In a nondescript room in the recesses of the Willard A. Silcox Physical Education and Health Center, four students sit around a lab table dissecting small fish. Though it’s not immediately evident, they’re engaged in work that will lead to new insights regarding the dangers of plastic pollution. And those dangers don’t solely pertain to these fish or the dolphins that eat them. They also directly threaten human health.
“That’s really the underlying goal of this research,” says Leslie Hart ’03 (M.E.S.) as she directs her student team. “We’re trying to use this work to identify and raise awareness about the dangers of plastic pollution, not just because of its proven impact on wildlife, but because it can lead to complex issues for humans as well.”
Hart, who co-directs and teaches in the College’s public health program in the School of Health Sciences, has been studying dolphins since 2000 when she was an undergraduate student. After completing a master’s in marine biology at the College, she went on to earn a doctorate in epidemiology, specializing in skin disease in bottlenose dolphins.
The team includes Honors student Tita Curtain, a public health major, is also interested in how environments impact human health. That’s something she’d like to explore in the future with the background of a medical degree.
“What we’re working on goes way beyond the scope of dolphins and fish,” she says. “This is very much about us and our health. It involves seafood safety, yes, but also endocrine disruption. What we see in dolphins is likely parallel to what’s happening with us. So, this goes far beyond just what you see in this lab.”
And Eric Conger, another member of this team who is a marine biology major in the Honors College, says he’s grateful for such a meaningful experience as an undergraduate student.
“In most labs,” he explains, “you’re being trained to do something that doesn’t feel important until some time in the future. With this project, I feel like everything I’m doing, all the dissections, is actually contributing to something in the present.”
To learn more about the research the Hart Lab is doing, check out the full article by Dan Dickison in The College Today.