Rebecca French, an undergraduate researcher in Animal and Veterinary Science, is beginning her time in the Ishaq Lab with an auspicious start: she has been awarded a 2021 research award from the J. Franklin Witter Undergraduate Research Endowment Fund! The fund supports AVS undergraduate student involvement in faculty supervised research which involves the J. Franklin Witter Teaching & Research Center.
Rebecca’s project will involve zoonotic disease tracking in rodent populations that live near farms/human development versus those which live in more natural areas, and will take place at the Witter farm and a paired natural ecosystem. Her project is part of a larger collaboration between myself and a team of researchers, which was recently funded by the University of Maine, but which has not yet been announced (details soon).
Rebecca formally joined my research lab in February of this year, but I have had the pleasure of teaching her in my data analysis class since January, which will be a handy skillset later in the project. She also learn and perform microbial culturing, qPCR, Sanger sequencing, and even some animal trapping, handling, and identification; mammal physiology data collection and analysis.
Undergraduate Researcher, Animal and Veterinary Sciences
Rebecca is an animal and veterinary science student with a concentration in pre-veterinary medicine. She joined the Ishaq lab team in 2021 as a part of her capstone project, which is focused on flying squirrels and mice that are carrying zoonotic pathogens into Maine.
For the past four days, I have been in Monterrey, Mexico, where I have been fostering international scientific relations in meetings and in the mountains. It was my very first trip to Mexico, and it was an amazing experience.
At dinner, I had the opportunity to meet Jose’s wife,
Alecia, who is also a researcher, and their son, and discuss everything from
aflatoxin to Stephen King’s “It” (we discovered that their son and I were both
reading It when I discussed living in Maine, not far from Derry).
The next day, I woke up at 3:45 am to travel to the mountains for an incredible experience: a small-group tour in Matacanes canyon led by Daniel, a mountaineer with 20 years of experience and owner of Todo Avetura. He and Omar, another guide, led us for 12 hours and taught us about Matacanes canyon while we trekked 13 kilometers (8.7 miles) down waterfalls, through caves, over boulders, and over cliffs. Even the drive into and out of the canyon was an adventure; the steep road into the mountains fords rivers and winds along cliff faces. In the canyon, I got to do many things for the first time, including rappel down the side of two waterfalls; 27 m (88.6 ft) and 15 m (49.2 ft) into a cave, swim through the absolute dark of a river cave system, and jump off of several cliffs into the water below, including a 9.5 meter (31 ft) jump! It was supposed to be 10 meters, but that looked just a little too terrifying to try so I chose a spot that looked friendlier. Turns out that jumping 9.5 meters is a lot like getting up to present in front of a large audience, you just have to get up there and do it before you have time to think about and psych yourself out.
The guides were really passionate about the mountains, and they were particular about safety and not rushing or pushing us to the point where we would get hurt. If you have the chance, and the cohones, to go to Matacanes, I highly recommend Todo Aventura.
On Monday, sore but no worse for wear, I gingerly toured some of the facilities where Jose is currently working, MNA, an animal nutrition company. I met with company president and nutritionist Dr. Jorge Kawas, and Jose, Jorge, and I discussed the role of microbes in animal nutrition and health.
Monday night, I got to chat one-on-one with Professor T.J. Nagaraja, an author on theSaccharomyces review and a prominent researcher in rumen acidosis, cattle health, and infectious disease.
The main reason for my trip to Monterrey was to attend and speak at the XXII UANL-Engorda de Bovinos en Corral Symposium. I presented the opening seminar titled “Raising feedlot cattle with good microbes in mind” (“Cria y engorda de ganado con buenos microbios en mente”). The video can be found here, and slides with presentation notes here:
Organized by MNA and UANL, the university in Monterrey, the symposium brings together researchers, producers, animal industry professionals, and students to discuss animal health in feedlot cattle. I was honored to give the opening talk, which will be available online soon, and pleased to hear that the audience did in fact like microbes more than before my seminar! Usually when I start talking about the gut microbiome people have the urge to run off and wash their hands…
Unfortunately, I had to jump back
on a plane shortly after my talk, as I am heading to give a different
presentation at the Wildlife Society meeting in Reno, Nevada tomorrow! But, I
have plenty of memories and new project ideas to remember my trip by, and
hopefully I will come back to Monterrey soon!