A pair of University of Maine at Fort Kent students joined their peers from the University of Maine at Presque Isle in January to work with professional researchers at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratories in Bar Harbor, Maine.
According to Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Christin Kastl, two students studying biology at UMFK, Zack Beal and Corey Henderson, accompanied seven UMPI students to the MDI Biological Labs to work with model organisms, C. elegans, to support research on the aging process in humans. “Every year we take a few students, and they offer us a class on research methods using the little worms, C. elegans.”
Dr. Kastl said the scientists helped the students learn how to work with the worms that are invisible to the naked eye, in a working lab environment. “The lab is scientists doing science to figure out the aging process in humans. They work with worms because they are a good model organism,” stated Kastl.
“They actually get hands-on with the worms, learning how to handle organisms you can only see under the microscope. The students get to alter their DNA.” she said.
Jake Theriault, a lab manager at UMFK, accompanied the group.
Dr. Kastl said the experience is more than a field trip. “It's the best thing for them. It's free housing, free food, and free lab experience. It's good on their resume.”
Along with the experiential learning, which is a hallmark of UMFK practices to prepare students for jobs in the real world, the MDI Biological Labs sent the students home with several wiggly gifts. “Dr. Dustin Updike, scientist at MDIBL and teacher of this workshop, gave us worms to take up here so I can use them with my students in my classes,” said Kastl.
IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) provided the funds to pay for the trip. INBRE further sponsors internships for UMFK students at local companies in order to have students engage in research related to Fort Kent, such as work in toxicology, food industry, fishery, and others. Students learn how to do real life research, said Dr. Kastl. They also sponsor students to come down for the 43rd Maine Biological and Medical Sciences Symposium in April and offer summer research internships at their labs.