Eli Bunzel ’13 and Dominic Veconi ’15 are carrying out their summer research by examining single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in genes originally discovered and researched by Matthew Therkelsen ’12. They’re working under Assistant Professor of Biology Wei-Jen Chang with May graduate Leonard Teng ’12. Their research focuses on using Hamilton’s new Experion Automated Electrophoresis Station to map nucleotide differences in certain Ich Genomes. A better understanding of these differences can lead to advances in treatment of freshwater White Spot Disease, a parasite which devastates affected fish populations.
Bunzel and Veconi began their research by learning to master the new Experion system. The two mapped example genes in an attempt replicate the known gene structure. Once Bunzel and Veconi have mastered the use of the Experion system, they will move on to study the genes discovered by Therkelsen in order to map and quantify their DNA strands.
The mapping process itself is highly complex, but Veconi referred to the process as the “standard stuff” of laboratory studies like this one, a testament to the level of comfort that Hamilton’s summer research grants allow undergraduates to achieve in the lab.
In simplified terms, the process involves running DNA bands through a gel and observing how far along the gel those strands travel. The larger strands of DNA will travel farther along the gel because of their greater mass, and data will be collected on SNP differences and cataloged for a number of trials. While it took Bunzel and Veconi only minutes to explain this process, the actual test takes hours to run and requires meticulous preparation and attention to detail.
Although Veconi has only just finished his first year, he previously had the opportunity to work as a research assistant in Therkelsen’s study and is already familiar with many of the processes required of this summer’s research. Still, Veconi remarked that all of the responsibility has now moved to his and Bunzel’s shoulders, making each decision they make all the more significant.
This is Bunzel’s first time in a Hamilton laboratory, and although it took him a few days to familiarize himself and learn the ropes, he is already running many of the complex tests required of his research. He remarked that one of the most rewarding aspects of summer research is being able to “immerse [himself] in the lab mentality by gaining confidence, thinking analytically, and making sure that all of the minute details are correct.”
While Veconi has been interested in the sciences for his entire academic career, Bunzel only immersed himself in the field after arriving at Hamilton. Bunzel remarked that the field appealed to him because “with each higher level class, you realize just how specific each mastery is, and it becomes all the more interesting.” Veconi agreed, adding that he is fascinated by science and biology because there is always something more to learn and each answer brings new questions.
Bunzel is a biology concentrator with a minor in art history who plans to conduct his senior thesis on SNP studies on these very genes. Veconi is a prospective concentrator in biology. Both are premed students and look forward to continuing their education with further work in the lab. Interestingly, both Bunzel and Veconi are singers in two of Hamilton’s best-loved a cappella groups, the Buffers and Hamiltones, respectively.
Eli is a graduate of the Riverdale Country High School in Bronx, N.Y., and Dominic is a graduate of Bard High School Early College, N.Y., N.Y