Six biology majors from Loyola Marymount University’s Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering won accolades for their work at the 42nd annual West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Conference (WCBSURC), held at Santa Clara University in April this year.
One of the oldest intercollegiate conferences of its kind, WCBSURC draws participants from universities nationwide to present original data in the fields of biology and biochemistry. Selected from among more than 160 research presentations at the conference, the LMU award winners exemplify Seaver College’s dedication to hands-on student learning and cultivating meaningful mentor relationships.
Candice Cross ’19
Award: Best Presentation in Marine and Aquatic Biology for “Nutrient Value of Invasive Seagrass, Halophila stipulacea, and Analysis of its Ability to Meet the Dietary Needs of Green Sea Turtles in the Caribbean”
Mentor: Demian Willette, Ph.D.
“I literally dove into this project: dove into the water, dove into the research,” said Cross, the only undergraduate student on a multi-university research team that traveled to the Caribbean last year.
Her original research found that invasive seagrass in the Caribbean has a lower nutrient value than native grasses, potentially posing a threat to the endangered green sea turtles that feed on it. “I definitely found a passion in marine ecology, and I don’t even have to wait to work in the field. I’m doing it right now, which is the most amazing part of getting to do this research at LMU.”
Michelle Laiolo ’19
Award: Best Poster in Ecology and Evolution for “Influence of a Social Partner on Activity Patterns in the Facultative Migrant, The Pine Siskin”
Mentor: Heather Watts, Ph.D.
“It’s always interesting finding out that your pre-existing idea is different than your results,” said Laiolo, whose research on pine siskins showed that the songbirds were terminating migration in response to the addition of a social partner.
“It’s just one small piece of a very large puzzle we’re trying to figure out.” Laiolo plans to pursue a career in veterinary medicine and was originally drawn to the project for the opportunity to work with animals. “Getting to do this research with Dr. Watts has been such a great experience. It has really opened my eyes to a much larger world of possibilities out there.”
Alex Napior ’17
Award: Best Poster in Genetics for “Analyzing the Role of Rhizobium pilA1, pilA2, and pilA3 genes during Root Infection”
Mentor: Nancy Fujishige, Ph.D.
Napior is no stranger to research. The Fulbright scholar has immersed himself in opportunities to collaborate with his professors since his freshman year.
“I built up a lot of confidence learning how to conduct research, work with professors and carry out projects outside of a classroom setting,” said Napior, who hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in ecology or plant biology.
His research confirmed the important role of the genes pilA1, pilA2 and pilA3 in attachment to white sweet clover roots, infection thread formation and nodule formation. This process converts nitrogen into a usable form for white sweet clover. Napior found that mutations in the genes led to reduced rhizobial attachment and delayed nodule formation.
Ashwarya Sharma ’19
Award: Best Poster in Microbiology and Immunology for “Testing Competition and Relationships in the Rhizobia-Legume Mutualism”
Mentor: Michelle Lum, Ph.D.
Sharma examined mutualistic relationship between multiple strains of rhizobia bacteria and leguminous plants, an interest that was originally sparked in General Biology lab and grew into a more complex research topic with encouragement from her professors.
“The one-on-one relationships that I have been able to develop with professors here has really helped me not only in getting involved with research but also discovering which fields of biology I am interested in,” said Sharma, who hopes to continue research work as a physician-scientist. “I am extremely grateful to begetting involved with research at LMU, as it is preparing me for obtaining my future goals.”
Sofia Esteves ’19 and Nicholas Pilaud ’19
Award: Honorable Mention for Presentations in Marine and Aquatic Biology for “High Level of Seafood Fraud Persists Year-to-Year in Los Angeles Sushi Restaurants”
Mentor: Demian Willette, Ph.D.
Nearly half the fish in Los Angeles sushi restaurants is incorrectly labeled, according to research presented by Esteves and Pilaud, who processed and analyzed fish DNA samples collected over a 4-year period. After winning best poster at last year’s conference and honorable mention for their oral presentation this year, both students plan to take their research to the next level.
Esteves is currently pulling fish samples from local supermarkets to test the accuracy of Marine Stewardship Council certification, while Pilaud plans to test fish from popular poke bowl restaurants. “I like to relate what we’re learning in school to the real world,” said Esteves. “It’s interesting to see how science applies to Los Angeles.”