Mingjia Li(20′) Biological Research at Skidmore College

Hi! My name is Mingjia ‘2020. I am a rising senior and major in Biology at Skidmore. This summer with the help of Skidmore’s Summer Experience Fund, I am able to continue my research under the supervising of Professor Bernard Possidente in the Biology department at Skidmore. This my individual project with Professor Possidente and our project is to study the effects of lithium on the circadian activity rhythms in fruit flies, Drosophila melanogaster. The project is divided into two parts, the first is to investigate the interaction of lithium and another normal drug, caffeine, and the second is to study the gender difference in fruit flies with different dosages of lithium treatment.

Lithium is a common treatment for bipolar disorder. Drugs that interact with lithium are of interest because they may alter lithium’s therapeutic effects, especially when caffeine is a common drug that people often consume. Although caffeine is generally associated with positive effects on health, an increase in suicide risk has been associated with caffeine consumption in bipolar disorder patients. Bipolar symptoms are cyclical, therefore circadian clock function has been investigated as a mechanism underlying bipolar cycles of mania and depression. We compared lithium chloride, caffeine, and the combination of both drugs to controls for effects on daily activity rhythms in a 12:12 light/dark photoperiod with fruit flies. After few rounds of experiments, I have found repeated results that although caffeine does not have overall effect on activity level, it affects the day and night activity ratio, making the fruit flies more active at night, and that lithium amplifies caffeine effect on activity level at night. These results show that there is an interaction between lithium and caffeine and this interaction may mess up with the sleep cycle of fruit flies. Gender differences in the circadian rhythms and activity levels are also noticed in my first two rounds of experiments, so we move on to the next part of the experiment which is important for the meaning of considering gender difference when treating bipolar patients. We compared different dosages of only lithium to controls with both sexes of fruit flies. A new round of experiment is undergoing now, and data will be collected on Sunday and be analyzed afterwards. The next step of our experiments is to repeat the gender difference experiments with the same dosages of lithium with another wild type strain of fruit flies. We want to see if there are any strain differences. The experiments will be conducted in the rest of August and the beginning of September.

The reason that I did not conduct my research with a stipend from Professor Possidente is that I started the project in the Spring 2019 semester and have already passed the summer research application deadline which in December 2018. I am a rising senior so this summer is the last chance that I can finish this project and it has great meaning for me. Therefore, I strongly wish to stay even though without a stipend. The SEF fund offers me great support to cover my off-campus rents and living costs for the three months I stay here. The advice I would give for students who are also interested in summer research is that do not be afraid to ask for opportunities and do not let the physical problems stop your passion for seeking answers in the scientific world. Even if you have already passed the application deadline, you may have other choices to support your research. SEF fund is one of the great choices and your professors may also have other funds that can offer you a stipend. Never hesitate to ask and seek for opportunities!

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