I am on campus conducting research with Professor Ana Jimenez on the effects of oxidative stress, which scientists believe is one of the leading causes of aging in animals. This is a fairly new topic of study, because scientists did not connect oxidative stress to aging until the late 2000s.
Oxidative stress deals with the balance between pro-oxidants — molecules that damage cells and membranes — and antioxidants, which stop damage. Both are produced during cellular respiration, the main mechanism by which bodies turn food into energy. When the process works correctly, it produces antioxidants, but less than 2 percent of the time it produces pro-oxidants instead.
Our research deals with oxidative stress and aging in dogs. Small dogs tend to live longer than large dogs, even though small dogs have slower metabolic rates and in almost every other mammalian species, animals with slower metabolism have shorter lifespans than animals with faster rates. We believe oxidative stress is behind this aging anomaly.
The summer was split into two parts. During the first two weeks, my lab partner, Alex Ionescu ’19, and I familiarized ourselves with mountains of journal articles on oxidative stress and its effects. We also asked vets from central New York for dog skin samples.
The second part of our summer has consisted of lab work. When we receive a sample from the vet, we isolate the primary fibroblasts (connective tissue cells) in our lab. Fibroblasts are easily manipulated. By using chemicals to break the tissue into a solution, we can then use a centrifuge to separate those cells from everything else. We then plate the separated cells in specialized flasks and incubate them to grow for a week before we analyze them.
Once we have enough cells, we run different tests to measure rates of oxygen consumption and glycolysis, antioxidant content, pro-oxidant content, and amount of membrane damage. All of these measurements help us to determine what it is about small dogs that let them live longer than large dogs.
As a rising junior, I am grateful for the opportunity to do primary research, and this experience has made me want to continue down this path after I graduate.