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Nick Teets '07: His Miami experience and Antarctic connection

01/18/2013

Written by Susan Meikle. Read more about Nick Teets and Antarctica research.

Nick Teets collecting the Antarctic wingless midge, Belgica antarctica, near Palmer Station on the Antarctic Penninsula
Nick Teets collecting the Antarctic wingless midge, Belgica antarctica, near Palmer Station on the Antarctic Penninsula
Miami University scientists have long had a research presence in the Antarctic. Nick Teets (Miami ’07) has been a part of that research since he was a sophomore at Miami working with faculty mentor Rick Lee, Distinguished Professor of Zoology. Teets recently received his doctorate in entomology at Ohio State University, working with advisor David Denlinger, OSU Distinguished Professor of Entomology.

Lee and Denlinger have collaborated and led research expeditions to the Antarctic since 2004. Teets joined them and Yuta Kawarasaki, Miami doctoral student in zoology, on the 2009-2010 and the 2010-2011 expeditions.

Teets is a lead author, along with Denlinger, Lee, Kawarasaki, Justin Peyton, OSU doctoral student, and an international team of researchers on a recent study of the Antarctic insect Belgica antarctica and the gene expression changes that enable it to be extremely tolerant of dehydration.

Their study is part of a first-ever genome sequencing of an Antarctic animal.

Their paper was published in the Dec. 11, 2012 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The study is part of a series of collaborations between Teets, Lee, Denlinger, Kawarasaki and others that have resulted in several other publications.

Beginning the collaboration - How Teets Became Involved in Undergraduate Research at Miami

“In my freshman-year biology class, the professor advertised that Dr. Sheldon Guttman was looking for a couple students to help out in his lab. I had planned on going to grad school since I started at Miami, and I figured this was a good opportunity to get my feet wet. Dr. Guttman retired at the end of the year, so I needed to find somewhere else to work.

Yuta Karawasaki (left) and David Denlinger  (right) collecting Belgica antarctica
Yuta Karawasaki (left) and David Denlinger (right) collecting Belgica antarctica
“I approached Lee in the spring of 2005 about working in his lab. I was expecting him to tell me exactly what he wanted me to work on, but instead he handed me a stack of papers and grant proposals and told me to come back in the fall with a project in mind.

In my sophomore ecology class, I had read a paper from the Lee lab about frogs. When I approached Rick, I really wanted to work with frogs and turtles, but he convinced me that insects were the way to go.

He must have known something I didn't, because I’ll likely be working with insects for the rest of my career.”

Miami-Funded Undergraduate Research Opportunities: DUOS, Miami Hughes Internship

Teets worked in Lee’s lab for two full school years and two summers. His
research at Miami was supported by funding from a Miami Hughes Internship in the Biological Sciences in summer 2006. The Miami-Hughes internship provides a $3,000 stipend and a $750 research expense account for independent research with a faculty mentor, plus 12 hours of academic credit with tuition waived. Up to 15 students are selected each summer.

He also received a DUOS (Doctoral Undergraduate Opportunities for Scholarship) award in 2007 with then-doctoral student Mike Elnitsky. The DUOS program, sponsored by the office for the advancement of research and scholarship, provides funding up to $1,000 for undergraduate research projects in partnership with graduate students. Up to 11 projects are funded each year.

Teets, a zoology major, was also the recipient of a President’s Distinguished Service Award in 2007 for his service in Miami’s supplemental instruction program.

From Undergraduate Research at Miami to Doctoral Research at OSU: Keeping the Antarctic Connection

“Being at a research-intensive, graduate student-focused institution like Ohio State has allowed me to better-appreciate the wealth of undergraduate research opportunities available at Miami," Teets said.

Rick Lee examines a piece of dry Prasiola crispa, a green algae underneath which Belgica antarctica like to live, on Torgersen Island, Antarctica (photo by Peter Rejcek, Antarctic Sun).
Rick Lee examines a piece of dry Prasiola crispa, a green algae underneath which Belgica antarctica like to live, on Torgersen Island, Antarctica (photo by Peter Rejcek, Antarctic Sun).
“In Lee’s lab, I was encouraged to think independently and take ownership of my project, so that I felt well-prepared to manage my own project in grad school.”

"Nick came to me extremely well trained and fully prepared to undertake an impressive thesis project," explained Denlinger, Teet's graduate adviser.

"Not only was he well prepared to delve into science, but he was also a gifted writer. Good science and good writing skills do not always go hand-in-hand, but Nick was obviously well and broadly trained."

As for our research on Belgica, explained Teets, this project "was intended to provide clues into how Belgica survives the extreme conditions of Antarctica. Whereas insects are the dominant terrestrial animal on the planet, this midge is the only true insect native to Antarctica.

Prior to beginning this work, we only had sequences available for approximately 125 genes in this species.

Now, with the combined efforts of this study and the ongoing genome project, we have sequences for over 13,000 genes, and have quantified expression levels of all these genes in response to environmental extremes,” Teets said.

Their study is part of a first-ever genome sequencing of an Antarctic animal.

Read more about the study and other Miami researchers in Antarctica.

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