Next Generation: Mary Larkin

April 2, 2018
Mary Larkin is a Ph.D. student working with Allen Place at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology. She studies the link between diet and inflammation and ways to mitigate that in fish.

What are you researching? I work on the link between diet and inflammation and ways to mitigate that in fish. It’s a similar concept to understanding what fish are allergic to, though they have a different immune system, so it’s not an allergy in the same ways humans have allergies.

Why does it make a difference? It’s really important especially now as the aquaculture industry tries to move toward more sustainability. Instead of taking fish from the ocean and feeding them to farmed fish, we’re looking at introducing them to plant protein sources to replace the fish meal. Some ingredients are not working well for some kinds of fish and may actually induce inflammation, so we’re trying to figure out what ingredients may cause problems for which fish and see how we might be able to mitigate those negative effects.

How did you get interested in environmental science? I’ve always been interested in living systems. My background is in molecular and cellular biology, and it wasn’t until I started my Ph.D. on the toxicology track at IMET that I was introduced to the impact of my work in that greater ecological sense. Even though I’m looking at molecular mechanisms and immunology in fish, I’m understanding the impact of that for aquaculture and sustainability for the environment.

It wasn’t until I started my Ph.D. on the toxicology track at IMET that I was introduced to the impact of my work in that greater ecological sense. Even though I’m looking at molecular mechanisms and immunology in fish, I’m understanding the impact of that for aquaculture and sustainability for the environment.

 

Why choose the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science? I started at University of Maryland, Baltimore and was looking for a lab to do my doctoral research in environmental toxicology. My program recommended that I look here at IMET. It was my very first lab rotation and really my first real lab experience when I came here in 2014 to work with Dr. Eric Schott on blue crabs. I assayed levels of microcystin, which is a toxin produced by cyanobacteria. That was a great introduction to IMET and a great lab to be in. Dr. Schott was wonderful to work with. Then I came back here a year later to work with Dr. Place, and I’ve been in his lab ever since. I’m very grateful to have him as my mentor. We both get really excited about the science.

Share an experience that stands out most about your time with UMCES. There have been many wonderful experiences here. One that stands out is the International Marine Biotechnology conference that IMET was an integral part of even though it happened across town. In addition to meeting researchers from around the world, there were so many of my colleagues from IMET presenting there. I presented, as well. It’s always interesting. You work with these people, but you don’t necessarily hear the details of their research, so that was interesting to go and get to hear their talks.

What’s the most important thing people can do to help the environment? I think there are a lot of simple things we can do to help the environment. You don’t have to be a scientist and understand all the background to make small changes in your life to be less wasteful and to recycle. I’ve noticed a lot of institutions like IMET are putting in water bottle stations so we don’t have plastic water bottles. Simple things like that.  

When do you anticipate to earn your degree and what are your future plans? I will be graduating in June 2018, and I would like to stay on working with Dr. Place in a post-doctoral position where I can explore a business concept I’m working on that has to do with horseshoe crab blood. I’m working with Jill Arnold and Brent Whitaker, who are affiliated with the National Aquarium but also here at IMET, doing some preliminary research to see if we have a feasible business concept. The idea is to promote the conservation of the wild horseshoe crab population, while continuing to supply a steady and reliable blood product to the biomedical industry, which uses it for testing the safety of products.