Friday, December 2, 2016

URSP Student Valerie Nguyen Explores the Histopathology of Corals

My journey with URSP begins last year at an open presentation led by a URSP associate and a couple URSP students. From there, I went to the website with the contact information of the different heads of departments and emailed Dr. Ester Peters. She suggested that I work with her on a continuing project she had, the project was histopathology of corals subjected to several naval munitions compounds. Since childhood, I’ve been fascinated with marine biology, so this project immediately appealed to me. I also found it very pertinent, since coral reef health has been noticeably declining worldwide, and the time to have conservation efforts is now.

The internship with URSP will be my first, which undoubtedly will help me in my future as a doctorate candidate. Working in the lab has also taught me valuable skills as a technician, such as procedure and lab safety, but also intangible skills such as navigating inter-laboratory dynamic and meaningful communication with my superior. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to work on this toxicology project, which will undoubtedly show how these munitions affect an animal already endangered by anthropogenic sources.

The first few weeks of this experiment were slide creation, in which I cut paraffin-embedded tissue samples into 5 micrometer thin sections and placed them on slides. Then, I stained them with a specialized stain to better see the separate tissue layers and mucus producing cells. Currently, since all the slides I need for my experiment were created and stained, I’ve been reading the slides at 400x magnification in order to grade tissue health.

I’ve learned many things from my time in the lab already. One particular lesson that has stayed with me is persistence. Histopathology is far from the most engaging science, and unfortunately there aren’t many sources on histopathology of coral due to lack of interest and funding. This has led me to a months-long process of learning how to distinguish tissue, how to grade tissue health, and how to prepare slides correctly, even taking 4 hours to stain 1 rack of slides. However, I’m beginning to see the payoff of my persistence in learning the material and carefully performing the techniques. Hopefully, I’ll continue to grow my skills as a biologist and researcher. I believe I’m definitely on the right track.