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Scientific research involves a lot of trial and error, a lot of ups
and downs. But Jean Shingle, Ph.D., associate professor of Biology,
maintains an undimmed curiosity as she and her students pursue
discoveries. Even the setback of a disproven hypothesis can illumi-
nate new areas for exploration.
“What I’ve recently been trying to do is just engage the
students in something,” she said, “find something that they get
excited about, and then we’ll just let them run with it. And what
they learn from that is way more valuable than what they would
learn from a lab, where they can kind of guess what the answer’s
going to be … And they make mistakes along the way. And those
mistakes, when they figure out why that happened, are something
Many of Shingle’s students are interested in going into medi-
cine and want their research to have a practical application. So
most of the projects, Shingle said, are about “Let’s see what we can
kill!” Bacteria, that is, not patients.
Once they have a topic, Shingle asks them to come up with a
list of supplies, and they’ll go over it together. Some of them give
her a look as if to say, “You mean you’re not going to tell me what
to do?” Shingle nudges them toward more independence in figur-
ing out how to accomplish their research goal. “If I just tell you,
then that’s me doing it,” she says to them.
“They catch on pretty quickly. And then by the end, they can
explain everything from start to finish,” Shingle said. “It’s very
gratifying to me that they’ve learned something on their own. I’m
here to troubleshoot and things like that, but they do most of it.”
Shingle recently collaborated with Chemistry Department
Chair James Murray Jr., Ph.D., to mentor Katemarie Gale ’13 and
Danielle Senn ’13 as they investigated whether the herb bupleu-
rum Chinese had antimicrobial properties. Coriander, which is
from the same plant family, kills bacteria that cause foodborne
illnesses and hospital infections, so the students hypothesized that
bupleurum Chinese would have similar characteristics.
In Asian medicine, certain oils made from herbs are used to
clean wounds or sterilize surfaces, Shingle explained. “Using those
in addition to the things we already have reduces the amount
of bacteria that would be, let’s say, resistant to an antibiotic or
resistant to something else, because we do have lots of strains of
bacteria that have become resistant to things that are used every
day. Even the antibacterial soaps don’t work on some types of bac-
teria,” she said. “There are actually huge labs that are now working
on trying to find new antibiotics, because there really are very few
in the pipeline.”
Murray helped Gale and Senn turn bupleurum Chinese pow-
der into an oil, and the students developed the testing protocol.
They grew E. coli, Salmonella, and other bacteria in a petri dish
at a specific concentration. Then they gradually added increasing
concentrations of the oil to see whether the bacteria would die.
Unfortunately, the bacteria continued to grow uninhibited.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that bupleurum Chinese oil has
no antimicrobial properties, Shingle said. It could be that the oil
wasn’t concentrated enough, or that it was contaminated in some
way. Or it could be that the oil would kill only specific types of
bacteria that weren’t tested. Additional testing needs to be done in
order to answer these questions.
Shingle has more questions she wants to research, too. Certain
microscopic worms have a different genetic makeup depending
on the environment in which they live—forest soil as opposed to
garden soil, for example. Since these worms eat bacteria, Shingle
wants to know whether this genetic variability correlates with the
variability in the types of bacteria that exist in different areas. She
hopes to recruit some students who will collect soil from various
areas of campus to examine the worms and the bacteria.
Depending on the type of variability they find, Shingle and
her student-researchers may conclude that different environments
influence the expression of the worms’ genes.
Continued on page 78
JEAN SHINGLE, PH.D.