That water bottle sitting on the table in front of you likely contains bisphenol A, a chemical commonly used to make polycarbonate plastic resins, which mimics the effects of estrogen. More than 2.2 million tons of BPA are produced worldwide each year. But what happens when BPA and other estrogenic chemicals find their way into lakes and streams? Madeleine Naylor is tackling that question in her Independent Study.
Naylor is examining whether cichlid fish exposed to these chemicals, at the levels they are commonly found in their habitat, exhibit changes in courtship and aggressive behaviors, either of which could influence how well the species reproduces. In addition to behavioral changes, she is investigating possible physiological changes; specifically, whether males exposed to the chemicals begin to produce a particular protein that normally only females produce.
“Because of the important role that estrogens play in physiology and behavior in vertebrates, these chemicals could potentially affect all vertebrate animals in profound ways,” says Sharon Lynn, an associate professor of biology and Naylor’s I.S. adviser.
Naylor, whose love of biology was sparked by an A.P. class in high school, is particularly interested in evolutionary and ecological biology. What she likes about the field is that it’s ever changing: “No matter how many years you’ve been studying it, there’s always something new to discover.” Naylor wants to make discovery her life’s work. Whether in a university or industry setting, she’s committed to continuing to do research.
Last summer, Naylor and several other Wooster students accompanied Professor Lyn Loveless on a three-week field experience in Ecuador. They learned about environmental issues created by mining and oil refineries, and spent a week at a research station in the rain forest.
In a blog post during that trip, Naylor wrote, “The one common theme that all of the researchers talked about was wanting volunteers to come work with them for several months…So I’ve been going over these scenarios in my head of dropping everything after graduation and going to Ecuador for a year to study sea turtles or monkeys…P.S. Mom and Dad, don’t freak out — I still want to go to grad school!”
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