Summer 2018 Blog
The 2018 IMET Summer Internship program is made possible with support from the LMRCSC, the University System of Maryland's Elkins Professorship awarded to IMET Professor Rosemary Jagus, and the Bunting Family Foundation. The duration of the internship is Monday June 4 through Friday, August 3, 2018.
Week 9: Congratulations Interns!
It’s incredible how fast time flies. After 9 weeks at IMET, our summer interns completed their final week in the IMET Summer Internship Program. It seems like it was only yesterday that Dr. Jagus was welcoming the interns to our laboratory and giving them the overview of what these nine weeks would entail. Speaking on behalf of Dr. Jagus, the Program Director, Dr. Hill, Director of IMET, and the rest of our students, staff, and faculty, Congratulations Interns!
So what exactly happened over these nine weeks? A lot.
During their time at IMET, our interns got to experience everything it means to be scientists. Whether it was attending lab meetings, feeding animals in the Aquaculture Research Center, running DNA barcoding in the BioAnalytic Services Laboratory, or even learning how to communicate science to non-scientists, the interns will take with them an experience unlike any other. All of this would not be possible without the support of the University System of Maryland’s Elkin’s Professorship, awarded to Dr. Rosemary Jagus, the generous support of the Bunting Family Foundation, and all of the faculty mentors at IMET.
As the interns wrapped up their nine-week projects, they were challenged to create a presentation that would summarize all of the work they completed while at IMET. For some, this was the first time creating formal scientific presentations. Without the help of Dr. Kate Gillespie, who assisted Dr. Jagus as a Program Coordinator this summer, many of our interns would have not been as confident during their presentations on Research Day 2018.
Research Day 2018 occurred on August 3, 2018 at IMET. This is the time when our interns present all that they have learned during their stay at IMET in front of faculty, lab mates, students, staff, and most importantly, their friends and family. Let’s take a look at what our interns did this summer:
Benjamin Frey- Is the expression pattern of eIF4E family members in zebrafish typical of other teleosts?
Langston Gash- Polychaete mud worms in Baltimore Harbor
Working with Dr. Eric Schott and Dr. Tsvetan Bachvaroff, Langston joined a team effort to conduct a biodiversity survey in the Baltimore Inner Harbor. Looking specifically at worms, Langston was able to study whether or not various worm specimens were of the same species using DNA barcoding. Knowing more about these worms is incredibly important as we work to restore the Inner Harbor. The worms studied are well-known indicators of significant pollution in the water.
Shauna Tabb - Improving blue crab larvae culture
Shauna Tabb spent her nine weeks working with Dr. Sook Chung. In Dr. Chung’s lab, Shauna worked with the Maryland Blue Crab, studying how we can improve larvae cultures. Because of the growing aquaculture industry, especially in Maryland with Blue Crabs, the lab is looking at ways to reduce mortality rates of blue crab larvae. Being able to reduce these rates will make aquaculture more sustainable and reduce the environmental impact of harvesting Blue Crabs in the wild.
Bryanna Sanders- Symbiosis between microalgae and bacteria and the potential effect on biofuel production
Bryanna Sanders worked with Dr. Russell Hill studying the way bacteria and algae interact. Certain algae can have a huge impact on fuel production because their oils can be turned into biofuel that is carbon-neutral. It’s been found that certain bacteria can enhance the growth of algal strains thereby increasing the biofuel production capability of algae. Bryanna performed experiments on a few bacteria algal strains to determine, which bacteria enhanced and which inhibited the growth of the algae.
Lexa Medero- Analyzing the genetics of a blue crab reovirus to understand crab movement
With Dr. Eric Schott, Lexa studied the reovirus found in blue crab in the Caribbean and the eastern seaboard of the US. Because the virus RNA sequence varies slightly depending on the geographic origin of the crab, comparing sequences helps biologists understand crab migration better and how the virus can be distributed. Being able to track the movement of the crabs and viruses can help shed light on how marine ecosystems are interconnected over large geographic areas.
