My name is Helena Blobel and I am a rising junior at Cornell University, studying biological sciences with a concentration in ecology and evolutionary biology. I participated in the STEER program in Philadelphia, as I am from the suburbs nearby in Lower Merion. After college, my plans include either graduate school or medical school.
What is your summer research project?
This summer, I worked with Dr. Corlett Wood. My research project was to study root-knot nematodes, a common, detrimental crop parasite that infects the roots of plants. My aim was to refine methods for harvesting and observing the infectious juvenile nematodes in a sterile environment in order to study them. This meant that I worked with hydroponics to grow them without soil, and pluronic gel plate experiments to examine their behavior.
What are the implications of your research?
The hydroponics allowed me to create a source of nematode juveniles in a more controlled environment than in soil, streamlining the process of studying them and reducing potentially harmful disinfectant usage. The plate experiments allowed me to observe nematode attraction to various types of plants. These methods are useful for understanding their infectivity and therefore finding solutions to the significant agricultural losses they cause every year. The methods are widely applicable and could be used to study other agricultural pests.
What new skills have you gained through your research?
In addition to my individual work with hydroponics and gel plates, I contributed to several other projects in the lab. These projects studied various predictors of nematode infection, including the presence of nitrogen-fixing bacteria, age of plant at infection, and plant genotype. Through these projects, I gained many skills, such as plant care in growth chambers and greenhouses, harvesting of plants, and recognizing nematode colonies and bacterial colonies with microscopy. Additionally, with the help of my principal investigator, I have gained experience with understanding scientific literature in the ecology field and effectively presenting data.