institution
Center for Medieval Studies

HCM Phenotype Associated with Mutant RNaseZ in Flies

Cyanne Runyon, Ekaterina Migunova, Edward Dubrovsky

Abstract
In Dr. Dubrovsky’s Drosophila lab at Fordham University, I have been studying how heart tissues containing ELAC2-related hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) mutations contribute to the HCM phenotype. HCM is a disease that causes the heart muscles to thicken, making it more difficult for the heart to contract. This disease can be fatal in human infants. Some mutations in the ELAC2 protein have been linked to fatal cases of HCM. This protein is essential in the maturation of tRNA molecules. Study on the link between mutations in ELAC2 and HCM has been carried out using Drosophila melanogaster and its ELAC2 homolog, RNaseZ. The two mutations selected for this study, HCM1 and HCM2, are conserved in both ELAC2 and RNaseZ. They have been shown to impair heart function, reduce lifespan and fitness levels in flies as they do in humans. However, it is not clear if these phenotypes arise as secondary to heart dysfunction or if they happen due to damage in other tissues caused by mutant RNaseZ. To study this, we have used a fly model with these mutations expressed only in the heart to characterize the effects on longevity and fitness. Here I present my findings on fly fitness, evaluated by a negative geotaxis assay, and fly longevity, which was found by counting surviving flies each day until all had died. These findings shed light on where these mutations act and could give researchers a better way to target treatment for this disease in the future.
Presented by
Cyanne Runyon
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Biological Sciences

Diurnal phosphatidylserine exposure and photoreceptor outer segment elongation in C57 and 129 wild-type mice

Daniella Denysov

Abstract
In the mammalian retina, photoreceptors are light sensing neurons responsible for vision. Photoreceptor cells are continuously exposed to light, making them particularly susceptible to damage over time. To address this, the cells of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) diurnally phagocytose the photoreceptor outer segments (POS) of the neural retina in a process termed outer segment renewal. This mechanism of POS shedding and subsequent phagocytosis by the RPE is essential for maintaining healthy vision for life. Previous studies have demonstrated that in 129 wild-type mice, photoreceptor tips of the retina expose phosphatidylserine (PS) before they are shed, indicating that PS-marked photoreceptor tips may promote phagocytosis by the RPE. We investigated photoreceptor PS-marked tips in another wild-type strain, C57, to compare to 129. Evaluation of tip length was performed quantifying tip length at light onset and one hour after light onset using fluorescent staining of freshly-excised retinal tissue. RPE flatmounts were stained with PS biosensor pSIVA and imaged on a confocal microscope. At light onset, tips in C57 and 129 were the same length. At one hour after light onset, tip lengths were shorter in both mice, but the length in C57 was significantly longer than in 129. Our results indicate that while the rhythm of tip elongation is similar in both wild-type strains, the absolute lengths of PS-marked tips differed one hour after light onset. Further studies will address whether this difference translates into different levels of RPE phagocytosis between the strains.
Presented by
Daniella Denysov
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Biological Sciences

Accessible Particle Physics for Undergraduates: Simulating Three-Color LQCD

Danielle Moynihan

Abstract
Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD) can be used to describe the fundamental particles and their interactions. This research project studies the strong nuclear force through interactions between gluons and quarks on a lattice using numerical simulations called "Lattice QCD" (LQCD). The project creates this lattice as a 3x3 Special Unitary matrix to describe the eight combinations of "colors," charge-like quantities in QCD. The project code uses Python 3 to simulate three color interactions, which yields accurate results within a reasonable time span for smaller experiments. This fulfills a critical goal of this project, to make particle physics more accessible to undergraduates.
Presented by
Danielle Moynihan
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Physics & Engineering Physics

The Role of Ventral Pallidum Cholinergic Projection Neurons in Addictive Behavior

Daphne Baker, Jenna Yeisley, Eduardo Gallo

Abstract
Learned associations between drugs and the environmental context in which drugs are experienced may increase craving and long-term drug use. A better understanding of these associations may lead to new therapeutics for drug addiction. Lesion studies have implicated the ventral pallidum (VP) in the formation of drug-context associations. However, little is known about the cell types in the VP and whether they contribute to addiction. I tested the hypothesis that one VP cell population, the VP cholinergic projection neurons (VP-CPNs), are key mediators of the VP’s involvement in the formation of drug-related associations. Mice underwent Conditioned Place Preference (CPP) to cocaine, a behavioral model which measures associations formed between the rewarding effects of a drug and the environment in which those effects were experienced. Prior to CPP, the VP-CPNs of experimental mice were lesioned using the diphtheria toxin receptor (DTR)/diphtheria toxin (DT) system. Using immunofluorescence microscopy, I confirmed a greater absence of VP-CPNs in the experimental group compared to a control group expressing GFP. In the absence of cocaine, both groups exhibited a greater preference for the context initially paired with cocaine. However, VP-CPN-lesioned mice showed faster extinction of CPP compared to controls. These data suggest that VP-CPNs do not play a key role in the acquisition of drug-related associations in CPP behavior but may instead contribute to the persistence of conditioned associations. This indicates that VP-CPNs are involved in the long-term, potentially maladaptive learning related to cocaine, and may represent a neurobiological target for treatment of drug addiction.
Presented by
Daphne Baker
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Biological Sciences

Mapping Inputs to Ventral Pallidum Cholinergic Projection Neurons

Emily Huegler, Jenna Yeisley, Eduardo Gallo

Abstract
To understand the motivational dysfunction seen in mental health disorders, we must study the neurobiological underpinnings of abnormal reward processing and motivated action. The ventral pallidum (VP), a brain region in the basal ganglia, is integral in processing external cues influencing reward-related behaviors. Among various cell types in the VP, the specific function of cholinergic projection neurons (VP-CPNs) is unknown. To fill this knowledge gap, I aimed to generate a neuroanatomical “map” of the brain regions and cells that innervate VP-CPNs most prominently. To identify brain-wide VP-CPN inputs, I used retrograde monosynaptic rabies virus tracing techniques to express a fluorescent marker in the presynaptic cells that directly contact VP-CPNs in transgenic mice. I harvested four brains and collected serial brain sections to establish individual brain libraries. A set of 40-50 sections from each brain was processed for immunofluorescence microscopy. Resulting images were aligned and then mapped to a whole mouse brain standardized atlas using specialized software to automatically count individual cells within defined brain subregions. I have begun a quantitative analysis of the relative abundance of VP-CPN inputs. Preliminary results show dense inputs from the nucleus accumbens, amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampus and other limbic areas. These brain areas are involved in appetite, aversion, effort exertion, and homeostasis maintenance, suggesting that VP-CPNs may play a role in integrating distinct reward and motivation signals. This new information will guide future studies aimed at determining how those inputs modulate VP-CPN function and behavior, providing new insight into treatment targets for motivational dysfunction.
Presented by
Emily Huegler
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Biological Sciences

Sex-specific effects of early-life stress on gene expression: Focus on X-chromosome escapee genes Kdm5c and Kdm6a and their Y-counterparts across brain regions

Eric Purisic, Devin Rocks, Marija Kundakovic

Abstract
Anxiety and depression are sex-biased psychiatric disorders, with females twice as likely as males to develop these disorders. Previously, the Kundakovic lab produced a study examining sex differences in the effects of early-life stress on later development of anxiety- and depression-like behaviors in mice. The impact of early-life stress was more profound in females, both in changes in behavior and the expression of candidate genes linked to these disorders. My project studied two genes called X-chromosome escapees, which escape inactivation of one of the X-chromosomes in females. These genes, Kdm5c and Kdm6a, are epigenetic modifiers that regulate gene expression through histone modification and are implicated in the development of depression and anxiety behaviors. We also examined their Y-linked paralogues in males. Initially, I conducted gene expression analysis in the ventral hippocampus, a brain region critical for emotion regulation. The results showed a female-specific increase in the expression of Kdm5c and Kdm6a with no Y-compensation in males in response to early-life stress. Then, I performed gene expression analysis on the dorsal hippocampus, a region involved in cognitive function. The results show that in the dorsal hippocampus, there is no significant change in expression of Kdm5c and Kdm6a in either sex in response to early-life stress, with only Kdm6a’s Y-linked counterpart showing decreased expression after early-life stress. Our results indicate that Kdm5c and Kdm6a respond to early-life stress in a region-specific and sex-specific manner providing a potential mechanism for the sex-biased effects of early-life stress on the development of anxiety and depression.
Presented by
Eric Purisic <epurisic@fordham.edu>
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Biological Sciences

