Springfield, Ohio — Biology major Justin Rheubert, class of 2008 from South Vienna, Ohio, has raised the bar for student research at Wittenberg University.
For two years, Rheubert has been conducting extensive research in histology with Wittenberg Assistant Professor of Biology Kevin Gribbins, which has resulted in one peer-reviewed published article, another article currently under review and three other manuscripts now in the preparation phase. In July, Rheubert will add a major symposium presentation to his already impressive undergraduate resume when he attends, as an invited guest, the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists in Montreal, Canada, with Gribbins.
"He is doing research that is master's level and above," Gribbins said. "He is also doing studies in the field of histology that I did during my Ph.D. and master's at the University of Cincinnati's Department of Biological Sciences. All of his hard work is starting to pay off."
Histology is a branch of anatomy that deals with the minute structure of animal and plant tissues as discernible with the microscope.
"Ichthyology is the study of fish, whereas herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians," Rheubert said. "These two groups combined involve the study of all vertebrates excluding mammals and birds."
Rheubert and Gribbins have a manuscript in review with the Annuals of Anatomy detailing the "male reproductive cycle and sperm development within the Western Cottonmouth snake." During the symposium, they will present some of their findings as outlined in the manuscript, which is titled "History of the Cottonmouth Snake, Agkistrodon piscivourou."
"These symposia are large gatherings on particular subjects of herpetology and ichthyology where researchers get together to try and tie research at different levels of biology into one particular area or for one particular organism," Gribbins said.
The research includes spermatogenesis, which is the "stepwise production of mature spermatozoa within the testis," Rheubert said. "The developmental strategies and testicular organizations differ between anurans (frogs) and reptiles/birds/mammals."
Rheubert's and Gribbins' findings show that Louisiana Cottonmouth snakes produce sperm twice during two independent events within a single year. Rheubert and Gribbins are the first to describe this phenomenon within North American pitvipers, the group of snakes to which Cottonmouths belong.
"We are also providing histological data that supports what other researchers are observing in the field as far as reproductive behavior and mating events within Louisiana Cottonmouths," Gribbins said.
Rheubert will most likely be the only undergraduate author on any of these symposia presentations.
"They are typically authored and given by Ph.D. candidates or Ph.D.'s that are researching in the field," Gribbins said.
Rheubert's data will be published as a large review on reproduction in Cottonmouths in the fall of 2008, at which time he plans to attend graduate school at Southeastern Louisiana University to pursue a master's degree in biology. He will continue his research under the direction of David Sever, a well-known reproductive biologist within herpetology. After obtaining his master's degree, Rheubert plans to obtain his Ph.D. in biology.
Rheubert credits Gribbins with much of his success.
"None of my success would have been possible without Dr. Gribbins. He has been supportive, helpful and understanding," Rheubert said. "The hard work and dedication he has provided for me as well as other students deserves recognition as well."
Written By: Sydney Bates '08