Chima Iwuji- Distinguishing clamworms in the Chesapeake Bay using DNA barcoding
Very similar to Langston Gash’s research, Chima was tasked with analyzing the genetic makeup of clamworms in the Baltimore Harbor using DNA barcoding. Because the worms studied Chima and Langston were different, they were able to work in parallel to each other in many aspects of their nine week stay. Chima also spent a fair amount of time documenting invertebrate diversity in the Baltimore Harbor, with significant collaboration with The National Aquarium in downtown Baltimore.
Erika Baylor- How is antibody production regulated in sharks?
Erika Baylor spent her nine weeks working with Dr. Helen Dooley, specifically researching the way antibodies are produced and regulated in sharks. Sharks happen to have an immune system that is very similar to humans, which makes this work incredibly important in the field of medicine. Erika was able to use various molecular tagging techniques to track antibody production using recombinant DNA techniques. The impact of this research could be substantial in the field of medicine.
Paul Turner-Sibigtroth- The use of transgenic fluorescent zebrafish to study the effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals on primordial germ cell migration
Maame Mensah- The influence of heat shock and cold shock on muscle development, hsp40 and hsp90 expression
Working in Dr. Jim Du’s lab, Maame studied muscle development in zebrafish embryos. This is part of Dr. Du’s on-going work with the UMB School of Medicine. His hope is to understand specific genes in zebrafish (that are also found in humans) so that we can better understand diseases like muscular dystrophy. By identifying and studying the way specific genes respond to various stress tests, Maame was able to help Dr. Du’s lab broaden their understanding of the muscular development process of zebrafish.
Obinna Iwuji- Growth rate of Haematococcus pluvialis
Obinna worked with algae in Dr. Yantao Li’s lab. In Dr. Li’s lab, the team is researching the way algae can be used to produce many of the nutraceuticals we find in places like CVS. Usually these pigments are extracted from fish. However, the fish these pigments are not made by the fish themselves but from the food sources and are derived ultimately from algae. This same pigment can also be derived from cultivated algae, however it requires large volumes algae to produce the amounts needed. Obinna and the Li lab are optimizing algae culture conditions to increase pigment production alleviating the need to extract it from fish.
Nylah McClain- The effects of nutrient deprivation on protein synthetic activity and growth of Amphidinium carterae
Nylah, working with Dr. Jagus and graduate student Kaila Noland was looking at the effects of nutrient deprivation (concentrations of nitrate and phosphate) on the growth and protein synthetic activity of the photosynthetic dinoflagellate, Amphidinium carterae. Nylah was investigating whether A. carterae responded to environmental stress in the same way as other eukaryotes, by modifying the activity of protein kinase that downregulates the activity of the translation factor eIF2.
Week 8: “We have some work to do this weekend”
The eighth week of the IMET Summer Internship wrapped up on July 27 and, at this point, the interns have really gotten into the nitty-gritty of their projects. With only one week to go before our interns present the results of their projects, nerves were higher as the countdown to Research Day 2018 officially began.
The group, along with Dr. Jagus, was joined by IMET Director Dr. Hill on Friday for their weekly mentoring session. During this time, they practiced giving brief overviews of their projects, using the skills they learned just a few weeks prior from our friends and the Integration and Application Network. Dr. Jagus tasked the interns to draw conceptual diagrams of their research (graphical abstracts), which essentially asks the students to summarize the essence of their projects. To do this, the interns had to give a brief overview of their research question, explain what they did (without using heavy methodological descriptions), and what the results of the project were.
Drs. Jagus and Hill began with some words of advice regarding these types of presentations. Dr. Hill almost seemed to foreshadow with his advice that time was going to be one of the most challenging aspects of these presentations
Often times, a ten-minute presentation can be more challenging than a twenty-minute presentation. You have to be concise and direct about the points you’re making, but also provide enough details for the audience to understand.
Dr. Russell Hill
As it turns out, the interns did struggle a little bit with timing, much like Dr. Hill mentioned. The biggest issue for the interns was figuring out which details were not relevant to storyboard presentations. While all of them were easily able to discuss methodology and minute details of their projects, they struggled to extract the crux of their findings. They also struggled somewhat in transitioning from a formal scientific presentation style to a less informal and more general presentation style. This is not uncommon, however, as many of the world’s leading scientists struggle to present their research to the non-scientist community.
Science communication is a skill that many scientists around the world are working to improve and we are glad the interns have the opportunity to challenge themselves in this endeavor.
