Romi Lynn Burks
Professor of Biology
During spring and summer 2020, Professor of Biology Romi Burks was selected as a member of a Faculty Mentoring Network (Make TRUBLE) within the Quantitative Undergraduate Biology Education and Synthesis (QUBES) consortium. QUBES represents a community of math and biology educators who share resources and methods for preparing students to use quantitative approaches to tackle real, complex biological problems. The FMN group Make TRUBLE, or Make Teaching with R to Undergraduates Be Less Excruciating, helped Burks contribute to an ongoing emphasis in the natural sciences at Southwestern to increase quantitative literacy and to use the open-source R language and software with students. As part of teaching Methods in Ecology and Evolution and Ecology, her lesson, which focuses on an element of statistical analysis, can be found online.—August 2020
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.—January 2020
During the first week of December, Professor of Biology Romi Burks 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 Barnes ’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.—December 2019
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.—November 2019
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.—June 2019