Campus: CSU Long Beach -- January 14, 2005
National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant for Advanced Microscope to
Benefit Cal State Long Beach Faculty, Student Research Projects
Dessie Underwood, an assistant professor of biological sciences at
California State University, Long Beach, is studying chromosomal abnormalities
in butterfly sperm that could lead to a greater understanding of chromosome-based
health disorders in humans such as Down Syndrome.
In the CSULB Physics and Astronomy Department, Professor Chuhee Kwon
is working with superconducting thin films that have potential applications
in a variety of electronics and technology areas.
Their research, as well as studies by other CSULB faculty and students,
will advance even further with a new state-of-the-art microscope with
laser attachments that can capture or cut out structures within individual
tissues and cells or tiny segments only a few molecules wide of other
materials. Underwood and Kwon recently received a $205,587 grant from
the National Science Foundation to purchase a Cell Robotics laser microscopy
workstation fitted with what the company calls “LaserScissors.”
The device is one of the few of its type at a Southern California university.
Underwood will use the new microscope to study Eucheira socialis,
or the madrone butterfly, which exhibits chronic abnormalities in its
sperm, leading to what are called segregation distortion disorders.
Underwood said she will “be able to remove individual chromosomes
that are in cells that are dividing. Each chromosome can be amplified
and labeled fluorescently to make a tag, then used to hybridize onto
other cells that are in meiosis and to see where that type of chromosome
lies.” She is collaborating with Dr. Niels Tommerup, a medical
geneticist at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, who is studying
segregation distortion diseases in humans.
For example, Down Syndrome results when an embryo receives three, rather
than two copies of chromosome 21. “Why those chromosomes fail
to segregate in humans is not known,” Underwood said. “If
we can understand why chromosomes in butterflies misbehave, we might
be able to apply it to misbehaving human chromosomes.”
Kwon plans to use the microscope’s laser cutting capabilities
to further her research into developing high temperature superconducting
wire. The computer-controlled laser is so precise that it can cut just
a submicron-thick metallic film on a substrate without breaking the
“We can cut it out, and the inside material and the outside are
electrically isolated, which means I can make any pattern in the thin
film and then study how the electric current is flowing,” she
explained. She and her research team have developed a technique to identify
defects in the film.
“With this tool, we can investigate where the good and bad areas
are and then we may be able to cut out the area which is bad or which
is good and isolate that area to study. We can create a maze pattern
at the microscopic level,” said Kwon, one of several faculty members
researching nanotechnology applications.
One of Underwood’s biology colleagues, Assistant Professor Kelly
Young, specializes in reproductive biology, particularly how the environment
affects reproductive physiology.
She will use the microscope to study Siberian hamsters, some of which
“are exposed to longer days, which would simulate summer, and
some are exposed to shorter days. The lights are turned on and off at
different times, and what we see is a huge change in their gonadal function.
The change is quite dramatic. It takes place over about 12 weeks,”
“What we’re really interested in is how this ovary is going
from a completely functional state to shutting down completely. More
importantly, the following spring, what would happen in the wild is
that the ovary returns to a larger, fully functioning state. We are
able to simulate that in the laboratory and that’s the exciting
part because then we can look at how to take an adult ovary that’s
shut down for whatever reason and get it back to a functional state,”
“What we are planning to do with the microscope is to dissect
out and analyze pockets of hypertrophied steroidogenic cells that appear
in the ovary only when it begins to shut down. We don’t know what
the function of these structures is, and they have been reported by
just one other group. The structures may serve a protective function
for the follicles, or they may just be the by product of a rapid regression
of ovarian structure and function.” By analyzing the hamsters’
ovarian tissue, she hopes to gain further insights that could benefit
“There is something called clinically early menopause where women’s
ovaries can become inert despite the fact that they still have [egg-containing]
follicles,” Young explained. Additionally, “women who are
undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy are usually advised that
the ovaries need to come out or [physicians] can try to shut down the
ovaries.” Ovarian function may or may not return after treatment,
so “what we want to find out is, can we see what genes are taking
this ovary from completely non-functional back to a functional state?
If we understand and know that, maybe it can help those women who have
undergone those treatments.”
These professors’ research teams include both undergraduate as
well as graduate students. Providing early exposure to research has
made Cal State Long Beach one of the top master’s level universities
whose students go on to earn doctorates in science and engineering.