Last semester (Fall 2013), I took a graduate-level course in Mammalogy, which ended up being my favorite course I’d ever taken. One of my classmates, Marieke Kester, was taking the class to learn more about mammals since her Ph.D. project was about olfactory communication in maned wolves (Chrysocyon brachyurus). Having announced that she would be interested in taking on an undergraduate student for the spring semester for a URSP project, I quickly sent her my resume in the hopes that I would be selected. My interest in this project, as well as many other conservation biology and chemical ecology studies, has grown exponentially since entering the Shared Research Instrumentation Facility (SRIF) lab.
The research that I am conducting currently is creating a clearer path in terms of what future research I may be interested in doing. My long-term goals involve going to graduate school and hopefully having a lab of my own some day. The maned wolf study solidifies my passion for mammalian conservation and I can really see myself studying mammals for the rest of my days.
Each week, I aliquot and prepare the urine samples I will be running that day. While the samples are running through the gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GCMS), I am usually learning something new about the programs that I will use to analyze the chemical compounds in the urine. Marieke and I, during our lunch break, discuss the journal articles that relate to chemical ecology in mammals. I also assist in populating the “Maned Wolf Library”, which is essentially a list of chemical compound profiles that we’ve read about in other papers. We include the name of each compound, the chemical formula, and the 10 highest peaks.
This week, we did a lot of troubleshooting with the program Agilent MassHunter. We were finally able to have the program tell us the deconvolution of each peak. The deconvolution of a chromatograph peak is essentially finding all compounds that contribute to the peak. This ensures that we don’t miss any hidden compounds in our results.