Redefining the Classroom

Student biologists present research results

Posted: June 5th, 2013

BEST IN SHOW – Lake Superior State University student biologists Shanelle Pearse and Mathew Elya pose with best student poster awards for lab- and field-based projects presented during the School of Biology Sciences' spring senior thesis research symposium. Pearse, from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., investigated whether hot chili peppers inhibit the growth of strep in the human mouth. Elya, from Harbor Springs, Mich., studied how migratory fishes contribute nutrients during spawning runs in Great Lakes streams. Shown with the students are biology professors Martha Hutchens, left, and Ashley Moerke. (LSSU/Tom Pink)

A print-resolution photo that runs with this caption can be found by clicking here.

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. -- Four species of waterfowl seem to be the main carriers of a parasite that causes "swimmer's itch," and cholesterol-reducing medications have no effect on vitamin D levels. These are just two findings that 25 biology students presented during a recent senior thesis research symposium held at Lake Superior State University.

"Senior thesis research is the capstone experience for LSSU students studying the sciences," says Jun Li Ph.D., senior thesis coordinator. "Under the guidance of faculty mentors, students choose a topic, design a study, collect and analyze the data, write a scientific paper, and present the information to the university community and interested members of the public."

Projects typically take an entire year for students to design and complete, and generally address practical issues of local biological and environmental concerns.

The senior thesis experience for students in the sciences, engineering, and several other majors, is one aspect of LSSU that greatly sets it apart from other undergraduate programs.

This year's research topics reflect a wide range of topics that biology students study during their years at LSSU:

Nick Arend of Stevensville, Mich., studied how fish eggs are digested in round goby stomachs. Round gobies are an invasive fish that feed on the eggs of indigenous fish in the Great Lakes. His results showed that round gobies do not chew their eggs, but swallow them whole. After five hours of digestion, eggshells were still identifiable. Arend's study will create a standard sampling procedure on round goby diets to detect the presence of eggs.

Trevor Asperger of Grass Lake, Mich., studied the effects of tumors on the health of suckers spawning in the Rifle River near Omer, Mich., as well as the correlation between fish age and tumor incidence. His results showed no significant difference in health between fish with and without tumors. A slight correlation between age and tumor incidence was found. This research is important because fishermen who consume these fish should be aware of the exposure of the fish to environmental toxins and carcinogens.

Erika Beyer of Holland, Mich., created two biological outreach programs for young children attending summer reading programs at the Howard Miller Public Library in Zeeland, Mich. Endangered canines and Great Lakes invasive or non-native species were the topics of her presentations. By working with a library, a diverse group of children attended each program. Beyer found that engaging a student’s desire to learn through reading helped excite them about the topic of each program. Beyer asserts that biology education is important for young people who aren’t exposed to biology and other sciences on a regular basis.

Michael Caputo of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., investigated the protective benefits of vitamin C, an antioxidant, against ultraviolet (UV) light, the most prevalent environmental carcinogen. Results of his experiment suggested that human skin cells treated with vitamin C were better protected against UV light-induced DNA damage. This study, along with a host of others, supports that consumption of a wide variety of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables might help prevent disease and cancer.

Jordan Christie of Bath, Mich., evaluated the effects of environmental factors on Escherichia coli concentrations at four Chippewa County, Mich., beaches. Brimley State Park, Sherman Park, Sugar Island Township Park, and Four Mile Beach are recreational swimming beaches monitored for harmful bacteria to protect public health. Christie's analysis determined the impact environmental conditions have on the Category I beach E. coli concentrations. Her data suggests that chronic sources of pollution — influenced by water temperature, turbidity, and precipitation — uniquely explain E. coli concentrations at the four beaches. This research is important so beach managers can identify sources of pollution and develop effective management plans to keep beaches clean and the public healthy.

Josh Cerasuolo of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., assessed patient satisfaction related to specialty healthcare by surveying the general public in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. He compared the two cities to see if there were significant differences in patient satisfaction between Canadians and Americans living in a rural community. His results indicated that patients from Sault, Mich., were more satisfied with their experiences. This research is important to determine which system — private or public — could better serve an isolated rural community with specialty health care services, based on patient perception.

