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Fox Friday: Eleanor Oden Studies Coral Probiotics In Hopes of Helping to Mitigate Coral Disease
Fox Friday is a series that will highlight the accomplishments of students districtwide. We hope to regularly share the incredible things our students are doing. We will feature the students who excel academically and athletically as well as the students who are quietly impressive.
To start, we have been focusing on a few students in Fox Lane High School's Science Research Program and the extraordinary research they have been working on.
Today’s Fox Friday focuses on junior Eleanor Oden and her project: The Effects of Diel Cycling and Hypoxia on the Antimicrobial Activity of Three Coral Probiotic Strains.
Can you explain your project?
Diel cycling is fluctuation in the availability of sunlight throughout a 24-hour cycle. How sunlight is available during the day when it is light out and how it is not available at night when it is dark out. Hypoxia means low levels of oxygen. I am studying if or how changes in sunlight availability and oxygen levels affect the performance of coral probiotics in preventing disease.
What led you to study this topic?
I knew I wanted to study human impact on the environment. During the summer before my first year of Science Research, Mrs. Pirro suggested that I watch Chasing Coral, a documentary about coral reefs and coral bleaching. I wanted to study coral bleaching but, through the process of finding a mentor and doing more research, my focus shifted to coral disease.
How did you find your mentor? What was that experience like?
I had a difficult time finding my mentors. In the beginning, it was difficult to even find scientists to email because what I wanted to focus on is not a widely studied topic. In fact, near the end of my mentor search, all of the scientists I was emailing were suggesting each other as the next person I should reach out to because it is such a small field.
I got really close multiple times before I found my current mentor. I met with two other scientists via Google Meet who ended up turning me down before I found my current mentor. In total, I emailed around 35 scientists. My current mentors are Rachel Howard and Dr. Julie Meyer at Meyer Microbes Microbial Ecology Lab at the University of Florida. Because we are so far apart, I use email and Google meetings to communicate with them.
It has been an incredible experience to be able to work with real scientists working in my field of interest. This opportunity further enforces the idea that science is not just your class, but something that is constantly evolving and being studied in real life worldwide.
What was the research process like?
My research process involved three coral probiotic strains: SMS1, BZC2, and OF11M-6. Each of the probiotic strains was tested under four sets of environmental conditions. The four sets of environmental conditions were light and oxic (containing oxygen), light and hypoxic (low oxygen), dark and oxic, and dark and hypoxic. The coral probiotic strains were smeared onto a lawn of victim bacteria on an agar plate. The agar plates were wrapped in parafilm and left in their designated environmental conditions. Observations were recorded for four consecutive days after setting everything up.
How could your research benefit society in the long term?
Coral is a foundational and keystone species and around a quarter of all organisms in the ocean depend on coral reefs for their survival. If all coral was lost, it would lead to an ecological collapse of the entire ecosystem. It is possible that entire classes of marine organisms would go extinct.
Coral reefs also provide numerous ecosystem services. Five hundred million to one billion people depend on coral reefs as their main source of food. Their culture, economy, and way of life all depend on healthy coral reefs. Next, many of the medicinal drugs currently in development come from the ocean. There is still so much we don't know yet that if we lose coral reefs, we might never discover drugs that may have the potential to help so many people. Lastly, coral reefs provide a breakwater that protects coastal communities from big waves and cyclones.
Coral disease outbreaks are a major cause of coral mortality and reef decline, so a rise in diseases may have catastrophic impacts on humans and the ocean. If the probiotics that help to mitigate and prevent disease are determined along with the conditions in which they work best, coral disease can be treated and prevented. My research focuses on determining the conditions in which coral probiotics are most effective. My research could help in making new discoveries in how to mitigate and prevent the spread of coral disease, which would greatly benefit the oceans and our society.
Did you learn anything unexpected during the process or from the course in general?
Throughout my project, I have repeatedly learned that everything does not always go as planned. I saw this when determining my research topic, finding my mentor, and executing my project. While I was performing my experiment multiple little aspects went haywire and I just had to go with it and try to figure it out as I went. For example, when I was first trying to set up the hypoxic chambers that each had to hold three agar plates, the agar plates did not all fit inside. Mrs. Pirro helped me figure out that if we cut a plastic water bottle in half, we could use the bottom part to create a second level inside the chamber where the third agar plate could be balanced.
Do you have any advice for students considering the Science Research program?
Science Research is a very rigorous program but if you are willing to work hard and stay committed through the difficult moments, you will excel in this class. In SciRes, you get to decide what you learn. If you are considering signing up for the SciRes program, do it. You will get to explore your interests and become a part of the Science Research family and you will be glad you did it!
Is there anything else you think people should know?
There is a ton of work that goes into forming and executing each one of our Science Research projects and Mrs. Pirro and Ms. Kinlen help with every single one of them. They are both incredible teachers who work tremendously hard.