Dr. William Edwards, professor of biology, and Dr. Cassandra Marnocha, assistant professor of biology, teamed up this semester to offer a new, comprehensive molecular ecology course to biology and environmental science students. Molecular ecology is a rapidly expanding field, and this course helps to expose students to the field, as well as help them develop a modern lab skill set.
“Molecular ecology involves using tools from molecular biology to answer ecological questions,” said Dr. Marnocha. “Molecular ecology essentially uses DNA, RNA, and protein to investigate population dynamics, genetic diversity, community structure, ecosystem function, etc.”
This past January, students took part in their first lab (pictured above), collecting water samples from Four Mile Creek, Twelve Mile Creek, and the Niagara River. This will allow Drs. Edwards and Marnocha to build upon about a decade of chemical data from these sites by finding out which microorganisms are present.
“Winter fieldwork is not normally something we do,” said Dr. Marnocha. “It was very cold and involved a lot of hammering through the ice. But we had a lot of fun in the process.”
Drs. Edwards and Marnocha are both advocates of teaching students how to become experts in the field, having students develop their knowledge and skillset with hands on experience. The best way to do this is by actually having the students do real science.
“We want our students to understand the fundamentals of the field, be able to read, interpret, and discuss scientific papers in molecular ecology, and to apply what they know to collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data,” said Dr. Marnocha.