Summer program engages students in undergraduate research

COLLEGE STATION — Animal science student Michelle Gutierrez had not conducted research prior to this summer, but now thanks to an undergraduate research program at Texas A&M University she knows the proper technique of staining tissues, extracting RNA and extracting testosterone from testicular tissue.

Gutierrez, a senior from McAllen, was one of five undergraduate students who participated in an Honors and Undergraduate Research program called Summer Program in Undergraduate Research (SPUR), a program titled, “Integrated Physiology: a Tool to Enhance Undergraduate Research Experience in Animal Science.” Also participating were Darryl Yates, animal science; and Vanessa Maher, Mary Terrill and Jason Jucker, biomedical sciences.

The students conducted research under the direction of three Department of Animal Science faculty members: Dr. Marcel Amstalden, associate professor; Dr. Thomas Welsh, professor; and Dr. Nancy Ing, associate professor.

“This research program stimulated critical thinking in our students, as well as trained them in research so they can continue in undergraduate research after our program,” said Amstalden. “We also wanted this project to show the students the integration between cellular and whole-animal functions, through the learning of fundamental biological concepts for a better understanding of animal physiology.”

The students worked in teams of two and were assigned to investigate tissue growth, gene expressions, and testosterone production during maturation of the goat testis. Each team evaluated the age-related changes in testis structure and function at cellular and molecular levels, using traditional and state-of-the-art methods available in the laboratories.

Working with the faculty and graduate students, the undergraduate histomorphologically evaluated endocrine glands, analyzed expression of key genes involved in sperm and steroid production, and measured testosterone production.
Gutierrez expects this experience will help her if she chooses to apply to veterinary school or graduate school.

“This experience reinforced what I already learned in some of the animal science courses such as ANSC 433 and GENE 301. Overall, this was a really interesting experience and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to do research. I recommend other fellow Aggies take a chance and explore their interests while keeping an open mind,” Gutierrez said.

Upon completion of the program, the students prepared a report to share their results with the Integrative Physiology SPUR group and engaged in coordinated discussions designed to integrate results obtained by all teams. Students also participated with more than 100 other students in the campus-wide Research Experience for Undergraduates summer activities sponsored by HUR, including a public research poster session on July 31.


For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, please contact Courtney Coufal at or (979) 845-1542.

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