lab, student, research

Undergraduates Conducting Research

Emma Forster

Emma Forster '24

Fragomeni Lab

Emma Forster, an Animal Science senior, started research with Dr. Breno Fragomeni in the fall of her sophomore year looking to gain more experience in the fields of Genetics and Reproduction. Her project focuses on the impact of the vaginal microbiome on reproductive success in beef cattle. This involves the analysis of microbiome data collected from three herds of beef cattle in Miles City, MT. Under Dr. Fragomeni’s advisement, Emma has worked to determine differences in the diversity of bacteria between the cattle based on pregnancy status, breed, and parity. In order to achieve this, she has been trained on the computer program R Studio and works with code to understand the complexities of the data.

During her time working with Dr. Fragomeni, Emma has been able to find significance in the subject, and is currently working on finalizing results to be able to submit her research to the Translational Journal of Animal Science for review this fall. This paper will include results collected during her investigation into the topic and an outline of considerations for future experiments. In spring of 2023, she presented her research at the UConn Frontiers in Undergraduate Research Exhibition.

Emma has applied to veterinary schools for next fall and is on track to graduate in December of 2023. Additionally, she has just accepted a position at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, KY, where she will work as a nursing intern in the spring of 2024 with hopes to gain more experience in the equine medical field and the reproductive specialty. She is grateful for the opportunity to work on this project with Dr. Fragomeni and their collaborators, and intends to include research alongside her future career.

Ellen Neale

Ellen Neale '24

Nadeau Lab

Ellen Neale, an Animal Science senior in the Honors Program, is working with Dr. Jenifer Nadeau to conduct research on the effect of therapy dog use on the involved therapy dogs themselves. The overall value and benefit provided by therapy dogs is widely understood and appreciated, but there is some growing concern in the field that serving as therapy dogs places unnecessary stress on the dogs. Background analysis revealed that the research on this subject is quite limited and has oftentimes led to varying results and conclusions. They hypothesize that therapy dogs are not exposed to unnecessary stress through being involved in therapy, and look forward to providing additional data and analysis to the research in this area.

To conduct the research, the number of stress behaviors visibly displayed by therapy dogs both in a therapy session and in a control period at home will be observed. At the therapy session, investigators will record the number and type of stress behaviors shown by the therapy dogs during the session. The data for the control period will be collected through a video from home that will be recorded by the therapy dog owners which will then be viewed and interpreted by Ellen and Dr. Nadeau. The in-session results will then be compared to the numbers and results from the control period. Through analysis of any differences, Ellen and Dr. Nadeau will then be able to develop conclusions as to whether or not the collected data shows that therapy dogs are exposed to unnecessary stress from therapy work. Throughout this process, Ellen will continue to learn about animal behavior and interaction, specifically about detection of stress behaviors, and will be exposed to the processes of data interpretation, analysis, and scientific writing after the completion of the study.

In the summer months, Ellen interned for the Saco River Wildlife Center. The goal of the organization is to provide rehabilitative care to ill, injured, or orphaned wildlife and to promote compassion and awareness through educational resources and programs. Following her research at UConn and her work at the Saco River Wildlife Center, Ellen hopes to apply her knowledge and skills of animal behavior in a companion animal and/or wildlife setting to promote the wellness of animals. Ellen is incredibly grateful for all of the experiences she has been afforded through the Animal Science program at UConn and for the relationships that she has forged with the faculty members and staff. She is also particularly grateful for the leadership and guidance of Dr. Nadeau throughout this project.

Alexa Fayad-Costa

Alexa Fayad-Costa '24

Tian Lab

Alexa Fayad-Costa, an Animal Science senior, joined Dr. Cindy Tian’s Embryology lab in the fall of 2022. Dr. Tian’s lab is focused on projects involving mouse and bovine sperm as well as fertilization and embryo development. Throughout her time in the lab, Alexa has been assisting the graduate students performing experiments and helping to collect data for their projects.

During the 2022-2023 school year under the guidance of graduate student Ray Zhao, Alexa learned several different techniques frequently used in Dr. Tian’s lab. She also learned how to use computerized and manual counting methods of bovine sperm to compare counting efficiencies. She had learned how to use polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and gel electrophoresis to detect and analyze DNA fragments in bovine sperm. She has practiced handling embryos and transferring them from one medium to another using a specialized pipette.

This fall semester she is continuing to use PCR and gel electrophoresis to determine the results of gene editing in embryonic stem cells. Alexa has also begun assisting the graduate students in a different approach to karyotyping of embryos and embryonic stem cells. Throughout this semester, she has been presenting her lab results in weekly lab meetings and discussing the results with Dr. Tian and the graduate students working in her lab.

Alexa is very passionate about the work that she does and is grateful to have the opportunity to work with graduate students and gain a lot of knowledge learning from them. She knows that these experiences will help prepare her for her future as she wants to apply to graduate programs in the future.

Ariel Kuhl

Ariel Kuhl '24

Zinn Lab

Ariel Kuhl, an Animal Science senior on the Pre-Vet track, joined Dr. Zinn’s lab in spring 2021. She began working on a group project between Drs. Reed, Govoni and Zinn ’s lab focused on the effects of poor maternal nutrition during gestation in ewes. She assisted in feeding and handling sheep, collecting blood samples via jugular venipuncture, LPS challenges, glucose tolerance tests, muscle biopsies, and necropsies. She has also been involved with Dr. Reed’s joint project regarding the nutritive effects on the growth performance of beef x dairy crossbreeds. She assisted with feedings, ultrasounds, muscle biopsies, and blood collection.

She started working on her own project last spring, investigating the effects of poor maternal nutrition on their offspring’s reproductive hormones, which demonstrates reproductive efficacy. With the help of Dr. Nicole Tillquist, she is currently conducting enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs), which allows her to determine the concentrations of follicle stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, and progesterone in blood samples of ewes around the time they became pregnant. She plans to continue to work on this project for the rest of the year and analyze the data to complete her honors thesis.

She is grateful for the all the support of the PIs and graduate students for allowing her to gain hands-on experience in various environments. She plans on applying to veterinary school next year to hopefully work with large and/or small animals. She believes that the skills she acquired both in the lab and the barns will be extremely useful for vet school and beyond.