Research of Microbial Life in Lake Superior that Partake in the Nitrogen Cycle
Student: Matt Stuart
Advisor/Mentor: R. Hicks
Major: Cellular and Molecular Biology
Hometown: New Brighton, MN
Project Description: I was involved in a research study on the microbial life in Lake Superior that includes the nitrogen cycle — critical for all living creatures. At a certain stage of this cycle, nitrogen exists in the form of ammonia. Ammonia accumulates in lakes, such as Superior, from a variety of organic sources both inside the lake (fish and wildlife ... including microbes) and outside the lake (water run-off, wastewater treatment plants, animals, rain, etc). At low levels, ammonia is fairly tame and does not harm livings things. But, at high levels, ammonia can be toxic to organisms. Therefore, processing ammonia into less harmful forms such as nitrite, and later nitrate, is critical for sustaining life in these aquatic environments. Ammonia is processed by a variety of microorganisms including the Beta-proteobacterial ammonia oxidizers, a class of bacteria that I was investigating.
My project was completed in two parts. The first was an investigation to determine whether or not bacterial ammonia oxidizers were present in Lake Superior. This was accomplished by studying DNA taken from the lake using the polymerase chain reaction, a method of detecting species specific genes in samples of DNA. After the presence of the Beta-proteobacterial ammonia oxidizer gene was confirmed, its abundance was investigated. This was accomplished in the second part of my project by again using the polymerase chain reaction. However, this time the reaction was carried out in a quantitative manner. This way, the actual number of copies of this gene could be calculated and used as a measure of the abundance of this microorganism.
Why was I interested/ How do I feel about UROP?:
This project was single-handedly the most educational experience of my undergraduate academic career. It taught the broad research rationale and specific laboratory techniques necessary of scientific discovery. If I were in charge of determining undergraduate requirements, I would make the involvement in a research project a prerequisite to graduation. If there was one recommendation I would provide incoming freshman students, it would be to get involved in research and to do it as early as possible.
SCSE UROP Coordinator
Penny Morton, Assistant Dean
229 Heller Hall