Amy Northrop '15
8/8/13Randolph-Macon College biology major Amy Northrop ’15 can be found most days in a Copley Science Center lab. This summer, she is participating in the Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. SURF offers students the unique opportunity to conduct 10 weeks of full-time, original research during the summer months, under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Northrop is no stranger to SURF; in 2012 she participated in the program, and she enjoyed the experience so much that she was inspired to continue her work.
The Project“After finding some interesting results last year, I wanted to continue researching a specific protein and its relevance to fertilization,” she explains. Her project is titled “Evaluation of the Glycosylation of GPR56 in Guinea Pig Spermatogenic Cells.” Northrop is analyzing the biochemical properties of a protein, G Protein-Coupled Receptor 56 (GPR56), which is found in guinea pig spermatogenic cells. She also hopes to determine where exactly the protein is located in the spermatogenic cells and if it plays a crucial role in the initial stages of fertilization.
“In a typical day of research, I conduct Western Analyses and Fluorescence Microscopy to determine the glycosylation and localization of GPR56, respectively, in male guinea pig germ cells,” she says. “Glycosylation is the addition of carbohydrate groups, or sugars, to proteins. Not all proteins in a cell have carbohydrates attached to them, but for those that do, the carbohydrates are very important for the function and location of the protein in the cell. In other cell types (e.g. brain, metastatic tumors) GPR56 is involved in cell adhesion, and carbohydrates are certain to be involved in those cell-cell interactions mediated by GPR56. In spermatogenic (i.e. male germ cells) cells in the testis, GPR56 appears to be involved in development of sperm. In mature sperm cells we think GPR56 may be involved in sperm-egg adhesion during fertilization or possibly sperm-oviduct (Fallopian tube) adhesion as sperm journey to the site of fertilization.”
An Enriching Experience“The SURF program has really enriched my educational experience,” says Northrop, a Henrico, Virginia native. “Being able to take part in SURF last year, before I had taken upper-level biology courses, gave me an advantage when it came to learning about various biological techniques. After taking more upper-level classes, I feel even more capable this summer, as I more thoroughly understand the significance of certain experiments and their results. The SURF program has really brought out my passion for research.”
MentorshipNorthrop is working under the guidance of Biology Professor James Foster, who also served as her mentor in 2012.
“Mentorship is very important to my research,” she says. “I meet with Professor Foster every day to analyze results and plan what experiments and procedures will be carried out next. Without his great mentorship, I wouldn’t enjoy the research nearly as much or understand the complexity of the experiments we carry out and the results we receive.
Foster says, “GPR56 is a very complicated protein, both in our experiments in male germ cells and in published studies using other cell types. It can take years of full-time work to fully understand the biochemistry of a protein like this, but Amy has made tremendous progress by developing excellent technical skills, carefully reading the literature, and using sheer determination to solve some complex problems. Amy has done an amazing job and has made significant progress with a very challenging project. And last April, Amy, Kethelyne Beauvais ’15, and Casey Barber ’13 presented their 2012 SURF projects at a conference in San Antonio, Texas. That kind of opportunity is rare at the undergraduate level—but it’s one of the many things that make a Randolph-Macon education so extraordinary.”
Campus LifeNorthrop is an active member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, which was recently lauded for its service and philanthropy. She is also a past recipient of the William F. Goggin and Robert Allen Thomas Scholarship, and she is a current recipient of the Marcus H. Bloodworth ’36 Scholarship.
A member of the Beta Beta Beta National Honor Society, Northrop is also a member of the College Panhellenic Council and the Service Fellows program, and she is an Orientation Leader. She was recently chosen be a Yellow Jacket tour guide in the fall. After graduating from R-MC, Northrop plans to attend graduate school.
“I want to continue learning and conducting research in a biology program,” she says.
Generous SupportThe SURF program was established in 1995 through a generous gift made by Ben ’64 and Peggy Schapiro. The Schapiros continue to support this program, which promotes scholarly undergraduate research by R-MC students in all disciplines.