GMercyU Biology Program Awarded Grant for Research

Gwynedd Mercy University biology students are spending the summer on campus working in the lab on a variety of research projects. One group is teaming up with Professor Tom Umile on a multi-institutional project that has been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The team, made up of faculty, scientists, and students from GMercyU, Vanderbilt University, and Villanova University, are investigating a fungal pathogen targeting amphibians. The pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), is linked to massive amphibian population declines worldwide, which has numerous ecological implications.

"We recently discovered that Bd produces compounds capable of inhibiting the immune system, thus suggesting how Bd manages to infect its host. That work led to an NSF-funded grant to further investigate and identify these immunomodulatory compounds," Professor Umile said.

Kevin Minbiole from Villanova and Louise Rollins-Smith from Vanderbilt are the lead principal investigators on the grant while GMercyU's group led by Professor Umile is a subcontractor. Gwynedd Mercy University was awarded $82,000 of the total $750,000 for the purchase of new equipment, supplies, and student stipends. A portion of the funds were used to purchase a high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) system, which is an instrument that can analyze and detect compounds in mixtures (such as the substances produced by Bd). In addition to its research use, the HPLC is also being used by students in freshman and sophomore chemistry lab courses.

GMercyU senior biology majors Bria Gillard and Miles Kehs are the two students working on this project. They are using chemical tools to detect and identify compounds produced by the fungal pathogen. Learn more about their work and experiences in GMercyU's biology program on the project's blog, Frogs in Peril.