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Biology
2019 Project Proposal

Effect of elevated salinity on the amphibian microbiome

Myra Hughey (Biology)

The microbiome plays a critical role in host health, and the close association between microbes and their hosts begins early in development. Importantly, what happens during the formation of these symbiotic microbial communities (i.e., initial “assembly”) can have lasting effects on the microbiome’s structure and function and has been linked to a wide range of issues related to host health and behavior later in life. However, we know little about the impact of environmental stressors on the microbiome during early host development. The goal of this URSI project is to expand our understanding of how environmental stressors influence initial assembly of the vertebrate microbiome. Specifically, we will investigate early formation of the host-associated bacterial communities from the skin and gut of wood frogs (Rana sylvatica). Wood frogs breed in ephemeral ponds, including ponds near roads that have elevated salinity levels due to run-off from de-icing salts. This project seeks to understand if exposure to elevated salinity alters how the microbiome assembles in larval wood frogs, and if these effects persist through major life transitions and are also apparent in recently metamorphosed wood frogs.

Prerequisites:
This study will include both field and laboratory components. Thus, students should be prepared to participate in a wide variety of activities, from collecting samples in muddy ponds to performing DNA extractions in the lab to processing sequence data on the computer. Prior experience with microbiological or molecular research, computer programming, or bioinformatics are welcomed, but not required. Course prerequisite: BIOL 106

How should students express interest in this project?
Students interested in this position should send me an email (myhughey@vassar.edu) explaining why they are interested in the position and how it relates to their professional goals. Please also briefly describe any relevant experience that you may have.