Stillman Professor Anathbandhu Chaudhuri Inspires Student Researchers
The prestige of fruit flies has increased exponentially on Stillman’s campus since Dr. Anathbandhu Chaudhuri’s arrival in January, 2013. Before classes, after classes and even on weekends, the anatomy and physiology professor works with biology majors who flock to the lab in the Stinson Building to conduct experiments on the tiny Drosophila melanogaster.
One afternoon, as he assisted a group of students who spread out in the lab to review projects, ask questions and conduct research, Dr. Chaudhuri explained to an observer the allure of the fruit fly. “We can use the fruit fly to study different diseases that affect humans because the fruit fly has eighty percent of the genes that humans have. In addition to sharing gene homology, the fruit fly has a very short life span—from 50 to 100 days, and is easy to culture in the lab. Also, with fruit flies you can easily delete the gene function which is specifically linked to a certain disease in order to study the disease mechanism and the affects of specific drugs.”
Pausing to get students started on their projects, Dr. Chaudhuri motioned toward freshman Miaya Murrell and she turned a knob on a CO2 tank attached by a plastic tube to a fly bed, which looks like a tiny mattress for insects to rest on.
As the anesthesia flowed through the tube, Murrell reached for a vial filled with fruit flies and tilted it over the porous fly bed. Immediately sedated by the CO2 seeping though pours in the bed, the fruit flies rested languidly as Murrell employed a tiny paintbrush to carefully separate the males, which have a black spot on the last abdominal section, from the females.
Anesthetized fruit flies are usually docile, so Murrell glanced up in surprise at Dr. Chaudhuri when one energetic Drosophila melanogaster attempted to bolt from the bed. Moving quickly, Dr. Chaudhuri used a paintbrush to halt the speedy fruit fly and Murrell continued her task.
Courtney Cunningham, a senior who has been awarded full funding to present her work at the American Society for Microbiology’s Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in Nashville, Tennessee, November 13 through 16, sat at a table across the room preparing for a presentation. “I’m studying the affects of drug addiction on dopamine in fruit flies,” said Cunningham, as she reviewed a power point she designed to explain her research.
Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, also helps regulate movement and emotional responses. “We video taped the movement behavior of the fruit fly after it was fed drugs and made graphs to explain what I saw. Some fruit flies were immobile. Others were only partially immobilized,” she explained.
Cunningham, who took one of Dr. Chaudhuri’s classes over the summer, said she was thrilled when he invited her to conduct research on fruit flies. Under Dr. Chaudhuri’s supervision, she and other student researchers are exploring the links between dopamine synthesis pathways and clock genes in stress response, senescence and neurodegenerative disorders.
Although the researchers are not paid, she said that the experience she has gained is priceless. “Since I’ve been affiliated with Dr. Andy, I have been exposed to many positive opportunities that have helped me to build my resume and explore graduate schools. He is very encouraging, and he stays on my case all the time. I don’t have a class with him this semester, but he still fusses at me all the time and reminds me that I need to get all ‘A’s.”
Cunningham said that some of her friends who are not biology majors are so curious about her research that they come to the lab to see the fruit flies. “It’s so interesting to watch them hatch, grow, mate and be used for experiments. They are so small, but you are still able to examine their movement behavior and compare it to human movement behavior.”
Dr. Chaudhuri began using fruit flies to research Parkinson’s disease when he came to the U.S. from India for postdoctoral studies with Professor Janis O’Donnell at The University of Alabama in 2001. After completing his studies in 2005, he taught a cell physiology class at Stillman before returning to research. From 2006 to 2012, he served as a research associate at Nebraska Medical Center. When he returned to Stillman, Dr. Chaudhuri immediately began collaborating with Dr. O’Donnell and with Dr. Natraj Krishnan at Mississippi State University to create greater opportunities for students to have hands-on research experiences.
“Both The University of Alabama and Mississippi State University have supplied us with fruit flies for our experiments, and Dr. Krotzer (Stillman’s Dean of Arts & Science) has been a tremendous help in securing equipment such as an incubator with a fly monitoring system for our fruit flies,” said Dr. Chaudhuri, who has had over 70 papers published in diverse research journals, including Blood, The Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Oncogene and PLOS.
Although Dr. Chaudhuri’s vast experience has included research on age related macular degeneration and stem cell transplantation, colon cancer, protein and gene regulation on Parkinson’s disease, and HIV associated dementia, there is one common thread in everything that he has accomplished professionally—the Drosophila melanogaster.
Find out more about his student’s fascinating research during Science Blast on Thursday, October 31, at 11 a.m. in Stinson Auditorium.
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