Wellbeing and the Psychological After Effects of Isolation in the Covid-19 Pandemic

Dennis Cogan, Sophie Epstein, Emily Ferrari, Gabriela Jakubek, Emily Lewis, Sophia Magee, Finula Milici, & Alyse Peduto

Abstract
While health has been at the forefront of the international mindset for the past year, other aspects of health have been compromised. Mental well-being is facing unprecedented obstacles as quarantine has been enacted at its expense. Especially amongst adolescents and young people, the effects of isolation on mental health are beginning to unfold. Online schooling and an overall lack of regular exposure to their peers in group environments has made social interaction more sparse. Does this change contribute to social anxiety? Especially as we begin to reenter what looks like a more normal society, the effects of this will become increasingly apparent. This study will collect survey data to summarize how adolescent mental health has been adjusting to such stark changes in social patterns. Social anxiety and behavior, in particular, can begin to be quantified through questionnaires that we will distribute to a group of young people, on which they will respond with their physiological responses or psychological feelings of nervousness in various given social situations. By studying and understanding the anxiety of adolescents in social situations, this study will provide insight on the social and psychological effects of Covid-19 pandemic as we begin to transition back into more normal social routines.
Presented by
FIRE Wellbeing Group
Institution
Fordham University, Fordham College at Rose Hill

Implicit Bias and Negative Perceptions of Non-Arab Americans Toward Arabs: Associations Between Knowledge, Media Consumption, Social Contact, and Negative Attitudes

Isabella Tomei and Tiffany Yip

Abstract
The present study investigated the implicit bias, negative attitudes, and open-ended perceptions of non-Arab Americans toward Arabs, in addition to the exploration of whether knowledge of the Middle East and Arab World, consumption of media, and frequency of social contact predicted negative attitudes toward Arabs. Non-Arab Americans over the age of 18 (n = 162; 62% female; 17% Asian, 4.3% Black, 3.10% Latinx, 8% Native American, 77.9% White) completed an Implicit Association Test (IAT) and a Qualtrics survey either through the Fordham Psychology Research Participation System (SONA) or Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) in the fall of 2020. Results indicated a significant implicit bias toward Arab last names compared to last names of various origins, in addition to explicit negative attitudes toward Arabs across several situations. Moreover, non-Arab Americans who had less social contact and frequently consumed reality television and political dramas were more likely to have negative attitudes toward Arabs. However, a lack of knowledge concerning the Middle East and Arab World did not predict negative attitudes. Lastly, open-ended perceptions of Arabs were predominantly negative and stereotypical, both in general and in the media. These findings have important implications, such as highlighting the discrimination Arabs and Arab Americans face, spreading awareness of the persistent perpetuation of negative stereotypes and misconceptions, and emphasizing the need for cultural awareness programs and positive representations of Arabs in the media, educational systems, and workplaces.
Presented by
Isabella Tomei <itomei@fordham.edu>
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Psychology

Multinucleated Cardiomyocytes in Flies with RNaseZ-Related Cardiac Hypertrophy

Jacob Bartz, Ekaterina Migunova, Edward Dubrovsky

Abstract
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a common disease that causes heart walls to thicken. An extreme inherited form of the condition is caused by recessive alleles in the ELAC2 gene. ELAC2 homologs are present in all forms of life. It codes for a protein essential to the maturation of tRNA molecules. To study this condition, the Drosophila homolog of ELAC2, dRNaseZ, was identified. A fly model bearing the same recessive mutations as humans was created. After imaging and analyzing the fly hearts, it was discovered that the heart walls are thicker, just as is found in humans. The next step was to identify the mechanism for why the hearts are thicker; it was hypothesized that mutant fly hearts have extra cells, larger individual cells, or a combination of both. Using 4xtinC-GFP, a fluorescent protein expressed in the nuclei of heart cells (cardiomyocytes), we found an increase in nuclei number in the mutant fly hearts. However, it was still not clear whether the mutation causes increased cell division, which would result in more cells, or multinucleation, resulting in the same amount of cells but with multiple nuclei. To answer this question, we have used a new fluorescent protein, 4xtinC-Tomato, to visualize the cellular membranes of cardiomyocytes. With a combination of 4xtinC-GFP and 4xtinC-Tomato, we discovered that mutations of RNaseZ lead to cardiomyocyte multinucleation. Studying the mutations in Drosophila may give insight into what factors contribute into heart wall thickening in ELAC2-related HCM in humans.
Presented by
Jacob Bartz
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Biological Sciences

The spatiotemporal expression of Juvenile hormone receptor Gce in the absence of its paralog, Met, in Drosophila

Jacqueline DeRusso, Saathvika Rajamani, Edward Dubrovsky

Abstract
Juvenile Hormone (JH) is a major insect hormone essential for growth and development. Drosophila melanogaster is a unique organism as it has two paralogous receptors, Met and Gce, which mediate Juvenile Hormone action. The two receptors are redundant and can compensate for each other in the larval stages. However, they are involved in distinctive paralog-specific and non-vital functions in the adult stages. My hypothesis is that the unique and non-vital functions of Met and Gce in adult stages are due to differential expression patterns of Met and Gce, which does not change regardless of the presence or absence of the other receptor. To test this hypothesis, I will analyze the spatiotemporal expression pattern of Gce in the absence of its paralog, Met. 
Presented by
Jacqueline DeRusso
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Biological Sciences

Unlocking the Swab: Characterizing Amphibian Fungi

Jennie Wuest, Steve Kutos, Elle Barnes, JD Lewis

Abstract
Amphibians play an important role in ecosystems all over the globe. Currently, they are being threatened by the spread of a deadly wildlife disease caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Many studies have shown that certain cutaneous bacteria provide a natural resistance against Bd, as a result of competitive interactions. However, we know little of the fungal diversity that exists on their skin and how those fungi interact with the disease and other cutaneous microbes. To fill this gap, we explored the culturable fungal diversity of the skin microbiome of the eastern redback salamander (Plethodon cinereus) at various sites in the New York City area. Individuals were swabbed and plated on PDA and MMN media to maximize culture diversity. Following morphological isolation of the fungal cultures, we extracted, amplified, and sequenced the full ITS region.

Our results suggest a diverse fungal community present on the skin microbiome of P. cinereus. From 28 individuals, we isolated over 100 morphologically-distinct strains. Twenty-eight of these distinct strains were selected for genomic identification and resulted in 25 OTUs, mainly in the divisions Ascomycota and Mucoromycota. The number of distinct OTUs identified reveal a culturable species-rich fungal microbiome, suggesting the potential for certain strains of these skin-associated fungi to be inhibitory or facilitatory to Bd growth. In the next stage of this project, we will perform challenge assays with these cultures and Bd to determine inhibitory potential and to assess if fungi play a critical role in the microbial defense of amphibians to Bd.
Presented by
Jennie Wuest
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Biological Sciences

Manipulation of Dopamine D2 Receptor Expression in Cholinergic Interneurons Affects Impulsive Choice in Mice

Joseph R. Floeder, Jenna Yeisley, and Eduardo F. Gallo

Abstract
Impulsive choice, one of the main components of impulsivity, is the tendency to prefer small, immediate rewards over large, delayed rewards. The nucleus accumbens (NAc) is a brain region critically involved in modulating reward-related behaviors and impulsive choice, but the contributions of different NAc cell types are not well understood. Cholinergic interneurons (CINs) account for under 3% of NAc neurons, but their extensive branching allows them to wield control over NAc function. Dopamine release in the NAc, which is implicated in impulsive choice, reduces CIN firing via activation of CIN dopamine D2 receptors (D2Rs). However, little is known about the influence of CIN D2Rs on impulsive behavior. To this end, we used a delay discounting task which measures how steeply rewards lose value (i.e., are discounted) as a function of delay to their receipt. Using a viral-based approach in transgenic mice, we show that selective D2R upregulation in NAc CINs leads to increased delay discounting compared to controls expressing EGFP. Conversely, we show that knocking out D2R in cholinergic neurons results in decreased delay discounting. Moreover, we show that CIN D2R manipulations do not alter the ability to detect differences in reward magnitude. Together, these complementary results suggest that CIN D2Rs are influential at mediating intolerance to delayed rewards, a component of impulsive choice. Given that heightened impulsivity is associated with several psychiatric illnesses including substance use disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, these findings also highlight the potential clinical significance of cholinergic and dopaminergic dysfunction in the NAc.
Presented by
Joseph Floeder
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Biological Sciences

