March 29th, 2016
A Summer with Gryllus firmus
adult male sand field cricket

Credit: Paul M. Choate, University of Florida.

This past summer, I was awarded an American Physiological Society Integrative Organismal Systems Physiology (APS IOSP) fellowship, which enabled me to perform 10 weeks of intense research at my home institution, Penn State University. During those 10 weeks, I got to delve deeper into what it means to be a true research scientist. I also learned the importance of networking, and being truthful in my own work.

During my summer fellowship, I worked in an entomology lab under my research mentor Dr. Ruud Schilder studying Gryllus firmus, a sand field cricket usually found throughout the southeastern U.S. In nature, this species usually exists as either a long winged or short winged morph1. My research project entailed the use of a respirometer setup (shown below), a device that can be used for studying metabolic rate in small animals to examine whether metabolic rates differ significantly during development of these two morphs. In other words, are long-winged morphs more energetically costly to produce than short-winged morphs? Our research is still ongoing, and I am extremely excited awaiting to see the results when completed.  Understanding metabolic rate in the cricket community is particularly important because it can tell us a lot about their reproductive power as well as specific differences in their energetic pursuits.

lab setup

Respirometer setup. Credit: Avril C, Schilder Research Lab

When we look at smaller animals in comparison to larger animals, it appears that the smaller animals’ tissues are more active than that of their larger counter parts1. What we are trying to figure out is if this general rule applies to size difference during cricket development as well (ontogeny). In other words, my research will hopefully lead to an answer of the following the questions: Are the tissues of smaller more immature crickets more active than fully matured crickets? Does metabolic rate vary across the two different morphs significantly, across age, or both?

I cannot thank the American Physiological Society enough for allowing me this opportunity. I hope other STEM students will take the initiative to do a program like this sometime throughout their undergraduate career. In our endless evolving world, we need more research scientists to unlock the key and take leadership. In closing, I want to leave readers with two questions:

  1. How important is scientific research in today’s society?
  2. In 10 years, do you see the research scientist profession growing significantly? Why or Why not?



  1. Zera, Anthony J., Jeffry Sall, and Kimberly Grudzinski. “Flight Muscle Polymorphism in the Cricket Gryllus Firmus: Muscle Characteristics and Their Influence on the Evolution of Flightlessness.” Physiol Biochem Zool Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 70.5 (1997): 519-29. Web.


Avril Cooper





Avril Cooper is a senior majoring in Biology at Penn State University. After graduation, she plans on pursuing a master’s degree in medical science and eventually going on to medical school.



December 22nd, 2015
Birds Rule

canaries-392735_1920Not that I am biased or anything (which I totally am), but in my opinion birds are amazing animals. Besides the whole being able to fly thing, did you know that birds naturally have really high blood sugar? In fact, their blood sugar levels are 1.5-2 times higher than mammals of comparable body size. A mammal that maintains similar levels would develop diabetes (Braun and Sweazea, 2008). Birds are also really long-lived. For example, the maximum recorded longevity of a mouse weighing 20 grams is 4 years. Compare that to a 22 gram canary that lives up to 24 years! One reason for their extraordinary long-lives may be that they are able to protect their tissues from high blood sugar somehow (Holmes et al., 2001).

There are many proteins circulating in your blood. One of the most abundant proteins is albumin. When blood sugar concentrations remain high, glucose can bind to the free amino groups on proteins like albumin, thereby forming “glycated albumin”. At first this is not a major problem as the initial reaction is reversible. However, the glycated albumin can rearrange to form advanced glycation end products (AGEs) which are irreversible once formed. Because of their irreversible nature, AGEs are bad…really bad. AGEs are considered to be a major contributor to the development of diabetic complications and aging. This whole process was actually reviewed in the Journal of Young Investigators: The Undergraduate Research Journal (check it out!).

