Tag Archives: PUC biology

#FacultyFriday: Meet John Duncan

A several-time presenter in the U.K., today’s #FacultyFriday feature is a man of few words but much knowledge and experience. Dr. John Duncan, professor in the department of biology here at PUC, has a real passion for plants and marine life. Nature is Dr. Duncan’s primary source of recreation, and for this reason he very much enjoys PUC and its surroundings. Introducing: Dr. John Duncan!

Name: Dr. John Duncan
Title: Professor of Biology
Email: jduncan@puc.edu  
Faculty since: 2000

Classes taught: Human Anatomy, Developmental Biology, Cellular and Molecular Biology, Advanced Anatomy, and Medical Terminology

Education B.S., from Andrews University in 1991; Ph.D., from Loma Linda University in 1998

What made you decide to be a teacher?

Before I finished my dissertation, I got a job teaching in an osteopathic school in the anatomy lab. I found I enjoyed the interaction with the students. Then I gave a few lectures at LLU and I found I wasn’t too terribly intimidated by speaking to a group of students. With this information, I figured I would be able to teach and enjoy interacting with people who wanted to learn about a subject with which I had some experience.  

What are some of your hobbies?

Travel, reef aquariums, gardening, Jujitsu, and orchids.

What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?

I am surprised that people would find something to be surprised about relating to me.

What’s your favorite thing about PUC?

Its location in a forest.

What’s your favorite spot on campus?

Don’t really have one.

What’s your favorite book/movie/song? (pick one)

The one I am watching, reading or hearing at the moment.

What advice would you give to an incoming freshman?

Always take an opportunity to do something you have never done before.

Professional activities (Note: Only the most recent three in each category are listed.)


Nam, B. H., Worrell, L. A., Jung, T. T. K., Kim, P. S., Park, S. K., Duncan, J. C., Park, Y. S.,   John, E. O., & Fletcher, W. H. (2004). Effect of corticosteroid on salicylate induced morphologic changes of isolated cochlear outer hair cells. Annals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology, 113(9), 734-737.

Duncan, J. C., & Fletcher, W. H. (2002). Alpha 1 connexin (connexin43) gap junctions and activities of cAMP-dependent protein kinase and protein kinase C in developing mouse heart. Developmental Dynamics: An Official Publication of the American Association of Anatomists, 223(1), 96-107.

Dasgupta, C., Escobar-Poni, B., Shah, M., Duncan, J., & Fletcher W. H. (1999). Misregulation of connexin43 gap junction channels and congenital heart defects. Novartis Foundation Symposium, 219, 212-21; discussion 221-5.


Feb. 3, 2000        Duncan, J. C., & Fletcher, W. H. Alpha 1 connexin (connexin43) gap junctions and activities of cAMP-dependent protein kinase and protein kinase C in developing mouse heart. Pacific Union College, Angwin, CA.

March 18, 1998   Fletcher, W. H., Dasgupta, C., Escobar-Poni, B., Shah, M., Duncan, J. Gap junctions and cardiology. University of Wales, College of Medicine, Department of Medical Biochemistry, Cardiff, Wales.

March 6, 1998    Fletcher, W. H., Dasgupta, C., Escobar-Poni, B., Shah, M., Duncan, J. Genetic and developmental defects of the heart. Wellcome Trust, London, England.

Student Research Profile: Charidan Jackson and Zoe Morphis

Zoe and Charidan (pictured) used a piece of flannel to collect ticks from the outdoors to determine their distribution patterns.

Meet Charidan Jackson and Zoe Morphis, who conducted a research project at PUC last year studying ticks in Albion and at the college’s Albion Field Station. Charidan graduated from PUC last year and is now getting her master’s at California State University, Long Beach, while Zoe is studying biology at PUC and intends to go to veterinary school after graduation.

Who are you?
I’m Charidan Jackson, and I’m a first-year master student at California State University, Long Beach. I plan to obtain a degree in biology and work as a forensic scientist.

I’m Zoe Morphis and I’m a biology major. I plan to go to vet school to become a licensed veterinarian.

