Maria Boftsi #IAmScience

Maria Boftsi

Maria Boftsi, a Ph. D candidate, stands near her lab station in the Pintel Lab in Bond LSC. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

 

By Allison Scott | Bond LSC
Change is hard. Especially when you’re comparing weather, like Maria Boftsi, a second year Ph.D. student in the Pintel Lab at Bond LSC, did.

From the sunny skies of a small town in Northern Greece, where she’s originally from, to the contrastingly harsh winter of mid-Missouri, Boftsi was in for a lot of change when she came to Mizzou.

“The summer after my third year of undergraduate I came to work in the Sarafianos Lab. Then I went back to Greece to finish my bachelor’s degree,” Boftsi said. “When he moved to a different university, I joined the Pintel Lab about six months ago.”

In the Pintel lab, Boftsi studies parvovirus interactions with the host genome. This virus is among the smallest in terms of DNA.

“We study the parvovirus Minute Virus of mice, or MVM,” Boftsi said. “MVM infection leads to a sustained DNA damage response in cells, which the virus exploits to enhance its replication.”

The replication process is anything but simple. Boftsi uses previous work to better understand this aspect of the virus life cycle.

“Recent studies in our lab have shown that the virus establishes replication centers at specific sites of the cellular genome,” Boftsi said. “I’m trying to investigate the role of viral proteins on virus-host interactions.”

Once the lab does that, they’ll be able to apply what they’ve learned to future projects.

“Parvoviruses are important pathogens and cause infections in many animal species,” Boftsi said. “Our work can provide important insights into virus-host cell interactions in general.”

That kind of impact is what allowed Boftsi’s original interest in science to grow.

“I first got into research because of a biology class I had in high school,” Boftsi said. “Then I realized how amazing it is to study something closely and learn the details.”

And the curiosity she’s developed is a driving factor in her decision to keep her education going.

“I want to do a postdoc,” Boftsi said. “I really want to continue research.”

Even though being thousands of miles away from home is hard, Boftsi has grown from the experience, and she’s grateful for the opportunities she’s had thus far.

“It’s been great. I really like it here,” Boftsi said. “The environment is amazing, and the people are so friendly and helpful.”

Vivariums and The Hidden Metropolis Beneath Bond LSC

 

One of the researchers working under Bond Research Lab Manager, Raye Allen, observes one of the vivariums.

Bond LSC Facility Manager Dana Weir observes a family of rats in one of the vivariums. Photo by Raye Allen

By Madelyne Maag

You’ve heard of aquariums and terrariums, but probably not of a vivarium before. These enclosed structures take on a whole new meaning when science is brought into the picture.

And little do people know when they walk across the main floor of Bond LSC, they are walking above a city-like work space where the occupants work to improve our lives.

Vivariums functions as cubicles, condominiums and daycare centers for the rodents that live within them. The 10,000 square-foot lab at Bond LSC uses these transgenic rodents to study muscular dystrophy, diabetes, fertility, and oncology research, among other health research areas.

“These rodents are the living, working team that help us learn more about our health.” said Dana Weir, the facility manager from the Office of Animal Resources. “We want to make sure they are well taken care of so Raye Allen’s team works year-round to make sure they are monitored, well-fed, and comfortable in the vivariums.”

Raye Allen, the lab supervisor for Bond LSC’s vivarium, said cleanliness and care are the top priorities in addition to research. Cleaning, transporting, feeding the rodents all require a carefully detailed process.

The 1,700 clear polycarbonate containers are arranged in rows with single, coupled or a small family of rodents within them. Each shoebox-sized rodent condo, is provided with dry cushioned bedding, large quantities of food and water, as well as their own little hiding space. Clean, filtered air is also pumped through the back of their homes.

“These rodents live a cleaner life than you or I could ever imagine.” Weir said.

Each person who enters the lab must wear closed toe-shoes, two sets of nitrile gloves, a white floor-length, long-sleeved button up lab coat, a face mask and hairnet.