Synthetic Progress Toward a Fused Azepine Semiconductor

Julia Flood, Alison McCostis, Rachel Falisi, Julia A. Schneider

Abstract
In the field of organic electronics, molecules are often converted into electron acceptors by introducing nitrogen atoms, allowing them to be used in OLEDs and organic solar cells. Currently, a vast majority of nitrogen-containing organic semiconductors are synthesized via amine chemistry, which limits the scope of possible structures. This project attempts the first synthesis of conjugated azepines via the cyclization of vinyl azides. The final structure will represent a new class of organic semiconductors and provide a new synthetic pathway to fused azepines. The first major step of this synthesis is a Suzuki Coupling Reaction. This reaction has been successfully completed in two variations. In the first, a single thiophene was conjugated to a benzene ring, and in the second, two thiophenes were conjugated to a benzene ring, forming a benzene-thiophene trimer. Both of these products can be reacted in a Knoevenagel Condensation to form the vinyl azide. This poster will show our progress in the synthesis of the compound including NMR spectra and computational calculations.
Presented by
Julia Flood
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Chemistry

Students for Others: Correlates of Adherence to COVID-19 Guidelines

Julia Flood, Kristina Stevanovic, Rebecca Tutino, Bianca R. Campagna, Sarah Duncan-Park, Claire Murphy, Eric Riklin, Rachel A. Annunziato, Maura B. Mast

Abstract
Objective: The present study aimed to determine correlates of adherence to COVID-19 health precautions among college students. Drawing from the literature, the following constructs were considered: self-efficacy, conscientiousness, social support, collectivism, empathy, and fear of COVID. Participants: Undergraduate students (N=92), recruited from psychology classes and social media, who were living on and off-campus served as participants during fall 2020. Methods: Participants completed a short self-report survey, delivered online, measuring COVID-19 health precautions and its possible correlates. Results: Preliminary analyses demonstrated no differences in adherence between students living on and off-campus. Based on linear regression analyses, the significant predictors of adherence were conscientiousness, collectivism, empathy, and fear of COVID. Conclusions: College student adherence was largely driven by interpersonal motivators coupled with a modest level of fear, rather than more general constructs. These findings offer implications for cultivating health behaviors during the pandemic as well as more broadly.
Presented by
Julia Flood and Kristina Stevanovic <jflood19@fordham.edu>
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Psychology

The future of the electrocatalytic oxidation of small organic molecules with first-row transition metal-based nanowires project

Julia Mayes, Kathryn Belcher, Daniel Ma, Christopher Koenigsmann

Abstract
Fuel cells are a promising renewable energy technology. These electrochemical devices convert a fuel, such as methanol, into energy. The commercialization of fuel cells has been stunted due to the high cost and limited abundance of platinum, the most effective catalyst for the electrochemical reaction that takes place in the fuel cell. In addition, Pt is poisoned by an intermediate of the reaction, inhibiting its catalytic abilities. A core-shell structure catalyst with a Pt surface but a transition metal (such as Ni) core would help offset the price of the catalyst, while also potentially optimizing catalytic performance by decreasing the poisoning of Pt. The structural interactions between Ni and Pt have been shown to lessen the poisoning during oxidation of methanol. In prior work, we have developed a method to synthesize Pt-Ni nanowires with varying percentages of Pt on the outer shell. In March of 2020 our progress was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Moving forward, in a “post-COVID” world, when we are able to be fully in-person in our laboratory, our goal is to evaluate which composition yields the best catalytic performance of both methanol and glucose oxidation using cyclic and linear sweep voltammetry. This performance data will also be compared to that of PtAu alloys and PtCo alloys that my labmates have evaluated.
Presented by
Julia Mayes
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Chemistry

Determining Whether Recall of Altruistic Memories Can Increase Well-Being

Julianna Scofield

Abstract
The current study examined whether retrieving memories of altruistic acts increased well-being. Participants (N = 153) were asked to complete an on-line survey and were randomly assigned to one of three conditions in which they were asked to recall a memory in which they: performed an act of altruism, witnessed someone perform an act of altruism, or was the recipient of an altruistic act. Participants also completed measures of anxiety, depression, interpersonal reactivity, satisfaction with life, positive and negative affect, the Brief Mood Introspection Scale and the Short-Form Memory Experiences Questionnaire (SMEQ). Results showed that condition did not impact any of the well-being measures. However, there was evidence that the phenomenology of the memories differed across conditions. For example, those who retrieved a memory in which they witnessed an act of altruism rated the memory characteristics of time perspective, visual perspective, emotional intensity, sharing, and distancing differently compared to those that recalled a memory in which they were a recipient of an altruistic act. Further, exploratory analyses showed that participant age was associated with memory phenomenology such that older participants rated their memories as having increased vividness, coherence, accessibility, time perspective, sensory details, and emotional intensity.
Presented by
Julianna Scofield
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Psychology

Investigating the Impact of A High Fat Diet on Retinal Inflammation in B5-KO Mice

Kate Uhling, Silvia Finnemann

Abstract
Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in adults over 50 years, affecting 11 million in the US and 170 million worldwide. Research has been conducted to understand what factors impact the underlying molecular mechanisms and biological pathways of this disease. Every night, photoreceptors in the eye shed off disk-like fragments from their outer segments. These photoreceptor outer segments (POS) are in close contact with retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) at the back of the eye. RPE cells are responsible for the phagocytosis of these shed POS fragments, clearing out debris for retinal renewal. This is a highly regulated process, and any delay or issue can lead to an accumulation of undigested particles on the apical side of the RPE that, over time, may cause inflammation and can lead to the development or progression of retinal diseases that affect vision. In vivo research on rodents has shown that αVβ5 integrin receptors play an important role in this retinal renewal process. Complete knockout of the αVβ5 dimer is fatal in mice, but β5 integrin knockout produces viable mice with impaired POS renewal that will never reach peak levels of phagocytosis. This experiment was conducted with the question of how a high percent fat diet may impact inflammation and visual deterioration in β5-KO mice. Inflammation, as indicated by the genetic expression of the Iba-1 gene coding for microglia, was used as a marker for retinal deterioration and visual impairment.
Presented by
Kate Uhling
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Biological Sciences

Education and COVID-19: Digital Access Disparities in NYC

Kat Duffy, E Smith, Amalia Sordo Palacios

Abstract
The current COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every aspect of life around the world, especially in metropolitan areas like New York City. Specifically, education and access to technology have been areas where improvement is needed and deficits have become glaring. This study aims to investigate the relationship between digital access disparities within New York City, focusing on the Bronx and Manhattan boroughs, and educational outcomes, primarily quality of education and perceptions of continuing education. To do so, we plan to recruit junior and senior high school students to answer a survey, created by our team, to attain our data. We intend to use only the data concerning technological access and educational outcomes to investigate our variables. We also will be working with the Bronx Community Foundation and their Bronx Digital Equity Coalition to support our research and contribute to their efforts to eradicate the digital divide.
Presented by
Katharine Duffy
Institution
Fordham University, Center for Community Engaged Learning

The Relationship between Heading and Post-Concussive Syndrome in College Soccer Players

