Undergraduate Honors Theses


Fitness Effects of the Overexpression of E. coli Ribosomal Regulatory Proteins
Prokaryotic ribosomes are key to cell viability and an important area of study in model bacterial organisms. Some ribosomal proteins negatively regulate their own synthesis and that of the polycistronic operons they occur within. If levels of an autoregulatory ribosomal protein are higher than necessary for normal ribosome assembly, it binds to the 5’-untranslated region of its own mRNA transcript, preventing further translation of itself and any other proteins on its operon. We and others have shown bacteria growth defects when overexpressing ribosomal proteins (e.g. L20 and S6:S18); therefore, we hypothesized that an overabundance of autoregulatory proteins would negatively affect cell fitness due to decreased expression of the operon gene products, many of which are essential components of the ribosome. The regulation of ribosomal proteins is best described in E. coli, so we decided to use it as a model organism to investigate how overexpression of specific ribosomal proteins would affect cell growth. We examined the effects of overexpressing ribosomal proteins S15, S20, S2, S6:S18, S8, L20, L10, S1, L25, L7 and L1 on cell growth. We find the most severe growth defect in response to L20 overexpression. We performed rescue experiments for L20, L10, and S6:S18 by synthetically overexpressing the entire operon rather than just the regulatory protein. We find that this rescues the fitness of S6:S18 overexpression slightly, and L20 and L10 overexpression to a high degree. We also examined whether homologs of L20, L10, and S7 from B. subtilis and T. thermophilus induce the same changes in growth to deduce the regulatory interrelationships between different bacterial phyla. Bacillus L20 and L10 overexpression both showed drastic fitness defects. As our arsenal of effective antibiotics dwindles, our results suggest that targeting the ribosomal protein operons may be an effective area for pharmaceutical development.
Forecasting Real-Time Win Probability in NHL Games
Uncertainty is a key part of any sports game; without it, there is little reason to be interested in the outcome. This thesis attempts to quantify the uncertainty inherent in NHL hockey games by building a real-time win probability model that estimates both teams’ likelihood of winning based on what has happened in the game so far. The model is built using historical data from the 2009-2010 season all the way to the 2016-2017 season. Given the differential and the time left, the model evaluates historical data for that specific game-state and calculates a win probability. The model also uses a multi-regression approach to incorporate pre-game Vegas odds as a way to factor the strength of both teams; to my knowledge, this is the first publicly available hockey win probability model to do so. Finally, the model also factors in elements unique to the sport of hockey, like power plays and shootout periods.
Genetic Enhancement, Hyperagency, and Humanity. An Investigation of the Implications.
The genetic enhancement the human genome would be humanity’s most extreme attempt in the quest for hyperagency, and will have negative implications for our sense of humanity. Hyperagency is an extreme over-expression of our own human agency; everything is transparent, subject to our control and manipulation, and in accordance with our own interests. Modern era philosophical theories in subjectivity and agency have developed, evolved, and responded to advancements in science and technology over the past few centuries, and have all contributed to the current shift in understanding of our own humanity, influencing the rise of hyperagency in the postmodern world. The act of manipulating an organism’s genetic material for the purposes of changing and modifying its characteristics is referred to as genetic modification. The term genetic enhancement is more specifically indicative of the process of modifying nonpathological, or non-disease related genes. Genetic enhancement, in the form of germline engineering especially, exhibits a dangerous attitude of hyperagency that will have negative consequences for humanity as a whole. Hyperagency not only disrupts our sense of reverence before mystery and depth but also threatens our sense of morality in relating to the world. If continued, practices in hyperagency such as genetic enhancement will lead us to lose our sense of humanity altogether.
HbA1c Test’s Accuracy as a Predictor for Diabetes with Complications Diagnosis
HbA1c levels are the most frequently used test for diagnosis and prognosis of diabetes mellitus. Recent studies have shown the biases this test has in particular cohorts, that was not noted when it was originally accepted by the American Diabetes Association in 2008. This study examined how these biases affect HbA1c’s ability as a predictor for complications that arise due to diabetes in specific cohorts, those of ethnicity, age, weight, and other patient attributes, compared to other established diabetes prognosis tests. We discovered that both glucose and HbA1c share similar biases as predictors for particular cohorts (the high glucose, high BMI, Asian, African, and Hispanic descent cohorts), HbA1c works better as a predictor when it is combined with the results of a glucose test and more characteristics of the patient compared to a HbA1c test alone with fewer variables, and glucose and HbA1c are better predictors for different diseases, respectively, that may arise due to diabetes mellitus.
Healing in a New Home
While the current refugee crisis is the result of various factors, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) remains a significant issue for refugee women. This particular thesis is an applied perspective on the socioecological approach and feminist constructivist theoretical orientation to mental health and psychosocial service provision for refugee women survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. The findings are an analytical stand based upon four interviews conducted with mental healthcare providers working among Maine’s population of recent-arrival refugees from Central/Eastern Africa, as well as a comprehensive literature review on refugee mental health and sexual and genderbased violence theory. It argues that, vis-a-vis these frameworks, care providers can best account for the intersectional identities of the immigrant woman, as well as the collective identity of the culture in which she is situated, both ethnographically via the country of origin, and physically within the resettlement society. The interviews were each individually coded and aggregated into three thematic concentrations spanning a descriptive discussion of cultural differences in perceptions of mental health, a reflection from practitioners regarding the needs for furthering the field, and an inquiry into the macro-level barriers to care. The resulting qualitative evidence from the interviews supports the aforementioned orientations to care and, therefore, illustrates a strong case for culturally-competent applied psychology as a means for both individual and communal healing.
