What Lurks in Lake Andrews?
We thought the stuff of Lake Andrews had been pretty well cataloged:
There was Professor Smith’s sailboat, anchored mid-pond by prank-addled students in the early 1960s, and then there was the Jeep that fell through thin ice in December 1971.
And during the Puddle’s 1998 drainage and restoration, the not-so-deep depths yielded, among other things, a bowling ball, mangled bike, stereo, bed frame, chairs, tennis shoes, bottles, cans and three 30-pound snapping turtles.
Now, thanks to biology major Hannah Schultz ’12, we’ve got some recent additions to the Puddle’s motley catalog.
Using the college’s scanning electron microscope, she took photographs of the Puddle’s tiny creatures, including fish and insect larvae, itty-bitty crustaceans known as copepods and ittier-bittier algae.
She did the work two years ago for a Short Term course in scanning electron microscopy, working with Greg Anderson, assistant in instruction, and Bob Thomas, biology professor.
Schultz collected the specimens by tossing a plankton net into the Puddle. After sorting and prepping her catch, she photographed the specimens with the college’s research-grade JEOL JSM-6100 ’scope (which you can pick up for around $35,000, used).
She chose the Puddle project after noticing an irony. “Students love the Puddle — we’re like, ‘Woo-hoo! Puddle Jump!’ — but we don’t really know anything about it,” she says. “It was fun for me to get my hands dirty and learn about the Puddle from a scientific point of view.”
Nothing she found in her catch particularly surprised her or Bates’ biologists, but that was the fun part, “finding both concrete, recognizable things” and a diversity of creatures. She expected lots of copepods (they’re a dime a dozen in freshwater ponds) but the fish and dragonfly larvae fell into that “well, lookee here” category.
On one level, knowing how to use a scanning electron microscope is just another helpful skill for a science major. On another, it did remove Schultz’s safety net, bringing her closer to what she is now: a confident bio major capable of doing original research. “When you have trouble in a lab, a lot of times the teacher can come over and magically make it go away,” she says. “With this project, I had to work through things myself.”
For her senior thesis, Schultz looked at Lyme disease and whether catbirds can be “reservoirs,” meaning a carrier of the disease-causing Borrelia bacteria, like deer and rodents.
Catbirds are an intriguing research subject because their migratory range includes Canada, “where new Lyme disease foci have been found,” Schultz says.
Lyme disease is spread by ticks that feed on carriers and, ultimately, on humans. As recently as 1990, disease-carrying ticks were nearly nonexistent in Canada, but by 2020 are expected to be found in 80 percent of populated Canadian areas, according to a recent study authored by Canadian researchers.
Schultz, a New York City native from the Upper West Side, is working with blood samples from gray catbirds in Pennsylvania, where the bird is common (the species is found throughout the Northeast). She and her adviser, department chair Don Dearborn, whose own research includes host-parasite interactions, are developing new protocols for their study by reviewing the limited prior research.
It’s painstaking work that involves genetic screening of hundreds of blood samples. “Time-consuming and crazy,” she says.
But she counts herself fortunate. “I don’t know where else I would get the opportunity to do research for a year with the kind of support I’m getting at Bates.
“I mean, Don’s office is right next door, he has his door open all the time and his cell number on the white board in here,” she says, pointing to the whiteboard over her shoulder in the Carnegie lab.
Despite the pressure of thesis work, Schultz knows that “success” doesn’t mean drawing some startling conclusion about catbirds and Lyme disease.
“There are scientists who have been at this every day for a decade, and they know not to make quick assumptions. That’s just how science is. You can add to the information, but you can hardly ever just say, ‘Hallelujah! I figured it all out!’”