Katherine Farber, Cara F. Levitch, Eric McConathey, Molly E. Zimmerman

Abstract
Physical contact during soccer play often leads to head impacts. Repetitive head impacts, associated with heading of the ball during soccer games and practice, may not result in overt concussive events but may still have negative effects. The present study explored the hypothesis that heading has a relationship with common symptoms of Post-Concussive-Syndrome (PCS), including symptoms of depression and anxiety, vigilance, sleep, and memory changes. The relationship between covariates (age, education, gender, race/ethnicity, concussion history, IQ) and symptoms of PCS was also examined. In college players, heading of the ball was not associated with PCS symptom presence and severity. In contrast, the assessment of potential covariates indicated that they had the strongest relationship with PCS measures. An IQ estimate was a predictor of anxiety symptoms (p=.005), but individuals with higher education had lower levels of symptoms (p=.049). Concussion history (p=.011) and race/ethnicity (p<.001) were predictors of depression symptoms. Concussion history was also related to worse psychomotor vigilance test (PVT) scores. Women had both higher sleep efficiency (p=.049) and higher PVT times (p=.001) than men. Although the study hypothesis was not supported, our findings highlight the importance of considering common demographic factors and their relation to PCS symptoms.
Presented by
Katherine Farber
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Psychology

Evaluating the Importance of Risk-Benefit Analysis for Risky Behaviors among Individuals with Non-Suicidal Self-Injury

Kathryn Evans, Margaret Andover

Abstract
The association between completing one high risk behavior and then engaging in another has been long established (Benthin et al., 1993). Further, individuals are more likely to engage in risky behavior if they evaluate risks of the behavior to be outweighed by the possible benefits (Benthin et al., 1993; Zimmerman, 2010). In addition to the evaluation of risk/benefit analysis, NSSI versatility, measured as the number of NSSI methods used, may also play a role in the perception of these factors. Past literature has suggested that NSSI versatility may be reflective of acceptance of and familiarity with self-injury (Anestis, 2014) and potentially injury more generally, which may include other risky behaviors. The aim of the current study was to investigate differences in perceptions of risk and benefit for risky behaviors among individuals with and without an NSSI history. Perceptions of risk/benefit were investigated for both self-injurious behaviors and risky behaviors more generally. Further, we aimed to supplement gaps in the existing literature by evaluating the role that NSSI versatility and specific methods of NSSI may play in the risk/benefit analysis in individuals with a history of NSSI. Most notably, the outcomes of this study indicate that those who engage in NSSI have an understanding of the risks associated with NSSI, these findings could influence the way NSSI intervention is done moving forward.
Presented by
Kathryn Evans <kevans23@fordham.edu>
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Psychology

Effect of Age, Sex, and Time of Day on Sea Lion Vocalizations at the Bronx Zoo

Manpreet Grewal, Jennifer Krakowski, Keara Kennedy, J. Alan Clark PhD

Abstract
California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) are a species that rely on vocalizations for communication, reproduction, movement, and location of prey. Understanding the mechanisms used by California sea lions in vocalization as well as factors that affect the frequency and temporal variation of acoustic signals can provide insight into the proximate and ultimate causes of these behaviors. Two main questions were asked in this study: first, how does age and sex of a given sea lion influence the frequency of vocalizations exhibited by the individual? and second, do California sea lions exhibit differences in vocalization frequency at different times of the day (e.g., during feeding hours, during peak foot traffic, etc.)? By closely observing a captive population of California sea lions at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, this study analyzed the effects that age, sex, and time of day have on vocalizations produced by members of this species. The study found that California sea lion pups produced the greatest average number of vocalizations, followed by adult males, with adult females producing the lowest average number of vocalizations. The data also showed that the population of sea lions produced the greatest number of vocalizations during the time period from 12pm-2pm. The results of the study indicate external factors having an effect on the vocalization behavior of sea lions and that age/sex influences frequency of vocalizations. These results, when compared with past literature on the species, indicate differences between captive and wild populations. Future studies will focus on increased sample size as to confer validity to the data as well as comparative analysis with wild populations of California sea lions.
Presented by
Keara Kennedy <kkennedy33@fordham.edu>
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Biological Sciences

Appearance-Based Pressures from Peers and the Associations with Anxiety Symptoms in Children & Adolescents

Kelly Christ, Dr. Natasha Burke

Abstract
Peers play a significant role in the psychosocial development of children and adolescents. Individuals who do not meet culturally sanctioned appearance ideals by virtue of their weight status (e.g., overweight or obese) are more likely to face negative evaluations from peers within their social environment. As such, it is possible that perceived pressures from peers to meet appearance ideals are related to both social anxiety and school anxiety. Goals of the current study were to assess 1) the associations between pressures from peers regarding appearance and symptoms of a) social anxiety and b) school anxiety in children and adolescents and 2) the aforementioned associations by gender. We hypothesized that appearance-based peer pressures would be positively associated with both social and school anxiety and that the associations would be stronger for girls compared to boys. Participants (N = 137, 56.9% female; 13.1±2.6 years old) were recruited from pediatric clinics. Zero-order correlations were used to assess associations between study variables; a Z-test was used to assess the difference between these correlations for girls and boys. Results indicated a significant, positive correlation between pressures from peers regarding appearance and both social and school anxiety, respectively. The correlations between these variables for girls and boys, however, were not statistically different. Further research will be necessary to prospectively assess the directionality of these associations and to examine if such peer-based pressures have long-term influences on anxiety symptomology or vulnerability to adverse mental health conditions into adulthood.
Presented by
Kelly Christ
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Psychology

Gendered Media Framing of Participants in Political Violence: the Case of Women in the Palestinian Intifadas

Kelsie Greene

Abstract
Focusing on the media coverage of Palestinian women’s engagement in the two Intifadas, this paper examines patterns of gendered media framing of participants in political violence. Assuming that gendered narratives are employed strategically, the paper investigates how Arab and Western media exploited gendered representations to position female perpetrators of violence in categories that reinforced certain conceptions of gender. Based upon the analysis of discourse in several Arab, American, and British newspapers, the study found that Arab and Western media employed similar gendered stereotypes in their representation of female Palestinian agents of violence, which served to diminish their political agency. However, there was considerable variation in the interpretation of female violence across media sources. These empirical results contribute to both gender theory and international relations literature by indicating the malleability in representations of gender and the potential consequences of gendering agents of violence on conceptualizations of conflicts.
Presented by
Kelsie Greene
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Political Science

Indicators of Well-Being in College Students

Kristen Bohovich

Abstract
Well-being has been shown to be closely related to several factors. Three major ones according to research are stress, happiness, and social support. It is unknown if there is a single, isolated factor that is the most important to well-being. This study sought to examine if one of these major indicators of well-being would emerge more significantly than others when examined together in a sample of college students. It was hypothesized that social support would be the strongest indicator of well-being. The study had 117 participants recruited from psychology classes and social media at a private northeastern university. Participants were asked to complete an online survey containing questions about demographic information as well as measures of well-being, stress, happiness, and social support. Regression analysis showed that happiness was the most closely related to well-being, with stress close behind, and social support displayed the weakest relationship. The results suggest that well-being interventions for college students should target happiness in order to improve overall well-being. This study should be replicated with different samples of college students across the country in order to determine the generalizability of these findings.
Presented by
Kristen Bohovich
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Psychology

Political Opportunity and the Tiananmen Hunger Strikes

Kyle Chin

Abstract
The 1989 student hunger strikes in China were an integral part of that year’s pro-democracy protests centered in Tiananmen Square, and would go on to inspire similar demonstrations in Ukraine the following year. While the Ukraine based hunger strike would prove relatively successful, the Chinese protest which inspired it would not. Addressing this divergence, this study argues that the concept of political opportunity structure explains the Chinese hunger strike’s ultimate failure. This project distinguishes domestic and international dimensions of political climate to explain the strike’s occurrence. Based upon archival research, this study finds that the leading cause of the Chinese strike’s failure was relative stability of the Chinese unitary state (especially in comparison to comparable autocratic regimes at the time). The strike warrants further scholarly attention because it had far-reaching repercussions not only for Chinese politics but also for contentious politics in the Soviet Union.
Presented by
Kyle Chin
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Political Science

