From Undergraduate Lab to Publication: George Hatzis’ Biology Project Success

Biology Project Lab (BIOL 2309) offers an inquiry-based, intensive laboratory experience in which students can design and conduct independent research projects, applying approaches and techniques used in cell and molecular biology. In Fall 2021, George Hatzis (COS ‘23), took Biology Project Lab under Dr. Erica Homan’s instruction and recently his group’s findings were published in microPublication. 

Congratulations to George Hatzis, Olivia Rossi, Izabella Testiler, Grace Dobbins, and Dr. Erica Homan for their work on “The Effects of Lithium Chloride Exposure on the Reproduction of Caenorhabditis elegans,” which demonstrated that lithium chloride, a widely used psychiatric medication, has negative effects on reproductive health. To learn more about this accomplishment and research, I interviewed George Hatzis and Dr. Erica Homan. 

What is Biology Project Lab and how does it work? 

Dr. Homan: Biology Project Lab is an undergraduate course, mainly geared towards sophomores before going on co-op, especially research-based co-ops. After completing a project together as a class to learn common biology techniques and how to develop a project, we randomly sort the students into groups of four and give them a fair amount of freedom to develop their own research projects given the resources we have available, such as nematodes, and different techniques, like microscopy.  

What sparked your interest in researching the effects of lithium chloride? 

Hatzis: I don’t really remember what the rest of my group was thinking at the time, but for me, I was raised overseas and topics relating to fertility and infertility weren’t really spoken about. So as a group, we combined the interests we had in neuroscience and psychology, along with my thoughts on reproduction and reached the conclusion of exploring how common psychiatric medications involving lithium chloride can affect fertility in different types of populations. 

Can you tell me about your findings and why it’s important? 

Hatzis: Essentially, what we did was expose nematodes to lithium chloride and compare it to a population without lithium chloride. Nematodes are little worms, and we looked at how they retained eggs within the organism. We found that when lithium chloride was present in the assay, they were retaining significantly less eggs than they normally meant to have within the nematode, showing that lithium essentially has detrimental effects on fertility and potentially other reproductive capabilities. 

Nematodes share lots of anatomical similarities with humans because many years ago we shared a common ancestor which allowed us to reach not necessarily a conclusion but an inclination that the data we collected could eventually be translated to clinical populations. Specifically for pregnant women taking psychiatric medications that have lithium chloride.  

Was Biology Project Lab a good way to get into the field of research? 

Hatzis: Without it, I think I would have been lost during my co-op at Moderna. This class really teaches you how to not only do lab procedures but also how to think like a scientist. I was able to learn how to critically analyze different types of situations, collect and present data, and how to find different approaches to a problem. 

Dr. Homan: I also think it helps with developing questions and how to execute or answer that question that may not be available when beginning in a research lab because we challenge the groups to come up with their own projects. Often groups will encounter failures like contamination of plates, so it’s a chance to learn from mistakes which is something researchers will encounter in a lab. 

How does it feel to be published? And Dr. Homan as a mentor, how does it feel to see your students grow? 

Hatzis: I felt very accomplished. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do throughout my undergrad career. I worked in a lab my first semester but didn’t really have a chance of publication because of COVID and then I worked at Moderna. When this opportunity finally came around and got published, I felt like all the hard work paid off. 

Dr. Homan: It’s kind of a full circle moment because when I was the person in charge of writing articles, I was often surprised when my mentors would congratulate me based on the reviewer comments despite no formal acceptance of the manuscript. I was able to do the same thing with George because I’ve seen enough reviewer comments to know when we’re close to receiving an acceptance from the publisher. It has been fun to be in the background supporting George and when the e-mail came through that it was accepted, it’s like, yeah, we did it! 


Photo by Nicole Ziner


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