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Undergraduate Research Excellence

University of Dayton Pre-Medicine major Dante Pezzutti was the top awardee this month at the American Physiological Society Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego, California.

Pezzutti, a senior from Columbus, Ohio, received the Barbara A. Horwitz and John M. Horowitz Outstanding Undergraduate Abstract Award for his research on the freeze tolerance of Cope’s gray tree frogs. He also received the Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award at the Experimental Biology meeting.

With funding from the 2017 American Physiological Society Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship, Pezzutti spent last summer researching Cope’s gray tree frog in University professor Carissa Krane’s laboratory. His research examines the frog’s ability to withstand cold winters by converting up to 65 percent of its body fluids into ice.

“If you found the frog in the winter it would have icicles, it would be rock solid and look dead, but it’s not,” said Pezzutti. “It’s the frogs way of surviving the cold. Then, come spring it thaws itself and resumes life.”

While frozen, the frog loses blood circulation, the ability to breathe, nerve conduction, brain activity and its heartbeat.

“The frog experiences a lot of stresses when it freezes,” Pezzutti said. “One of them is a fluid balance stress between the inside and outside cells. We are investigating a protein that we think is involved in mediating the osmotic adjustments during the freezing and thawing process.”

He hopes developing a better understanding of how these proteins work in these frogs could lead to breakthroughs in the preservation of human organs for transplant.

Pezzutti, who will pursue a medical degree at Ohio State University College of Medicine, presented his research April 21-25 at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology meeting.

The Horwitz-Horowitz Outstanding Undergraduate Abstract Award provides a $100 prize and two-year membership with the American Physiological Society. Candidates must be an undergraduate student, author of a submitted abstract for the meeting, and work with a society member. Award selection is based on the abstract, letter of application and letter of support from the student's research advisor. Recipients of this award are eligible to compete for the Barbara A. Horwitz and John M. Horowitz Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award, the most prestigious undergraduate research award offered by the society.

At the meeting, Pezzutti and the 29 other undergraduate students from Harvard College, the University of Chicago and the University of Arizona, among others, presented their research to judges for Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award consideration.

Students with the highest ranking scores received the Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award. Selection is based on the quality of the poster and oral presentation to the Award Selection Committee. Recipients of this award received a certificate and a $400 prize and the highest ranked awardee from those recipients received an additional $250.

Pezzutti not only received the Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award, but he was also ranked the top awardee.

“I am really proud of Dante,” said Krane, professor of biology and Schuellein Chair in the Biological Sciences. “He has put a lot of effort into the lab. When he gets stuck he does not give up, he keeps pushing forward. He has great ideas and is a really good writer. He also expresses himself in a very unique way, very ‘Dante.’

”Krane, whose research focus is aquaporins, or proteins in the membrane of biological cells, is active in mentoring graduate and undergraduate students in her laboratory.

“Dr. Krane has been really supportive throughout the research process,” Pezzutti said. “She allows me to be independent and pushes me to think. She does a great job of helping me figure out the answer for myself without giving it to me.”

Pezzutti knew that research involvement was important for his medical school applications. He was drawn to Krane’s work with aquaporins and its relation to asthma because he has exercise-induced asthma. He began working in her lab during his sophomore year on freeze-tolerant frogs and aquaporins.

“I think it’s important to promote student success,” Krane said. “I like to get students involved in meetings because it’s good experience for them to get off campus and hear science from around the world. To present their own work gives them a sense of accomplishment and builds confidence.”

- Lauren Reid ‘18

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