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2020 UROP Projects Announced

This year the Louisiana Sea Grant (LSG) College Program is funding ten Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) projects. Established in 1992 to provide talented undergraduate students with hands-on research experience, it has funded over 190 projects.

Each UROP student will gain first-hand knowledge regarding the whole research process from design, implementation, analysis and conclusion. The hope is for students to present at relevant conferences and publish in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

To support these advanced coastal studies, projects receive funding up to $3,000. UROP applications are accepted each fall for projects starting the following March. Full-time undergraduate students at all Louisiana colleges and universities are eligible.

The following students were selected for 2020:

Photo: Val BrowningVal Browning, Louisiana State University (LSU)
Advisor: Todd Monroe
Evaluation of a Microfluidic Device to Standardize Sperm Motility Assessment in Louisiana Saltwater Fishes

Sperm repository is an important tool to assist stock enhancement and aquaculture. However, standardization of sperm quality assessment can be challenging. Browning and Monroe hope to address this problem by designing a microfluidic chip that will provide a standardized assessment of sperm motility. This technology would have the advantage of being low cost, high portability, and provide greater standardization.

Photo: Adam BrunnerAdam Brunner, LSU
Advisor: Cassandra Glaspie
Threat of Invasive Lionfish to Louisiana Coastal Waters

The invasive lionfish is a threat to Gulf marine food webs. The estuaries of Louisiana are home to many of their preferred prey—juvenile fish and crustaceans—but it’s unclear how their feeding is affected by the high turbidity in wetlands. Brunner and Glaspie will test how this visual predator hunts in different turbidities, helping managers identify areas where current or future outbreaks of lionfish may occur.

Photo: Victoria ByrdVictoria Byrd, LSU
Advisor: Terrence Tiersch, LSU AgCenter; Hamed Shamkhalichenar, LSU AgCenter
Evaluation of an Automated 3-D Printed Sperm Cryopreservation Device for use with Eastern Oysters (Crassostrea virginica)

Louisiana oysters are declining, therefore preserving seed is important. Cryopreservation—using low temperatures to preserve cells—is an option, but are limited by cost and equipment. Byrd and Tiersch will design a standard technology to preserve oyster sperm using 3-D printing and electrical engineering. This lower-cost tool will be beneficial to the conservation of oysters and potentially other species.

Photo: Cameron FontenotCam Fontenot, Nicholls State University
Advisor: Enmin Zou
Effect of Epidermal Carbonic Anhydrase Knockdown on Post-ecdysial Mineralization in the Blue Crab, Callinectes sapidus

Blue crabs need to molt in order to grow, however, not much is known about how their new shells harden after shedding. Using busters (late premolt crabs), Fontenot and Zou will study the enzyme carbonic anhydrase which is found in the crab’s epidermis. They believe that this enzyme plays an important role in the mineralization of the crab’s exoskeleton.

Photo: Leigh LeblancLeigh Leblanc, Southeastern Louisiana University
Advisor: Kyle Piller
Developing a DNA Barcode Database of Gulf of Mexico Fishes for Biodiversity Research

Environmental DNA monitoring (eDNA) combines the sampling of exogenous DNA in the aquatic environment  with genetic methods to detect the presence of species in a given area without physically collecting the target species. Once the eDNA sequence data is obtained it can be checked against a reference database to identify the presence of the target species or group of species. However, some Gulf of Mexico fish species are missing from the database. Leblanc and Piller will work to fill gaps in this database, creating a more comprehensive tool to monitor Gulf fish.

Photo: Grant LopezGrant Lopez, LSU
Advisor: Carol Wilson
Evaluating Sedimentation Rates and Sediment Character from a Sandy Dredge Pit, Ship Shoal, Louisiana: Implications for Coastal Restoration and Hypoxia

Offshore sandy sites like Block 88 in Ship Shoal are used for barrier island restoration, but it is unclear how these areas adjust over time. Lopez and Wilson will study this location to see how these areas fill over time, what types of sediment dominate and if these changes impact hypoxia. Determining how these continental shelf borrow area change over time is an important restoration question.

Sydney Lowman, Loyola University New Orleans
Advisor: Frank Jordan
Effects of Canopy Cover on Coastal Stream Invertebrates

A potential reason for the decline of the Okaloosa darter is trees­—mainly the abundance of them. In areas with lots of tree cover, there are fewer fish; in areas with less canopy coverage there are more. Lowman and Jordan will look for cascading food web effects in these habitats. They will test if less canopy cover (resulting in greater phytoplankton productivity), yields higher populations of stream invertebrates, a primary food source for the darter.

Michael Constans, LSU
Advisor: Jerome LaPeyre, LSU AgCenter
Salinity and Temperature Tolerances of Eastern Oysters Bred from Native Louisiana Broodstock

The salinity and temperature of an oyster’s home can influence its ability to survive. Since salinities and temperatures fluctuate considerably in Louisiana, it’s important to understand how this impacts oyster genetics. Constans and LaPeyre will compare survival between stocks from three Louisiana populations, the goal being to have a better idea of what criteria make for good broodstock in oysters.

Photo: Tori RodriguesTori Rodrigues, Loyola University New Orleans
Advisor: Frank Jordan
Invasion of Lake Pontchartrain Estuary by Asian Swamp Eel

The Asian Swamp Eel was recently discovered in Bayou St. John. Louisiana, no stranger to harmful invasive species, may have the first US population reproducing in the wild. This is particularly problematic as the eel can move overland to invade new waters, where it impacts native food webs. Rodrigues and Jordan hope to better understand the distribution and abundance of the eel in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin.

Lauren Lewellen, LSU
Advisor: Sibel Bargu
Laboratory Studies to Assess Toxic Cyanobacteria Species Succession and Toxicity in Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana

Nutrient-rich river waters flowing into Lake Pontchartrain through the Bonnet Carré Spillway can increase cyanobacteria populations. Some species are toxic and pose a risk to human health. Lewellen and Bargu hope to better understand the environmental factors such as nutrients and temperature influencing both succession and toxicity in two cyanobacteria species—Microcystis and Anabaena. The results will help better understand the phytoplankton population shifts in Lake Pontchartrain. Callie Snow worked on the project up to her graduation.