During the IMET Summer Internship, Dr. Jagus wanted the interns to gain useful laboratory skills in various sub-fields of marine and environmental technology. However, Dr. Jagus also understands that there are important skills for the interns to develop outside of the laboratory, mainly science communication. With only one week left before the interns present their findings at Research Day 2018, in front of friends, family members, lab mates, and professors from their home institutions, many echoed the thoughts of intern Ben Frey (right), “We have some work to do this weekend”.
Week 7: “When do you know to cut your losses?”
With only two weeks left in the IMET Internship Program, it’s important to ask: What will be the impact of this summer on what the interns do back at their home institutions? While it is great to see the students growing so much over the summer, it is also important to make sure they continue growing after our nine weeks are over. To answer this question, Dr. Gillespie, borrowing a page from Dr. Hill’s book, asked the interns three smaller questions: What went wrong, what went right, and what was the most interesting part of your week?
Nylah learned to run protein gels while working in the Jagus lab this summer. This is important to Dr. Jagus’ research on translation and protein synthesis and has many applications. In college, Nylah is constructing a food web of fish in Maryland coastal bays; knowing more about proteins may help her expand upon this work. Nylah also said that her highlight from the week was simply the feeling of being comfortable in a lab environment. Many of the other interns echoed Nylah’s comment. They are excited to be part of a lab and doing their own research in a lab environment.
Paul said that his highlight of the week was being given a bit more freedom to conduct experiments on his own. He quickly mentioned that with more freedom, there is more responsibility and also more opportunities for mistakes. Fortunately, mistakes can be great learning opportunities and can help in understanding entire processes better, which was another highlight of Paul’s week.
When asked what went wrong this week, Lexa stated that she’s been having issues locating a specific virus in crab samples. She is working with Dr. Schott and looking at way in which a virus will move from one crab to the next, however, upon looking at seventy-eight samples, Lexa hasn’t been able to find the virus at all. It’s frustrating when work doesn’t cooperate, but that’s what makes science so fascinating. If something doesn’t work one way, we can figure out a new way to get it working again.
In one of our final mentoring sessions, Lindsay D’Ambrosio from IMET’s Harbor Launch Incubator joined the interns for a discussion on entrepreneurship. While it is not a very common topic for many programs of this nature, IMET is home to its own biotechnology incubator, which is managed by Ms. D’Ambrosio. She was able to give the interns an overview of what companies are inside the incubator and a little background on their work. Ms. D’Ambrosio also facilitated an interactive conversation with the interns to get them thinking more about what it takes to start your own business.
It was clear to see the interns were very interested in this discussion. Erika Baylor and Ben Frey were able to ask a lot of questions, which got everyone thinking outside of the box. Some of the topics discussed pertained to a biotechnology incubator and government regulations, product margins, as well as determining which companies would be considered the competition. One of the most difficult questions to answer was asked by Erika, “When do you know to cut your losses?” Dr. Hill and Ms. D’Ambrosio both had difficulty answering the question because it really varies on an individual’s circumstances. The short answer? It depends.
Lindsay said many of the same skills that are built in becoming a scientist are necessary for entrepreneurship.
In entrepreneurship, they call it "grit" when you encounter challenges, learn from them, adjust your plan, keep going, and don't give up. In science, they call it "science".
Manager of the Harbor Launch Incubator
Week 6: “A Cure for Blindness Might Come from Algae”
It’s July 13th and already week six at IMET is coming to close. Just as our interns were getting settled into a routine, we changed it up on them. The sixth week of the internship may have been the busiest week yet. There was a luncheon hosted by IMET Director, Dr. Russell Hill and Columbus Center Director, Suzanne Crawford. This was followed by a full-day course on science communication, and then a mentoring session with IMET’s own Dr. Yantao Li. On top of all of this, our interns were still hard at work in their labs, preparing for their presentations coming up in just under one month.
Each summer, Dr. Hill and Ms. Crawford host a luncheon for all of the interns at IMET to give everyone a chance to meet and see what work they are doing this summer. This year, the luncheon was packed with many interns coming from all different programs. We didn’t realize there were so many in the building, but we are glad we got a chance to meet them. Some students are working in the labs, others are working in the business offices, and some are even doing graphic design. Needless to say, it was a great opportunity to learn about all the different responsibilities that go into making IMET such a successful institution.
