Rashi Yadav, Biological Sciences Graduate Student Spotlight

Rashi Yadav is a final year PhD candidate in Department of Biological Sciences working on L2-based virus-like particles (VLPs) against Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and also, production of thermostable VLP platform. In addition to research, she has taught Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology and General Biology as a Graduate Teaching Assistant.

Rashi presenting

HPVs are associated with 90% of cervical cancer and 25% of oral cancer. Infected individuals clear the infection within two years, however persistent infection can lead to cancer and genital warts. Fortunately, there are two L1- based prophylactic vaccine against HPVs that offers protection against 7 cancer causing HPV types (high-risk HPVs) and 2 low risk HPV types that can cause cutaneous and genital warts. However, there are 19 cancer causing HPV types and current vaccine offer limited cross protection. The outer shell (capsid) of HPV is made of two proteins- major capsid protein (L1) that is not conserved and minor capsid protein (L2), on the contrary, is conserved among different types of HPVs. Rashi’s research is focused on assessing the ability of L2-based VLPs against different types of high-risk and low-risk HPV types. Overall, L2-based VLPs can protect against 12 oncogenic HPV types causing cervical and oral cancer in addition to protection against HPV 5 that causes Epidermodysplasia Verruciformis. Rashi’s second project is on development of novel thermostable VLP platform that can be exploited to expose antigens on the surface against cancer or virus as vaccine.

Rashi working in the Covid-19 diagnostic lab.

Rashi won the first prize in 3 Minute Thesis organized by Health Research Slam where students from various departments participated and was awarded a check of $300. The topic of her presentation was “”Oral immunization with bacteriophage MS2-L2 VLPs protects against oral infection with multiple HPV types associated with head and neck cancers ”

Rashi is also working in MTU Covid-19 diagnostic lab. She is one of the few students who joined the lab and helped set up the lab including training and supervising students in RNA extraction of samples. She also prepares viral transport media which is exported to number of health facilities around the city to obtain samples for testing.


Student artist Mara Hackman (MLS) – Outdoor Sculpture 2020

Student artist Mara Hackman sitting around her outdoor sculpture "Space"

This summer, Lisa Gordillo (VPA) is teaching Michigan Tech’s first fully-online sculpture class. Students focus on making works or art outside, and use the landscape around them as their studio. Because we’re several months into “social distancing” and many folks are longing for connection, Gordillo worked to make a class that creates connections with community (even at a distance). Student sculptors consider art, ecology, and social connection as they make new works of art this summer. 

One student artist in the class is Mara Hackman, an undergraduate student in Medical Laboratory Science. Hackman’s first sculpture, titled “Line,” was created with a “wave of trash and flowers”. Her sculpture follows the path of a stream near her home. To make this sculpture, Hackman walked her favorite nature trail and gathered the trash she found along the way. She gathered flowers from the trail and her garden, and combined them into this wave to “signify life and repair.” She hopes people will look at this piece and think about both the beauty of nature and the destruction humans can cause.

Student artist Mara Hackman outdoor sculpture "Line"

The second scupture is titled “Space,” as described by Hackman, “I started off by blowing up 240 balloons and started by tying (them) together. You think 240 balloons is a lot, and they almost completely filled up my grandma’s living room – but once I took them all outside in the field, the balloons looked small. The field was very spacious. I did different things with the balloons, pilled them up and made a line, and randomly had them spread out around the field.

I took inspiration from Tierra (2013) by artist Regina JoseGalindo. In Tierra, (the artist stood) in a field as a bulldozer dug out around here leaving less and less space. Having balloons staked around me, made me feel claustrophobic and I felt all this pressure around me. That is where I came up with the idea that all these balloons and their different colors represented the different pressures of my life … which is represented by the balloons surrounding (my sister) Kylee and only leaving her boots left.”

View more on the Outdoor Sculpture 2020 Online Gallery.


