VBRN News & Highlights

From Castleton To Panama

When Castleton University Assistant Professor Dr. Christine Palmer was recruiting summer student researchers for her VGN funded project, she emphasized the more demanding aspects of conducting field work to attract intrepid and curious candidates. Luckily, she found rising sophomores Jake Apjohn and Alex Williams who were willing to take on the challenge of working at the Panamanian Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) for six weeks.

After an initial training in Vermont with Dr. Palmer, the students were supervised at STRI by two of her collaborators while they sampled neotropical insects, including katydids. Jake and Alex spent their days (and nights) collecting the insects, dissecting their gut contents, and extracting their DNA, all aimed at understanding the relationship between gut microbes and dietary tolerance in these species.

For both Jake and Alex, this was their first research experience. As Palmer describes, “Being able to work at the actual research site is so much more powerful for them. STRI has weekly science talks by experts from around the world and a vibrant culture of researchers on site.” Alex, in particular, has “found a new passion for biology” and Jakes credits this experience with opening his eyes to “countless future research possibilities.”

Both students plan to continue working on this research over the academic year and hopefully over the next few years.