SPUR 2022: POLLEN METAGENOMICS

Mentor Name:
Joshua Steffen

Mentor Position:
Assistant Professor (Lecturer)

Department:
School of Biological Sciences

College:
Science

Email:
joshua.steffen@utah.edu


Project Description:

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2022 begins on May 25 and ends on August 4. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. If you wish to apply to this project, you must apply using the SPUR 2022 application.**

Utah is home to an astonishing diversity of native bee species. Recent estimates suggest that over 900 bee species call Utah home including more than 100 at Red Butte Garden alone. Compared with honey bees, relatively little is known about the vast majority of these native bee species. To support native bees, and the plant species they pollinate, we need to gain a better understanding of their basic biology.

Most research describing the foraging behavior of bee species uses approaches that are quite labor intensive or require specialized expertise. We are developing and testing molecular approaches that allow us to more efficiently categorize the pollen, microbes, and fungi collected and distributed by pollinators. Our research group will be employing a molecular approach called DNA metabarcoding to assay foraging behavior. DNA metabarcoding has the potential to reveal all the species in an environmental sample based upon the DNA sequences that are present in that sample. Over the course of the next year undergraduates working with on this project will test molecular protocols, collect native pollinators in the field, and use bioinformatic tools to provide accurate descriptions of the foraging behavior native pollinators. By gaining a nuanced understanding of foraging behavior we will be able to better inform practices used to support the health and diversity of plants and pollinators in native ecosystems.



Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position


Student Role:

Professor Steffen mentors a unique research group, exclusively composed of undergraduate researchers. As such, students choosing to work on this project would be working directly with professor Steffen and a small cohort of peers. Students will share general lab responsibilities and based on their interest, select specific components of the larger lab project as focus of their own. In this group students learn fundamentals of molecular biology research, are introduced to the basics of informatics and data analysis, and also receive an introduction to working in the field. A typical day may include reviewing literature as a group, culturing microbes, collecting environmental samples, carrying out molecular assays in lab, and discussing the challenges of research with peers. Undergraduate researchers are expected to participate in two weekly group meetings and an individual meeting each week with professor Steffen. Students will be expected to work 35-40 hours per week and take advantage of all SPUR-required activities.


Student Benefits:

Students will be introduced to a wide breadth of research techniques. While this project is focused on specific set of biological systems (assaying foraging behaviors of pollinators) the approaches and tools we use in lab can be applied to almost any research setting associated with Biology. After completion of this summer research experience students should become comfortable reading primary literature, become familiar with common computational tools use in biological sciences, be able to evaluate the experimental outcomes and propose next steps, and practice sharing scientific findings in multiple formats. Professor Steffen hopes that students who work with his group are prepared to engage more deeply in research activities and become more aware of how to align their scientific interests with academic activities and professional aspirations.


Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 25, 2022, and ends August 4, 2022


Minimum Requirements:

Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria: 1) be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2022 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2022 and not graduating before December 2022; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student. 2) eligible to work in the United States: If you are a University of Utah Dreamer (with or without DACA), you are eligible to participate. U Dreamers with DACA will be hired and paid through U payroll. U Dreamers without DACA who graduated from a Utah high school will be compensated via a different mechanism. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate and will be hired and paid though U payroll. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but we do not currently have a mechanism that allows us to compensate you. For more information, please contact Megan Shannahan at megan.shannahan@utah.edu or 801-581-2478. If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at the University of Utah, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). 3) able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 25-August 4, 2022). 4) at least 18 years old by May 23, 2022 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing).