RIC Biology Students Win Prestigious NESP-BioNES Awards

RIC student Sara Moore

RIC student Sara Moore


RIC biology students won four out of 10 competitive awards for scientific research at the seventh annual New England Science Public-Biology New England South (NESP-BioNES) regional meeting, held earlier this month at Roger Williams University. In addition to the participants from RIC, the gathering of more than 300 competitors included students from Brown University, Bryant University, Providence College, Roger Williams University, Salve Regina University, the Sea Education Association and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Research faculty and educators from throughout Southern New England also attended the event, designed to promote scientific research and to build networking among research universities and colleges.

The four award-winning RIC students — juniors Sarah Bilida and Megan Warburton and seniors Sara Moore and Leah Smith — won for poster presentations that explained the scientific approach, relevance and potential applications for their undergraduate research. 

“It’s thrilling to see our students reach such great heights, and it is because of the fantastic mentorship of our faculty,” said Ronald Pitt, RIC vice president for academic affairs.

Student Sarah Bilida worked with Assistant Professor Deborah Britt on a project that studied DNA repair processes. Titled “Determining how Bcp1 inactivation influences nonhomologous end-joining in S. cerevisiae,” the project explored how yeast plays a role in reconnecting broken DNA ends. Britt explained, "Because DNA repair is such an important process in all cells, and mutation and DNA damage contribute to the development of cancer, what we learn in yeast may contribute to our understanding of tumor development in humans." 

Student Leah Smith's project, “Determination of the microbial diets of hydrothermal vent gastropods,” studied the diet of a type of flattened snail living near warm water vents on the ocean floor. Her mentor, Assistant Professor Breea Govenar, explained that the research may help determine what microbes these snails are consuming and how gastropods fit into the larger food chain. 

Smith added, “Overall, attending the conference was a great experience to meet with scientists from across Southern New England and to hear about the different ongoing research projects. It was exciting to share the research we do here at Rhode Island College with other members of the scientific community and to have our lab work recognized. I think the courses here at RIC, along with the helpfulness and knowledge of the professors, have prepared us very well, allowing us to make contributions like this to the scientific community.”

Student Sara Moore also worked with Govenar, but on a different research project: “The effects of nitrogen-loading and elevated temperatures on the microbial composition in the digestive tract of salt marsh mussels.” To measure the impact of temperature on these native bivalves, Moore and Govenar created makeshift greenhouses to serve as monitor stations in certain marsh areas. Governar added that because mussels can grow in high-density clusters, "if they have microbes in their guts that make methane or nitrous oxide, the production of these gasses could be quite high under different environmental conditions."

Moore and fellow student Megan Warburton collaborated on “Sharing Ciona: Filter feeding knowledge throughout Rhode Island.” Their faculty mentor, Professor Thomas Meedel, explained, "Ciona is a member of a group of filter-feeding animals known as sea squirts that play an important role in the marine food chain" in Narragansett Bay.

Warburton stated how proud she was of her research, saying, "Research can be really unpredictable so it was really nice to have all of our hard work recognized.” She added, “I was proud to be able to represent RIC."