Feeding and Grooming Behavior of Captive Chilean Flamingos

Li Ying Wei, Marley Cutrona, Dr. J. Alan Clark

Abstract
Chilean flamingos (Phoenicopterus chilensis) are one of five species of flamingos that are native to warm, tropical areas in South America. These flamingos are social birds that feed, nest, and mate in groups. The Bronx Zoo has a Chilean flamingo enclosure that houses 45 captive individuals. Studying the behavior of birds can indicate whether or not the birds are living in an ideal environment. Behavioral activities of birds are influenced by ecological factors and activity patterns can indicate whether or not they are receiving adequate care in captivity. This study compares the allocation of time to grooming and feeding behavior in the morning versus afternoon. We found more grooming behavior in the morning and more feeding behavior in the afternoon, which is in accord with prior studies of wild and captive flamingo flocks. Studying captive flamingos in flocks that are reluctant to breed, can provide more information on flock-wide response to an environment that is influenced by humans.
Presented by
Li Ying Wei
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Biological Sciences

Tagging Juvenile Hormone Target Gene JhI-26 Using CRISPR/Cas9 Technology in Drosophila

Li Ying Wei, Saathvika Rajamani, Dr. Edward Dubrovsky

Abstract
Juvenile hormone (JH) is one of the major insect hormones that controls many important processes including reproduction and metamorphosis. Drosophila is unconventional in its response to exogenous JH as it does not exhibit the classical anti-metamorphic response; JH does not induce the formation of supernumerary larva in Drosophila. The underlying molecular mechanism of JH action is not entirely known, and in an effort to understand it further, genes directly regulated by JH were identified. One such target identified is JhI-26, a gene unique to dipteran species. Despite its potential role in the JH signaling pathway, the biological function of the encoded protein remains unknown. Preliminary data shows JhI-26 expression in a tissue that previously had no association with JH, making it a gene of increased interest to study. As a first step towards my goal to study JhI-26, I aim to create a fly model expressing epitope tagged JhI-26 protein by employing CRISPR/Cas9 technology and use it to track the expression of the target of interest. The guide RNA (gRNA) and single-stranded oligo DNA nucleotides (ssODN), which serves as the donor template, have been designed and injected into the fly embryos expressing germline specific Cas9 endonuclease. The resulting flies will be crossed with appropriate balancers to establish multiple lines, which will be screened for the presence of the modified allele. Following identification and confirmation of successful modification, the stock will be used to study the spatiotemporal expression pattern of JhI-26.
Presented by
Li Ying Wei
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Biological Sciences

Cell-Free Circulating Mitochondrial DNA in Mitochondrial Disease Patients

Lily Van Petten

Abstract
Mitochondria are the energy-producing bodies that nourish human cells. They proliferate independently of the cells that contain them using their own separate set of genes. The replication of these genes is crucial to the production of mitochondria and the health of the entire organism, as 90% of the energy utilized by the human body is generated from these cellular components. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) can be found within the cell as well as in a cell-free form. This research investigates the role of genetic mutations that result in a group of disorders known as mitochondrial diseases, which show highly variable symptoms and severity. These are primarily life-long inherited disorders beginning in childhood. Past research has shown that these disorders show high comorbidity with many psychological and developmental conditions, such as chronic stress and anxiety, depression, PTSD, as well as Autism spectrum disorder, diabetes, and more. Cell-free mtDNA levels increase in response to both physical and psychological stress. For this reason, it was hypothesized that data collected from 127 patients suffering from a range of mitochondrial diseases would display a difference in ccf-mtDNA (cell-free circulating mtDNA) levels in the presence of various comorbidities. MtDNA can be measured by centrifuging blood samples and comparing levels between groups experiencing different physiological and psychological conditions and those without. No correlation between psychological or developmental conditions was found to be significant. However, these data, along with past research show that ccf-mtDNA may be a biomarker for mitochondrial diseases as well as anxiety.

Presented by
Lily Van Petten
Institution
Columbia University

Molecular dynamics studies of newly designed anticancer peptide-polyphenols for targeting over-expressed Estrogen & PPAR receptors

Lucy R. Hart, Saige M. Mitchell, Rachel A. Daso, and Ipsita A. Banerjee

Abstract
In this work, we have designed twenty-five novel tumor targeting peptide-polyphenol conjugates for specific targeting of both estrogen receptor positive and triple negative breast tumor cells. Four point mutations were performed on a tumor targeting peptide, making five peptides in total, all of which were predicted to have anticancer properties. Peptide-polyphenol conjugates were designed on ChemDraw and energy minimized on Chem3D. I-TASSER studies were performed on each peptide and ADME studies were performed for all peptides and conjugates. Receptor-ligand docking studies were conducted using Autodock Vina to predict the binding ability of conjugates to estrogen receptor alpha (ER) breast cancer cells and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPAR). Potential binding pockets were predicted for each receptor by POCASA. Sigma Profiles of each of the conjugates were obtained using COSMOS-RS. Interactions between conjugates and receptors were identified by the Protein-Ligand Interaction Profiler. Receptor-ligand complexes were then subject to molecular dynamics studies to further probe interactions and the stability of the conjugates within the receptor binding pockets. Several of the novel peptide-polyphenol conjugates had good pharmacokinetic properties and breast tumor targeting abilities and are therefore promising candidates for breast tumor-targeted drug conjugate applications.
Presented by
Lucy Hart
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Chemistry

Computational analysis of amino acid-polyphenol conjugates as potential therapeutics for amyloid-based diseases

Margaret S. Whalen, Charlotta G. Lebedenko, Saige M. Mitchell, Ipsita A. Banerjee

Abstract
The incidence of amyloid diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons disease, in the global population has increased significantly in the past few years. The hallmark of such diseases, is the formation of misfolded amyloid plaques that aggregate extracellularly in the brain and are cytotoxic. There are currently few approved treatment options that specifically address the pathology of these amyloid-based diseases, though there have been studies that employ designed peptides, metal nanoparticles, polyphenols, and certain ionic liquids for amyloid defibrillation. In this work, we conducted computational studies using three newly designed plant-based polyphenol-amino acid conjugates that may be potentially be applicable in mitigating beta-amyloid (Aβ) and alpha-synuclein (ASN). The self-assembly of the conjugates was simulated using Gromacs in a solvent containing a salt concentration similar to plasma to mimic the initial metabolism of the drug in the circulatory system. Autodock Vina, Biotec’s Protein-Ligand Interaction Profiler, and Metapocket were used to study the interactions of the drugs with Aβ(1-42) and ASN. SwissADME was used to examine the pharmacokinetic and cytotoxic properties of the conjugates. We found that the designed conjugates had better affinities for Aβ(1-42) and ASN in comparison to the neat polyphenol and amino acids. The conjugates also had favorable pharmacokinetic properties and low cytotoxicity. Such polyphenol-amino acid drug conjugates may have potential applications in reducing protein misfolding that causes Aβ plaques and ASN and thereby may have potential applications in alleviating neurodegenerative diseases. 
Presented by
Margaret Whalen
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Chemistry

Student Success & Housing Access in NYC-Based Catholic Higher Education Institutions

Mariana Beltran Hernandez and Aidan Donaghy

Abstract
Catholic higher education institutions, especially ones located in urban areas such as New York City, contend with increasingly complex issues of student body diversity and success, especially within the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Understanding that all aspects of a student’s life, including housing, identity, and marginalization, impact higher education success, this study attempts to illuminate the particular successes and problems New York City-based Catholic colleges and universities have with regards to marginalized students. This study is ongoing, and is comprised of a survey for NYC-based Catholic college students and recent graduates who are marginalized because of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or socioeconomic class in order to understand how students of various marginalized identities find community and success through the lens of housing availability. Early findings have indicated that LGBTQ-identifying students have particularly strong feelings about the steps Catholic universities should take in making housing more accessible and inclusive for marginalized people, and further research will explain these dynamics further and allow the authors to expand on their recommendations, which include adjusting housing policy and examining funding sources to allocate more resources to marginalized students’ housing.
Presented by
Mariana Beltran Hernandez
Institution
Fordham University, Center for Community Engaged Learning

