Noor Shaikh is a junior Biological Sciences major and a URA Scholar.
Title of your research project: A mechanistic understanding of planarian shape regulation during growth and degrowth behaviors
Describe your project: Planarian worms have the extraordinary ability to grow when fed and degrow when starved over more than one order of magnitude in lengths, during which they maintain their body and organ proportions. The goal of this project is to characterize the genes controlling the maintenance of worm proportions and shape during these growth and degrowth behaviors. The specific aims include the recording and analysis of body proportions and shapes during growth and degrowth and the acquisition of gene expression patterns during these processes with in situ hybridization assays.
Who is your mentor(s) for your project? My mentor is Dr. Daniel Lobo in the department of biological sciences at UMBC. I am working under Dr. Lobo's supervision and have been given leadership role to maintain the lab colony of planarian worms and to independently carry out previous pilot-studies of growth and degrowth experiments. I will work together with my mentor’s guidance towards obtaining the final product for my project.
How did you become interested in this project? I had come across my mentor's lab website and was interested in learning more about the planarian worms ability to regenerate. I am excited to use this project as a way to work with and identify the genes responsible for body shape maintenance in this model organism. Also, this project can shed light into how biological growth and shape is regulated and pave the way for novel biomedical applications to human developmental diseases and cancer.
What has been the hardest part about your research/what was the most unexpected thing about being a researcher? Planarians can reproduce asexually by fissioning transversally, resulting in each fragment regenerating a new complete worm. One challenge we encountered in the growth and degrowth pilot studies on the planarian worms were that they fissioned after being isolated in the well plates, so this resulted in an error in our calculations of the body proportions. To solve this problem we placed more than one worm in the well plate because population density modulates fission behavior.
What has been the most rewarding part? The most rewarding part has been the knowledge I have gained and the opportunities to present my research. I was able to present in the 22nd annual Summer Undergraduate Research Fest (SURF) and now with the URA award I will present my further findings at URCAD, in April.
How will you disseminate your research? I plan on sharing the results of my work through an URCAD presentation, professional conferences, and a journal paper.
What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research? My advice to anyone interested in research, is to reach out early to various professors on campus whose work they find interesting. There is always a way to get involved in research that interests you.
What are your career goals? After graduating from UMBC, I plan to earn a PharmD and masters to further pursue a career in research.