Matriculating biology student Lois Morrow was one of a few fellows on Team Mosquito at the Tyson Research Center, operated by Washington University in St. Louis, this summer. She landed a position as their new laboratory technician in August.
“My fellowship experience at the Tyson Research Center over the summer was one of the most fun-filled, educational opportunities I have ever had,” Morrow said. “Our research was on the mosquito species that we are most likely to encounter because they are a ‘container-breeding species’.”
Morrow worked under Principal Investigator Kim Medley Ph.D., Washington U’s Director of Tyson, and Katie Westby, postdoctoral research associate at Washington U.
Team Mosquito’s mission was to study the effects on this species and invasive competitors to see if temperatures increased with climate change, according to Morrow.
Morrow and others on her team went into the city to collect larvae from old abandoned tires every week then brought them back to the lab to ID them.
“[The team and I] blood-fed the adults we bred in cages,” Morrow said. “My duties also included dissecting the larvae and counting the gregarine parasite in the midgut, hatching eggs, incubating eggs, counting eggs and spending hours filtering buckets of rainwater, which were in the field, where the mosquitos would breed.”
Researchers said an understanding of how the species responds to ecological changes could have important applications for public health because the mosquitoes are potential vectors for a number of pathogens, ranging from Zika virus in certain conditions to dog heartworm, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Morrow completed independent projects as well as her work for the mosquito team.
“Our independent projects sought to find plants that had repellent properties in an attempt to lower mosquito populations naturally. The plant I chose to experiment with was peppermint,” Morrow said.
Morrow said she studied the effects of mint on mosquitoes to see if it would act as a “larvacide” over the course of three separate-assigned experiments.
“I got results for all three experiments. I was able to prove that mint does not repel mosquitoes when they are laying eggs, but does work as a larvacide,” Morrow said.
Other than the “fun lab activities,” the team engaged in weekly lab meetings and colloquiums, where the fellows could meet and network with working professionals in the biology field, according to Morrow.
“We had two-minute and five-minute presentations, which briefed the audience over what our findings were and where we were at that moment in our experiment,” Morrow said.
Morrow found the experience to be invaluable to her future career in the biology field.
“The overall experience was impeccable,” Morrow said. “I gained mentors who support and push me to my best abilities and are willing to teach me in the process.”
The team worked as a family every day, executed missions and prepped for the following day in the spare time they had, according to Morrow.
“When Dr. Medley asked me if I was interested in staying with Tyson, I was ecstatic! Now I work as a lab technician for my dream job,” Morrow said.
Harris-Stowe State University helped prepare her for the summer opportunity at the Tyson Research Center.
“I took courses with Dr. Bashir and Dr. Bogler where I learned about plants biology and microscopy,” Morrow said. “I also took it upon myself to join the Minority Science Engineering Improvement Program (MESIP) and the Missouri Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (MoLSAMP) at Harris Stowe a year ago. Both of these organizations have worked as stepping-stones and support teams for me.”
MoLSAMP is a National Science Foundation-sponsored program designed to broaden participation in science, technology, engineering, and technology (STEM) disciplines and increase the number of students receiving baccalaureate degrees and ultimately graduate degrees in STEM disciplines.
Associate Biology Professor Dr. Anbreen Bashir said Morrow was a joy to have in her classroom.
“She was a good participant and a hard worker. Her project about sustainability in urban ecology was exceptional and sparked conversations from her peers in the classroom,” Bashir said.
According to Bashir, Morrow made a positive impact on her peers through engaging with them through her hard work.
When asked how it feels to see what Morrow has gone on to accomplish, she replied, “It’s the most rewarding experience to see your students succeed.”
Morrow went on to say MoLSAMP educated her on internships and other resources to develop her as a student who will transition into an occupation in the biology field.
She is also a part of the Biology Club at Harris-Stowe, which has played a significant part in connecting her with peers in addition to learning from them.
In 2016, Harris-Stowe received a Minority Science Engineering Improvement Program (MSEIP) grant from the Department of Education.
The goal of this three-year program is to increase minority representation in STEM majors and careers through focused mentoring, interdisciplinary studies, and unique education and leadership opportunities.
As an urban institution, HSSU chose to focus the MSEIP program on the growing field of Sustainability and Urban Ecology.