From the classroom to the lab

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Southeastern biologist Kyle R. Piller works with his undergraduate student assistant Malorie Hayes in the analysis of DNA data sets on the department’s new supercomputer, nicknamed Willi.


Malorie Hayes, junior Biological Sciences major, Ecology/Environmental/Evolutionary Concentration

Dr. Kyle R. Piller, Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences




Malorie Hayes

Malorie Hayes

As a new freshman at Southeastern, Malorie Hayes’s work in Dr. Kyle Piller’s introductory biology course was exceptional so good in fact that he asked her to join his team of graduate students working on various research projects in his lab.

“It was an opportunity I was hoping for and I was ecstatic to be asked to work with him” says Hayes of Galvez, La. Now a junior majoring in biological sciences with a concentration on ecology/environmental and evolutionary biology, Malorie is learning first hand a variety of molecular lab and data analysis techniques that are typically only discussed in lectures and lab courses.


In her sophomore year, Malorie worked under Piller’s supervision, assisting in his research designed to reconstruct through the analysis of DNA sequences the evolutionary history and relationship patterns among a group of Mexican Goodeid fishes. The work got a real boost last year when the department started operating its super computer (“Willi"), a $40,000 MacIntosh Apple Computer that cuts days of analysis down to mere hours. The computer is named in honor of German scientist Willi Hennig who developed the system of phylogenetic systematics, the study of organisms designed to reconstruct their evolutionary history and relationship patterns.


That work as a student gave Malorie her first taste of scientific presentation. This past summer she attended the annual meeting of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists held in St. Louis where she gave a poster presentation on her research.


“The work that Malorie is doing received high praise from scientists at the meeting,” Piller said. “It’s clear that she is doing high quality research as an undergraduate student.”


Malorie is now working on her own project, funded by the College of Science and Technology’s STAR Program. STAR ("Science and Technology Awards for Research") is designed to enhance undergraduate education in science by providing funding for students to work in research projects carried out in collaboration with a faculty member.


Willi the Super Mac  
Southeastern biologist Kyle Piller trains student research assistant
Malorie Hayes in the analysis of DNA data sets on"Willi," the
department's new high speed MacIntosh Apple computer that
significantly reduces the time involved in performing DNA sequence
analyses. Hayes is now doing her own research through a grant that
enables undergraduate students to pursue projects of their own.
“I will be investigating the genetic diversity of the blackbanded darter, which is a species of fish that exists throughout the southeast,” she said. "I’ll be traveling to collect samples, extracting DNA, amplifying it and using Willi to perform the analysis data, the same type of work I did on the Mexican Goodeid project."

“I feel that the concepts learned in my classes are supported by their practical use in the laboratory environment,” says Hayes, who is eyeing a variety of career choices available to her with a degree in biological sciences. “Dr. Piller has been an excellent advisor. He is always supportive in finding ways to attack a problem and is encouraging when things are not at their best.”


“I feel that Malorie has really taken advantage of the opportunities that were presented to her,” Piller adds. “She listened, learned, and is now proficient in multiple laboratory techniques that will make her a valuable commodity in the workforce or in graduate school.”



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