During the 2021–2022 school year, my group at Swarthmore College supported two undergraduate students, Arina Kazakova and Kevin Bayingana, thanks to the SOT Undergraduate Faculty Research Grant. In a separate blog, I shared the contributions that these researchers made in my lab, and here, they provide their perspectives on the opportunity.
Over the last nine months, I had a chance to work on a project investigating how melatonin levels influence the adverse effects of neurotoxicants on neural function in D. japonica planarians. Understanding the way melatonin affects brain function can be achieved by quantifying and analyzing planarian behavior. For that purpose, our lab developed a robotic platform that allows us to perform and obtain recordings of behavioral experiments. One of my main objectives for this project was developing a Python script for automated analysis of “scrunching”—one of the endpoints measured during the behavioral assays. Overall, the experience of working on this project has been extremely rewarding. Working among other lab members, all coming from different backgrounds but sharing an interest in toxicology, made me a better collaborator and helped me refine my interest in toxicology. As a senior member of the lab, I gained experience presenting my work to my peers and providing guidance to junior lab members. Working on the data analysis script has given me an invaluable opportunity to work on an independent project that allowed me to combine my interests in molecular toxicology and computational biology. While the term of the grant has ended, I hope to continue my involvement in this project and my exploration of the field of toxicology.
For the past two semesters, I’ve been working in the Collins lab, studying circadian rhythm and drug-induced toxicity in freshwater planarians. I was able to broaden my technical skills through collaboration with Prof. Collins and other members of the lab. I worked closely with another undergraduate student and took care of the planarians we used for screening. I learned how to mount worms in multi well-plates and to conduct behavioral assays for drug-exposed planarians. Additionally, I quantified phenotypic readouts in planarians using Matlab and Python. I found the time spent analyzing planarian behavior to be the most rewarding because it taught me how to troubleshoot on my own and to be patient when trying to solve hard problems. I’m also grateful for the opportunity that I had to present my work in front of the whole lab, where I closely engaged in scientific rhetoric and shared my thoughts with an amazing team of people. Working in the Collins lab also has helped me gain an appreciation for the field of toxicology, especially in its effort of trying to revolutionize risk assessment with invertebrate high-throughput screening. With all the skills that I’ve acquired, I’ve gained great confidence in my scientific abilities, and I believe that I can contribute to the growing field of toxicology.