Team Sponge takes collaboration to new levels

Angel Rosas and Elin Johnson

While many Linfield students were working their summer jobs, taking in the summer sun, or avoiding anything that required movement, two Wildcats were off in the Florida Keys researching the habits, ecosystems and bacteria of what else but sponges.  

Professor Jeremy Weisz,  associate professor of biology, gained his passion for the work while he was a  graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Specifically, he was interested in symbiosis between marine systems and microbes.

Weisz wrote and received a grant to continue his research and for the past 3 summers he has been able to bring students to Summerland Keys Florida to research 3 different sponge species coexisting in the area.

The main idea of the project is to compare these three sponges, which hadn’t been researched that intensely, and see how they are coexisting with each other but also with their own bacterial communities.

First the group of two students (who called themselves Team Sponge) would be on campus for two to three weeks practicing DNA extractions. Then, the team would spend two weeks collecting samples and running some experiments in Florida. Following their return from Florida, the team would finalize any experiments and gather results.

Weisz laughed as he said that it was not hard to find students who wanted to spend a few weeks of their the summer in Florida Keys kayaking, scuba diving and snorkeling.

Two of those students were Anna Peckham ‘20 and Vanessa Van Horn ‘19. The two learned about the project through friends who had been previously involved with the research and from Weisz himself.

Peckham said that working under Weisz was relaxed and that she felt comfortable asking him any question because she knew he would support her curiosity.

Weisz echoed that sentiment and said that he allowed the students to have their own questions and theories.

“They have a part of the project that is theirs and also work with me to work on the big picture,” Weisz said.“We work together to come up with protocols and methods on how to do the research.

What Weisz said that students truly learn about what it really means to be a scientist. He went on to say that although the undergraduate students are less experienced than graduate students they are more excited about the research.

“It is so much fun to take students who have never had these experiences before,” Weisz said.

Van Horn said that her time working under Weisz, despite getting stung by jellyfish, was a,“dream come true.”

Van Horn and Peckham agreed that going to Florida and having hands on experience was the best part of their summers and made them more certain of their desire to do field work later on in life. Both were appreciative of the graduate level work opportunities that they had at this level.

Students will continue doing research with Weisz throughout the semester looking at the sponge’s microbiome, the human impact on the area in question and the ecosystem’s health. Team Sponge will spend their off time discussing the work and bring more questions that Weisz believes could lead to even more research.

All three researchers involved agreed that collaborative research is worth getting immersed in even if there is only a slight interest.

The two student researchers said to talk to professors that does research you are interested in. They also said that not only can a  student research something they are interested in, but it will also good for graduate schools.

Weisz encourages all students to do research and said that he is impressed by the great questions that his students come up with, many of which can lead to even more research.

Wearing a smile Weisz said to, “go find a professor and do some research!”