Undergraduate Research in the Department of Natural Sciences

Barrier Island Plant Ecology

Dr. Hancock's plant ecology field work

Barrier islands are considered harsh, physically controlled habitats in which only a small number of vascular plant species have been able to survive.  Students working with Dr. Tom Hancock study the anatomy, morphology and life history characteristics of barrier island plants in an effort to understand how adaptations lead to observed patterns of distribution and abundance.   To this end, students conduct field work at three sites in the southeastern United States (Fort Fisher, NC; Sapelo Island, GA and Saint George Island, FL).  Field trips usually occur over a three to four-day period in which the position, number and types of species and individuals are documented across the dune system.  Samples are collected and returned to the laboratory for analysis.  Students interested in learning about the barrier island ecosystems of the southeastern United States and especially plant ecology of the dune system can contact Dr. Hancock for more information.


Honeybees on the Cochran Campus

Students harvesting honey.

Middle Georgia State University has six hives of honeybees on the Cochran campus. Professor Kirby Swenson uses the hives to teach students about beekeeping, the importance of bees and other pollinators to ecosystems, and to get students involved in research about bees. Some future research plans include using substances from bees and beehives to treat diseases, figuring out how to reduce beehive losses from such factors and viruses and parasitic beetles, and experimenting with ways to increase honey production. A student honeybee club also helps students get involved in learning about and researching honeybees. Contact Mr. Kirby Swenson for more information.

Magnetotactic Bacteria of the Georgia Salt Marsh

The current focus of this project is to isolate and characterize magnetotactic species that have been detected in samples from several locations along the Georgia coast including the UGA Skidaway Institute and Jekyll Island. Magnetotactic bacteria are unique in their ability to use tiny internal magnetosomes to find a "sweet" spot in the water column (or sediment) where oxygen is low. Georgia salt marsh sediments have been well characterized with regards to their chemistry and prokaryotic ecology but no reports of magnetotactic bacteria until been recorded until now. Determining the role magnetotactic bacteria play in Georgia salt marsh sediments may provide a clearer picture of nutrient cycling in such an ecologically important but fragile habitat. Because these bacteria have the unique physical property of magnetism supported by a unique metabolism, working on them allows for the integration of physics, chemistry and biology providing students participating in the project with a true multidisciplinary research opportunity plus a field component (collection of salt marsh sediments). There are currently two faculty working on this project: Dr. Sharon Standridge (microbiology), and Mr. Ed Wallace (physics).  Please contact them for more information.


In vitro Induction of Polyploidy in Stevia rebaudiana

Dr. Yadav’s current research project focuses on plant tissue culture and cytogenetics. She and her undergraduate students are working on Stevia rebaudiana, commonly known as “Stevia”. The leaves of Stevia accumulate steviol glycoside, a compound that is several times sweeter than sucrose but that lacks the calories found in sucrose. In addition to its sweetened qualities, this plant is also used therapeutically. It regulates the blood pressure and controls blood sugar levels and is therefore considered beneficial for diabetic patients. Since the leaves are the major source of steviol glycoside, the main goal of the project is to create polyploid Stevia plants via an in vitro culture system in order to increase the green biomass and as a result to enhance the steviol production. Please contact Dr. Pushpa Yadav for more information.