For most of us, mosquitos are a nuisance, but for biology major Alison Reynolds ’15 they were a source of fascination. Her thesis research project, “Exploring The Evolution Of Embryo-Shaping Genes – Identification Of A Possible Homolog Of The Essential Fruit Fly Gene Mist In The Genome Of The Mosquito Anopheles gambiae,” followed the creation of a probe to track the expression of a certain gene in a specific type of the pesky bloodsucker.
“With the investigative and preparatory work I did this year, future students will be able to take my product, create the actual probe, and then use it to determine where and when this gene is expressed during the embryonic development of the mosquito,” says Reynolds. “We hope that it will be found to be expressed during a process known as gastrulation, as a gene very similar to it is used by the fruit fly. However, even a negative result would help to further our understanding of how the mosquito may undertake the process of gastrulation as compared to the more well-studied fruit fly.”
Next year, Reynolds will be studying slightly bigger creatures when she moves to Edinburgh, Scotland, to begin study at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.
What inspired your thesis research?
My work was inspired by previous research [done] in the lab [of Associate Professor of Biology Rachel Hoang], and my thesis is somewhat of a continuation of work done by Will Garrett ’12 and Makeda Carrell ’13.
How did your advisor help you develop your thesis topic, conduct your research, and interpret your results?
Rachel has been an amazing resource for all the students in our lab. At the beginning of the year, she introduced all of us to potential research topics her lab would be capable of supporting, and then let each of us pick our own direction. As a result, the four students in our lab were working on four completely separate projects based on our own interests and strengths. Her support continued throughout the research process, and she was always very excited to hear about significant results—or failures.
What did you learn working on your thesis?
Working on my thesis, I learned that research can be both incredibly frustrating and incredibly rewarding. One of the main aspects of my thesis went through 12 different trials before I finally got results. However, even after each unsuccessful run, I had a very supportive community around me, with people from my lab and others offering suggestions on how it might be improved. When I finally got results, I think most of the Bio Department heard about it, and they were all very happy for me.
Photo: Jim Gathany/USCDCP
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.