What did you do?
We worked with Dr. Ness to survey the population density of ticks in Angwin and the Albion Field Station. We were responsible for taking collections, logging GPS locations, and recording other physical and biological information about each site. This was the beginning stages of a research project to study the prevalence of Lyme disease in the local tick populations and involved development of research methods as well as collecting preliminary samples.

When and where did you do this work?
The research was done during spring and fall quarters of 2017. We focused on collecting in areas of Angwin and Albion frequented by humans such as the back 40 and trails with plant growth on either side.

What did you learn?
Charidan: From our data collection, we learned Angwin is prime habitat for ticks. We saw differences in species, developmental stage, and sex. Collecting ticks was not difficult because they come toward humans and other warm-blooded animals. Ticks are especially active in warmer and slightly moist environments. Although we did not initially aim to collect data specifically on the plant matter ticks were found on, we noticed that more ticks were found on invasive species such as French broom and Himalayan blackberry

Zoe: The most valuable thing I learned during this research project was simply the amount of effort that goes into even a simple research project. Even simply getting approval for obtaining the necessary supplies was a challenge, not to mention the hard work of trying to collect ticks. It really helped me to appreciate complicated research studies scientists have done to help us learn about the world.

How did your experience at PUC help prepare you for this experience?
Charidan: Classes such as Conservation Biology and Ecology emphasized the importance of detailed and specific data collection. We applied the quadrat method we learned from those classes to organize data collection before we started. PUC also offered a one-day seminar on Geographic Information Systems. GIS gave us the tools to map Angwin’s trails and plot our points along the trail. Flowering Plants opened my eyes to the different types of plants in on habitat. Without the expertise of that class, I doubt we would have noticed any correlation between invasive species and ticks.

Zoe: PUC prepared me for this experience by providing me with the basic knowledge necessary to understand the research process. Specifically, taking Intro to Research Methods provided me with a solid background to be able to read and comprehend scientific research articles in order to prepare a feasible plan for our study. I also was grateful for the knowledge I had from Genetics, as it allowed me to understand how sequencing the ticks’ DNA to detect Lyme disease would work.

Student Research Profile: Michelle Tang and Janet Tang

In this picture, Michelle (left) and Janet are running an experiment in which the rattlesnake strikes a solution-filled glove they will later analyze for venom content.

Meet Michelle Tang and Janet Tang, both biology majors at PUC who plan to continue on to medical school after college. Last summer, they conducted research in the college’s very own Clark Hall lab studying rattlesnakes and their venom.

Who are you?
I’m Michelle Tang and I’m a senior here at PUC. I’m also a biology major/pre-medicine student, planning on going to medical school to become a physician.

I’m Janet Tang, a junior biology major hoping to continue on to medical school.

What did you do?
Michelle: I worked with Dr. Herbert to study the habituating acts of rattlesnakes by calculating venom expenditure and observing measures of defensiveness. My partner and I were in charge of filling the rubber hand gloves with saline, warming it up to about 37 degrees C, and scenting it to match the effects of a real hand. I was also responsible for pouring the contents from the glove into a bucket, diluting it, and putting it into individual vials. My partner and I also used the vials of diluted venom to find the concentration of protein in the venom via protein assay.

Janet: I was responsible for recording the interaction between the snakes and the saline-filled rubber gloves. I followed each snake and made sure to film the potential bite at a specific angle that allowed us to determine the time of strike and more.

When and where did you do this work?
The research lasted 10 weeks during the summer of 2017 in Clark Hall.

What did you learn?
Michelle: I learned rattlesnakes are not vicious reptiles that are out there to get you. Each and every rattlesnake had a different character and temperament and reacted very differently to the actions imposed on them. Some rattlesnakes didn’t even strike at the glove when they were seriously provoked. I also learned the importance of teamwork and communication in terms of getting things done correctly and on time.

Janet: Contrary to popular belief, I learned rattlesnakes are kind and gentle creatures. Though they are though to be aggressive, rattlesnakes do not want to bite humans and only do so when they are harassed or scared.

