Hi everyone! My name is Hailey Kindt and I am a rising senior Neuroscience and Philosophy major. This summer, I am working at the University of Scranton after receiving a President’s Fellowship for Summer Research.
With the help of my mentor Dr. Seid, I am working on my Honors Program research project, which entails exploring the “immune system” of ants. I put immune system in quotes for a reason. Ants do not actually have an official immune system, as they do not have white blood cells like we do to fight off pathogens. Yet, ants have developed interesting adaptations to fight diseases. My research is looking at the influence of two factors that might mediate ant immunity—endosymbiosis and enzymes.
My project essentially combines two existing studies. One study, which was actually done by Dr. Seid’s past student, showed that when ants are deprived of their naturally occurring endosymbiont, they can survive longer after given a fungus as a challenge to their immune system. This was a surprising result because endosymbionts generally provide for the well-being of the ant. It helps them grow, melanize, and maintain nutrients. I was curious why the endosymbiont actually stunted ants’ “immune systems.” Another very different study I read demonstrated the upregulation of an enzyme called phenoloxidase in ants who frequently come into contact with pathogens, showing that it might be important for immunity. In my project, I am looking to measure the concentration of this enzyme in ants with and without their endosymbiont to perhaps explain a mechanism by which endosymbionts hinder immunity, as well as help elucidate the role of phenoloxidase in ants.
This research involves interesting and challenging laboratory techniques, such as treating ants with antibiotics (to deplete them of their endosymbiont), quantifying melanin using imaging software, hemolymph removal, and enzyme assays. Without the help of Dr. Seid and the University in general, I would not be able to have this amazing opportunity and top-notch resources. Research has also taught me dedication, flexibility, and invaluable problem solving skills, which I will carry with me through all areas of life.