Lyon College student researches amphibians to understand human diseases

Junior Hannah Wu, of Cabot, is expanding her research experience in Lyon College’s lab this summer.

She is working with Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Maryline Jones to study Ambystoma mexicanum, a type of salamander known as the Mexican axolotl. 

Wu and Jones are using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qpcr) and immunostaining to identify osmoregulatory proteins and the expression and location of those proteins in the aquatic salamanders. Osmoregulation is the process of maintaining salt and water balance across membranes within an organism’s body.

“Gaining more knowledge about which proteins are involved in osmoregulation will help us be one step closer to understanding human diseases that involve water and ion uptake,” Wu said.

She said Lyon is currently raising over 100 axolotls in the lab.

“There is definitely a lot of work that goes into this,” Wu said. “Processes like mRNA extraction, DNA amplification and purification and histology take a lot of concentration and patience.”

She continued, “However, when the results show that I did a process correctly, it makes me feel like all the hard work and frustration is worth it!”

This is Wu’s second summer conducting research. During the summer of her freshman year, she conducted research in Bethesda, Md., with Dr. D. Scott Merrell, ’92, at the Uniformed Services University.

A double major in biology and psychology, Wu said many of her courses at Lyon, such as Principles of Biology II and Cell Biology, have prepared her for her research experiences by enhancing her understanding of DNA, proteins and other cellular components.

“You don’t realize how much you know until you actually put it to use!”

Courses like Organic Chemistry have helped her identify many of the chemicals being used in the labs.

“Performing microbiology research allows me to integrate the many skills and knowledge I have learned,” she said. “The classes at Lyon are rigorous, but if you take the time to learn the information that is being provided to you, you will walk away with knowledge that you will be able to use wherever you go.”

Wu hopes this research experience will expand her knowledge of axolotls and the different types of proteins that are involved in their ability to osmoregulate.

“On a larger spectrum, I wish to walk away with the ability to think critically and attain the ability to come up with research questions and how to answer those questions.”

She plans to continue doing research at Lyon for the next two years and attend medical school after graduating.

Wu’s favorite part of research is the opportunity to learn new skills and information on a daily basis.

“Knowing that the work I am doing now will impact the future and help solve unanswered questions is so invigorating,” Wu said. 

She concluded, “I am honored that Dr. Jones provided me this opportunity to change the world. I know I play a very small part in the science community, but I hope that my part will be advantageous.”