By Laura de Leon
A $25,000 supplement research grant funded by the National Science Foundation received by a Texas A&M-San Antonio biology professor is expected to open research opportunities for biology students.
Megan Wise de Valdez, biology assistant professor who has been teaching at the university since 2010, said the foundation grant is important because it increases her chances at receiving future foundation funding for the university.
“But more importantly, it provides resources that allows the faculty member to provide research opportunities for their undergraduate students,” Wise de Valdez said.
Jacquelyn Longoria, projects and initiatives administrator, said Wise de Valdez secured a research opportunity award from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Systematic and Biodiversity Science through a grant to the University of New Mexico.
“This is the first A&M-San Antonio faculty member to receive this type of research award,” Longoria said.
Wise de Valdez said the research opportunity award she received is generally awarded to early-career faculty researchers from smaller teaching institutions.
According to the NSF website, the foundation is an independent federal agency created by Congress that funds about 20 percent of the federally funded basic research that is conducted by America’s colleges and universities. The foundation exists “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense.”
Wise de Valdez said she applied for the research grant with a colleague in parasitology, Ben Hanelt, research assistant professor from the University of New Mexico-Albuquerque. Hanelt is the principal investigator for the parent grant titled, “Collaborative Research: Unraveling a Gordian knot: Biodiversity of Gordian worms, phylum Nematomorpha, in the New World.”
The grant involves a biodiversity study of a specific group of parasites called Nematomorphs or “horsehair worms” that develop within crickets.
With the aid of the supplement research grant, Wise de Valdez hopes to accomplish several goals in the next three months.
She hopes to establish a research laboratory at A&M-San Antonio, explaining that the lack of a research laboratory has delayed faculty’s ability to offer research opportunities for undergraduates.
To begin the research in the laboratory, Wise de Valdez said she wants to involve three to five “high performing” biology students to work as undergraduate researchers in the spring, but hopes to involve an additional seven to 10 students over the summer “where they will receive upper division biology credits.”
The application process for student researchers will begin this week, Wise de Valdez said.
To train and further educate the university’s professors and students, Wise de Valdez plans to host the principal investigators ––the main scientists–– from the University of New Mexico and Oklahoma State to assist in training biology faculty and students.
In addition, she hopes to take undergraduate research students to the annual Southwest Association of Parasitologists meeting in April “to present on any data collected and/or plans for data collection.”
Describing her research in a recent email, she said, “Although (the study) may seem a bit boring to most, these parasites are extremely cool in that they have been shown to alter several behaviors of their hosts in order to survive including causing their host to commit suicide so that the worm can emerge in the appropriate place in order to mate.”
Wise de Valdez said that she will be investigating other parasite-induced behavioral alterations in this host-parasite system and is able to discuss the details of the research at a later date.
For more information, contact Wise de Valdez at (210)784-2218 or email Megan.WisedeValdez@tamusa.tamus.edu.