Undergraduate Researchers Spend Successful Summer at MBL

Undergraduate Researchers Spend Successful Summer at MBL

Defying the odds, 13 undergraduates spent their summer at MBL conducting faculty-mentored research, presenting their results to the community on Aug. 17.

“Among our peers, MBL was one of the only institutions that was able to bring in students this summer,” said MBL Education Director Linda Hyman, referring to the MBL’s commitment to safely host more than 250 students, including the undergraduates, during this second summer of Covid-19. “It really worked because of you – the students,” she continued. “Thank you for cooperating with us, for being so professional.”

“This year was fantastic. The students were extremely excited to resume both scientific and social interactions after spending much of the previous semesters learning remotely,” said Allen Mensinger of University of Minnesota-Duluth, who co-directs the NSF-REU Biological Discovery in Woods Hole undergraduate research program with Veronica G. Martinez Acosta of University of the Incarnate Word.

A glimpse of the students and their projects is below; their research abstracts are posted here.  (Photos by Jean Enright and Diana Kenney.)

Daisy Bonifant of Tufts University describes her research to MBL Council Member Barbara Woll Jones. Bonifant studied cuttlefish camouflage patterns in the laboratory of MBL scientist Roger Hanlon.

Amber Guerra, University of Montana, took advantage of her first trip to New England by studying the local coral, Astrangia poculata, in MBL scientist Loretta Roberson’s lab. Her project asked whether treating coral with antioxidants may prevent coral bleaching and symbiont loss. “I had an amazing experience, both with my mentor and the other students. There was great camaraderie,” she said.

Javier Londondo of Amherst College studied desiccation resistance in the rotifer in the lab of MBL scientist and Director of Research David Mark Welch.  Here, he discusses his findings with Veronica Martinez Acosta, co-director of the NSF-REU Biological Discovery in Woods Hole program at MBL. 

Kait Kennedy of Eckerd College studied impacts of nutrient enrichment on mummichog size at the Plum Island Ecosystems Long Term Ecological Research Site. She was mentored by Anne Giblin, director of the MBL Ecosystems Center, and James Nelson of Eckerd.

Mara Davis of University of Alabama, right, discusses her research with MBL scientist Jennifer Morgan, director of the Eugene Bell Center for Regenerative Biology and Tissue Engineering. Davis’s research on using CRISPR-Cas9 to create Xenopus models of neurodegenerative disease was mentored by MBL scientist Marko Horb, director of the National Xenopus Resource.

Jennifer Grossman scrutinized field video of octopuses to quantify their arm actions (such as raise, curl, reach) while they are behaving in the wild. “I was going frame by frame. They are changing actions on a millisecond time scale. Also, a single arm can perform multiple actions at a single time. Octopuses are the ultimate multitaskers!” she said. Grossman, a student at California State University-Monterey, spent the summer in MBL scientist Roger Hanlon’s lab.

Daniel Gonzalez-Kosansky of Amherst College worked in MBL scientist Jennifer Morgan’s lab on neural plasticity in the lamprey spinal cord. Here, he explains his findings to MBL scientist Loretta Roberson.

Erica Diaz, University of Puerto Rico-Humacao, looked at the effects of potassium nitrate (found in fertilizers) and phthalates (found in plastics) on the capacity of the sea anemone, Nematostella, to regenerate its tentacles. Her mentor was MBL scientist Karen Echeverri. “At home, I am usually working in the field and forest. This was my first time working in a lab. It was a cool learning experience,” she said.

Karen Robles of Brown University worked with MBL scientist Javier Lloret to assess the combined effects of fertilization and sea-level rise on vegetation in Great Sippewissett Marsh, site of a long-term MBL fertilization study over the past 50+ years. Their results showed that fertilization has caused profound changes to the plant community composition and that, over the past few decades, vegetation in both control and fertilized plots has shifted towards species with higher tolerance to salinity and increased submergence, in response to sea level rise.

Lily Hall, University of Minnesota-Duluth, discusses her project with MBL scientist Anne Giblin, director of the Ecosystems Center. Hall worked with Allen Mensinger on the auditory system of the little skate.

Madison Sachs, University of Massachusetts-Lowell, studied mercury absorption by two types of grasses in a salt marsh environment at Plum Island Estuary. In this case, her original hypothesis was “completely disproven, which was really interesting to see. And it was fun to go out in the field,” she said. Her mentors were MBL scientists Inke Forbrich and Anne Giblin. Here, Sachs talks with MBL scientist Javier Lloret.

Stephen Collins of the University of Texas at El Paso worked on butterfly development in the laboratory of MBL Director Nipam Patel. (He had to leave MBL before the poster session!)

Rachel Urban of Butler University studied a reverse transcriptase function in a bacterium with MBL scientist Irina Arkhipova. “I got to do a lot of research – a lot more than I expected because of Covid,” she said. “I love it here and I want to come back!”


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