January 14, 2021

Nicholls to Partner with Michigan State to Research the Spotted Gar

Nicholls to Partner with Michigan State to Research the Spotted Gar

A grant offered by the National Science Foundation has recently awarded two professors from Nicholls State University $1.6 million to partner with Michigan State to study the spotted gar fish in an effort to better understand the evolution of vertebrates, a Nicholls press release indicates.

This grant, offered by the NSF has been awarded to a trio of researchers, inducing Nicholls’ own Dr. Allyse Ferrara, distinguished service professor and co-principal investigator of the Bayousphere Research Lab as well as Dr. Solomon David, assistant professor of biological sciences and principal investigator of the Gar Lab, who is also expected to take the lead on the garfish spawning efforts. The team will produce spotted gar embryos for genomics research and help increase the availability of gar embryos for use by the greater scientific community at large.

The Enabling Discovery through Genomics grant offered by the NSF is set to fund advancements in the captive spawning (or observed birth) of the spotted gar, a species with ancient ties dating back 150 millions years. Many believe that garfish have the potential to play a highly significant role in the understanding of vertebrate evolution due to the genome of the garfish being so similar to that of land vertebrates, such as humans. Garfish are colloquially known to be a possible “Rosetta Stone” in the eventual connecting and translating of genetic information from more commonly used fish for various applications in the biomedical research community.

The Nicholls’ professors chosen to study the spotted gar will be working in collaboration with a third researcher, Dr. Ingo Braasch, Michigan State University assistant professor of integrative biology and principal investigator at the Braash Fish Evo-Devo Geno lab.  He will conduct the genomic research using CRISPR techniques.

Nicholls’ Dr. Ferrara, who is also the Ledet Foundation Endowed Professor of Environmental Biology, remarked, “we have worked on the ecology and production of spotted gar and other gar species for many years and with colleagues from multiple institutions including the University of Oregon and Michigan State. Together, we have discovered that gar are genetically more similar to us – humans – than are other fishes that are more commonly used as biomedical models. We are lucky to have the opportunity to continue working with these ecologically important and unique native fishes.”

Out of the various goals set forth by the researchers, one project aim is to refine garfish husbandry as well as spawning techniques and to develop a variety of models to test gar gene functions while making the spotted gar embryos and research outcomes available to vertebrate biologists worldwide. For, by making the findings widely usable and available, the team hopes to greatly improve biomedical understanding of vertebrates.

In addition to these project aims, the project is set to train both undergraduates and graduates from Nicholls State University and Michigan State University to take the lead as the next generation of vertebrate evolutionary biologists and fish conversationalists and to raise awareness about the ecological and biological significance of the spotted gar, thus placing a much-needed investment in our collective, scientific future.

Nicholls’ Dr. Solomon David spoke of the project by saying, “we are using an abundant natural resource, right out of our local bayous, for cutting edge science, while also providing our students with valuable opportunities to work onNSF-funded research,” said Dr. David. “ Through continued conservation and biological research at Nicholls and evolutionary developmental studies at Michigan State, we can highlight the value of a fish that has long had an undeserved negative reputation.”

The project is set to begin in 2021 and the implications of the efforts of the research trio cannot be understated in the scope of vertebrate advancement and understanding worldwide.

For more education related information, click here.

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