How did your experience at PUC help prepare you for this experience?
Michelle: As a biology major student, classes such as Animal Behavior and Intro to Research really prepared for the knowledge that this research entailed. Having taken Animal Behavior, I learned about habituation and the various types of non-associative and associative learning. Taking Intro to Research allowed me to better understand the steps and processes of how researching works. Although I haven’t taken Immunology yet, I will definitely be prepared to do a protein assay when the time comes.

Janet: Because I’m a science major, the science classes I have taken helped prepare me by providing valuable lab experience and knowledge I have utilized during my research. In addition, I have enjoyed getting to learn about various science topics ranging from single-celled organisms to large multicellular creatures.

Student Research Profile: Mychal Hellie

Mychal spent hours in a canoe studying grebes during his internship with the Audubon Society.

Meet Mychal Hellie, a junior environmental studies major at PUC who plans to continue on after college to get a master’s in ecology. Last summer, Mychal helped Dr. Floyd Hayes study grebes on nearby Clear Lake as part of his internship with the Audubon Society.

Who are you?
I’m Mychal Hellie and I’m an environmental studies major in my junior year. I plan to get my master’s in ecology.

What did you do?
I helped Dr. Hayes study the grebes on Clear Lake. We studied the distribution of nest locations and the grebes behavior on the nests. My job was to help set up the cameras and survey the nesting locations. I also recorded data from the pictures about how much time each parent spends incubating the eggs.

When and where did you do this work?
My internship was with the Audubon Society, doing research on Clear Lake during the summer of 2017.

What did you learn?
There is a lot of work that goes into field research, especially when it involves canoeing at five in the morning, and if you want good data, you need dedication. Studying the grebes out in wild taught me how interesting the natural world around us can be. Going minute by minute through photos of their lives showed me the vast complexity of wildlife and why they are worth studying and preserving.

How did your experience at PUC help prepare you for this experience?
Classes at PUC like Pollution & Environmental Quality helped me understand conditions like eutrophication that affect the ecosystems on Clear Lake.  Ecology and Conservation Biology taught me many field techniques I used in to study and sample the grebe populations.

Student Research Profile: Sierra Trogdon and Antonio Robles

Sierra (2nd from left) and Antonio (2nd from right) and fellow classmates also spent time snorkeling in Honduras, when they weren’t conducting research.

Meet Sierra Trogdon and Antonio Robles. Sierra recently graduated from PUC with a degree in biology, while Antonio is still working towards completing his degree. They both conducted research with Dr. Floyd Hayes studying sea urchins in Roatán, Honduras, last summer.

Who are you?
I’m Sierra Trogdon and I graduated PUC with bachelor’s in biology. I plan to start veterinary school in the next few years.

I’m Antonio Robles and I’m a sophomore biology major. I plan to go on to medical school and specialize in family practice.

What did you do?
We participated in research with Dr. Hayes studying the symbiotic associations between rock-boring urchins and fish. Most of the work involved natural observations, counting holes with the urchins, and writing down every species seen in the hole. In intervals of 10 minutes, we spotted a fish and counted how many holes with rock-boring urchins they associated with. The study involved studying thousands of sea urchin burrows and tallying the different species seen hiding in their burrows.

When and where did you do this work?
The research took place over a period of eight days during the summer of 2017 in Roatán, Honduras.

What did you learn?
Sierra: During the research project I learned how to identify the various types of sea urchins, fish, and other species involved in the study. I also learned and realized just how tedious and time consuming it is to obtain accurate and reliable data. It was not as easy as simply counting and tallying the species. There were thousands of sea urchin burrows and each hole had to meet the right criteria in order to count. There were a couple times where I had to start over and redo counts to increase the accuracy and reliability.

Antonio: I hadn’t realized the fascinating opportunity research can give you to construct interpersonal skills by getting together with students and professors that are interested in finding one new aspect of the behavior of a certain species. Often we would get together to review our data and plan on how we will collect more as a group. I learned how working in groups is important in research as well and the importance of communication in the field. In addition, I learned how to record data in the coral reefs and new ways to observe nature with a curious mind.

