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Research collaboration takes Bolyard to former Soviet countries for study, lecturing

JACKSON, Tenn.Sept. 27, 2010 – Mark Bolyard, professor of biology and chairman of the biology department, traveled to Latvia and Lithuania in the summer of 2010 to discuss details about a research collaboration between a Christian doctoral student and Union University.

The trip finalized details for a study to identify bacteria that live in shoot tip cultures of poplar trees, for the purpose of determining whether the bacteria had a positive or negative effect on the rest of the tree.

The doctoral candidate, Jonas Ziuka, and his research adviser will send bacteria samples to Union where Carrie Moore, a senior biology major, will test them in the labs for her undergraduate research project.

“She will use a lot of tests she learned from her microbiology class,” Bolyard said. Bolyard is Moore’s advisor for the research project.

The first samples should arrive at Union sometime in October, Bolyard said.

Ziuka is not only working on his Doctor of Philosophy degree from the Lithuanian Forest Research Institute, but is attending seminary and leading a church, as well. Bolyard first connected with Ziuka on an earlier mission trip to the area to encourage Christians and to learn about the re-emerging church there.

But the visit to these once Soviet-occupied Baltic republics was not solely focused on tree bacteria research. Bolyard also gave a talk to doctors in Latvia about stem cell research and human cloning, and another in Lithuania on the integration of faith and science to a Christian audience.

“They had a lot of questions,” Bolyard said of the doctors who attended the presentation, arranged by a Christian practitioner. “I’m encouraged because it seems like a part of the world where people are coming out of a spiritual coma.”

In the spring of 2010, Bolyard also received a Pew Grant and is working with an undergraduate research student on another research project with an overseas connection. For her undergraduate research project, Danielle Blackstone, a senior biology major, began research on the regeneration of African and Cuban mahogany from leaf tissue. This project arose as a result of conversations between Bolyard and his friend Kenneth Elisipana, who is from southern Sudan.

The mahogany tree grows well in Elisipana’s region of Sudan, but is not currently a source of sustainable revenue because it is difficult to grow from seed. In exploring the possibility of growing trees from mahogany leaf cultures, Bolyard said the goal is to find out if regeneration from leaves is possible as the starting point for a sustainable mahogany forestry project in southern Sudan.

Regeneration is the process of causing the leaf cells to “lose their identity,” Bolyard said, followed by growth of the cells until they have developed into the necessary tissues to form a new tree. The regeneration process for the mahogany tree has begun and is currently a mass of undefined cells.

“It’s not something anyone has done before,” Bolyard said of the research project.

Although he is interested in the subjects of the two research projects and would like to see the findings used for improvement, Bolyard said his main purpose in conducting studies is to help give students opportunities to learn to research well and become practitioners of biology.

By Samantha Adams (’13)

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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