Courtney Cochran of Sitka, Alaska, compared inflection rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea between Chippewa County, Mich., and the Algoma District of Ontario, between 2002-2011. Both chlamydia and gonorrhea have high infection rates not only in the United States, but globally as well. The average age of infection for both areas was consistent with Centers for Disease Control infection statistics. The peak for Algoma was in 2009 with 3.5 infected individuals per 1,000. The peak for Chippewa was in 2011 with 2.5 individuals per 1,000. The purpose of this study was to observe and better understand disease incidence in similar geographic locations.

Joselyn Coullard of Brimley, Mich., studied the effect of tooth-whitening strips on the strength of human teeth. While tooth whitening is the number-one requested cosmetic procedure today, it has been shown to cause considerable damage to teeth. Her results showed that whitened teeth fractured more easily than non-whitened teeth. This research is important because many people today use tooth-bleaching products and should be aware of its side effects.

Caryn Crane of Flint, Mich., evaluated whether Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.-area restaurants would be interested purchasing local-grown food through a Food Hub Initiative administered by the Michigan State University Extension Office. The MSU extension office is looking to start an online ordering service called the U.P. Food Exchange. This would let farmers store and distribute fresh local produce in larger quantities to restaurants in the Eastern Upper Peninsula. Crane found that restaurants not only responded positively to the idea, but also would like to incorporate more local foods into their menu.

Ashley Denome of Escanaba, Mich., studied whether cholesterol-reducing medications effected vitamin D levels. She used patient medical records at War Memorial Hospital and Lakeview Internal Medicine, in Sault Ste Marie, Mich. Her results showed that these medications had no effect on vitamin D levels. Since cholesterol is needed to make vitamin D, this study was important for understanding factors that could reduce the amount of this vital molecule in the human body.

Sara Dimick of Rogers City, Mich., investigated the food energy found in round gobies from across the Great Lakes. Round gobies are non-native fish that invaded the Great Lakes in the 1990s. They are outcompeting and preying on native species. Round gobies are starting to be consumed by native top predators such as lake trout, and water snakes. Dimick's study not only determined the average energy content of round goby, but whether its energy content varied by location and season. Results showed that gobies’ energy content did vary with the seasons and by Great Lakes location. Her information is essential for predicting growth of round goby predators and for understanding food-web linkages in the Great Lakes.

Tom Eitniear of Traverse City, Mich., assessed the water quality of Marquette, Mich., state fish hatchery and its source, Cherry Creek. He monitored how organic matter and bacteria counts varied with air temperature. As one would expect, higher temperatures and the resulting snowmelt increased total suspended solids and bacteria counts. Knowing the relationship between snowmelt and bacteria, and then applying an ultraviolet light source to decrease bacteria, can prevent putting stress on the fish.

Matthew Elya of Harbor Springs, Mich., studied how migratory fishes contribute nutrients to Great Lakes streams during spawning runs. Nutrients stimulate the growth of algae, which forms the base of stream food webs. Historically, only native fish species provided nutrients to streams during spawning runs. However, introduced fish species are now beginning to contribute significant nutrients to streams during their spawning runs. As a result, stream food webs may be changing. Ongoing work will ultimately expand our knowledge of the impact of salmon on Great Lakes streams.

Tiffany Escherich of Dafter, Mich., studied whether human activity affects the nesting success of piping plovers in the Great Lakes. The piping plover is an endangered shorebird that has been the focus of management efforts for more than 20 years. Escherich's results found no significant difference in the success between birds nesting in high and low human disturbance areas. However, piping plovers do show a greater tendency to nest near areas of relatively low human disturbance. This research will assist managers in determining how many people can be employed to monitor each nest site without bothering the birds.

Logan French, of Columbus, Mich., gathered information for an Environmental Protection Agency grant to develop a watershed management plan for the Waishkey River watershed. French collected background information on the Waishkey River in order to have a better understanding of the current state of the watershed.

Sarah Gallagher of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., surveyed waterfowl livers for a parasite that causes swimmer’s itch. Gallagher removed livers from waterfowl carcasses donated by local hunters to extract and count parasites. Four of seventeen species collected — mallard, hooded merganser, bufflehead and widgeon — tested positive for the swimmer's itch parasite. Her research identified the most likely species of waterfowl in the Eastern U.P. that can transport swimmer’s itch. Further studies of other factors, such as water body type and aquatic vegetation, will be useful in predicting future outbreaks of swimmer’s itch.

