CHAD WATTS NSF Undergraduate Fellow
Thesis Title:
The D4 Set: using intron structure to target rapidly evolving chloroplast loci in flowering plants.

Research Advisor:
Dr Scot A Kelchner

Teacher Partner:
Carol Smith, Taylorview Jr High School

Degree Sought:
Bachelor of Science in Zoology

University Department and/or Lab:
Department of Biological Sciences, Kelchner Lab

Research Focus:
The lab focus that I am most involved in deals with the study of molecular and structural evolution in chloroplast group two introns.

Description of Research:
Noncoding regions are growing in popularity as targets for phylogenetic analysis. The complexity of their mutation patterns can often be explained by simple mechanisms, particularly in organellar genomes. Our lab has laid some of the groundwork for improving the use of intergenic spacers and introns in tracing evolutionary history. These contributions include the recognition of basic mutational mechanisms during alignment, the discovery of a previously unknown mutation type in DNA, and consideration of how phylogenetic models should be fit to noncoding data. We are now working toward computational automation of these methods. Our lab has been investigating the evolution of highly conserved structural DNA and RNA molecules using phylogenetic techniques. We have a particular interest in Group II intron structure and evolution, as well as other ribozymic RNA molecules. Another focus is the elucidation of conserved secondary structures we find present in many intergenic spacer regions of the chloroplast genome.

One example of how you integrate your research into your GK-12 experience:
Implementing my research directly into the GK-12 project has been somewhat of a challenge due to the fact that I was placed in a chemistry and physics class. However, there have been areas or techniques used in my research which has been useful for implementing dynamic examples. For instance, I use gel electrophoresis to determine the success of a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) amplification reaction for my research. However, it is also a good demonstration for many chemical principles: compound charge and polymer formation to name a couple. More than anything, my research has added a certain dynamic to the class because it shows students that all scientific disciplines are interrelated and essential.

Profile date: April 2007