How Self-Directed Learning Relates to Technology Integration and Pedagogical Beliefs in Middle School Classrooms
SDL is an important life-long learning skill. Current research on SDL has approached it both as a set of skills students develop and as an instructional method. The study presented here approached SDL as an instructional method and explored educators’ instructional use of SDL in relation with pedagogical beliefs, a relationship that has not been sufficiently explored in past research. This relationship was also placed in a Critical Race Theoretical Framework to explore whether the implementation of SDL differed by the racial composition of schools. A multi-method approach was taken which included surveying and interviewing middle school teachers in Massachusetts public schools. Descriptive analyses, factor analyses, correlation analyses, regression analyses, and t-tests were conducted in order to explore the relationship between teachers’ implementation of SDL and their extent of technology integration and pedagogical beliefs, as well as whether the implementation of SDL differs based on the racial composition of the schools in which teachers work. Interviews were employed to explore the results further. Teachers with more student-centered beliefs had higher levels of implementation of SDL than those with more teacher-centered beliefs, and pedagogical beliefs were also a stronger predictor of the level of implementation of SDL than were teachers’ amount of technology use or beliefs about student technology use. No significant relationship was observed between SDL and the racial composition of schools.
Identity as Illness? Rethinking Transgender Suicide Risk and Healthcare in Germany
Transgender individuals in the twenty-first century face stigmatization across the globe. Discrimination contributes to the development of early life stress (ELS), and this may lead to depression, anxiety, and social and developmental problems as individuals enter adulthood. Suicide rates in transgender populations in Western countries peak above 41%, compared to 4.6% in the general population (Haas, Rodgers, & Herman, 2014). Though medical and social efforts to treat suicide in the community are being developed, existing measures have been unable to effect significant change regarding these disproportionately-high suicide rates. Some parts of the world are drawing ahead of others in this respect. As one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world (Rand, 2013), for example, Germany is making progress medically and legally, including recently having introduced a third gender option into legal documents and opened new discussions on depathologizing transgender identity in medical care. Germany has been able to build on its early history as the first country to publicly tolerate and provide healthcare to transgender individuals. This has fostered transgender activism from the postwar period to today and may contribute to lowered suicide rates among transgender Germans. This thesis aims to use Germany’s early history of transgender rights to contextualize the state of the transgender population there today. Using an analysis of existing literature, it looks at the effects of stigmatization on suicide rates in the transgender population. Positive and negative aspects of Germany’s LGBTQ+ and transgender culture are evaluated for their impact on neurological development and the perpetuation of suicidal behavior. The thesis concludes with proposals for improved social, legal, and medical practices regarding transgender health in Germany, with a particular focus on the development of cultural understanding of transgender identity.
Implicit Dehumanization of Competitors
Dehumanization of outgroup members in situations of intergroup competition has been widely reported (Haslam, 2006), but the effects of individual competition on dehumanization have not yet been extensively explored. A previous study in our lab examined this effect and found an unexpected gender difference, with women showing greater implicit dehumanization than men. The present study aimed to explore a possible mechanism for that gender difference: gendered expectations of maintaining positive interpersonal relations, and subsequent discomfort in competitive situations, may motivate the implicit dehumanization of competitors. Participants interacted briefly with a confederate and were then given instructions for a competitive or non-competitive game. Participants then completed two Single-Category Implicit Association Tests measuring dehumanization of their game partner. Participants also completed the Mind Perception Questionnaire, which measures explicit dehumanization of participants’ game partners. We predicted that in the Competition condition, female participants would implicitly dehumanize their game partners more than men would.
Improving Sea Level Projections in Northern Alaska
Modern day climate change is exacerbating sea level change both locally and globally. The magnitudes of these changes are dependent on numerous global and regional factors that make it difficult to accurately project local sea level into the future. In Alaska, there are many processes contributing to sea level changes along the coast. In particular, there is substantial vertical land movement, in the form of uplift and subsidence, due to the isostatic adjustment of the land once burdened by ice sheets. In Northern Alaska, there is an additional source of land motion that occurs because the flat, tundra landscape is underlain by ~100-300m of permafrost. This permafrost is currently melting and the area is experiencing land subsidence because of it. This study refines sea level projections along northern Alaska by accounting for this extra climate signal. The addition of permafrost-melt induced isotropic land subsidence in projections for the northern coast of Alaska results in sea level rise estimates at the end of the century that double previously published projections. These improved Alaska projections will be vital for the coastal communities, especially in coming decades, in order to minimize losses of coastal property and infrastructure.
Intergenerational Understandings of Black Women's Mental Health
This study delved further into the stigmatizing perception of mental health within the black community by focusing on its understandings in the population of black women. Black women statistically are underrepresented and underutilizing the mental health industry, so this study unearthed reasons behind these numbers through empirical research. From interviews with eight women from three generational cohorts (young adults, professional adults, and older adults), I examined their perspectives on the topic of mental health and how that may have changed over the course of their lives to where they are today. Despite generational groupings, these findings can help researchers and practitioners better understand the reasons behind those statistics and help change the industry as a whole to include black women’s voices.


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