As if birds were not already one of the coolest vertebrates, researchers have looked at protein glycation in birds and have found that levels are much lower than in mammals (Holmes et al., 2001). Moreover a recent study showed that birds do not even have the receptor for AGEs (RAGE; Sessa et al., 2014) making them more resistant to potential damage from what little AGEs they do make.

What do you think is the coolest thing about birds? Comment below!


Braun EJ, Sweazea KL. (2008) Glucose Regulation in Birds. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology B – Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 151(1): 1-9.

Hatfield J. (2005) Review: Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs) in Hyperglycemia Patients. Journal of Young Investigators. October.

Holmes DJ, Flückiger R, Austad SN. (2001) Comparative Biology of Aging in Birds: An Update. Experimental Gerontology. 36(4-6): 869-883.

Sessa L, Gatti E, Zeni F, Antonelli A,  Catucci A, Koch M, Pompilio G, Fritz G, Raucci A, Bianchi ME. (2014) The Receptor for Advanced Glycation End-products (RAGE) Is Only Present in Mammals, and Belongs to a Family of Cell Adhesion Molecules (CAMs). PLoS ONE. 9(1): e86903.



Karen Sweazea was awarded a PhD in physiological sciences in 2005 from The University of Arizona, Tucson, where she studied sugar and fatty acid utilization in birds. She completed her postdoctoral studies in vascular physiology at The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, where she developed a model of vascular complications caused by poor nutrition.
Sweazea’s current research focus is on understanding how being overweight, obesity, sugars, and fats, contribute to the development of insulin resistance and impaired vascular reactivity from lower vertebrates to humans. This includes studies designed to explore potential dietary supplements that may regulate blood pressure through decreasing oxidative stress and inflammation.

August 31st, 2015
Welcome to the APS Undergraduate Researcher Blog!

The American Physiological Society (APS) and the Life Science Teaching Resource Community (LifeSc­iTRC) are pleased to bring you the APS Undergraduate (UG) Researcher Blog. This blog is dedicated to:

  • Young ProfessionalsProviding an outlet for undergraduate researchers to share their fellowship experiences, discuss current physiological research, and share their career exploration and planning;
  • Encouraging undergrads to participate in the LifeSciTRC undergraduate researcher community, including taking leadership roles in the blog by learning how to write a blog post and comment on blog posts; and
  • Helping undergrads stay current in science content knowledge and professional development.

Interested? Monthly, we will provide discussion topics such as:

  • Science content/science stories
  • Society research stories related to comparative physiology topics
  • Careers in physiology
  • Tips on attending a national conference

Come read the blog, and leave your comments!
This blog is just one way to chat with other APS Undergraduate Researchers. Also be sure to join us on Facebook APS Undergraduate Researcher and Twitter APS Education
If you’d like to write a blog, email us at to sign up with a suggested topic. You only need to provide 2-3 paragraphs. You can cite it on your resume too! For a good example of a blog post, see the I Spy Physiology blog at

Brooke Bruthers is Senior Program Manager for Diversity Programs at the American Physiological Society. Her main responsibilities include developing, organizing, and implementing education projects aimed at promoting diversity among physiologists and career advancement among physiologists from underrepresented groups. This includes several undergraduate summer research fellowship programs (STEP-UP, STRIDE, and IOSP), Minority Travel Fellowship Awards, Steven M. Horvath Professional Opportunity Awards, Porter Physiology Development Fellowship program, and the K-12 Minority Outreach Fellowship program. She works extensively with both the Porter Physiology Development and Minority Affairs and the Women in Physiology Committees on these projects and regularly attends meetings and conferences to give presentations about these programs.

Melinda Lowy




Melinda Lowy is the Senior Program Manager for Higher Education Programs at the American Physiological Society. She is responsible for most of the awards and fellowship programs at the higher education level. At the undergraduate level, this includes several summer research fellowship programs, such as STEP-UP, STRIDE, and IOSP. She manages special orientation sessions, poster sessions and award programs at the Experimental Biology meeting for undergraduates, including a video contest. She also develops professional skills training courses, both live and online, for all levels.