Undergraduate presenting at Frontiers
Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 23:10
A UConn undergraduate researching the effects of estrogen on male sex determination will present at Frontiers later this month.
Frontiers is a program that represents students from areas including, STEM, social sciences, humanities and the arts.
Robert Stickels, a 7th-semester molecular cell biology major, has been researching the effects of estrogen on certain proteins for two and a half years. He started his research as a 3rd-semester student and will see the project through until his graduation.
Previous research found that in a tammar wallaby, estrogen can be administered to cause a sex reversal. Since marsupials are mammals, scientists wanted to see if it would have the same effect on humans.
They test this using next generation sequencing techniques and computational methods.
Researchers are interested in seeing if the rise of sexual development disorders is related to the rise of estrogen in BPA products.
“It’s a really big thing in our society,” said Stickels, “A lot of plastics exhibit estrogen like activity and we’re seeing an increase in sexual development disorders in males.”
Stickels said that the first step would be to determine how estrogen changes the phenotype, can see how it might provide insight into sexual development orders such as hypospadias, a male birth defect of the urethra, which affects one in 80 live male births.
“Some results you get are so unexpected,” said Stickels.
He said that one unexpected result was when they found that the protein SOX9 localization in humans was similar to the wallaby treatment group.
Stickels’ presentation on Oct. 23 will be more of a progress report.
Since his previous professor Dr. Andrew Pask moved his lab to Australia, Stickels is continuing his research with UConn professor Dr. Rachel O’Neill.
“It’s a good opportunity for students to talk to professors in a more comfortable environment,” said Stickels.
He is also working with graduate student Tom Heider, and fellow undergraduate Daniel Iskander.
Stickels explained students start a research project and work on it until they graduate, when someone else picks up where they left off. He estimates this research will continue for at least another 10 years.
One of the goals Stickels has for his research is to publish results that show how an estrogen receptor can conscriptually regulate genes responsible for male sex determination.
After Stickels graduates he wants to pursue a PHD in genetics.
“I didn’t really know where I wanted to go in biology before this,” said Stickels.