Thompson Rivers University

Animal Biology Research — Q & A with Katie Bennett

March 6, 2014


Katie Bennet hopes her UREAP research will support conservation efforts for spadefoot toads and other BC amphibians.

Meet Katie Bennett, a fourth year Bachelor of Science student majoring in Animal Biology. The Newsroom asked Katie about the ins and outs of conducting her own research project through TRU’s Undergraduate Research Experience Award Program (UREAP).

TRU: Your project is titled, “Detection of the parasitic chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis on Spadefoot toads in the Kamloops region.” Boil it down for us.

KB: The parasitic chytrid fungus B. dendrobatidis is leading to mass mortalities of amphibians worldwide and is spreading throughout North America. It is already causing species to become endangered but it is not known whether it is present in the Kamloops region. My study aimed to test for the presence of the chytrid fungus on endangered spadefoot toads on the New Gold mine site, using a real time PCR technique. New Gold is an intermediate mining company located just south of Kamloops that is funding a larger spadefoot toad research project by TRU Master of Science student JoAnne Hales.

Related Story: Bring learning to life with research experience

TRU: What attracted you to doing this research?

KB: I felt that it would supplement my in-class learning and provide me with the opportunity to get hands-on experience in the field of biology. Initially I did not know what I wanted to research, all I knew is that I wanted to do something related to animal biology. However, with the help of Dr. Jonathan Van Hamme and Dr. Karl Larsen I was able to devise a very exciting project. I particularly like that I have been able to incorporate both field and lab work into my research as it has helped me to learn more than I might have if I had only done one or the other.

“What I love about research is the freedom it allows you to explore a subject you are interested in.” —Katie Bennett

TRU: How has your UREAP grant helped you get into doing research?

KB: My UREAP grant has allowed me to focus on research while still having enough funds to pay for school. This greatly helps to reduce any added stress on top of assignments and exams.

TRU: Will your project lead to a presentation or publishing opportunity?

KB: At the end of March I will be presenting my project at the TRU Undergraduate Research and Innovation Conference. I don’t know whether my project will lead to a publishing opportunity in the future but that is certainly a goal of mine. The findings of my research could aid in developing conservation efforts for protecting spadefoot toads by identifying where the chytrid fungus is present and also determining whether or not it is a contributing factor to the endangered status of spadefoots. For these reasons, being able to publish my research would be very exciting.

TRU: What have you learned from this experience?

KB: Research doesn’t always go the way you have planned. All you can do is stay positive, adapt, and find solutions to your problems. What I love about research is the freedom it allows you to explore a subject you are interested in.

TRU: Who in your field do you admire and why?

KB: I admire both my supervisors, Jon Van Hamme and Karl Larsen. Jon is always upbeat and has a superb work ethic that I hope to one day obtain. He is also extremely helpful when I am having troubles with the molecular portion of my project. Karl is very enthusiastic and passionate about what he studies and teaches. I hope to one day find a subject that I enjoy and care about as much as Karl does about his studies.

TRU: What impact do you hope your research will have?

KB: I hope that my research will impact local efforts aimed at conserving endangered amphibians, and help New Gold mine’s efforts to design strategies for conserving the spadefoots within their operational area. There needs to be more concern for endangered species and I would like for this study to support the need for more research on the chytrid fungus throughout BC.

Read more about Katie’s research experience with spadefoot toads in the Spring 2014 issue of Bridges Magazine, coming in May.

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