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NSF supports undergrad's research

July 3, 2007

Magnified image of a tunicateFunding from the National Science Foundation's Research Experience for Undergraduates and Field Station Marine Lab programs has provided Amelia (Amy) Rodelo with the opportunity to study a non-native marine invertebrate that is contributing to the disappearance of native species in San Francisco Bay. Rodelo, who starts her senior year this fall, will conduct her research at the Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies throughout the summer.

The San Francisco native will cultivate colonies of tunicates, tiny animals in the botryllid family, which are commonly found attached to rocks, docks and pier pilings in coastal and inland salt water. Building upon previous efforts, she hopes to shed more light on the immune system-related behavior and reactions of the species to such environmental fluctuations as salinity and temperature.

Amy Rodelo and Sarah Cohen in the laboratoryRodelo will use such genetic techniques as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to make copies of the genes she wants to examine more closely, and then sequence these with a DNA sequencer. The sequencing will allow her to make fine scale comparisons among populations of the invertebrates, which will contribute to data collections focusing on how immune systems evolve and adapt to varying environmental conditions.

"This is a great opportunity for me to hone my wet lab-culturing skills and other scientific techniques while I work with other students," said Rodelo. "I am also looking forward to learning as much as possible about the molecular techniques that we use in the gene lab." She hopes her experience combining ecological and genetic studies will provide some of the foundation that will one day allow her to plan and execute a multi-dimensional project in genetic research.

"Amy is a remarkable student who has progressed from a job as a veterinary receptionist to her role as a talented young researcher in marine organismal biology and genetics at SF State," said Sarah Cohen, assistant professor of biology who is directing Rodelo's research. "She's a gifted observer... exceptional at describing in thoughtful detail what she observes."

Rodelo first became enamored of the natural world during her freshman year in a biology 240 class, which focused on evolution, biodiversity and ecology. "I was really attracted to and fascinated with biology as a whole and evolutionary biology in particular," said Rodelo. Already a regular San Francisco Bay swimmer, she quickly became interested in marine biology.

The young researcher is comfortable collecting samples of marine life from muddy environs. "I love being covered in muck," said Rodelo. "I want to know what it feels like to be larvae."

Last semester Rodelo expanded her knowledge of species and habitats when she volunteered in Thailand to observe sea turtles during egg-laying, part of a study to examine the effects of poaching.

Rodelo plans to earn a doctorate in biology after graduating from SF State.

-- Denize Springer


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Last modified July 12, 2007 by University Communications