A CRISPR-Cas9 Mediated Knockout of RNaseZ in Drosophila Brain

Max Luf, Ekaterina Migunova, Edward Dubrovsky

Abstract
The RNaseZ gene is a vital and highly conserved gene with homologs in all domains of life. It plays an essential role in the maturation of tRNA. Mutations of this gene in humans have been linked to a diverse range of encephalopathies and result in poor quality of life for patients. Despite the established association, it is still not known how RNaseZ mutations lead to observed neurological diseases and this necessitates further study. In Dr. Dubrovsky’s lab we use Drosophila as a model to elucidate the underlying mechanisms of these diseases. To study the role of RNaseZ in the brain I used CRISPR-Cas9 technology to knockout RNaseZ in the Drosophila nervous system. PCR, HiFi DNA assembly, and gateway cloning were used to synthesize a vector carrying the endonuclease Cas9 under the control of the neuron-specific promoter Elav. This vector was injected into Drosophila embryos to produce transformants carrying my Elav-Cas9 transgene. Expression of Cas9 in transgenic flies was confirmed via Western Blot. This, together with a previously generated stock carrying RNaseZ-specific guideRNA, allows me to knockout RNaseZ in a pan-neuronal manner. I analyzed the viability and life cycle progression of flies carrying this tissue-specific knockout and here I present the outcome of my studies. Next, I will be able to model mutations of RNaseZ identical to those found in human patients using this novel Elav-Cas9 fly. This application has the potential to lead to the identification of therapeutic targets for treatment in human patients who suffer from RNaseZ-linked rare diseases.
Presented by
Max Luf
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Biological Sciences

LGBTQ+ Activism in the United Methodist Church

Megan Farr

Abstract
Much scholarship has been done regarding how debates over sexuality within Christianity led to political polarization surrounding LGBTQ+ issues, but there is a notable gap in existing research when it comes to the cyclical nature of this phenomenon – namely, how modern political polarization surrounding LGBTQ+ issues leads to the further entrenchment of Christian denominations in their existing positions regarding sexuality. This research will situate itself in this gap, specifically within the context of the United Methodist Church’s recent schism over the place of LGBTQ+ people in the Church. If the United Methodist Church is to hold itself out as a social justice-oriented denomination, why has it been brought to a schism over LGBTQ+ rights? Using scholarship regarding theological debates about homosexuality, political science work on the issues of polarization and politicization, and statements from the denomination itself, this research asserts that the wealth of theological justifications for both sides of the question of homosexuality indicates that the recent schism in the United Methodist Church is due less to theological differences than to political polarization around LGBTQ+ issues. I find that not wanting to “take a side” in modern political debates about sexuality played a larger role in the Church’s schism than theological disagreements did. Understanding the factors at play in the United Methodist Church’s recent decision to split will lead to greater clarity for LGBTQ+ people in the Church and will contribute to the work of activists seeking to create a more inclusive and accepting environment for LGBTQ+ Christians.
Presented by
Megan Farr
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Sociology

Analysis of cardiac-specific effect of HCM-linked variant of RNaseZ in Drosophila melanogaster

Megan Kurz, Ekaterina Migunova, Edward Dubrovsky, PhD

Abstract
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a heart disease characterized by thickened heart walls. The severity of HCM symptoms vary, as some individuals are unaffected while others might experience a range of symptoms such as palpitations and arrhythmia to sudden cardiac death. In 2013, a study intimated an association between severe cases of HCM and mutations in the ELAC2/RNaseZ gene. This gene encodes RNaseZ protein, a vital aspect of the tRNA maturation process. High homology of fly and human RNaseZ allowed us to study this protein in Drosophila. Once the pathological mutation of ELAC2/RNaseZ is introduced, flies exhibit the same heart hypertrophy as HCM patients. To determine whether HCM is caused by processes within the heart or influence from other organs, the next step was to study the effect of heart cell-autonomous mutations. My goal is to study if having mutant RNaseZ only in the heart is sufficient to cause fly heart hypertrophy. I used a histological method to study heart morphology in flies. I fixed and placed the flies in paraffin before slicing them with a microtome and placing them on microscope slides. After taking photos of the fly heart cross-sections, I measured the heart wall thickness to analyze the effect of heart-autonomous RNaseZ mutations on heart morphology. Being able to understand whether or not the heart is the only organ influencing the development of HCM will contribute to the search for targeted HCM treatments by enabling us to direct future research on the underlying mechanism of this disease.
Presented by
Megan Kurz
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Biological Sciences

Need a Hand? Development of a Soft Robotic Hand

Mellina Calzolaio

Abstract
Conventional robotic systems are designed with various rigid pieces that are joined together by links.These rigid systems create limitations in the adaptability of the system and have higher risks of human injury. In order to develop a robotic system with an ability to adapt, soft material must be integrated into the system of the robot. Soft robotics aims to develop robotic systems that mimic natural, biological movements. The soft material of the robot allows for a degree of deformation and adaptability that can not be achieved in traditional, rigid structured robotics. This research project aimed to develop a soft robotic hand that mimicked a gripping motion when pneumatically actuated. The soft body of the fingers were developed with 3D printed molds and then fabricated with a two part polymer. Inside the fabricated fingers there is a series of small air chambers that act as actuation paths. The inflation of these paths result in the curling motion of the soft body, replicating the curling motion of a finger. The actuation of the fingers is powered by an air pump motor that is controlled by a series of solenoid valves. The air pump motor and solenoid valves are controlled with code implemented by an Arduino. This results in a controlled actuation of specific fingers and allows for the ability to replicate different hand motions. The future of this project aims to further develop and improve the gripping motion to move towards picking up objects and integrating sensors into the soft fingers.
Presented by
Mellina Calzolaio
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Physics & Engineering Physics

In Silico Studies of Binding Interactions Between B Cell Receptors CD22, Integrin, Neuropilin 1 and Newly Designed Glucosyloxy Derivatives

Mia I. Rico, Saige M. Mitchell, Ipsita A. Banerjee

Abstract
In this work, we focused on designing new glucosyloxy stilbene-peptide conjugates to target overexpressed CD22, neuropilin 1, and integrin alpha 1 receptors. Using ChemDraw and Chem 3D we first designed specifically targeted peptide conjugates of stilbene. The peptides utilized were tumor targeting peptides, and rich in arginine moieties. Then using AutoDockVina, we docked each receptor with the conjugates and examined the various binding affinities. After molecular docking, each combination of receptor and peptide was analyzed using a Protein-Ligand Interaction Profiler. The conjugates were then analyzed using Turbomole and COSMOthermX20 in order to determine the sigma profiles of each. We then used the web server ACP to determine our peptides’ physio-chemical properties, followed by the web server POCASA in order to determine the surface cavities and binding pockets of the three receptors. We then prepared each receptor-conjugate combination to conduct molecular dynamics simulations to explore the stability of the receptor bound conjugates. Lastly, we analyzed the compounds using the web server SwissADME in order to determine pharmacokinetic properties. The results indicate that integrin receptors showed higher binding affinities and stibilities.
Presented by
Mia Rico
Institution
Fordham University Department of Chemistry

The Relationship Between NSSI Age of Onset and Current NSSI: Moderating the Effects of Coping Strategies

Nicole Cardinali and Margaret Andover

Abstract
Nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) is defined as the intentional destruction of one’s own skin or body without the intent of suicide. NSSI has become more significant in early adolescence, notably starting between the ages of 11 and 13. Research has found that an earlier age of onset is often associated with worse outcomes and more severe current NSSI rates (Ammerman et al., 2018). The purpose of this study is to extend upon current research by examining the role coping strategies play in moderating this relationship, specifically using problem solving, avoidance, and social support seeking to do so. Although the original data set that was used for this study had 564 respondents, this study focused on people who have self-injured, narrowing the sample size to 122 individuals. The data found that an earlier age of onset is associated with more frequent current NSSI. The association between age of onset and NSSI days in the past year was moderated by use of avoidance and seeking social support; however, problem solving did not have a significant effect on the association. These results indicate that this relationship is significantly dependent on coping techniques, and highlight the importance of investigating these coping strategies as an intervention method for individuals who engage in NSSI. Using more targeted intervention methods will help researchers understand why young individuals engage in nonsuicidal self-injury, create onset prevention strategies, and reduce overall rates of NSSI.
Presented by
Nicole Cardinali
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Psychology

