Monday, November 10, 2008

Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse: Wildlife Zoologist

Today's post is about a woman scientist doing some cool research.

Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse, a Research Fellow at the Institute of Zoology at the Zoological Society of London, studies resistance to disease in wildlife, including wild boars and sea lions. However, some of her research subjects are much larger: the blue whales, gray whales, and sperm whales that migrate along the Gulf of California. She's trying to understand what diseases wild populations of these whales carry, but taking blood samples - the usual method of analysis - is impossible. Instead she and her research team have devised a novel method of sample collection (picture):

Her new technique involves using a 3.5-foot (about a meter) remote-controlled helicopter with Petri dishes attached to the craft's bottom. When the equipment is ready, Acevedo-Whitehouse and her colleagues work aboard a small boat, scanning the ocean for the whales' blows, which appear as a sprinkler mist shooting from the ocean surface. The mist contains the whale's exhalation of air, water vapor and sometimes mucus. Once the whale is spotted, an operator directs the helicopter directly above and through the mist, which sprays up onto the Petri dishes.
Any microorganisms collected on the Petri dishes are identified by DNA sequence analysis.

I wonder if the members of her research team squabble over who gets to run the mucus-collecting helicopter, which sounds like a lot of fun.

Acevedo-Whitehouse, who is originally from Mexico, chose to pursue her PhD in Europe because there were better opportunities ther for both her and her husband, who is also a scientist. A crude translation into English of what she said in an interview earlier this year:
I decided to come and study in Europe because wanted a place where my husband and I were able to conduct the studies that we are interested. In Mexico there was no chance, not for his area, which is neuroscience, or mine that is the study of diseases with molecular techniques. We're looking at a site where the two could do what we wanted, and found Cambridge.
After earning her doctorate at Cambridge, she joined the Institute of Zoology in London.

Acevedo-Whitehouse's ties to Mexico have been useful in her research. Her whale disease study is in collaboration with colleagues in Mexico, and she currently serves as the European delegate for the Mexican Society of Marine Mastozoology (SOMEMMA).

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Marimoy said...

Awesome! A new role model for women AND Latinas everywhere. I really love this site.

Anonymous said...

I love this site too. So refreshing to read about women who are in charge of interesting, important things!

And having some fun besides!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all of the information. I am doing a science project. And I chose Dr. Karina. This site helped me alot while finding facts.