Notable Faculty & Student Achievements
Professor of Biology Romi Burks, Lauren Muskara ’20, Esther Nyaberi ’21, and Kaitlin Galassini ’21 attended the Texas Conservation Symposium, January 9–10th. Each gave a presentation. All three students received financial acknowledgments of the quality of their undergraduate research talks. The research on environmental DNA started during SCOPE 2018 and 2019 and will hopefully soon contribute to submissions to peer-reviewed journals. Their talk titles included the following:
- “Looking at and beyond the Horizon: Studying Nonnative Apple Snails in Texas and Diversity across the Globe” by Burks.
- “Indicating Invasion with eDNA: Detecting Apple Snails along Oyster Creek” by Muskara, coauthored by Shellsea Miller ’20, Burks, and Matthew Barnes ‘’06, assistant professor of natural resources management at Texas Tech University.
- “Old School or New School: Comparing the Efficiency of eDNA Sampling by Hand and with the ANDe™ eDNA Backpack” by Galassini, coauthored by Nyaberi, Burks, and Barnes.
- “Effect of the Degradation of eDNA in the Presence of Microplastics” by Nyaberi, coauthored by Galassini, Burks, and Barnes.
Professor of Biology Ben Pierce, the Williamson County Conservation Fund (WCCF), and Southwestern University cosponsored the symposium, which attracted 118 attendees and featured 25 talks.
Assistant Professor of Biology Kimberly McArthur coauthored a chapter in a recently released comprehensive reference book about zebrafish as a model organism in biomedical research. The chapter titled “Zebrafish as a Model for Revealing the Neuronal Basis of Behavior” appears in The Zebrafish in Biomedical Research: Biology, Husbandry, Diseases, and Research Applications(Elsevier).
During the first week of December, Professor of Biology Romi Burk s traveled to Bahia Blanca, Argentina, for the triennial congress of the Argentinean Malacological Society, also known as 3CAM. While there, Burks met with past collaborators and attended special 3CAM symposia. These symposia on Pomacea (a genus of apple snails) and the molecular ecology of mollusks facilitated a better understanding of research done in the last 10 years since she first started working on apple snail diversity in South America. Burks gave a talk titled “Genetic ABCs—COI to eDNA: Using Barcoding IDs to Develop Applications for Species Detections of Nonnative Apple Snails from Water Samples” that provided an overview of her most recent research direction of environmental DNA and how Burks and collaborator Dr. Matthew Barne s ’06 used diversity data from South America to address the applied issues of detecting nonnative species. Undergraduates Lauren Muskara ’20, Shellsea Miller ’20, Esther Nyaberi ’21, and Kaitlin Galassini ’21 provided data for the talk and earned positions as coauthors. Attending the meeting and subsequent travel to meet research partners in Uruguay will also push forward the remaining manuscripts from the South America project.
Assistant Professor of Biology Kim McArthur presented her neuroscience research at two conferences during the fall 2019 semester. McArthur studies brain development and function at the cellular level using larval zebrafish. Zebrafish develop entirely outside of their mothers, and they are nearly transparent early in development. These unique characteristics allow McArthur and her students to study the fundamentals of early brain development in a living organism (with surprising similarities to humans) using noninvasive methods. This research combines microscopy, electrophysiology, and behavioral analysis to study the development of the cellular networks in the brainstem that generate innate survival behaviors, such as feeding and breathing. McArthur presented her poster, titled “Development and Early Organization of Respiratory Motor Circuits in Larval Zebrafish,” at the Texas Zebrafish Conference in Houston, TX, November 1–2, and the Zebrafish Neural Circuits and Behavior meeting at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, November 20–23. This poster included research completed by an undergraduate mentored by McArthur during her postdoctoral tenure at Cornell University.
