The Center for Research & Scholarship (CRS) encourages and supports faculty and student engagement in research activities that advance the academic reputation of the University and assists students with gaining the skills required for achieving success in the career path of their choice. The following faculty and student researchers are just one example of research that is taking place here at Liberty University.
School: Health Sciences
Department: Biology and Chemistry
Field: Animal Conservation
In recent decades, amphibians have experienced unprecedented population declines, leading to many population and species extinctions worldwide. A large number of these declines are occurring in protected areas, such as national parks, and are due to a lethal chytrid fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). However, some local amphibian species are not vulnerable to Bd because they host a wide array of symbiotic bacteria on their skin that secretes antifungal compounds to kill fungi, including Bd.
Recent studies have shown that some of these beneficial bacteria can be used as probiotics to prevent disease in highly vulnerable amphibian species. In an effort to understand the ecology of amphibian microbial communities and further conservation strategies with the use of probiotics, we use microbiological and molecular techniques to investigate how these microbes interact with each other, their amphibian host, and the pathogen Bd.
What impact will this research have in your field?
Previous work of mine has shown that using antifungal bacteria from healthy amphibians as probiotics can limit or prevent morbidity and mortality associated with chytrid infection in vulnerable species. Similar to human probiotics found in yogurt and dietary supplements, probiotic application of antifungal amphibian microbes to susceptible amphibian populations has the potential to be an important tool to prevent further chytrid related amphibian declines. Understanding how symbiotic microbes from healthy amphibians interact with the chytrid fungus will help us further this goal.
What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of collaborating with students in a research experience?
Although I am truly passionate about amphibian conservation and research, the most rewarding aspect of conducting research at Liberty is the opportunity to mentor undergraduate students. I enjoy getting to know each student in my lab and helping them discover what they are passionate about by showing them what I am passionate about.
Major: Biomedical Sciences: Global Studies
Minor: Chemistry; Creation Studies
The main idea of my research team’s project is to find a probiotic for amphibians to fight against the pathogenic fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). My project in particular is looking at the microbiome of two local salamander species, Desmognathus fuscus and D. monticola, which have been exposed to Bd, but have not been greatly affected by its presence. The hope is that there is a bacterium living on their skin that produces a metabolite that helps them fight against Bd. If that bacterium is found, we hope to administer it to endangered amphibian populations that have been or will be affected by Bd.
How did you get involved in research collaboration with a faculty mentor?
I took Dr. Becker’s microbiology class last spring. While having him as both my lecturer and lab professor, he got to know me and my interest in microbiology, and I got to learn just a little bit about his own research. I also had friends on his research team who let me shadow them before I knew I definitely wanted to join. Once I knew I wanted to be involved, I talked to Dr. Becker about it and he said yes.
What impact will this research have on your future academic and professional opportunities?
This research has shown me just how critical research is and how important it is to me. I had never really thought about research before and did not think it would be something I was interested in. However, after this experience, I have realized that no matter what my future holds, research will definitely be a part of it.
What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
The most rewarding part about research is the independence and confidence it has instilled in me as a scientist. My only experience in labs before research had a very guided approach, where the steps were all laid out for me, TAs and professors were available for questions, and there was no real problem-solving component. Once I began working in the lab with just my partner, I realize I was out of my comfort zone. Slowly, I became accustomed to performing experiments with high accuracy and adjusting to the repetitive nature of my work. I am now at the point where I am comfortable going into the lab and doing what I need to do on my own.
What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
It is so worth it. Yes, it means taking more time out of your busy week to do something that can be frustrating and repetitive at times. However, the benefits far outweigh any negative aspects. My research has helped me learn better; it cemented what I learned in other classes and gave me foreknowledge for others. It has also opened my eyes to a whole other side of research that is not just pipetting, but involves fieldwork and working with animals.