Nicole Spewak | News Editor
Rodney Scott, professor of genetics at Wheaton College, spent the spring semester and part of the summer of 2012 in Costa Rica conducting field studies in genetics.
Scott’s main project involved using microsatellite markers, originally developed for North American freshwater turtles, on two freshwater turtle species found in Costa Rica.
“Nobody has really ever used molecular markers on these fresh water turtle species before,” Scott said.
Through this new testing, Scott first seeks to uncover whether the two Costa Rican turtle species are distinct or if one is a sub-species, and second, the extent of the genetic diversity that exists within the turtle species. The information gleaned from his research can be applied to help focus conservation efforts for these turtles. Scott tested ten microsatellite markers on the Costa Rican turtles, five of which produced positive results. Scott has collected his data, but he is waiting for permits for DNA samples so his colleagues in Costa Rica can send the samples to Wheaton. He can then re-run tests and analyze the data to find the answers to the two questions explored in his research.
While on his sabbatical, Scott sent a proposal to the University of Costa Rica with aims to begin a second project testing the genetic markers on all of the nine freshwater turtle species indigenous to Costa Rica. The proposal was approved a week before he left the country. Scott’s colleagues in Costa Rica will now collect DNA samples from three to four individual turtles from each of the different species and send the samples to Wheaton where Scott and biology students can begin a preliminary study to discover which microsatellite markers work with the turtles. This research could open the door for Scott to return to Costa Rica with Wheaton students to conduct more testing.
Three summers ago, Scott traveled to Costa Rica for a language learning experience. While at the University of Costa Rica, he met with the biology department chair, a conservation biologist. The conversation ended with an invitation for Scott to return to Costa Rica in the future. With this offer in mind, Scott applied for, and won, the Fulbright Scholar’s Award and received a grant to conduct his research. Fulbright also offers awards for students, and Scott is now the Fulbright Advisor for students at the college.
“We would love to see more Wheaton students getting those awards,” Scott said.
In addition to Fulbright scholarships, Wheaton biology majors may have the opportunity to study in Costa Rica in conjunction with the already established Wheaton in Costa Rica program. Biology students would take one Spanish class plus a research class, which would involve conducting experiments similar to those Scott did while on his sabbatical.
In addition to his research, Scott also taught four lab sessions in Spanish. For a conservation genetics course, Scott participated in a “gira,” which was a field trip for the class and also a sample-collecting expedition for graduate students. Within the 24 hours of the trip, the group captured and drew blood from three different kinds of monkeys, two different kinds of sloths and four different types of bats.
“It was just amazing. It was like my National Geographic experience,” Scott said.
The various experiences Scott encountered in Costa Rica are applicable to his professional life as a Wheaton professor and also to his personal life.
“The most significant (thing I learned) for my life here as a professor is the experience I gained in fieldwork in a very wonderfully biologically diverse place,” Scott said. “I also gained a greater understanding of people of another culture.”
Photo courtesy of Rodney Scott
Printed in the September 14, 2012, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to email@example.com.