Applying the Drosophila olfactory network to drug discovery

Nolan Chiles, Joshua Schrier

Abstract
Ligand-based virtual screening is a widely used application of artificial intelligence for drug discovery. A common approach is to encode the chemical motifs within a set of molecular structures as a binary fingerprint vector, and then use machine learning methods to predict the activity or inactivity in receptor binding screening assays. However, such ligand-based methods are hindered when chemical motifs exist simply by chance and play no role in interacting with the receptor. Recently, it has been observed that artificial neural network architectures that more explicitly mimic the architecture of biological networks can have significant advantages for limited training data. One of these—the Drosophila olfactory network—implements a locality and novelty-sensitive Bloom filter algorithm. Bloom filters are an efficient way of “remembering” if an item has been encountered using only a very small amount of storage space. This variant calculates the similarity of a query item to previously stored inputs. This is relevant to the problem of drug design because it provides a method for evaluating the structural similarity between a small set of molecules known to be chemically active with a receptor compared to an unknown molecule. Using an experimental dataset of candidate drugs for the human muscarinic acetylcholine receptor M1, a target for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia, we compared the performance of a simulated Drosophila olfactory network to other traditional approaches for ligand based screening.
Presented by
Nolan Chiles <nchiles@fordham.edu>
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Chemistry

Molecular dynamics simulation studies of newly designed peptide-bound pyrimidine and cholesterol derivatives to target PANC-1 Human Pancreatic Tumor Cells

Paige A. McCallum, Madeline M. Bashant, Ipsita A. Banerjee

Abstract
Pancreatic adenocarcinomas are known for being one of the deadliest cancers. Their complex molecular structure and lack of proper screening contributes to poor prognoses and high mortality rates. Previous studies have identified cell surface receptors such as epidermal growth factor, cholecystokinin A and B as well as LRP1 for targeting PANC-1 pancreatic cancer. Using peptides with known anti-cancer properties, we have designed heterocyclic compounds composed of functionalized pyrmidines and cholesterol mimics that can specifically be functionalized for targeting the CCKAR receptors and EGFR receptors. We studied the characteristics of the binding interactions of twelve peptide based novel drug candidates and correlated receptor binding studies using docking and molecular dynamics simulation studies as well as pharmacokinetic analysis using ADME. Our results indicated that bioavailability of the molecules were in the range of 0.17 to 0.85, and the ilogP indicated that the molecules were membrane permeable. Furthermore, overall the compounds showed a higher binding affinity when the heterocyclic compounds were attached to the targeted peptides compared to the peptides. These results indicate that the newly designed conjugates may have potential applications for targeting PANC-1 tumor cells.
Presented by
Paige McCallum, Madeline Bashant
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Chemistry

Evaluation of ionic liquid-peptide-amphiphile interactions using computational approaches

Rachel E. Daso and Ipsita A. Banerjee

Abstract
Ionic liquids (ILs), bulky salts with unique physical and chemical properties, have been used in applications from organic synthesis to batteries to dissolving, extracting, and purifying biomolecules. Recently, peptide amphiphile-IL composites have been shown to enhance biocompatibility of ILs for possible applications in regeneration and drug delivery. In this work, computational methods have been used to probe the resulting hybrids of three different peptide-based amphiphiles with fourteen ionic liquids. We used COSMO-RS methods to analyze the electrostatic surface of the components and calculated thermodynamic properties of mixing. We found that symmetry of the electrostatic surface profile was a key indicator of favorable mixing as well as complimentary electrostatic density between different components. Favorable mixing was driven primarily by hydrogen bonding for the hydrophilic amphiphile and van der Waals forces for the hydrophobic amphiphiles, however the same ILs were favored among all three amphiphiles. Molecular dynamics simulations revealed that self-assembly of the amphiphiles was driven by hydrogen bonding and pi stacking interactions and that introduction of ILs to the solution did not disrupt their ability to self-assemble. This work serves to illustrate some of the factors that influence binding properties in peptide amphiphile-ionic liquid hybrids. The techniques shown in this work can be applied to screen IL-biomolecule hybrid mixtures for specific therapeutic applications in the future and can shed light on the physical and chemical properties of novel IL hybrid bioorganic mixtures.
Presented by
Rachel Daso
Institution
Fordham University Department of Chemistry

Cellular and Molecular Dynamics Simulations of Designed Scaffolds Promoting Cardiac Cell Regeneration

Saige M. Mitchell, Harrison T. Pajovich, Mindy M. Hugo, and Ipsita A. Banerjee

Abstract
Damage to heart often results in permanent cell death because cardiac tissue lacks the regenerative capacity found in other cell types. Thus, the damage sustained during myocardial infarctions is long-lasting and can result in further complications such as reduced cardiac function. For this reason, the creation of biomimetic scaffolds to promote growth of cardiac tissue has gained attention. Biocompatible scaffolds must contain components of the extracellular matrix in order to promote proliferation and differentiation of the cells. In this work, we developed a scaffold composed of decellularized leaf components (DC), an angiogenesis-promoting peptide, and a bioorganic polymer (polypyrrole, Ppy) that promotes electrical conductance. The scaffold was shown to promote cell growth over a period of several days in a co-culture of cardiomyocytes and smooth muscle cells and found to have electrical properties. The cells showed differentiation as indicated by alpha-actinin and troponin T assays which indicated the formation and organization of sarcomeres. The results of the molecular dynamics (MD) simulations showed that the scaffolds were able to sustain stress without putting strain on the system. In addition, Ppy was found to increase the elasticity of the scaffold. This is important for cardiomyocytes in particular because of their inherent contractility. Interactions that were most prominent in the scaffold assembly included hydrogen bonds, salt bridges, pi-stacking interactions, and pi-cation interactions. The results of this study indicate the potential application of this scaffold in cardiac tissue engineering because of its ability to promote cell growth and metabolism while maintaining elasticity.
Presented by
Saige Mitchell
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Chemistry

Impact Analysis: US Policy & Jobs

Samantha Wong, Ryan Donovan

Abstract
This paper compares various US administration's economic policies' effect on unemployment. It aims to look at what common variables are most effective in decreasing unemployment rates. This paper will study different economic policies ranging from President Reagan's 1981 Tax cuts to President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and finally President Trump's CARES Act. This paper will use quantifiable data in tax revenue, civilian labor force, jobs created and the unemployment rate in conjunction with secondary source analysis of respective economic policies for each administration analyzed. Our preliminary findings indicate that support for low income individuals and expansion of medicare spending has helped decrease unemployment.
Presented by
Samantha Wong
Institution
Fordham University, Fordham College at Rose Hill

Making Lattice QCD Accessible

Sean Hannaford

Abstract
This research project is concerned with developing a package of programs that would allow students to perform numerical simulations of quantum chromodynamics. Quantum chromodynamics is the field of physics which studies the interactions of quarks and gluons, the particles that make up such particles like protons and neutrons. Due to the incredible strength of the strong force and because of the ability of gluons to interact with each other, it only possible to study these particles using numerical simulations on a discrete spacetime lattice. The field which uses numerical simulation to study the strong force is known as Lattice Quantum Chromodynamics. In this project I utilized some of the work of a previous student to develop a program that would read in a configuration of SU(2) gluon gauge fields and form it into a Dirac matrix which, when inverted, would output the data needed to study some of the observable quantities of a particle in this system. Specifically, we hope to study the pion and its mass. These programs will hopefully be made available to other Fordham students who hope to perform their own particle physics experiments.
Presented by
Sean Hannaford
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Physics and Engineering Physics

Statistical Analysis of Mortality Rates of CoVid-19 Patients Suffering from Diabetes

Sonola Burrja

Abstract
Sars-Cov-2 is a novel respiratory virus that emerged in Wuhan, China at the end of 2019 resulting in the CoVid-19 pandemic, which is one of the greatest global health emergencies on Earth. As the number of cases escalated, it was found that certain groups of people, such as those over 65 years old, with compromised immune systems or pre-existing underlying conditions are at a higher risk of severe illness and/ or death if infected by Sars-Cov-2. People with diabetes mellitus, a metabolic disease affecting glucose processing are believed to be more susceptible to this disease due to the side effects of diabetes anti-inflammatory drugs, which cause overexpression of ACE2, an enzyme that facilitates movement of virus inside the organism. Through this research study, I statistically compared comorbid diabetes patients in different US states from March 2020 to July 2020. Utilizing statistical analysis, the data shows that the overall risk of death due to CoVid-19 increases with density and it depends on the geographical region in the US. However, neither the density nor the geographical region significantly affected the chance of survival of a diabetes patient suffering from CoVid-19. This research study offered more understanding on comorbid diabetes in the US. Similar studies can be utilized to reduce comorbidity caused by circumstantial factors, such as geographical location.
Presented by
Sonola Burrja
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Psychology

