Published: June 6, 2013

Brains and genes take top spots in undergrad research

Contact(s): Kristen Parker University Communications office: (517) 353-8942 cell: (517) 980-0709

With research in neuroscience and biology, two Michigan State University seniors were named the grand prize winners of the annual University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum, which was held April 12.

Susan Sonnenschein, an Honors College student double majoring in psychology and neuroscience, won the arts/humanities/social science division. And Ari Walter, a human biology major in Lyman Briggs College, won the science, technology, engineering and math division.

Sonnenschein’s research revealed the brain adds new cells during puberty to help adolescents transition to adulthood. The physical, cognitive, emotional and social changes that occur during maturation are reflected in the brain, she said.

“This study looked at whether sex difference in cell proliferation during puberty underlies the ultimate difference in cell number,” Sonnenschein wrote in her abstract. “This data supports the hypothesis that new cells are added to the PFC during puberty and there appears to be a difference in the number of cells that are added and maintained in males and females.”

Walter looked at DNA variants that significantly increase the risk for cleft lip and palate. He found abnormal skin and craniofacial development among rats with mutated or missing genes.

“These findings are consistent with our hypothesis that Irf6 and Tfap2a interact during embryonic development and co-regulate critical pathways in utero,” Walter wrote.

About 545 students from 14 colleges presented nearly 400 projects at the forum. First place awards were given in each of the 18 categories, but only two grand prizes were awarded. UURAF provides students with an opportunity to showcase their scholarship and creative activity while bolstering their presentation skills.