This summer I worked in Paul Schmidt’s Lab under Ozan Kritali. Ozan is a fifth year PhD student studying dispersion and migration and its effect as an evolutionary process in the Drosophila model system. I was actually fortunate enough to work with Ozan in the past; I worked in Dr. Brisson’s lab helping to sequence Drosophila DNA from flies all across the east coast to better understand migratory patterns. The work I did this summer was very different. Not only was I able to spend four times the amount of time on this project and see it through from the beginning, which really changed my perspective on research, but I learned that even working for the same person, the kind of work a lab does can be vastly different. Before I was doing delicate molecular work, and the experiment itself was a lot more data collection/survey like. Schmidt’s lab is very hands on: half the work I did was working in our orchard and building the structures we needed for a designed experiment. I feel as though I have a much stronger and holistic view of what research is like and the different forms it can take, at least in evolutionary biology, after this summer.
The actual experiment was very elegant and simple in concept but interesting. We wanted to better understand the dispersal of drosophila. In the literature there are debates on what their dispersal rates are and what might cause them to disperse so we sought to address these questions. In the orchard we set up two large cages cages twenty yards apart and connected them with a mesh tube. We then released ~20,000-30,000 flies in one of the cages and gave them 24 hours to disperse down the tube. We then caught all the flies that did disperse to the other cage, which gave us an idea of dispersal rates, and we caught flies that stayed by the food in the original cage. We are phenotyping and genotyping both the flies that dispersed and the flies that did not to see if there are any physical trait differences or a molecular marker for this dispersal behavior. As I write this, we are still working on this last step, but we do have data about the dispersal rates and we found a clear positive relationship between environmental stress and dispersal rates. The worse the weather, the greater the dispersal rate is.
Beyond the interesting project, however, I’m most happy with the connections I have made this summer. I feel I have a strong relationship with many of the people working in the lab that I can go to for advice at Penn. In addition, I was fortunate to work with someone else this year doing PURM and other undergraduates that I will continue to work with these coming years. I am incredibly happy I got this opportunity this summer and would advise anyone to try research as in depth as this program afforded me.