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Life sciences: Students in full swing doing research projects

During the next six months, 67 students will work on research projects with summer scholarships from UiO:Life Science. At the Natural History Museum, bachelor’s degree student Marius F. Maurstad is already in full swing with his project. He is studying beetles at the molecular level to understand how climate change affects prevalence and evolution, and in a worst-case scenario, extinction of species – a dream job, in his opinion.

Marius F. Maurstad recently completed the first year of study for his bachelor's degree at the Department for Biosciences in the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at the University of Oslo. He is one of the students who will acquire professionally relevant research experience through a scholarship from UiO:Life Science that is the equivalent of six weeks of full-time work.

Student summer project Natural History Museum

Puts knowledge from current studies into practical use and gains useful lab experience

Maurstad feels this work has already given him experience that has put him far ahead of the study programme’s curriculum.

– I’m able to see how the knowledge I've gained through study can be put to practical use. In addition, I learn a great deal about project planning and how to work alone in the lab using the new methods I have acquired through good training.

Maurstad is in the first class of the Department of Bioscience that studies programming already in their first year. This has also proven to be useful for the project.

– The programming knowledge I've learned during the first year has already spared me hours of manual work cutting and pasting into spreadsheets.

Although he is in an early stage of the study programme, he is already focused on working with insects and species diversity as a future career.

– As a child on a mountain farm in Gudbrandsdalen, I was outdoors picking up rocks and looking for insect life, he explains.

After working a couple of years after high school, he chose to let his interests influence his choice of studies rather than thoughts about where it might be easiest to get a job. The plan is to complete a master’s programme in the field. Since Maurstad has such a keen interest in the subject, it was an easy choice to make when one of the scholars, Vladimir Gusarov, suggested the project topic through the UiO:Life Science scholarship scheme.

Adviser: – They can find out whether they like the work or not

Gusarov, too, is pleased to recruit students with summer scholarships. He emphasizes that he, as academic adviser, gets something in return on several levels.

– Marius will achieve results that we can use directly in our research. In general, I think it's a good idea to involve students whenever I can. Many students say it's hard to choose between lots of interesting projects, and they don't get many opportunities to test themselves, Gusarov says.

– By being connected already as students, they can participate in fieldwork and get an idea of what it means to work with insects, what research questions we can ask and the usefulness of research. In addition, they can find out whether they like it or not , which is advantageous both for themselves and for the adviser.

About the project: A small piece in a big and important puzzle

Marius F. Maurstad is studying holarctic beetles, meaning beetles living in the northern hemisphere.

He will be studying the beetles’ appearance through so-called morphological investigations. In addition, he will study the beetles’ genetic material – the hereditary DNA codes – to see if he finds potential subgroups of the beetles that have been overlooked in prior morphological investigations. He will examine both an area of the DNA in the cell nucleus and an area of the DNA in the cell's power-station mitochondria since they are well preserved within the species. If findings are revealed at the DNA level, one can go back and investigate the beetles morphologically again to see if there are differences that have been overlooked earlier.

The beetle family he is examining – rove beetles (Staphylinidae) – comprise several thousand species, and 200 of these have a holarctic distribution. During the project, he will be able to look at a small percentage of these. He has learned to isolate DNA and copy the parts of the genetic material they are interested in, before the samples are sent to external laboratories that will sequence the genetic material; that is, they identify the structure of the DNA, which they then analyse further.

Then he will compare the data he gets here with data from databases. He will investigate whether the insects they have classified as holarctic based on morphological surveys are actually related species that can be differentiated at the DNA level. Finally, the data will be part of a larger project involving the creation of a model that may indicate how past cold and warm periods have affected the distribution of the species – the prevalence and evolution of beetles – knowledge that can be used to ascertain what will happen if we experience a new hot or cold period. Where will the beetles go if this occurs? At worst, would they become extinct and how quickly would this happen?

About summer stipends from UO:Life Science

One of the tasks of UiO:Life Science is to recruit, educate and develop talented students. The summer project initiative is a beginning in this work. The UiO:Life Science board has decided that a total of 67 students will be offered a project. Students can choose whether to work part-time or fulltime and whether to carry out the project during late spring, during the summer break or in the autumn.

This autumn, there will be a closing event at which students will present their work.

By Norunn K. Torheim
Published June 19, 2018 4:25 PM - Last modified Sep. 19, 2018 4:25 PM