Amy Hollywood and "Reading Religiously": A Path for Secular People

Sophie Cote

Abstract
In 2016, Harvard Divinity Bulletin published an article by Amy Hollywood entitled “Secular Death”. In this essay, Hollywood, a secular scholar, undermined the binary between secularism and religion by drawing on explicitly religious sources for spiritual aid in her grief from losing several family members. She is part of an academic tradition of inspecting religious experience, secularism, and spirituality. In this project, I examined the work of these scholars on the specific subject of spirituality—namely, the relationship between religious and secular expressions of spirituality. I conducted this analysis in order determine how sources of spirituality from religious contexts can still contribute to the spiritual possibilities available to people who identify as secular. What I have found in my research is that experience as an aspect of secularity or religion is often sidelined by preeminent scholars in favor of theories of cognition and belief. This distinction implies a fundamental divide between the experiences available to secular and religious people. In my project, I attempt to complicate this distinction by using the work of Amy Hollywood, Robert Orsi, and Georges Bataille, among others, to show that the religious experiences described in accounts of medieval Christian mystics can provide insight into the benefits secular people may find in encouraging such experiences in themselves. In other words, my project claims that secular people may find value in engaging with religious rituals and practices within their traditional contexts.
Presented by
Sophie Cote
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Theology

Review of previously reported TCF20 mutations in human subjects suggests further investigation using TCF20 mouse models of autism spectrum disorders

Sydney Taylor

Abstract
Large-scale exome sequencing has revealed a wide range of TCF20 de novo mutations (DNMs). Commonly observed phenotypes from these individuals include intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, sleep disturbances, attentional abnormalities, speech delays, balance issues, and macrocephaly. TCF20 (also termed AR1, SPBP, SPRE-binding protein) encodes a transcriptional coregulator. TCF20 is widely expressed but shows higher expression in premigratory neural crest cells. A recent study has found mice heterozygous for TCF20 knockout of exon 2 have social communication difficulty, interaction defects, and repetitive rigid behavioral patterns. TDG and TCF-4 are two possible downstream targets of TCF20 that rescue phenotypes of TCF20 knockout mice. This review identified seven previously reported TCF20 mutations within the ZNF domain. Interestingly, a de novo mutation (DNM) which causes ASD in two unrelated patients in ZNF does not cause autism in two other individuals. This information, combined with the fact all individuals with ZNF mutations have intellectual disability (or such information was not recorded), indicates dysfunctional TCF20 ZNF domains may have an important role in neurodevelopment. This review proposes the creation of ZNF domain knockout/duplication mice and several behavioral tasks used in previous mouse models of autism while discussing the phenotypic trends of humans with TCF20 mutants, especially in the ZNF. The mentioned studies within this proposal aim to identify if duplication and/or deletion of the TCF20 ZNF domain results in ASD-related phenotypes as seen in patients.
Presented by
Sydney Taylor
Institution
Fordham University, Integrative Neuroscience

The Impact of Socioeconomic Factors on the Diagnosis, Presentation, and Prevalence of Huntington’s Disease in Patients Across the United States

Chase Behar, Sydni Britton, Dalina Cobaj, Carrie Durkin, Alexander Eap, Sumsee Islam, Maeve Kelly, Hasib Mia, Olivia Spano, Frederiki Tsekas

Abstract
Huntington’s disease is characterized as a rare neurodegenerative disorder that is caused by the repeat of CAG in the Huntington gene. It often presents in patients with motor, cognitive, and psychiatric symptoms around the average age onset of forty years. Through medical innovation, predictive genetic testing has been developed to ascertain whether high-risk individuals will develop Huntington’s disease later on in life. Patients who receive predictive genetic testing results that indicate that they will develop Huntington’s disease are able to develop and implement plans of care with their healthcare providers early on. This potentially could reduce the severity of their symptoms in the future. However, access to predictive genetic testing is limited due to its high cost. Therefore, the purpose of our study was to evaluate the impact of socioeconomic factors on patient outcomes for Huntington’s disease in the United States. Though there is a significant amount of data on Huntington’s disease on the global scale, we found that there is very limited data for patient outcomes and the epidemiologic prevalence of Huntington’s disease on the state-level in the United States. To address our aims, we synthesized data from research conducted on Huntington’s disease on both national and global levels to determine the role of socioeconomic factors on patient care. We hypothesized that patients who belong to higher socioeconomic class will tend to have more tolerable symptoms because they are able to access predictive genetic testing, psychological counseling, and other forms of diagnostic testing under private insurance in contrast to those belonging to a lower socioeconomic class.
Presented by
Sydni Britton
Institution
Fordham University, Fordham College at Rose Hill

Evaluating the efficacy of seq2seq predictive models to forward and retrosynthetic organic reaction prediction

William Borrelli; Joshua Schrier

Abstract
Rapid forward and retrosynthetic organic reaction prediction remains an active area of artificial intelligence research in chemistry. IBM’s freely available predictive AI, RXN for Chemistry (https://rxn.res.ibm.com/), treats reaction prediction as a machine translation problem, converting a sequence of reactant molecules, in the form of SMILES strings, to products. In this way, prediction is done by finding a conversion from the “language” of reactants to the “language” of products, without considering the minutia of chemical transformations or reaction mechanisms. Though this method circumvents the arduous task of encoding all the fundamental “rules” of organic chemistry, it does not necessarily obey conservation laws or other physical principles, and thus is potentially susceptible to “alchemy” and other pathologies. This work aims to illuminate areas where transformer models fall short and to consider how to best remedy these cases where the fundamentals of organic chemistry are violated. By using a data set of 100 organic chemistry reactions sourced from an undergraduate level textbook, we evaluated the performance of the RXN for Chemistry model on classic reaction classes in chemistry and identify areas where this model is generally successful, as in substitution reactions, and unsuccessful, as in Diels-Alder or Robinson annulation reactions, at predicting outcomes. We also compared the change in molecular complexity between predicted and human retrosynthesis strategies using an additive measure of molecular complexity. We found that specific reaction classes, such as elimination, Diels-Alder, or Robinson annulations, have characteristically low predictive accuracies and tend to instead favor other reaction mechanisms, such as substitution, where the model’s accuracy is superior. Moreover, forward predictions replicate a similar distribution of changes in molecular complexity as the literature, whereas retrosynthetic predictions do not.
Presented by
William Borrelli <wborrelli@fordham.edu>
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Chemistry

Social Interactions of Captive Gelada Baboons

Zoë Araujo, Molly Gleason & Kaitlin Schmoyer

Abstract
Understanding the complex interactions and social behaviors of captive gelada baboons is crucial to their health, wellbeing, and reproductive success.  Therefore, it is important to identify and interpret the interactions between the geladas.  Social interactions can be divided into three categories: affiliative, submissive, and agonistic.  It is crucial to know these three categories of behavior to appropriately elucidate the social interactions observed in captive geladas.  This study's objective was to investigate the social interactions of the gelada baboons and to understand if one sex performed a category of behavior more frequently than the other sex.  To examine this, gelada baboons at the Bronx Zoo were observed for twenty-five 15 minute periods.  All the social interactions of the individuals on exhibit were recorded.  The adult male gelada baboons at the Bronx Zoo displayed more agonistic behavior than the adult females, who were more likely to participate in affiliative behavior.  The results proved to be statistically significant when a t-test was conducted (n=5, t=11.12, p<.001).  This indicates that males are more aggressive, potentially to maintain social dominance, while females spend their time facilitating social bonds.  Future studies will focus on finding an association between social interactions displayed and age.  This study increases the understanding of captive social interactions of geladas, which can be used to help conserve and maintain the wellbeing of the species.
Presented by
Zoë Araujo, Molly Gleason & Kaitlin Schmoyer
Institution
Fordham University, Department of Biological Sciences