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UMaine Today Magazine

Student Focus

Neuroscience project targets brain chemistry

Kristy Townsend and Alan Rosenwasser
Senior Kristy Townsend and UMaine Professor of Psychology
Alan Rosenwasser

Photo by Monty Rand

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For her senior honors thesis, University of Maine undergraduate Kristy Townsend of Orono is working with a team of UMaine psychologists and biochemists to determine if alcohol affects brain chemicals associated with circadian rhythms, the body's day-to-day pattern of activity.

Townsend is using two types of antibodies to monitor levels of serotonin, an essential mood-regulating neurochemical, in a region of the rat brain that controls basic activities such as sleep, eating and sex drive. The basic question is whether rats chronically treated with alcohol show chemical changes in that brain region.

Townsend's project is an extension of ongoing behavioral neuroscience research directed by Alan Rosenwasser, professor of psychology. As a biopsychologist, Rosenwasser focuses on the relationship between the nervous system, mood and behavior.

"I'm attracted to neuroscience because there are so many different interesting areas," says Townsend, who is majoring in biochemistry. "In the future, I'd like to study neurotoxicology, how environmental pollutants affect the brain, and possibly (study) Alzheimer's."

Research on circadian rhythms can lead to a better understanding of problems associated with late-night shift work, workplace accidents and long-distance travel across time zones.

In addition to her coursework, Townsend brings experience from an internship at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory this past summer. She worked with scientist David Towle to conduct research on a hormone thought to control chemical concentrations in the cells of the shore crab. Next winter, she will give a poster presentation on the results of that research at the conference of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology in Anaheim, Calif.

Studying marine resource management on Capitol Hill

Deirdre Gilbert
Graduate student Deirdre Gilbert

Photo by Monty Rand

Deirdre Gilbert is spending a year at one of the best places to learn marine resource management Capitol Hill.

A University of Maine master's degree student in marine policy, Gilbert is in Washington on a prestigious Dean John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, awarded by the National Sea Grant College Program.

Hundreds of graduate students from throughout the country competed for the 10 positions available in the U.S. Congress and 20 in the Executive Branch. Gilbert is working in Maine Congressman Tom Allen's office this year.

Allen is the Democratic co-chair of the House Oceans Caucus, a bipartisan effort to increase the House of Representatives' awareness of important issues in ocean policy and to advance ocean legislation. During the 106th Congress, the caucus focused on issues of security, governance, biology and pollution.

As a fellow in Tom Allen's office, Gilbert assists with caucus activities in the 107th Congress.

Gilbert received an undergraduate degree in biology and environmental studies from Bowdoin College in 1995. As an undergraduate, she also studied marine biology and rainforest ecology in Australia. In recent years, she conducted research for a U.S. Economic Development Administration project on the collapse of the New England groundfish industry, and assisted in the shoreline ecology program developed at Bowdoin College to mitigate the effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

For her master's thesis research at UMaine, Gilbert has developed a model to assess the impact of marine sanctuaries and other closed fishing areas on groundfish populations and the fisheries they support. In Washington, she has had the opportunity to engage in the national debate about marine protected areas.

"During my graduate work, I developed a firm foundation in some of the marine policy challenges relevant to Maine," Gilbert says. "I also thought that Maine had some unique and exciting approaches to marine resource management, such as co-management in the lobster industry, and increasing emphasis on collaborative research between fishermen and scientists. (In Washington) I've been able to share some of Maine's experience with these efforts with staff from other parts of the country."


UMaine Today Magazine
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