Session D: 3:30PM – 5PM

Sciences. Session D – Oral Presentations, East Ballroom, Union

SESSION D (3:30-5:00PM)
Location: East  Ballroom,  A. Ray Olpin University Union



GABA cell characterization in the Ventral Tegmental Area
Kaj Anderson, Brigham Young University
Derek Fairbanks, Brigham Young University

Faculty Mentor Jeff Edwards, Brigham Young University

SESSION D 3:30-3:45PM
East Ballroom, Union
Science and Technology

91,799 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2020 – an increase of 21,000 deaths compared to the previous year. With overdose numbers climbing, it is imperative to invest resources into the study of addiction. Addictions are mediated by the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain. It is composed of primarily dopamine neurons and Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurons. When a drug is taken, the connections between neurons in the VTA are either strengthened through long-term potentiation (LTP) or weakened through long-term depression (LTD). While dopamine neurons have been extensively studied, GABA neurons in the VTA have been neglected. It has recently been discovered that some disinhibitory GABA neurons cause LTD when fired, while others cause LTP. In order to see if there is a genetic difference between these two populations, GABA cells that synapse with other GABA cells will be isolated from the VTA of a mouse brain, and then characterized using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) techniques. It will show if GABA neurons that induce LTD are genetically different from those that induce LTP.  This is the next step in understanding the reward circuit and discovering solutions for addiction.



The Effect Of The Ketogenic Diet On Long-term Potentiation In The Hippocampus
Bryson Reed Brigham Young University
Jared Weight, Brigham Young University

Faculty Mentor Jeff Edwards, Brigham Young University

SESSION D 3:50-4:05PM
East Ballroom, Union
Science and Technology

Four in ten Americans claim to follow a specific diet regime, with 12.9 million Americans electing to follow the ketogenic diet annually [1]. The ketogenic diet has rapidly established itself as one of the most popular fad diets in the United States over the past decade due to short-term weight loss success. It utilizes ketones, such as beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), as the body’s primary energy source instead of the typical source, glucose. Little research has been performed regarding the cognitive effects of the ketogenic diet. We aim to understand the effects of a ketogenic diet on formation and consolidation of memory, which is measured with long-term potentiation (LTP) in the hippocampus. Recalling and acting upon prior experiences uses LTP by strengthening neuron synapses (elevates their activation), which leads to a long-lasting increase in signal transmission between neurons [2]. Every time we recall an event, we strengthen the synapses involved in forming that memory. By measuring LTP in the hippocampus, we can determine if the ketogenic diet impacts cognitive ability to form memories. To accomplish this, we bathe coronal slices from a rodent’s brain that include the hippocampus in a solution containing BHB. Electrodes are placed in the ventral region of the hippocampus of the slice to induce a current to stimulate and measure LTP. Our objective is to illustrate that the ketogenic diet has measurable cognitive effects on our ability to form and consolidate memories. Understanding the cognitive effects on memory the ketogenic diet inflicts could potentially sway the dietary choices of about 5% of Americans. Additionally, if we discover that the ketogenic diet enhances LTP, further testing can determine if it could potentially become a treatment modality for neurological disorders that arise from diminished LTP or weakening of synapses, such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
[1] Batch, Jennifer T, et al. “Advantages and Disadvantages of the Ketogenic Diet: A Review Article.” Cureus, Cureus, 10 Aug. 2020,
[2] Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, et al., editors. Neuroscience. 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2001. Long-Term Synaptic Potentiation. Available from:
[3] Yazdi, Puya. “Long-Term Potentiation: Importance & 17 Ways to Increase It.” SelfHacked, SelfHacked, 15 May 2020,


Teaching a Computer to Untie a Knot
Adam Call, Brigham Young University

Faculty Mentor Mark Hughes, Brigham Young University

SESSION D 4:10-4:25PM
East Ballroom, Union
Science and Technology

Genetic algorithms are a class of algorithms in reinforcement learning that use models inspired from evolutionary processes to help computers learn to solve complex problems.  Different solution strategies are modeled as individuals in a population, which are allowed to evolve through an iterative process aimed at maximizing a given fitness function.  These algorithms have been shown to be adept at solving problems in a variety of different fields. In this talk we will explore uses of genetic algorithms for solving computationally complex problems in low-dimensional topology and knot theory.


Synthetic Handles for Peptide Synthesis
Abbie Darling, University of Utah

Faculty Mentor Andrew Roberts, University of Utah

SESSION D 4:30-4:45PM
East Ballroom, Union
Science and Technology

Peptides and proteins are essential components for sustaining life. Synthetic methods for their production are needed to enable investigations into their structure and function. Typically, peptides are made synthetically using solid-phase peptide synthesis (SPPS) up to approximately 50 amino acids. These fragments are then used to access longer peptides and proteins through selective coupling know as native chemical ligation (NCL). NCL achieves this site and termini selectivity using the reaction of a C-terminal thioester and N-terminal thiol. However, the commonly used method leaves a Cysteine (Cys) residue at each juncture, which is the least abundant amino acid naturally. Our research aims to explore the synthesis of synthetic amino acids that enable NCL to produce a new peptide bond at a range amino acid junction through the elimination of a thiol auxiliary. Creating these amino acids would allow access to a wider range of natural peptides and proteins.


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Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research 2023 - Program Copyright © 2023 by Office of Undergraduate Research is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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