From Salamanders to HPV, Fordham Junior’s Research Interests Cover a Vast Array of Biological Work

Research has always interested Elsa Au-Yeung, a junior at FCRH majoring in Biology and minoring in Bioethics. Since high school, she has been involved in a multitude of projects across disciplines within the sciences and health field. In the summer before her freshman year at Fordham, she was a part of a 3-month research internship in a hospital local to her hometown where she shadowed the Director of Pulmonary and Critical Care. Similarly, she assisted in a research program utilizing statistics to analyze patient allocation in the intensive care units and level of care based on data collected from vitals and patient history for patients suffering from gastrointestinal bleeds.

In her first year at Fordham, Au-Yeung was the recipient of a Fordham Undergraduate Research Grant for the summer of 2017 and joined Dr. Munshi-South’s evolution and ecology lab at the Louis Calder Center in Westchester. Under the grant, she was partnered with a graduate student, Nicole Fusco, and spent the summer investigating the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) for monitoring biodiversity of stream salamanders because it has shown much promise as a non-invasive sampling technique. eDNA is any DNA from excrement, mucous, or shed skin/hair left behind in stream water. Au- Yeung then collected water samples from the New York Metropolitan area known to contain the target species eDNA, Eurycea Bislineata or Northern two lined salamander. By analyzing the water samples, biological techniques such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) were used in order to amplify the amount of eDNA of that salamander in the water sample to confirm the specific species presence and quantitative PCR (qPCR) in order to estimate abundance. In order to perform PCR, Elsa created species specific primers using mitochondrial DNA to differentiate between different species. However, Elsa stated that due to high percentage of similarity between salamander species, “One of the most difficult parts of the project was creating a primer that was specific enough to recognize only the eurycea bislineata species.” Using the data collected, levels of biodiversity and the abundance of the salamander species in the environment could be determined and compared to traditional field encounter surveys.

As Elsa progressed in her studies at Fordham, she found that she desired to return to medical research. With that, she found that Dr. Meneses’ Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Research Lab at Fordham was a great fit for her and applied for an Undergraduate Research Grant for the summer of 2018. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that infects human epithelial cells and HPV types such as HPV-16 and HPV-18 have been linked to cancer development in the body. Elsa and the graduate student she worked with, Alyssa Biondi, hypothesized that HPV 16 internalization is driven by the formation of filopodia activated by intracellular signaling events, recruitment of adaptor protein CrkII and actin depolymerizing factor cofilin. In other words, HPV-16 enters the epithelial cell due to filopodia, which draw the virus in, which are formed due to signals from protein interactions within the cell. Her objective was to delineate the relationship between filopodia, CrkII and cofilin and to see if CrkII induces signaling that upregulates cofilin. CrkII is a cytosolic, adapter protein that contains “docking sites” where other proteins may attach to it; previous literature indicates it may be involved in cytoskeleton remodeling pathways involving cofilin and filopodia. Cofilin, an actin depolymerizing factor, is a protein that mediates filopodia formation and cytoskeletal rearrangements involving cortical actin during HPV-16 internalization.

In Au-Yeung’s project, HPV-16 infection was modeled using pseudovirions that mimic observed HPV-16 viral-membrane interactions. These pseudovirions have the same DNA and proteins as HPV-16, but do not carry the same risk for infection in lab. During our meeting, Au-Yeung stated that the purpose of this project was to “establish the upregulation of cofilin by CrkII and then use fluorescent antibody tags and immunofluorescence microscopy to visualize cytoskeletal rearrangements, observe CrkII and cofilin interaction, and identify filopodia formation.” Based on the data found, CrkII and cofilin are upregulated in the internalization process of HPV-16. Au-Yeung plans to continue working on this project and plans to view different time intervals throughout the HPV infection.

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