Anne Maglia, assistant professor of biological sciences, has likened frogs to the “canary in a coal mine” because physical abnormalities occurring in the amphibians could foreshadow similar problems for humans.
Last spring, four students contacted Maglia about getting involved with her studies of how frogs are affected by various environments. She suggested that the students work together to study how water from Missouri lead mines may affect amphibian development.
The four – Marshall McDaniel, Jessica Mueller, Morgan Schiermeier and Jenna Tune, all biological science majors – began by collecting frogs from ponds on land owned by Tune’s family outside of Rolla. This genus of frog – acris, or the common cricket frog – turned out to be ideal for the project, says Schiermeier, because “a developmental osteological series (of skeletal images) hadn’t been made for them yet.”
The group dissected the frogs to create anatomical images they could use to compare with other samples. This series of images will allow them and other members of the scientific community to more easily determine what malformations might occur in the wild, Tune adds.Next, the team raised embryonic frogs in water they collected from a lead mine site, then studied their development. They allowed the embryos to mature in the water for 96 hours, then recorded the bone and cartilage formations.
“After 96 hours the bones have started to form,” says McDaniel, “and we are able to tell by the way the tails curve and other bone structures whether any malformations are occurring.” Mueller adds that at this stage of development, the brain has not been formed, allowing for more humane research on the fetuses.
This research has given the students greater respect for how much actually goes into these studies. “A lot of people don’t understand how in-depth and complex doing this type of research is,” says Mueller.
And while the students spent plenty of time in the labs, they also gained experience presenting before large audiences. “Our work was presented at the annual meeting of the Missouri Herpetological Association last September,” Tune says. In January the four also went to Orlando to present their research at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology conference. Their presentation, “The Effects of Mine Drainage on Frog Population Viability,” allowed them to get some national recognition.
by Rick Schoenborn, a senior mathematics major.