On Thursday, we were visited by our friends from the Integration and Application Network (IAN) in Annapolis. IAN is another partner institution of IMET that helps all of our researchers communicate their science better. The interns were given a crash course in what it means to be an effective communicator and why it is so crucial to their field of research. Some of the activities included practicing an elevator pitch to explain rather dense scientific material in a short and concise manner so that the average non-scientist can understand. After all, what good is research if you can’t share it with the world?
Aside from the elevator pitch, the interns were also given advice on presenting their research to scientific audiences. Just because you’re in a room full of scientists, it doesn’t mean that everyone is going to understand everything you’re saying or understand why it’s important. It’s up to the presenter to find unique ways to engage with the audience and keep them interested. We’re hoping the interns learned a bit about presenting because in just a few weeks, they’ll have to put these new skills to the test.
On Friday, we were joined by IMET professor Dr. Yantao Li. He stopped by our mentoring session to talk about all things algae. He gave a great presentation on why algae is such an incredible organism to study and what impacts it can have on all different aspects of life. Interns learned about how algae could be used as a carbon-neutral biofuel, a feed for aquaculture, or on shelves at CVS as a nutraceutical. Dr. Li also mentioned a study that indicated algae could help people who are genetically blind. With so many possibilities out there, the interns were certainly impressed by his presentation.
One of our interns, Chima, also gave a brief presentation on his work at Coppin State University. With his brother, Chima is investigating new ways to create solar cells for solar power using natural dyes from things like pomegranates and raspberries. Constructing a solar cell that is dyed with a natural compound, will cause certain molecules to speed up and release energy which can then be stored in a battery. While his research is preliminary, he is hoping to create a more efficient and cheaper solar panel, which could then be used on things like a backpack or a purse. As soon as they are ready, Chima, we’ll be the first in line to purchase these cool products!
Week 5: “Wooah, We're half way there!”
Week five of the IMET Summer Internship has come and gone in the blink of an eye, and just like Bon Jovi once sang, we’re half way there! While the week may have been a little shorter due to the Fourth of July, the interns certainly didn’t have much of a break. As they’ve come to learn, science doesn’t just happen between the hours of 9 to 5. In fact one intern, Shauna Tabb, has to come in to IMET during the weekends in order to feed the crabs that she is studying.
While for some people this may not be the most exciting way to spend a Saturday morning, Shauna and the rest of the Chung lab understand the importance of keeping their specimens well-kept. Shauna is currently studying sexual dimorphism in Maryland Blue Crabs during the early stages of their development. As one can imagine, crab larvae don’t stop growing at 5pm on a Friday, so it is important that someone from the lab comes in to feed them and check on them every day.
Studying the development of the larvae into a mature crab is not easy or quick and requires a lot of time, effort, and patience, but it is well worth viewing in the end.
Just down the hall, Maame, in Dr. Du’s lab, is performing micro-injections of zebrafish embryos. Using a microscope, Maame is injecting zebrafish embryos with various proteins. She is doing this to better understand the role of specific genes in the development stages of the embryos, which could give humans a better idea of the role comparable genes play in the development of the human muscular system. Knowing this will help Dr. Du’s lab move closer to understanding human conditions such as muscular dystrophy.
In a similar fashion, Paul is also working with embryonic zebrafish in Dr. Wong’s laboratory. Also performing microinjections, Paul and Dr. Wong are looking at the way molecules travel through embryos to identify possible causes of molecular interference. Understanding the way molecules move through a system is important and can have big implications in various fields of science, including medicine.
Bryanna Sanders is currently working in Dr. Hill’s lab. With her lab mates, Bryanna is studying the way bacteria and microalgae interact in order to find the best environment for algal growth. Being able to grow algae is only the first step in Dr. Hill’s lab. After determining the best environments for algal growth, the lab is then able to turn the algae into a biofuel that can create a carbon neutral form of energy.
It’s clear that our interns are working hard and we are excited to see their presentations at the end of the nine-week program. They’ve already accomplished so much, but with just under four weeks left, there is still a lot more to learn.
Week 4: "Did anyone else see the news report about the harbor?"
