Lilly Pieper '18 dispalys a sea urchin she studied.

A grant Lilly Pieper ’18 received from the American Microscopical Society (AMS) in 2016 that enabled her to conduct summer research on seas urchins has resulted in inclusion of her poster at the 2017 AMS Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

Pieper conducted research with Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Simon Coppard, and the AMS included a summary of her findings in Coppard’s lab in its fall newsletter.

Pieper’s research is titled “Evolution and expression of venom genes in sea urchin pedicellariae.” She explains:  "Sea urchins (Echinoidea) have evolved small stalked appendages, termed globiferous pedicellariae.

"These defensive structures are used to kill parasites and deter predators. Despite the fact that sea urchins have been a model organism for more than a century, very little is known about the use of the venoms, how these venoms function."

Student research and internships

Hamilton provides an increasing number of opportunities for  students to engage in significant career-related experience and often publishable research.

In 2016, 220 students conducted Hamilton-funded research or participated in internships.

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According to Coppard, “Lilly's research forms part of a larger project looking at the evolution of venoms in sea urchins. We have sequenced the transcriptomes (all the genes expressed) from venom glands of sea urchins that live in different environments (i.e. on the sea floor, or buried in sand or silt) and are therefore exposed to different pests, parasites and predators.”

In laymen’s terms, Coppard explained, “These species use venom in their spines and globiferous pedicellariae to kill parasites and deter larger predators such as fish and starfish. Understanding how these venoms function will provide a foundation for a proteomic study to determine their potency and potential use as clinical reagents.”

Pieper hopes to continue this research as part of her senior thesis at Hamilton.

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