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Unique Summer Research has OWU Junior Scanning Parasites

June 17, 2005

DELAWARE, Ohio -- Ohio Wesleyan rising junior Jessica Brenneman has a unique summer research project--so unique that she could be the only person in the world doing it.

Jessica's research project, "Morphological Analysis by Scanning Electron Microscopy of Nematodes Parasitic in the Lungs of Mammals," earned her a prestigious Microscopy Society of America Undergraduate Research Scholarship. She is one of only five students in the United States and Canada to receive the award and first Ohio Wesleyan student honored. In addition to having her research at Ohio Wesleyan funded this summer, she will also present her research at the Microscopy and Microanalysis 2006 meeting held in Chicago and MSA's journal, Microscopy and Microanalysis, will publish an abstract. The other students to receive the MSA Undergraduate Research Scholarship Awards for 2005 were Natalya Shulyakova, University of Toronto; Jessica Struckhoff, University of Missouri; James Edward Brown, Oklahoma State University; and Timothy Pennycook, Reed College.

"Jessica's research is part of a larger research grant I received from the National Science Foundation on the evolution of lung worms," says Dr. Ramon Carreno, assistant professor of zoology at OWU and Jessica's co-mentor on her project. "In the lungs of mammals they can, in many types of mammals, cause disease. I have been collecting specimens from all over the world to reconstruct the evolution of lung worms using their DNA."

Many species of lung worms were vaguely described many decades ago, and descriptions of different species included lots of errors. Correcting some of those errors is part of Jessica's goal for this project. She is using the scanning electron microscope to generate more-accurate images of the parasites.

"Few other researchers are using the scanning electron microscope to study parasites," says Jessica, a double major in microbiology and pre-medicine and minor in chemistry. "It is interesting to be on the cutting edge of this research. We've found that most of the images done with light microscopes are the artists' best guess and either don't have sufficient detail or are just wrong. So we have a chance to rediscover the parasites and correct the old drawings."

But nothing about what Jessica is doing is "old school." The Clyde, Ohio, resident is working with Dr. Laura Tuhela-Reuning, cpt assistant professor of botany/microbiology and zoology and manager of the G.W. Burns Scanning Electron Microscope Laboratory. Dr. Tuhela-Reuning is also Jessica's co-mentor on the project.

"I've been helping her prepare and observe samples for the scanning electron microscope," says Dr. Tuhela-Reuning. "I help set up the microscope parameters but I let her do the work on her own. That way she learns how to use the SEM."

That is exactly what Jessica wants. She was interested in learning about the scanning electron microscope and parasites. When "Dr. T-R" found the opportunity to combine work with the microscope and Dr. Carreno's research on parasites the match was almost perfect.

"I am enjoying my opportunity to work with the scanning electron microscope," says Jessica. "I definitely spend the majority of my time working with the machine and I'm learning so much. The best way to learn is by practice and continuing to do it. There aren't very many undergraduates who get this type of opportunity."

It is a chance that Jessica has taken seriously and will help her in the future. "I am very interested in doing something in clinical research after I graduate," Jessica says. "And parasites fall under that heading, and there are a lot of opportunities in the field. They are finding new species, new diagnostic techniques, and finding that many others classified wrongly. It is exciting work."

Exciting work that puts Jessica in a unique position, and that is just the way she wants it.