Monday, April 20, 2020

URSP Student Katie Russell Researches Population Sizes of River Herring in The Potamac River

This semester, in Dr. Kim de Mutsert’s fish ecology lab, I am conducting an OSCAR project where I am researching population sizes of river herring, the collective name for alewife and blueback herring, in three tributaries of the Potomac River. River herring have historically had important commercial and recreational value, but in recent years have experienced population decline. In my research, I utilize field collections and data analysis with the goal of determining differences in population sizes of river herring between three tributaries in the Potomac River. I’m also researching which water quality parameters (such as pH, water temperature, etc.) may have an influence on the river herring population sizes. Each of these tributaries receives different amounts of treated wastewater discharge and runoff from impervious surfaces like streets. Both discharge and runoff can impact water quality, which in turn can impact populations of fish such as river herring.

I became interested in researching river herring after spending the summer of 2019 monitoring a commercially important run of sockeye salmon for the U.S. Forest Service in southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Upon returning to George Mason in the fall, I wanted to continue working with fish like salmon, so I started to work in Dr. de Mutsert’s lab at the Potomac Science Center and developed an interest in river herring. River herring are similar to salmon in that they are both anadromous, which are fish that spend their adult life in the ocean but return to freshwater tributaries to spawn. Doing research on river herring is preparing me to do a graduate degree in fisheries, where I hope to conduct research on anadromous fish that are important to humans. Eventually, I hope to become a fisheries biologist for the U.S. Forest Service and manage projects aiding in the conservation of fish.

On a weekly basis, I typically spend several hours filtering river herring data collected over the past several years and analyze the data statistically for relationships and trends. Starting in mid-March, I will collect new data for this year by making field collections and observations of river herring and water quality data with other individuals in Dr. de Mutsert’s lab to complete my OSCAR project that will be important in my career pursuits.

Friday, April 17, 2020

URSP Student Alexis Robbins Creates a Data Analysis Platform for Biomarker Identification in Lung Cancer Immune Therapy

The objective of this project is to create a computational platform to be used by researchers to more easily assess histochemical images. The specific application that is being focused on are images of lung cancer tissue biopsies. I became interested in this project because I am deeply passionate about oncology research. The prevalence of cancer is astounding; 1 in 2 American men and 1 in 3 American women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Research to improve treatment and screening of cancer is imperative. Given my experience in my major, bioengineering, and through past research in data mining, I felt confident that I could do this crucial project justice.

This project related to my long-term goals in many different ways. After I graduate from Mason, I will pursue research in health care. This research experience will give me vital insight and skills that will be valuable and translatable to my future career. On a weekly basis, I am programming to optimize my software platform. There are many design decisions that need to be made on top of getting the software to even work as best as possible. I have learned a lot already this semester. I have gained a greater understanding of the biology behind lung cancer and some treatments associated with this disease. This project is also my first experience with software development which is valuable knowledge in a world becoming more technological by the day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

USRP Student Jasmine James Investigates The Relationship Between Vitamin A Derivatives and Zebrafish Embryo Development

My name is Jasmine James and I am a junior, biology major and data analysis minor. This semester I am participating in URSP to answer a question I have been wondering about for years. The question stems from something my mother used to tell me a lot, “When I was pregnant with you, I couldn’t get a relaxer”.

There are many factors which can affect pregnancy, one of which is a chemical compound called retinoic acid. It is a naturally occurring chemical, which in regulated doses promotes the development of the spine. However, it is also known to have negative effects when introduced in excess. There are also multiple chemicals which are very similar to retinoic acid, such as retinol and retinol palmitate. Retinol is a major portion of Vitamin A and is how retinoic acid exists prior to its conversion after being taken into the body. Retinol palmitate is the synthetic version of retinoic acid which is used in cosmetics such as sunscreen and hair relaxers. I began to wonder if these two compounds have the same effect on the embryos as retinoic acid. 

To determine the effects, we used the model organism of zebrafish. They are the prime model for studies involving embryo development due to how rapidly they develop, and how easy they are to care for.  I have been working with Dr. Olmo to study the zebrafish embryos until they reach 72 hours of life before imaging them and analyzing the images. We analyze how their tails are bent based upon exposure group: retinoic acid, retinol, retinol palmitate, or negative control. Through this process I hope to delve as far into my research as I can to gain a better understanding of vitamin A derivatives, and the complex nature that is developmental biology.