University of Calgary

Biological Sciences Student Symposium

UToday HomeApril 3, 2012

Ray Turner and Iain GeorgeProfessor Ray Turner (left) was the supervisor for Iain George (right), a fourth-year student whose research into bacteria in oil sands tailings ponds is being presented at a student symposium this week. Photo by David BinindaFrom reproductive genes in adult zebrafish and pediatric tumours to cleaning up oil spills, a wide variety of research is being presented this week during the Biological Sciences Student Symposium. Sixty-seven students from the biological sciences department are presenting their final year research projects, which cover topics from biochemistry to ecology.

“It showcases the excellent research being conducted by the next generation of biological scientists,” says Anthony Russell, professor and acting department head. “There is a lot of breadth.”

Several projects delve into oil-related matters. Courtney Toth examined the diversity of hydrocarbons “that can be biodegraded from the microbial community already present in an oil-contaminated site.” Her project examined how to grow more microbes under methanogenic conditions. “This research is essential for the application of bioremediation in the field, as bioremediation must be shown to be viable in the lab before it may be used in situ.”

Ali Jalloul looked at the effect of Naphthenic acids (NAs)—an oil sands pollutant—on the immune response of fresh water snails “My results suggest that exposure to Naphtenic acids may make snails more susceptible to disease,” he says. “Since healthy snails are an important part of a healthy environment my findings, although they still need to be verified in other ways, add to the growing concern about the effects oil sands pollution may have on our environment.”

Iain George studied how bacteria are able to survive, form biofilms and maybe metabolize toxic compounds in oil sands tailings ponds. “Biofilms are a form of microbial growth where bacteria become attached to a surface and encapsulated in a layer of slime that gives them protection from their environment,” he says. “By having a greater understanding of how biofilms cope with the toxic compounds in tailing ponds, we may be able to develop better ways of remediating these sites.”

Russell says the research projects are invaluable for the undergraduates. “The students learn how to do research: How can I take what I know and ask a question when I can’t go look up the answer?” he says. “That changes the whole game.”

George agrees, saying he’s learned to “use my curiosity” and think creatively. “In my mind,” he says, “the research project class has to be one of the hidden gems offered to students at the University of Calgary.”

The Biological Sciences Student Symposium runs from April 3 - 5 in BI 211 and 499.