Students Earn Honorable Mention in 2020 Virtual Michigan Physiological Society Annual Conference

The first ever Michigan Physiological Society Virtual Conference just wrapped up! It was a great collection of speakers with impressive work. Several of our students and faculty participated, including two students from Dr. John J. Durocher’s research group that earned awards for their presentations!

Thomas Basala (Undergraduate Student, Biological Sciences) earned an honorable mention for his presentation: “Applied Human Physiology Fitness Trail Project: Benefits for Local Residents and Undergraduate Students.”

Aditi Vyas (PhD Student, Biological Sciences) also earned an honorable mention for her presentation: “Effects of 8-Week Active Mindfulness and Stress Management on Anxiety and Mental Health During the Covid-19 Pandemic.”

Congratulations, Thomas and Aditi!

Zoom meeting screenshot of participants.

Thomas Basala research poster

Aditi Vyas research poster

In the News

Ebenezer Tumban portriat
Ebenezer Tumban

Ebenezer Tumban (BioSci) was quoted in the story “MTU virologist discusses virus differences,” in the Daily Mining Gazette:

MTU virologist discusses virus differences

Joshua Vissers, Associate Editor, Daily Mining Gazette, March 27, 2020

HOUGHTON — Influenza and coronaviruses both travel between the infected wrapped in a stolen bit of the previous host cell’s outer, lipid-based layer called an envelope. That layer protects the viruses from harsh environments, and works as a kind of disguise to help them inject themselves into the next cell. The difference that makes an outbreak of coronavirus so much more dangerous is the difference in that envelope.

“Normally, envelope viruses are not stable in the environment,” Ebenezer Tumban said.

Tumban is a molecular virologist and vaccinologist at Michigan Technological University. He’s been studying viruses in an effort to learn how to vaccinate against them.

Envelopes dry out and deteriorate fairly quickly outside the body, and the virus inside is rendered helpless to infect another cell, he said.

This image shows the lipid envelope of coronavirus, taken from an infected cell, and the crown-like proteins added by the virus that are its namesake.
Provided image This image shows the lipid envelope of coronavirus, taken from an infected cell, and the crown-like proteins added by the virus that are its namesake.

However, coronaviruses have hollow proteins embedded in their envelope. Scientists thought this structure looked like a crown, and so called it corona (Latin for crown).

“The crown basically makes them more stable compared to the regular flu,” Tumban said.

This extra stability allows it to last longer in the air and on surfaces compared to influenza viruses. So a coronavirus-infected person coughing in an area can infect people passing though that area for much longer than someone with influenza.

Despite having symptoms quite similar to a flu, fighting a coronavirus is more difficult for the body than fighting a flu virus for a few reasons. 

“There’s a lot of things, some of it has to do with the virus and some of it has to do with us,” Tumban said.

A more stable envelope means the virus can exist in more parts of the human body. The flu virus is typically destroyed by fluid in the gastrointestinal tract, but COVID-19’s corona protects them from that, according to Tumban.

The virus also seems to be able to suppress immune system response in some people.

“People that were infected with coronavirus had a low level of lymphocytes,” he said.

This suggests that the coronavirus is also infecting those types of cells, which are part of the body’s defense system. The influenza virus doesn’t do that. 

Tumban said there’s also evidence that the virus can trigger a reaction in the body similar to an allergic reaction.

“My body might overreact and produce a lot of cytokines,” he said.

These cytokines can trigger sepsis and organ failure in severe cases.

And medical professionals have fewer tools to fight coronavirus, too.

“We don’t have a vaccine for corona, we have a vaccine for influenza,” Tumban said.

Influenza vaccines have been in use for a long time, training our immune systems in how to make antibodies that fight that particular virus and creating a group immunity that protects even those without the vaccine. While the flu virus does mutate regularly, it’s rarely enough to render a vaccine entirely ineffective.

“Vaccinations from the past might help to make the disease less severe compared to coronavirus which is new,” Tumban said. “You don’t have a single antibody against it in your body.”

People hospitalized with the flu can receive certain treatments like Tamiflu, but Tumban said with coronavirus, doctors right now mostly give “supportive care” – using tools like ventilators to support the patient’s body while it fights or endures the infection on its own.