“Raye Allen’s team is mindful of everything they touch when handling the rodents or their homes in the lab. We spray everything with bleach to prevent any outside bacteria from contaminating the lab and only handle our rodents under the biosafety hoods present in each room.”

Several university, state and federal regulations ensure the safety and security of Bond LSC’s transgenic rodents. The National Research Council, USDA’s Animal Welfare Act, and University of Missouri’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee work together to monitor animal welfare and set standards for lab research on animals.

Weir carefully holds one of the rodents underneath a fume hood. Photo by Raye Allen

Weir carefully holds one of the rodents underneath a fume hood. Photo by Raye Allen

The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) inspects Bond LSC’s vivarium every six months, in order to make sure that containment, handling and safety protocols followed by lab researchers are up-to-date. The IACUC also reviews the purpose of animals being used for each particular research project. A board of faculty members, veterinarians and two non-science community members review justification from lab researchers.

The safety and security of these rodents are the top priority of the researchers working in the labs, but there is also an emotional bond that is formed between them as well.

“Rodents are intelligent and emotional animals, so they learn who their caretakers are very quickly.” said Allen. “They recognize us by the smells we put off and get pretty excited when one of our researchers enters the room to interact with them.”

The researchers like Allen who work with these rodents on a daily basis, care deeply about the rodents as well as the work these furry critters do.

“The bond formed between the animals and their caretakers is equally as important as the research they help us do,” said Weir. “This goes for all of the animal research conducted in Bond as well as other research that is conducted across the Mizzou campus.”

 

Mark Schroeder #IAmScience

Mark Schroeder

Mark Schroeder, a Ph.D. candidate, works in Lloyd Sumner’s lab in Bond LSC. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

“#IAmScience because I like to learn how things work from the deepest level.”

By Allison Scott | Bond Life Sciences Center

For most people, a television breaking or a computer shutting down is annoying at best. It means they’ll have to embark on the often drawn out process of choosing a newer, more expensive version to purchase.

Fortunately, Mark Schroeder isn’t most people.

“If I have something that breaks, I’ll take it apart just to see if I can put it back together,” Schroeder said. “I had a broken TV and took all the screws out to see what was in it. I enjoy it because you’d be surprised at how simple some things are.”

That innate curiosity is what guided him toward a career in science. As a graduate student in biochemistry, Schroeder now works in the Lloyd Sumner Lab in Bond LSC where dives deeper into how things work.

Specifically, the lab has two main research interests: plant natural products and metabolomics. They use a model legume plant, Medicago truncatula, because it is rich in natural products.

“I currently work on the metabolomics instrumentation side,” Schroeder said. “The goal of metabolomics is to identify as many small molecules as possible in a biological sample.”

Once as they identify the small molecules, Schroeder and the rest of his lab can do comparisons between samples, such as disease tolerant and more susceptible plants.

“We try to understand the profile and compare samples because then we can get a signature on the small molecules,” Schroeder said. “My current job is developing a reference library for the small molecules so they can be quickly compared in a metabolomics setting.”

This means they can investigate two different samples and determine exactly what is different, an insight that might lead to agricultural or medical applications.

“Our lab is big picture because our methods are trying to collect as much information as possible,” Schroeder said. “We can, however, focus what we’re doing to target specific compounds or compound classes like lipids or flavonoids.”

To do their work, they use cutting-edge technology. While highly useful, it can require some troubleshooting.

“We encounter some unforeseen challenges, but we do our own maintenance on the instruments,” Schroeder said. “That helps us troubleshoot more quickly because we would otherwise always be calling for help.”

And Schroeder doesn’t mind being in the lab at all. In fact, it was something he’s always wanted to do.

“This was the goal all along — doing things hands-on,” Schroeder said. “People who invent incredible things typically aren’t starting with that as their primary job. I tried to find how I could turn my interests into a career, and I feel like I’ve done that here.”