Week 4 of the IMET Summer Internship was completed on June 29, 2018. Time flies when you’re busy working in a lab here at IMET. During the fourth week of the internship, we were able to stop by some of the labs and see some of the hands-on experiments our interns were doing, as well as get a little more information on how their research projects are coming along.
Erika Baylor is researching the immune systems of sharks with Dr. Helen Dooley and how some processes also found in the human immune system can influence the future of immunology research. When we stopped by her lab, Erika was in the middle of testing DNA plasmids, which are being used to isolate certain protein and bacteria strains for further testing. Once they are isolated, they can be tracked through various stages of immune response so that the lab can precisely determine their function and hopefully provide better insight to how humans can treat certain diseases, especially those that weaken immune systems.
Obinna was in the process of running PCR’s which essentially multiplies the amount of DNA from a given sample. Obinna explained that sometimes researchers are only able to extract a small amount of DNA from a specific sample, which makes it difficult to analyze. Scientists can use PCR to multiply the DNA, which then gives the researchers more to work with and hopefully get better results.
Nylah, on the other hand, was loading a centrifuge in the BioAnalytical Services Laboratory (BAS Lab). This was part of her work culturing and harvesting dinoflagellates, taking them from an older, already used media, to a fresh media to continue cell growth. Nylah’s project focuses on nutrient starvation in dinoflagellates and how that effects protein synthesis.
Notably absent from the Jagus lab was a Bunting intern, Benjamin Frey. Upon talking with Dr. Kate Gillespie, who is mentoring Ben this summer, we learned that he had actually gone down to the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory (CBL) in Solomons, Maryland to meet Dr. Secor and his lab. If you recall, Dr. Secor had stopped by IMET during our third week of the program to give a talk about his work and something must have struck a chord with Ben. He was invited to CBL to meet Dr. Secor’s lab and while he was there, he received an offer to join Dr. Secor’s laboratory in the fall. Ben enthusiastically accepted this invitation and will be pursuing a graduate degree in marine sciences. Congrats Ben!!
Chima, Langston, and Alexandra are working with Dr. Schott and Dr. Bachvaroff on their project, which is performing an ecological assessment of the Inner Harbor. During the Friday mentoring session, Dr. Schott stopped by to explain a bit more about this project and why it is crucial for the City of Baltimore and the surrounding areas.
The discussion began with a reference to the news report that happened just a day before in which the harbor turned a murky brownish green color. It baffled many people in the city and further exemplified the need to better understand the Baltimore Harbor and its changing conditions, especially if we are to make it swimmable and fishable. In Dr. Schott’s lab, he and his interns are looking at what actually lives in the harbor and what role external factors play in the changing conditions. For example, one site that is being used for sampling was originally home to one of the many factories in Baltimore. It is currently on the city’s list to be repurposed, but first scientists need to know what effect metal contamination has had on the site. Their hope is to create a baseline, which can then be used to measure improvements to know if solutions are actually solving the problems we face.
Week 3: “One fish, two fish, old fish, new fish”
We can’t believe it’s been three weeks since our interns arrived at IMET. Already, we can see how much they are learning and how busy their schedules have become. As we had our weekly mentoring session on Friday June 22, there was a lot of chatter about the various experiments happening in the labs with some students cautiously watching the clock to make sure they could tend to a reaction at the right time. As Dr. Kate Gillespie, the internship coordinator under Dr. Jagus, said, “I’m glad they are watching the time. It’s difficult to judge how long these things can take and it’s important to be punctual or else they’ll have to do it all over again”.
On Friday, we were joined by Dr. Dave Secor of the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory (CBL). CBL is another partner lab, much like the Horn Point Laboratory, which the interns learned about during their first week. Dr. Secor gave an overview of CBL and more specifically his lab and students. It was great learning about all of the different paths that science can lead you on as a student. Some of his former students stayed in research/academics, others went on to work for the U.S. government, and one of the staff members in his lab is even participating as a rugby referee in international competitions. We admit, refereeing rugby is probably not what most scientists end up doing, but it was an important reminder that science and research can take you anywhere as long as you put in the work.