How did your experience at PUC help prepare you for this experience?
Sierra: PUC helped prepare me by teaching me the general biology involving the marine life I encountered. The Intro to Research Methods class also played a major role in preparing me for the research I did. I planned and proposed a research paper that included background information and methods for counting the sea urchin burrows. This significantly increased my understanding of the research that was being done.

Antonio: Taking Biological Foundations helped me understand the phyla and characteristics of the species we were observing which led to my understanding of the project better. The Tropical Biology class also made me understand the diversity in the coral reefs, potential harms, taxonomy, and potential dangers. For instance, knowing fire coral could sting me while researching in the shallow rocky areas would definitely have made me uncomfortable; however, having known this before from class led me to become aware of my surroundings and feel comfortable during the research process.

Student Research Profile: Erika Thalman

Erika (shown here with a fish she caught) spent several months working in a CDFW fish hatchery.

Meet Erika Thalman, a senior biology major at PUC. She’s planning on continuing on to graduate school after graduation. Last summer, Erika volunteered at the Moccasin Creek Hatchery helping with a wide variety of projects.

Who are you?
I’m Erika Thalman and I’m a senior biology major. I’m planning on going to graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in either natural resources, marine biology, or biology.

What did you do?
I helped with cleaning raceway ponds and feeding the fish. I also had the opportunity to work with a variety of people and do other things like water quality testing, weight counts, assisting in fish planting and public education, as well as participate in hand-spawning California golden trout.

When and where did you do this work?
In the summer of 2017, I volunteered twice a week from mid-July to late-September at the Moccasin Creek Hatchery.

What did you learn?
I learned how to get more involved in areas I’m interested in. Volunteering at this hatchery taught me many useful skills I can apply not only to future careers, but to my personal life as well. I discovered no matter what field you choose to work in, you always interact with people to some degree. This experience demonstrated how a great team of people work together despite their different personalities and temperaments. The hatchery personnel were so willing to teach me all they could about their work and their mission, and were even kind enough to advise me on how to get my foot in the door with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). Through this I saw how important it is to make connections wherever you go. You never know when they may come in handy.

How did your experience at PUC help prepare you for this experience?
The science courses I have taken at PUC gave me a good foundation for understanding how many of the processes at the hatchery worked. Classes like Ecology, Field Biology, and Biological Foundations made it easier to understand the different fish behaviors and how to handle the fish. Chemistry was also useful for water testing as well as in choosing medications or anesthetics. Lastly, Genetics contributed to my comprehension of different fish stocks and how the CDFW is able to prevent farmed fish from breeding with wild populations.

Student Research Profile: Amber Washington

Meet Amber Washington, a senior environmental studies major at PUC who plans to continue on to graduate school for forensic science. Last year, she conducted research at Skyline Wilderness Park in Napa Valley, analyzing different native plant species.

Who are you?
I’m Amber Washington and I’m a senior environmental studies major. I plan to go to graduate school to obtain my master’s degree in forensic science.

What did you do?
I was responsible for researching the different native plant species located in the Skyline Wilderness Park, which is home to the Napa Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS). Also, as a member of the CNPS (Napa Valley Chapter), I participated in several restoration projects in the Martha Walker Native Habitat Garden in the Skyline Wilderness Park and the annual spring native plant sale.

When and where did you do this work?
My internship with the California Native Plant Society (Napa Valley Chapter) was for five months in the winter and spring of 2017.

What did you learn?
There are more than 200 California native plants in the Skyline Wilderness Park. These native plants classify as perennial herbs, annual herbs, ferns, grasses, shrubs, vines and trees. Each plant species have their own unique growing conditions that allow them to thrive, but sometimes their growth can be hindered due to non-native plants invading. That is why restoration projects are beneficial, being they help keep the native plants alive and well while getting rid of those plants that have the potential to destroy them.