Professor of Biology Romi L. Burks continues to build her reputation as a sought-after and dynamic educator about “real” chocolate. As she does in her courses at Southwestern, Burks points out connections between chocolate and disciplines across the liberal arts and sciences in her public lectures. Expanding her speaking invitations to the international level, Burks gave an invited lecture titled “Worth Every Pound: Why to Invest in Fine Chocolate” twice at the Brighton Chocolate Festival in the U.K. over fall break. In November, she spoke to a packed audience on “Biodiversity and Cacao” on the Women in Chocolate stage of the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, WA. Northwest Chocolate boasts the largest education program about chocolate for the general public, with five stages running concurrently over the two-day festival. All of this work and fun continue to inform the classes Burks teaches about chocolate, including Chocolate-Covered London, the study-abroad course she’ll be leading for SU’s London Semester in Fall 2020.
Shellsea Miller ’20 and Lauren Muskara ’20 presented their research on environmental DNA (eDNA), “A Snail out of Water: Hitting the Target on Primer Optimization for Apple Snails,” as a poster presentation at the annual meeting of the Society of Freshwater Science in Salt Lake City, UT. Their work uses a molecular ecology application to detect the presence of nonnative apple snails. The research started with SCOPE 2018 and continued through the 2018–2019 academic year, during which both Miller and Muskara completed a number of novel experiments using the quantitative polymerase chain reaction thermocycler in the Keck Molecular Biology Center. This work represents part of the ongoing collaboration between Professor of Biology Romi Burks and SU alumnus Dr. Matthew Barnes ’06 of Texas Tech University.
Professor of Biology Romi Burks coauthored a paper in the “Academic Practice in Ecology and Evolution” section of the open-access journal Ecology and Evolution. This collaborative peer-reviewed publication, titled “Students as Ecologists: Strategies for Successful Mentorship of Undergraduate Researchers,” developed from a special session at the 2018 Ecological Society of America meeting, where Burks gave a five-minute InspireTalk-style presentation on how to continue to work and publish with undergraduates after graduation.
Professor of Biology and holder of the Lillian Nelson Pratt Chair Ben Pierce presented a talk at the Texas Academy of Science, March 1–2, titled “Body Condition in Natural Populations of the Georgetown Salamander (Eurycea naufragia).”
Eight members of Professor of Biology Romi Burks’s molecular ecology lab attended the Texas Academy of Science meeting at Howard Payne University, March 1–2.
- Hannah Winkler ’19 presented a talk titled “Unraveling the Mystery: Genetic Identification of Nonnative Asian Mysterysnails, Cipangopaludina chinensis and C. japonica,” coauthored by Nicole Kelly ’21 and Shannon Odell ’21, alumna Shannon Walsh ’18, and collaborator Dr. Russell Minton of Gannon University.
- Kelly and Odell also presented the poster “Highway to Shell: Troubleshooting Methods of Genetic Detection and Identification in two invasive species, Cipangopaludina chinensis and C. japonica,” coauthored by the same research team. Kelly and Odell’s work highlighted their results from their participation in the 2018 SCOPE Program.
- Lauren Muskara ’20 presented a talk titled “A Snail out of Water: Apple Snail Detection along Oyster Creek (Missouri City/Sugarland, TX),” coauthored with Shellsea Miller ’20 and collaborator and SU alumnus Dr. Matthew Barnes ’06 from Texas Tech University.
- Miller also participated in the Freshwater Science poster session with work titled “Bullseye! Hitting the Target on Primer Optimization,” which illustrated the process of arriving at species-specific targets for environmental DNA.
- Madison Granier ’19 also attended the meeting and worked with Dr. Barnes on data analysis for her capstone manuscript.
- Esther Nyaberi ’21 and Kaitlin Galassini ’21 (future 2019 SCOPErs with Dr. Burks) also attended and discussed eDNA with Dr. Barnes.
Professor of Biology and Lillian Nelson Pratt Chair Ben Pierce published a paper in the Journal of Herpetology titled “Frequency and Ecology of Tail Loss in Populations of the Georgetown Salamander (Eurycea naufragia).” The paper was coauthored with former Southwestern University student Daniel Gonzalez ’17.