Research by Trinity College Professor of Biology Kent Dunlap and two of his former students was published recently in one of the world’s oldest scientific journals, the London-based Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The paper—which Dunlap co-authored with Josh Corbo ’19 and Margarita Vergara ’19, along with collaborators from the University of Texas at Arlington—reports that killifish in Trinidad that live with predators in their environment grow more brain cells than those that face no predators. The study also was highlighted recently by the science and technology magazine New Scientist.
The researchers examined the brains of fish that are separated into distinct populations by waterfalls along streams. “The killifish living downstream live among predatory fish, while the fish upstream do not,” said Corbo, who double majored in biology and philosophy at Trinity and now is a Cancer Research Training Award (CRTA) Fellow at the National Cancer Institute. He noted that the implication of their research reaches much farther than the Northern Mountain Range of Trinidad. “The topic of how the environment we live in affects our health concerns many disciplines, from public health to sociology,” Corbo said. “Our research draws more attention to our understanding of the relationship we as organisms have with our environment.”
Vergara, who completed a major in biology and a minor in Italian at Trinity and now is earning a master’s in clinical embryology at the University of Oxford, said that she and Corbo sectioned brain tissues and conducted a procedure called immunohistochemistry to quantify the formation of new brain cells. “Professor Dunlap also allowed us to revise and provide constructive feedback for the manuscript that was submitted for publication,” Vergara said. Corbo added, “It was a great experience to see a paper from start to finish as an undergraduate, as such an experience is usually gained while in graduate school.”
To read the full paper co-authored by Dunlap and the Trinity alumni, please visit https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1485.