Dr. Secor also gave an interesting presentation called “One fish, two fish, old fish, new fish.” He focused on the methodology used to determine the age of various fish populations and why this is important for fisheries management. The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) was created by the State of Maryland in order to advise the government on various ecological issues. Dr. Secor is one of the many researchers at our university who is fulfilling this mission so it was great to see how he does it and what role our interns can play in the future.
A few of our interns, Ben Frey, Bryanna Sanders, and Paul Turner-Sibigroth, were especially intrigued by Dr. Secor’s presentation. They stayed well after the mentoring session so they could have more informal discussion about Dr. Secor’s research. Maybe one of them will join Dr. Secor in his lab at CBL after they graduate?
Week 2: "What went wrong?"
June 15th capped off the second week of our internship and as the interns might tell you, summers for us here at the Inner Harbor are anything but slow. Many of the cohort can be seen going from one lab to the next, stopping by the National Aquarium to meet with some of our partner researchers, and even going to different parts of the Chesapeake Bay for sample collections. It’s all in a day’s work.
While it may be a busy time of year for us at IMET, it may be even busier outside for the rest of Baltimore City. A few of our interns, including Bryanna Sanders, are learning how to balance a busy workload with some great opportunities in the area. Bryanna Sanders went to an Oriole’s game with her PI, Dr. Hill, and her other lab mates. Erika, Paul, Bryanna and Lexa went to DC to join the March for Oceans.
During our Friday mentoring session, we had another special guest, Dr. Carolina Bonin Lewallen from Hampton University, who visited IMET to give a seminar discussing her research on organisms that have recovered from population decline, such as Antarctic fur seals. As is typical at IMET, she joined us and other graduate students for a lunch and more intimate conversation about all things related to her research and being a scientist in general.
When thinking about graduate school as a scientist, it is really important to find a mentor that you like and with whom you will work well. Your mentor doesn’t have to study the same organism or research question as you, but if you work well together, it won’t matter and you both will be able to learn a lot.
Dr. Carolina Bonin Lewallen
Professor, Hampton University
Dr. Russell Hill, the Director of IMET, also joined us for lunch and he asked the interns, “What went wrong this week?” One intern said his low point was moving 650 sea bass from one tank (similar to the picture on the right) to another because of algae that was starting to grow. Part of the problem was only being able to move four at a time, which ultimately resulted in him getting soaking wet from the splashing. Some other low points were breaking a glass microplate, and using the wrong liquid compound when performing an experiment.
What did the interns learn? According to Shauna Tabb, “Read labels. Save samples. Double check everything!”
Week One: Welcome 2018 Interns!
On June 4th, we welcomed the 2018 summer interns to IMET, marking the 16th year that Dr. Jagus has organized an undergraduate summer internship at IMET. We are especially grateful to the USM's Elkins Professorship, awarded to Dr. Jagus, and the Bunting Family Foundation for their support of this year's program. Without them, we would not be able to mentor the next generation of environmental scientists.
The internship kicked off with a day-long orientation that allowed the interns to meet some of the new faces they'll be seeing at IMET over the next nine weeks. They were also given the opportunity to meet with their PI's, labmates, and get introduced to the labs they'll be calling home.
The interns didn't get much rest though, as almost immediately they were put to work. As part of the requirements for the internship, the interns are tasked with a nine-week project that will be presented on their last day. By Friday of their first week, most of the interns already had a project in mind, with just a few still reading the necessary preparatory materials to get caught up on the lab's current projects. All of the interns had started working in the labs, testing samples, studying DNA extractions and much more.
Each Friday, Dr. Jagus hosts a mentoring session with the interns to learn about the progress of their projects, but also provide them with helpful information and discussions that will enhance the interns' skillsets. Some of these discussions include learning how to communicate science, introductions to the bio-analytical services laboratory, and some guest speakers who will talk about the importance of their work.
During our first mentoring session, we had a surprise visit from Dr. Judy O'Neil from the Horn Point Laboratory (a partner lab of IMET). With her own Puerto Rican intern, Norberto, in attendance, Dr. O'Neil gave a great overview of the Horn Point Lab, the work being done there by the students and interns, as well as her own work in the Baltimore Harbor. She discussed her role in the World Harbor Project and the importance of environmental science in making the world sustainable and healthy. Dr. O'Neil is also working with Dr. Schott of IMET so many of our interns are likely to see her in their labs from time to time.