This summer, Alex Jones ’16 is conducting an important research project to better understand how vitamin C affects growth and development. He is working with Professor of Biology Herm Lehman to study what role vitamin C plays in the metabolism of Manduca sexta, a kind of hornworm that is frequently used in scientific experiments. Jones and Lehman’s research this summer is one part of an ongoing project to determine how exactly vitamin C is necessary for growth and development.
Jones’s current research is building on previous research experience. Last summer, he and Lehman found that the Manduca sexta requires a dietary intake of vitamin C for proper growth and development. Like humans, Manduca sexta cannot produce its own vitamin C and must therefore obtain it through diet. Because of this property and because the Manduca sexta’s large size makes it easy to examine, the worm makes a good model for studies into growth and development.
This summer, Jones and Lehman aimed to find out why the worm’s growth is dependent on vitamin C. This, however, is a complicated question to answer. Jones commented, “Finding the mechanism through which Vitamin C is required for proper growth and development is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack.”
Researchers need to look at one small factor at a time, gradually narrowing down the possibilities and carefully building on previous research as they go. Jones explained, “Ultimately, we hope that if we ask enough questions and gather enough data we can answer the overarching question of how exactly Vitamin C influences growth and development.”
Jones and Lehman determined that it would be logical to start by examining the role of vitamin C in the metabolism. In particular, they’re analyzing whether vitamin C affects the synthesis of an important neurotransmitter in the metabolism, octopamine. In the final month of the summer, they are working on analyzing the data they collected to look for patterns.
Jones hopes that their research might reveal a relationship between vitamin C and metabolism in Manduca sexta. No matter what the results show, however, Jones knows that they will be successful in contributing to the progress of research. “If our results indicate what we expected,” he said, “then we have taken a huge step closer to solving our question. If not, then we have still learned something and can reevaluate accordingly.” Jones himself is likely to be involved in future research for the project, as he is about to start his senior thesis with Professor Lehman.
As he approaches the end of this summer’s research, Jones emphasized the long-term importance of what he and Lehman have been working on. “People have worked on this project before I became interested in it, and people will probably continue working on it after I graduate,” he noted. No matter what his results suggest, they will contribute to research that will be important for a long time to come.