These factors together create a much more deadly virus than the flu.

“The mortality rate is about 10 times that of influenza,” Tumban said on Tuesday.

Tumban’s calculations, based on numbers from the Centers for Disease Control, show that a high estimate of influenza’s mortality this year is about 0.1% in the United States, but coronavirus is showing to be about 1.27%. 

Worldwide, the mortality rate for coronavirus is about 4.3% according to Tumban.

The increased mortality and lack of treatment and defense are what is leading countries and organizations around the world to implement social distancing and quarantine measures as healthcare providers ramp up capacity and researches search for vaccines.

However, while coronavirus can be far more infectious and harmful than the influenza virus, many of the same precautions work to prevent infection. The No. 1 recommendation, hand washing and sanitizing, destroys the all-important envelope protecting the virus, rendering it virtually harmless.

“There’s no way they can cause the disease,” Tumban said.

Editor’s Note: This story has been changed to more accurately portray Dr. Tumban’s work. While he has worked directly with Zika, dengue, HPV and other viruses, he has not worked directly with coronaviruses.


New Funding

Bruce Lee (BioMed) is the principal investigator on a project that has received a $434,993 research and development grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The project is entitled, “Multifunctional Nanocomposite Bioadhesive for Diabetic Wound Repair.” Xiaoqing Tang (BioSci) and Rupak Rajachar (BioMed) are Co-PI’s on this potential three-year project.

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Ebenezer Tumban (BioSci) is the principal investigator on a project that has received a $435,591 research and development grant from the National Institutes of Health. The project is entitled, “Development of a Novel and Broadly Applicable Thermostable Bacteriophage VLPs Platforms for Vaccine Design, Drug Delivery, and Imaging.”

This is a potential three-year project.


Distinguished Teaching Award Finalists Announced

The William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning seeks input for its annual Distinguished Teaching Awards, which recognize outstanding contributions to the instructional mission of the University. Based on more than 50,000 student ratings of instruction responses, ten finalists have been identified for the two 2020 awards. The selection committee is soliciting comments from students, staff, faculty and alumni to aid in deliberation.

This year’s finalists in each of two categories are:

Assistant Professor/Lecturer/Professor of Practice Category

  • Nancy Barr (MEEM)
  • Mike Hyslop (CFRES)
  • Heather Knewtson (COB)
  • Sheila Milligan (COB)
  • Ulrich Schmelze (COB)

Associate Professor/Professor Category

  • Melissa Baird (SS)
  • Mike Christianson (VPA)
  • John Durocher (BioSci)
  • Julie King (ChE)
  • Amy Marcarelli (BioSci)

Comments on the nominees are due by Friday, April 3 and can be completed online. The process for determining the two Distinguished Teaching Award recipients from each list of finalists also involves the additional surveying of their spring classes. A selection committee makes the final determination of the award recipients in early May with the 2020 Distinguished Teaching Awards formally announced in late May.

For more information, contact Margaret Landsparger at 7-1001.


Call for Applications: Songer Research Award for Human Health Research 2020-21

Matthew Songer, (Biological Sciences ’79) and Laura Songer (Biological Sciences ’80) have generously donated funds to the College of Sciences and Arts (CSA) to support a research project competition for undergraduate and graduate students.

Remembering their own eagerness to engage in research during their undergraduate years, the Songers established these awards to stimulate and encourage opportunities for original research by current Michigan Tech students. The College is extremely grateful for the Songers’ continuing interest in, and support of, Michigan Tech’s programs in human health and medicine.

This is the third year of the competition. Students may propose an innovative medically-oriented research project in any area of human health. The best projects will demonstrate the potential to have broad impact on improving human life. This research will be pursued in consultation with faculty members within the College of Sciences and Arts. Awarded in the Spring of 2020, the Songers’ gift will support one award for undergraduate research ($4,000) and a second award for graduate research ($6,000). Matching funds from the College may allow two additional awards. The research will be conducted over the Summer of 2020 and/or the following academic year.

