Dr. Joseph Mehus and his students lead the way with MSU’s first IACUC-approved wildlife research protocol

Dr_Joseph_Mehus.jpgDr. Joseph Mehus, Assistant Professor of Biology at Mayville State University, and three of his biology students have received Mayville State’s first-ever approved Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) protocol to study fish within the central region of the Red River Valley of North Dakota. In addition, the Mehus lab has been able to obtain a North Dakota Game and Fish Scientific Collection Permit.

In the spring of 2017, Mayville State University entered into an agreement with North Dakota State University (NDSU) to work under NDSU’s IACUC board. This agreement allows faculty and students to research vertebrate animals. Since the initial approval, Dr. Mehus has also become a full member of the IACUC board that reviews animal use protocols that are filed through NDSU.

The protocol is being implemented in a Mayville State research project funded through North Dakota IDeA Network of Biomedical Research (ND INBRE). Funding for ND INBRE stems from the National Institutes of Health. The grant funding has allowed Dr. Mehus, primary investigator for the project, to hire three full time research students this summer. They are studying the bioaccumulation of cadmium, a naturally occurring heavy metal found in local ecosystems.

student_researchers-web.jpgResearch from the Mehus lab focuses on the accumulation of cadmium within the tissues of two pond snail species, as well as a terrestrial beetle species, and associated developmental mutations seen upon exposure to cadmium. These organisms tend to be the first organisms in food chains that can (and do) ingest and accumulate cadmium. As these organisms are consumed by other organisms, cadmium transfers through the food chain and can potentially wind up in humans, leading to multiple respiratory, cardiovascular, hepatic, renal, and developmental effects. The Red River Valley has naturally occurring elevated levels of cadmium, which makes this research relevant within our region.

ND INBRE has been funding the cadmium research project at Mayville State University since the spring of 2014, providing $25,000 in grant funding each summer. During that time, the Mehus lab has provided research opportunities for eight undergraduate research assistants.

“By funding the project, ND INBRE has provided a huge opportunity for research at Mayville State University,” said Dr. Mehus.

“My ultimate goal is to educate students in biology and let the undergraduate research assistants develop and carry out scientifically sound experiments that can contribute to the scientific community. This research is student-driven,” added Mehus.

Ashlee Nelson, undergraduate research assistant, is grateful for the opportunity to be involved.

crayfish-web.jpg“This opportunity has been a real eye-opener into the world of research and field work,” she said. “As a biology student, the experience has been indispensable to my future studies and career. We are given the opportunity to design and conduct research in the lab and in the field beyond what is offered in the classroom. We are put into real life situations that require the use of applied knowledge from our coursework as well as problem-solving skills that may not otherwise be implemented. Through my involvement in this research, I have earned a new respect for the ways in which science impacts everyday life by integrating concepts from the classroom with the world around me.”

Allison Johnson, director of Mayville State’s grants office said, “MSU’s shared services agreement for research with NDSU and funding from ND INBRE has enhanced opportunities for students. Students who are involved in research at the undergraduate level have the opportunity to understand the nuances of research designs and better conceptualize their course material. To have a mentee-mentor relationship with a faculty member and opportunities to discover their passion for research encourages students to continue their education to the next level when they graduate from Mayville State.”

In addition to working with local snail, crayfish, and fish species, the Mehus lab will also start investigating local mosquito species and blood feeding patterns. Dr. Mehus hopes to collect enough data to provide a student-led public presentation of mosquito species present, control methods, and what types of animals these mosquitoes prefer to feed upon.

“The collaboration between Mayville State University and NDSU provides excellent research opportunities for our students and faculty,” said Dr. Keith Stenehjem, MSU Vice President for Academic Affairs. “The research conducted provides students with experience which will result in broader employment opportunities upon graduation or advanced study at the graduate level.”

Two other faculty members with the Mayville State Division of Science and Mathematics have also obtained grants through ND INBRE. These research opportunities provide students in PUIs (Primarily Undergraduate Institutions) with experience that is not typical in small universities.  Most research opportunities are provided to students at larger universities like the University of North Dakota and NDSU.

Photo captions:  

Top: Dr. Joseph Mehus, Assistant Professor of Biology at Mayville State University.

Second: Mayville State students working on Dr. Mehus’s INBRE-funded project this summer are (l-r) Michael Slaba, Canby, Minn.; Kyle O’Brien, Mayville, N.D.; and Ashlee Nelson, Lindstrom, Minn.

Bottom: Crayfish are often scavengers, predators, and prey in many food chains and thus provide important information gathered in the research project of Dr. Joseph Mehus and his Mayville State University undergraduate research assistants.