OGDEN, Utah – Weber State University senior Eric Gabrielsen will present his research on brine flies of the Great Salt Lake to lawmakers in Washington, D.C. later this month.
Gabrielsen is one of only 60 students nationwide invited to present their work at the annual Posters on the Hill event, April 19, sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research. The event is held to thank lawmakers for their support of federally funded scientific research and to demonstrate the results of that research at colleges and universities across the country.
Last summer, Gabrielsen was one of nine students who studied the biology of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem as part of a research program funded by the National Science Foundation. Gabrielsen's presentation will illustrate his DNA analysis of the lake's brine fly populations, which may have revealed a third species of fly.
Initially, Gabrielsen set out to study what effect varying salinity rates had on the brine flies. While conducting DNA tests on samples he collected, Gabrielsen stumbled on a third DNA pattern, which suggests the existence of a third species of brine fly.
Jonathan Clark, an associate zoology professor at WSU, is Gabrielsen's faculty mentor on the project. He acknowledges that brine flies are viewed by most as a nuisance, but they are essential to maintaining the health of the lake.
"Without the brine fly, the lake would become stagnant," he said. "The flies feed on the algae, keeping them in check, and remove the debris of the brine shrimp. Otherwise, the lake would be covered in scum." Clark added that the flies serve as a primary food source for the lake's bird populations.
Despite the insects' important role, Gabrielsen and Clark say few studies have been done on the flies. Additional research, including analyzing more samples, still needs to be done before the duo will know if they've uncovered a third species of brine fly.
Gabrielsen, who plans to study dentistry at Ohio State University this fall after earning his microbiology degree from WSU, hopes to eventually publish an article about his findings. Although he doesn't plan on a career working with brine flies, Gabrielsen says he hopes to draw on this experience when conducting future research in the field of dentistry.
"This project isn't so much about the brine flies," Gabrielsen said. "I've developed a tremendous appreciation for the scientific process and how research is carried out. The money that funds research really helps us better understand the world around us."
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