Friday, December 4, 2015

URSP Student Sarah Brown Conducts Molecular Analysis of the Potomac River Bacterial Community over a Tidal Cycle

Until last year, I never thought that microbial ecology would be something that I would be interested in. However, while taking a course in Environmental Microbiology with my now-mentor, Dr. Jonas, last year and participating in the class research project examining bacterioplankton abundance and anoxia in the lower Potomac River, I became fascinated in the role that microorganisms play in the environment. From there, I was able to develop my own research project, which focuses on the structure of bacterial communities in the lower Potomac River over a tidal cycle.

Most of the time I’ve devoted to this project so far has been spent in the lab extracting DNA from filters or measuring bacterial abundances, biochemical oxygen demand, and chlorophyll concentrations. However, one of the most exciting parts of my research so far was collecting samples in July and October of this year. Dr. Jonas, Dr. Hamdan, and I were on board the research vessel Dark Side at station PO3A in the lower Potomac River for nearly 12 hours for each sampling. This enabled us to collect samples for molecular analysis, biochemical oxygen demand, chlorophyll concentrations, and bacterial abundances as well as measure temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen throughout the water column over the course of a tidal cycle.

As a senior in Environmental Science, this research project has definitely helped me to find an area of research within my field that I enjoy and am passionate about. Currently, I am planning to pursue a Masters degree with a focus in microbial ecology. My hope is that this will enable me to pursue a career in research so that I may continue to be involved in the exciting world of microbial ecology.