Any Michigan Tech student interested in exploring a medically related question under the guidance of faculty in the College of Sciences and Arts may apply. Students majoring in any degree program in the college, including both traditional (i.e., biological sciences, kinesiology, chemistry) and nontraditional (i.e., physics, psychology, social science, bioethics, computer science, mathematics) programs related to human health may propose research projects connected to human health. Students are encouraged to propose original, stand-alone projects with expected durations of 6 – 12 months. The committee also encourages applications from CSA students who seek to continue research projects initiated through other campus mechanisms, such as the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program, Pavlis Honors College activities or the Graduate Research Forum (GRF).

Funds from a Songer Award may be used to purchase or acquire research materials and equipment needed to perform the proposed research project. Access to and research time utilizing University core research facilities, including computing, may be supported. Requests to acquire a personal computer will be scrutinized and must be fully justified. Page charges for publications also may be covered with award funds, as will travel to appropriate academic meetings. This award may not be used for salary or compensation for the student or consulting faculty.

To apply:

  • Students should prepare a research project statement (up to five pages in length) that describes the background, methods to be used, and research objectives. The statement also should provide a detailed description of the experiments planned and expected outcomes. Students must indicate where they will carry out their project and attach a separate list of references/citations to relevant scientific literature.
  • The application package also should provide a concise title and brief summary (1 page) written for lay audiences.
  • A separate budget page should indicate how funds will be used.
  • A short letter from a consulting faculty member must verify that the student defined an original project and was the primary author of the proposal. The faculty member should also confirm her/his willingness to oversee the project. This faculty letter is not intended to serve as a recommendation on behalf of the student’s project.

Submit applications as a single PDF file to the Office of the College of Sciences and Arts by 4 p.m. Monday, March 30. Applications may be emailed to djhemmer@mtu.edu.


New Funding

Erika Hersch-Green (BioSci/ESC) is the principal investigator on a project that has received a $190,394 research and development grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project is titled, “CAREER: Can Material Costs Contribute to the Structuring of Biodiversity Patterns from Genomes and Transcriptomes to Multispecies Communities?”

This is a potential five-year project totaling $1,127,287.


Be Brief: Glow

Changes in pH cause the rhodol dyes to glow differently, offering insight into diseases that affect mitophagy.Fluorescent dyes help scientists see the inner workings of disease. In a new paper by Haiying Liu (Chem), Rudy Luck (Chem) and Thomas Werner (Bio Sci)—along with student researchers—they examine the efficacy of a rhodol-based fluorescent dye.

Diseases like Alzheimer’s and certain kinds of cancers affect the powerhouses of cells — mitochondria. To keep these powerhouses working efficiently, cells remove damaged mitochondria. This process, called mitophagy, is like a cell taking out the trash. In diseased cells, the garbage piles up and the cell’s pH changes. The rhodol dye responds to pH changes and glows brighter.

Luck adds that he considers it a privilege to be able to contribute to Liu’s attempts to find commercially viable probes. The team also acknowledges that the High-Performance Computer system Superior, managed under Director Gowtham, has advanced the research considerably.

Read more about the next steps of this research on the campus research blog Unscripted and celebrate National Chemistry Week with other Unscripted reads about surface chemistry, the science of brewing and mass spectrometry.


In Print

Business woman working on laptop computer at ergonomic standing desk. Female professional working at her desk with male colleague working at the back.John Durocher (BioSci)Steve Elmer (KIP) PhD student Ian Greenlund, recent graduate Piersan Suriano and Jason Carter published The paper titled “Chronic Standing Desk Use and Arterial Stiffness” in this month’s issue of the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.

The results of the study indicate that using a standing desk for more than 50% of the workday did not effectively reduce arterial stiffness. The study confirms that aerobic fitness reduces arterial stiffness, and that aging increases arterial stiffness. The authors wish to thank faculty and staff members from around campus who participated in this study.

The article can be viewed free.