Grant allows students to perform genetic research

performing researchTwo students and two professors at SUNY Oswego will conduct meaningful research on the genetics of local species under a Student/Faculty Collaborative Challenge Grant.

Students Kyle Pursel and Matthew Volny will work with biological sciences faculty members Peter Rosenbaum and Amy Welsh to detail the genetics of wood turtles and eastern chipmunks under the grant.

The grant will purchase materials that Pursel and Volny will use for genetic analysis under Welsh’s supervision, as the undergraduates conduct studies and use techniques usually used by professionals.

Pursel is continuing a study with Rosenbaum on wood turtle populations in Oswego County. He will analyze collected blood samples for genetic diversity in the threatened turtles, which would show the strength of the species. Findings can be compared with wood turtles in other geographic locations.

“If there’s still a lot of genetic diversity, there’s a lot less likely to be problems” for the species in terms of viable breeding partners, Pursel said. “I’m hoping to use the combination of field and genetic work to create a conservation plan.”

In a project begun under Diane Chepko-Sade, Volny studies Rice Creek’s eastern chipmunk population. He has already used a tracking technique where captured chipmunks are dusted with fluorescent powder to trace their trails at night to learn about their family structure, behavior and migration patterns, Volny said. He aims to gain a greater understanding of both the species and the research techniques used.

The blood samples from turtles and hair samples from chipmunks have been assembled through several years of captures and releases, eventually and proactively gathering large enough sample sizes for these kinds of experiments, Rosenbaum said.

The students will gain experience using the college’s new Beckman Coulter CEQ 8000, a high-resolution genetic analyzer. Rosenbaum noted that the College of Arts and Sciences paid for half the $100,000 piece of equipment, with the manufacturer supporting the other half. The College of Arts and Sciences contribution was made possible by funds donated by Jim and Debbie Kaden, who created the Dean of Arts and Sciences Kaden Fund.

“It’s much more accurate for our results,” Welsh said of the equipment. “Kyle and Matt have learned how to extract DNA, so it’s developing their toolbox.”

Biological sciences faculty emphasize this kind of collaborative hands-on work through professional-level research projects.

“This is a good example where the fieldwork and laboratory work are intertwined to deal with conservation,” Rosenbaum noted. “More and more, that’s the way biologists and conservationists are working.”

Moreover, it shows how scientific roles and disciplines are no longer exclusionary, Pursel explained. “The boundaries within biology are breaking away, as are the boundaries between biology and chemistry,” he said. “In science, everything is becoming more interconnected.”

Their project is one of two receiving Challenge Grants. In the other, Professor Al Lackey and student Sara Ressing will study northern short-tailed shrews at the college’s Rice Creek Field Station.

Initiated at Oswego in 2004, Challenge Grants award up to $2,500 each to projects involving undergraduate scholarly or creative activity in collaboration with faculty. The grants are supported in part by a donation from Timothy Murphy, a 1974 SUNY Oswego graduate and the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the SUNY Research Foundation.

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PHOTO CAPTION: Gene pool—Two professors and two students at SUNY Oswego are pooling resources to study local populations of eastern chipmunks and wood turtles under a Student/Faculty Collaborative Challenge Grant. Shown working with the college’s new Beckman Coulter CEQ 8000 high-resolution genetic analyzer are, from left, junior biology major Matthew Volny, biological science faculty members Amy Welsh and Peter Rosenbaum, and junior zoology major Kyle Pursel.

(Posted: May 02, 2007)

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