Research at Hendrix

Meghan Kerin '13

Meghan Kerin

Biology major from Russellville, Ark.

Undergraduate research project

Sequencing the PLA2 Gene of Agkistrodon contortrix for Evidence of Venom Evolution with Dr. George Harper

The Arkansas River divides the Ouachita Mountains and Ozark Plateau, and may serve as a geographic barrier for allopatric speciation for populations of Agkistrodon contortrix, commonly known as the copperhead snake, separated into these unique ecosystems. Predators separated geographically may exhibit evolution on a molecular level by adapting to different prey available in contrasting regions. The Phospholipase A2 (PLA2) gene of A. contortrix encodes a myotoxic venom protein that disrupts the phospholipid bilayer of muscle cells. By analyzing the sequences of the PLA2 gene of populations of A. contortrix separated by the Arkansas River, the hypothesis can be tested whether these copperhead snakes are diverging even further.

How did you find out about this opportunity?

A few of my friends at Hendrix told me about the rewarding experiences they have had as undergraduate researchers, and I became interested in participating myself. When I heard that Dr. Harper researched venomous snakes such as copperheads and coral snakes, I was hooked.

How does your project fit with your interests and your professional plans for life after Hendrix?

I decided to work as an undergraduate researcher to understand how research involving bioinformatics and genetics works in real life. I didn't want to leave Hendrix only reading textbooks about science; I also wanted to "do" science. I am also working as an undergraduate researcher because I am applying to medical school this year, and I believe this experience has helped me prepare for my future.

What has been the most eye-opening or valuable part of your experience so far?

The most valuable part of my experience so far is working with the other students in the lab, learning laboratory techniques involving DNA analysis, and learning about the characteristics, toxicity, and behavior of venomous snakes. It has been exciting for me to work on sequencing a gene that has never before been sequenced!