Tyler Barnes, a junior at Roanoke College, is researching estrogen contamination in the Roanoke River using zebrafish embryos. She is studying the impact of hormone pollution on fish development.
Barnes is a biology major from Centreville, Va., and she also is a Zumba fitness instructor at Roanoke.
She has been working closely with Dr. Chris Lassiter, an associate professor in Roanoke’s biology department, in his research lab since her freshmen year through the Undergraduate Research Assistants Program. This four-year program allows students to do research projects while working with a professor.
Barnes has presented her zebrafish research at several conferences in the past few years, but she said she cannot share her final results until her project is complete.
We caught up with Barnes to find out more about her zebrafish research and its progress.
RC News Blog: What exactly are you studying?
Tyler Barnes: I’m basically going to the Roanoke River, taking water samples, and coming back to the lab at school and determining the presence of estrogen in those samples using zebrafish embryos. There are specific genes inside the zebrafish that are estrogen sensitive. Â Measuring the expression levels of these genes allows me to determine whether or not estrogen contamination is present from the site I collected the water from.
Â RC News Blog: Why are you studying zebrafish?
Tyler Barnes: Zebrafish are an easy model organism that does not take long to grow. They also reproduce in larger numbers which is good for sample size.Â Other studies have found intersex fish living in waterways contaminated with estrogen.Â Intersex means an organism is becoming both male and female.Â It’s becoming a concern, because water treatment plants don’t test or treat for estrogen. Basically whatever chemicals that may be estrogen or estrogen-like are getting into our water systems and the organisms that live there are becoming affected by it.
RC News Blog: Why is it important for people to know about hormone pollution?
Tyler Barnes: Hormone pollution could affect human development because we are drinking water that has not been treated for estrogen compounds. Early onset of puberty in children and an increased risk for developing estrogen-related cancers, such as breast cancer, are two possible side effects of human exposure to estrogen pollution.
RC News Blog: What advice do you have for incoming or current students who haven’t heard about the Undergraduate Research Assistants Program?
Tyler Barnes: Research got me more involved in college. It allowed me to meet even more people and become more comfortable with a professor immediately. Researching also grants different opportunities to speak at other places and conferences.Â Publication is also a big thing. If my data does get published, it will open up a lot of doors.Â Graduate schools and professional schools also like seeing that you are researching. It shows a whole different level of understanding and that you are interested in what you are doing.
RC News Blog: What are your plans after graduating from Roanoke?
Tyler Barnes: I would like to get into veterinary school.
-By Shelby Sacco ’14