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Globetrotting for Science

The world of science is changing minute by minute.

So, keeping up on the latest techniques used in molecular biology is a challenge—to say the least—especially with a rigorous teaching schedule.

However, Professor of Biology Joan Magnusen will take a break from her teaching schedule next semester to learn some of the techniques currently used in molecular biology as well as hone some of the skills she already possesses.

“A lot of the technology used today wasn’t available when I was a junior professor or graduate student,” said Magnusen, who began teaching at Keuka 25 years ago.

Magnusen’s first destination will be Sydney, Australia, to work with Cyndi Shannon Weickert ’87/’88, professorial chair of schizophrenia research at the University of New South Wales.

“Cyndi’s focus is on schizophrenia and brain development,” said Magnusen. “She’s also interested in the affect of stress on other cognitive processes, including learning, and possibly provoking mental illness such as schizophrenia.”

Weickert is the former unit chief of molecules in the neurobiology and development of schizophrenia at the National Institute of Mental Health. She and Magnusen teamed up to offer a three-week, research-centered Field Period on the Keuka campus in 2006. The participants used a technique called immunohistochemistry on sections of mouse brains to locate where certain proteins were in the cells of the brain.

Weickert and Magnusen next collaborated with Camille Fontaine ’06—who conducted post-graduate research at the College in the fall of 2006—on the Human Glucocorticoid Recepter Project. Magnusen supervised the project and Weickert served as commissioner (through grant funding) and offered counsel. The Human Glucocorticoid Recepter Project involved DNA sampling in an effort to determine how the mind and body collectively respond to stress.

Magnusen expects to learn more about immunohistochemistry during her time with Weickert as well as DNA analysis. DNA was collected in the Human Glucocorticoid Receptor Project so that the glucocorticoid receptor gene (found within DNA) could be studied. The glucocorticoid receptor mediates the hormonal effects of cortisol, a hormone secreted during stressful events.

“I plan to continue to work on the project that Cami started,” said Magnusen.

She also expects to “learn more about the brain and neurobiology, which is not the field of my primary training.

“If Keuka students are going to continue to do work on the brain, I need to become more knowledgeable,” added Magnusen.

Touring Australia will also allow her “the opportunity to see different kinds of animals,” which is the “other end of the spectrum” of her expertise—animal behavior, endangered species, and invertebrate zoology.

Following Australia, Magnusen will travel to Louisville, Kentucky, where she will spend time working in Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Carolyn Klinge’s ’79 lab.

“As a biochemist, Carrie looks at cancer cells and their biology/biochemistry,” said Magnusen.

“My research focus is molecular mechanisms of estrogen action in breast, lung, and thyroid cancer and in the vascular endothelium,” said Klinge. “Dr. Magnusen will work with Ph.D. candidate Krista Robinson Riggs ’02 and other members of my lab to examine the role of a protein called COUP-TFII in endocrine resistant breast cancer.”

While working in Klinge’s lab, Magnusen aspires to learn techniques for mammalian cell culture and protein isolation, and a technique called western blotting that allows analysis of the amounts and types of specific proteins present in cells.

Magnusen is particularly “excited” about writing a review paper with Klinge.

“Dr. Magnusen’s writing and communication skills with undergraduate students–a knowledgeable, but relatively non-specialized audience–will be an asset in this project,” said Klinge.

During the third part of her sabbatical, Magnusen will spend time in Assistant Professor of Psychiatry David Parfitt’s lab at the University of Rochester’s Center for Mind-Body Research.

There, she’d like to learn more about frozen sectioning used in immunohistochemistry.

“During my graduate work with electron microscopy more than 30 years ago, I became well acquainted with sectioning tissue in plastic,” said Magnusen. “I hope that sectioning is like riding a bicycle and I’ll have little difficulty transferring my skills from standard street bike (taking ultra-thin plastic sections) to a racing bike (taking frozen sections), even though I haven’t been on that bike for 30 years.”

Parfitt has been “incredibly generous letting our students work in his lab and use his machinery,” said Magnusen. “I’m sure it will be an ongoing collaboration.”

Magnusen’s ultimate goal is “to come back with techniques and plans to implement at Keuka that will increase the modernity of the College’s biology opportunities.”

Since Weickert and Klinge are Keuka graduates, they know Keuka’s financial limitations, said Magnusen, who also expects to apply for grant funding to bring new equipment to Keuka.

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