How did your experience at PUC help prepare you for this experience?
Being an environmental studies major, I feel the Introduction to Research Methods class prepared me most for collecting accurate information on the native plants of the Skyline Wilderness Park. The Conservation Biology class gave me just the right amount of experience that allowed me to be of great assistance during the restoration projects of the Martha Walker Native Habitat Garden that I participated in. Previous knowledge of the anatomy of plants from a flowering project that was assigned in the Biological Foundations class also contributed to the success of my internship.

Student Research Profile: Jeff Grabow & Brandon Kim

Jeff (left) and Brandon (right) reviewed thousands of photographs in order to identify, describe, and quantify the mammals present in the PUC forest.

Meet Jeff Grabow and Brandon Kim, both senior biology majors at PUC. They both plan on continuing on to dental school after graduation. For the last several years, they have been conducting ongoing research to identify and count mammals in PUC’s back 40 forest.

Who are you?
I’m Jeff Grabow and I’m a senior biology major. I plan on a career in dentistry.

I’m Brandon Kim and I’m a senior biology/pre-dentistry student. I plan on going to dental school and specialize in oral maxillofacial surgery.

What did you do?
We participated in ongoing research to identify and count mammals in PUC’s back 40 forest. We were responsible for collecting data from motion-capture wildlife cameras, editing out non-data, and entering results into our log. These data include the species name, the time of day that the photo was taken, and the concentration of animals “captured” in a particular habitat.

When and where did you do this work?
Jeff: I’ve been part of this research project for the past two years.

Brandon: My research started in spring of 2017 and will continue through winter of 2018. We spend most of our time visiting the cameras in the back 40 and collecting/replacing memory cards. We view and categorize the photos in Clark Hall.

What did you learn?
Jeff: During this project I learned about the rich abundance of mammals we have in our woods here at PUC, including bobcats, river otters, and bears. I also learned about working with a team to come to the best conclusions when analyzing data.

Brandon: There are so many different things I learned from this experience but the most important is to be precise and to pay attention to detail. When looking at thousands of pictures a day, one has to keep a keen eye out for certain things within an image. Similarly, I realized the importance of having good communication skills as well as finding a research partner one enjoys working alongside. Having someone who is there for you as well as making a task more enjoyable is something I consider a significant thing I learned in this research project.

How did you experience at PUC help you prepare for this experience?
Jeff: My time at PUC taught me to write in an appropriate manner for our research. In addition, Dr. Hayes’ passion for animals (especially birds) has contributed to my growing admiration for the nature here on our hill.

Brandon: Being a biology major, one of the classes that helped me throughout this research project was Introduction to Research Methods. This course helped me throughout this research experience as it laid a foundation that enabled me to categorizing each animal to their specific subcategories within Excel. It helped me with the end of quarter research paper that we needed to submit that showed the culmination of our research that quarter. Similarly, taking Ecology helped when it came to an understanding the main goal regarding this project and how to break down each animal into their groups.

Student Research Profile: Chelsea Nicole Paclibar

Meet Chelsea Nicole Paclibar, a senior biology major at PUC. She plans to continue on to dental school and specialize in orthodontics after graduation. For the last year, she has been participating in a research study on Alzheimer’s disease.

Who are you?
I’m Chelsea Nicole T. Paclibar and I’m a senior biology major. I plan to go on to dental school at Loma Linda University and specialize in orthodontics.

What did you do?
I participated in a research that studied the relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and overeating. The hypothesis of the study was that overeating causes degenerative behavior in the nervous system. For this study, we grew C. elegans into healthy adults and collected their eggs after a few days. The eggs were then divided into six different conditions and a behavioral test was performed on the collected eggs. I was responsible for the data collection, which involved taking photos of the petri dishes containing the samples under a microscope, as well as measuring and calculating the length, thickness and volume of each specimen.

When and where did you do this work?
My research internship started in the fall of 2017 and will continue until spring of 2018. This work is supervised by Dr. Sung.

What did you learn?
I realized research work can be complex and overwhelming but also exciting because you get to discover new things and get to interact with people who you will work with towards accomplishing a common goal that can potentially create an impact in the world. I learned working on a research study requires a great deal of patience because data collection and analysis can take a while, thus, often leading to delayed results. I also learned working with other students can greatly enhance efficiency and allow for a better pool of creative ideas to approach the limitations we might have.

