INBRE Supports Teaching Faculty Research

nancy_prentiss_umfNancy Prentiss, a faculty member in the Division of Natural Sciences at the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF), was awarded Maine INBRE funding this past year to help support her research and student training efforts in the state.

The award has allowed Prentiss to expand her research programs while maintaining her intensive teaching schedule at the University. Her research, titled Application of Comparative Functional Genomics to Marine Polychaetes,was funded forone year andhas focused on applying the methods of DNA barcoding to marine polychaetes to facilitate species identification. The research program aims to develop a specific protocol for conducting DNA barcoding for use in current taxonomic research with collaborations with other researchers. The project also focuses on establishing an on-site research program at UMF that involves undergraduate science students.

The short-term goal of the proposed research is to apply the methods of DNA barcoding to marine polychaetes to facilitate species identification. These molecular tools for species identification will be used to gain a better understanding polychaete community structure and population dynamics in both temperate and tropical waters. The supporting objectives include developing a DNA barcoding protocol that works with the instrumentation available at UMF. This protocol will then be used to barcode marine polychaetes collected from St. John’s VI and from the Gulf of Maine. Long-term goals include developing the capabilities to conduct biomolecular studies on specific polychaete organs.

Dr. Prentiss’ collaborations on this project include Greek polychaete researcher Dr. Christos Arvanitidis and Australian Charlotte Watson, PhD, as well as UMF’s Drs. Jean Doty and Chris Brinegar and MDIBL’s Sandra Reiger, PhD.

Once the methods have been worked out, students will be trained in the techniques and will help produce the barcodes for the collected specimens. Dr. Prentiss engages UMF students beyond the classroom on a regular basis and has mentored dozens of students of various biology disciplines throughout the past two decades of her teaching experience. She has worked internationally in her research efforts, developing and teaching a polychaete workshop for graduate and undergraduate students at the University of the Virgin Islands in 2011.

This project is unique for Maine INBRE, as it provides support for a teaching-intensive faculty member, rather than a junior investigator running a laboratory as a PI. It has provided an unusual opportunity for Dr. Prentiss and UMF to impact the science students by providing enhanced hands-on research opportunities, and also provides an avenue for students and Dr. Prentiss to acquire the biotechnology expertise needed to successfully secure competitive grant funding in the future. Maine INBRE hopes to expand these types of opportunities to other Maine teaching faculty members and their students moving forward.