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2018 Project Proposal

Do common lawn chemicals threaten soil organisms?

Kathleen Susman (Biology)

Increasing evidence links the application of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides to an increased vulnerability to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease in humans. In addition, use of pesticides in agricultural settings may be involved in the mysterious and profound decline of honeybees worldwide and many other non-target organisms. We are interested in exploring the behavioral, developmental, reproductive and neuronal effects of sublethal concentrations of some common lawn chemicals used in Hudson Valley on the soil nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans. We seek to understand if certain lawn compounds cause specific damage to subpopulations of different neurons and thereby alter the behaviors subserved by those neurons. The project this summer will focus on identifying the populations of neurons affected using GFP transgenic strains of nematodes. We will also examine pesticide-induced changes in gene expression of candidate genes involved in oxidative damage.

Required Skills and/or Course Prerequisites

Previous experience with confocal microscopy is very helpful for this project. Familiarity with maintenance and manipulation of C. elegans or with general microbiological skills is also important. The interested student will have had intermediate-level courses in Biology, so only advanced level students should apply for this project (eg. rising junior or rising senior).