How did your experience at PUC help prepare you for this experience?
I’m a biology major and I’ve taken many required core classes and electives that provided me with the foundational skills and information needed to effectively do research. The Biological Foundation sequence prepared me very well and gave me the background knowledge to analyze data, to use a pipette and microscope, to prepare solutions, and to observe samples. Additionally, my Cell and Molecular Biology class equipped me with information on the cellular construction and development of the C. elegans allowing me to understand and evaluate its responses to the experiments and tests performed.

#FacultyFriday: Meet Backil Sung

For this week’s #FacultyFriday feature, meet Dr. Backil Sung, a professor of biology who has taught at the college since 2012. Previously, he worked as an associate professor in the department of natural sciences at Atlantic Union College; as an instructor in the department of anesthesia and critical care at Harvard Medical School; and as an instructor in the department of rehabilitation and physical therapy at Sahmyook University in Seoul, South Korea. Dr. Sung has also worked as a research fellow for many years at Harvard Medical School and at the school of medicine at the University of Minnesota.

Dr. Sung has conducted extensive research in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, often including PUC students in his research projects. He has received numerous grants, including PUC’s own Herber Family faculty development grant. Dr. Sung has authored or co-authored 41 scientific papers in neuroscience, mainly in the area of pain mechanisms. He has also authored two book chapters, and authored or co-authored many abstracts.

Name: Backil Sung, M.D., Ph.D.
Title: Professor of biology
Email: bsung@puc.edu
Faculty since: 2012

Classes taught: Neuroscience, General/Medical Microbiology, Biological Foundations 111/113L, Biotechnology labs* (*starting Winter 2018)

Education: M.D. from the School of Medicine at Korea University, 1995; Ph.D. in medical biotechnology from the Graduate School of Biotechnology at Korea University, 1999

Professional activities:

Editor’s note: Since Dr. Sung’s professional activities are so extensive, we have listed only a few of his most recent accomplishments.


Wang, Y. Tian, Y. Ma, G. Lim, J. Mao, B. Sung, J. Mao, Role of central melatoninergic function in comorbidity of pain and depression, Society for Neuroscience 41th Annual Meeting, San Diego, 2010

Book Chapters

Hyangin Kim, Backil Sung, and Jianren Mao, Animal Models of Acute Surgical Pain, Analgesia: Methods and Protocols, vol. 617, p.31-39, Humana Press, 2010


Sujung Yeo, Backil Sung, Yeon-Mi Hong, Maurits van den Noort, Peggy Bosch, Sook-Hyun Lee, Jongbeom Song, Sang-Kyun Park, Sabina Lim, Decreased expression of Serum- and Glucocorticoid-Inducible Kinase 1 (SGK1) promotes alpha-synuclein increase related with dopaminergic cell death in the Substantia Nigra of chronic MPTP-induced Parkinsonism mouse and in SH-SY5Y cells, Gene (Submitted October 23, 2017)

What made you decide to be a teacher?
I wanted to be a research scientist rather than a clinician after graduating from med school. I chose a teaching job that was a good choice to continue to my research. I have an idea or inspiration about research while I interact with students and instructing them.

What are some of your hobbies?
I like to walk/climb mountains, plant trees, and listen to violin music.

What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
I’ve gone on a medical mission trip to the third world every summer for the past ten years. I have seen patients in remote regions within developing countries such as Cambodia, Tanzania, China, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Often the patients are visiting a physician for the first time. I welcome any volunteers to come to work together too.

What’s your favorite thing about PUC?
PUC’s mountain hills where I love to walk along the trails.

What’s your favorite spot on campus?
The microbiology prep room, which is where I conduct my Alzheimer’s disease research.

What’s your favorite book?
The Bible that leads me the right way.

What advice would you give to an incoming freshman?
PUC is a gateway to your future professionally and spiritually.

Interested in learning more about PUC’s biology program? Visit puc.edu/admissions!