Shayna Williams ’09 Honored For Research on Anxiety

Shayna Williams ’09 was among 26 first-place award-winners for outstanding scientific research presentations at the recent 2007 Sigma Xi Student Research Conference in Orlando, Fla.

Williams’ interdisciplinary research project, Anxiety-Related Behavior and sepp1a Expression in the Zebrafish Brain, uses zebrafish, a popular, tropical aquarium species, as a model organism to study genes that may be related to anxiety. The CMC junior says she worked on the project for two consecutive summers during an REU (research for undergrads experience) at the University of Idaho, funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Rather than look at zebrafish DNA to see what genes they have, “I used two techniques called Microarray analysis and quantitative Real-Time PCR to measure what genes they were expressing,” Williams says. “That means that I looked at what genes they were using.” The study involved recording behavior data for several weeks for about 250 fish, extracting RNA from their brains, and comparing relative gene expression between the more anxious and less anxious fish.

“What I found is that while most of the genes I looked at did not have differential gene expression between the groups, sepp1a (selenoprotein P) was differentially expressed,” Williams says, “but not in the same pattern in two different populations of fish. My results indicate that the gene sepp1a is involved in anxiety, but that the relationship with sepp1a expression and anxiety is not straightforward.”

Williams’ research was recognized at an awards ceremony last month in Orlando, where she received a medal and an invitation to join Sigma Xi, the international honor society of research scientists and engineers. Membership is by invitation only and is based on research achievements or potential. Over the years, the society has had more than 200 Nobel laureates among its members.

Nearly 200 undergraduate and graduate students, representing 100 institutions, participated in the two-day, research conference. Sigma Xi members at the society’s annual meeting in Orlando served as judges for poster and oral presentations.

Student researchers also attended career advancement workshops, participated in mentoring and networking activities, panel discussions and other events, and heard from leading scientists who have received prestigious annual Sigma Xi awards.