Jason Gostiaux of Royal Oak, Mich., studied the growth and size of yellow perch in Cranberry Lake, located within the Hiawatha Sportsmen’s Club. Cranberry is one of the few lakes where the effects of a whole-lake manipulation have been studied. A continuing program has been introducing a mix of predator fish and lime to establish a yellow perch population that is no larger than eight inches. Gostiaux's study shows that the yellow perch are growing at the expected rate. Regardless, the study's results will help the club manage this lake and will update it on the current status of the yellow perch population.

Nichole Johnson of Armada, Mich., studied the effects of acetaminophen on a species of water flea, Daphnia magna. Her experiment observed heart rhythm, mortality, reproduction rate, and the number of eggs produced by the organisms. She saw a dramatic decrease in heart rates. Her research is important if we want to know how the improper disposal of over-the-counter medications can affect aquatic life.

James Miller of Woodhaven, Mich., studied how environmental and biological factors affect variability in largemouth bass abundance in Soldier Lake, near Raco, Mich. The lake has highly-variable abundances of the fish from year to year. Miller chose to explore this variability by monitoring the water warming rate, temperature variability, high winds, and the abundance of both yellow perch and largemouth bass. James’ results showed that high winds and numbers of largemouth bass from the previous year decreased the following year’s bass abundance. This research shows that the abundance of largemouth bass, a sought-after game fish, is dependent on climate and biological pressures.

Jimmy Osga of Frederic, Mich., studied the distribution and number of adult sea lamprey in the St. Mary's River. He found distribution patterns seemed to depend on the spawning season of lamprey. The study also found areas on the river where specific, untreated, habitats were selected more frequently than others by sea lamprey throughout the summer months. His research is important to management and removal of an invasive species, in order to help conserve the Great Lakes food web.

Shanelle Pearse of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., studied the effect of capsaicin, a chemical compound in hot chili peppers, on the growth of Streptococcus gordonii, a bacterium in the human mouth. If strep inflections reach the blood stream, they can cause formation of blood clots, restriction of blood flow, and eventual acute congestive heart failure. While Pearse's study did not find that capsaicin stopped the growth of Streptococcus gordonii, the compound still offers many disease-fighting properties that provide an easy, tasty way of promoting health.

Scott Pekel of Holton, Mich., completed planning on an environmental restoration project within the Manistee National Forest. The Cedar Creek motorsport trail has numerous locations experiencing severe erosion, which is leading to terrestrial and aquatic habitat damage. Holton finalized budget figures, and then wrote a grant to obtain funding for the construction and installation of erosion control devices. The erosion control devices, called water bars, retain soil while letting water pass through. This will return the hillsides to a more natural state and improve habitat in the project area. Work begins this summer and future restoration sites will be surveyed.

Ashley Poehls of Baraga, Mich., studied the effects of ocean acidification on the growth rate, culture density, and cell size of a calcifying marine microalgae. This plant contributes to many chemical and biological processes in the oceans, which makes it important we understand how our changing oceans are affecting it. Poehls ' results showed a reduced growth rate and lower culture density with increased water acidity, as well as greater cell sizes in a higher-acidity environment. In conjunction with other studies, this research will provide a better understanding of how ocean acidification affects these calcifying primary producers, and the chemical and biological processes associated with them.

Kyle Point of St. Clair Shores, Mich., sampled the diets of diving ducks and sea ducks in the Eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He found that ducks in this region ate a variety of plant and animal foods. He did not find conclusive evidence that the ducks consumed zebra or quagga mussels, which are invasive species. His research was important because it is the only duck diet study that has been conducted in the Eastern U.P. His results differ from duck diet studies on the lower Great Lakes, where invasive zebra mussels are a common food source and a concern for waterfowl managers.

Jeffrey Salvin of Walker, Mich., studied northern pike movement after dam removal in the Potagannissing River. His found that northern pike were moving upstream successfully, thanks to a rock ramp system that is currently in place. The number of adult northern pike moving upstream suggests a higher reproduction due to more spawning habitat being accessible. This increased habitat could be a step toward increasing the low population. This research is important because northern pike is a popular fish species in the St. Mary's river basin and populations have been decreasing in the system.

Run a Web search for "LSSU biology" for more about studying biology at LSSU.


CONTACTS: John Shibley, e-mail, 906-635-2314; Tom Pink, e-mail, 635-2315; Prof. Jun Li, biology senior thesis coordinator, e-mail, 635-2094.