Biology majors Brandon Klein ‘18 and Mihir Samdarshi ‘19 won awards for their research presentations at the Tri Beta Pacific Division Conference held in Irvine on Mar. 17. Both students were mentored by biology professor Kam Dahlquist as part of an ongoing, interdisciplinary project that uses DNA microarrays and mathematical modeling to analyze gene regulatory networks in yeast.
Brandon Klein earned second place for his oral presentation at the conference, which identified key regulators and network properties thought to control the yeast’s response to cold shock stressors. “The experimental model is exposing yeast to cold temperatures and seeing how gene expression changes,” Klein said, explaining that his part of the project focused primarily on interpreting data through a biological lens. “My work was looking at the math, looking at the visual models, and trying to tease out the central characteristics of these networks.”
A recent graduate who will be attending Georgetown University School of Medicine next fall in pursuit of his long-standing career goal of becoming a physician, Klein began working on the project during his sophomore year at LMU and carried it through to his senior thesis. “I went into this project to get more formal experience in how scientific research is structured and carried out. And then with that competence I went to the National Institutes of Health to do an internship last summer in eye research.” The Tri Beta award, he noted, was “a good validation stamp on the work.”
This was Klein’s first time at the Tri Beta conference and his first experience giving an oral presentation of his work. He has previously won awards for his research at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology undergraduate poster competition and was recognized by LMU as a 2018 Program Scholar and a Presidential Citation awardee.
Junior Mihir Samdarshi won honorable mention in the Tri Beta poster competition for presenting his research on the same project. Samdarshi was co-mentored by Dahlquist and John David Dionisio, professor of electrical engineering and computer science. He presented features and developments from his work on programming the project’s open source web application, GRNsight, which creates visual models of gene regulatory networks. “Instead of looking at a spreadsheet with numbers, GRNsight provides an easy-to-visualize map of our data,” Samdarshi explained. “It allows you to compare it, interpret it, and share it with other people.”
As a biology major and computer science minor, Samdarshi brings a unique skill set to the research team. “I’m a biologist primarily, so it’s easy for me to understand what we’re looking at,” he said. “But most of my work is coding this application.” Samdarshi joined the project his freshman year and credits it with shaping his educational goals. “This has really built a good base for me and built an interest,” Samdarshi said. “I’d like to further explore computational biology, bioinformatics and molecular biology in grad school. It’s something I wouldn’t have previously considered, but I really got into it because of this project.”