Two Mercyhurst biology students and their professor will regularly visit Presque Isle State Park this summer in search of viruses.
The Pennsylvania Water Resources Research Center will help fund their visits, and more importantly, their research on the water samples they gather from all beaches on the park.
Dr. Steven Mauro, assistant professor of biology at Mercyhurst, explained that the intent of the summer’s research is to isolate and identify viruses in the water off the beaches of Presque Isle. Joining him on the project are juniors Jayme Dylewski and Cody Smith, both biology majors.
"We're going to use state-of-the-art molecular techniques using the equipment in the Alstadt lab," Mauro said. He was referring to the Donald and Judith Alstadt Laboratory for Molecular and Cellular Research. That lab opened in October 2004.
Using the lab’s equipment, Mauro said, the students and he will be able to take one piece of DNA from a bacterium or a virus and magnify it millions of times to identify it.
"If there are just a few viruses or bacteria in the sample, we’ll be able to find out what kind there is," Mauro said.
Plans call for Mauro, Dylewski and Smith to visit the park from late May until the end of August two or three times a week in the beginning of the season and then up to five times a week.
Processing the data they gather will continue until the winter months when a full report will be produced. That report, along with weekly updates, will go to the Erie County Health Department. In addition to the already stellar efforts local officials already do, "it is our hope, Mauro said, that our research will contribute to aquatic pathogenic organism identification in a manner that will protect the public from exposure to unsafe waters."
One of the advantages of the Mercyhurst laboratory equipment is that it can give results five hours after processing begins, compared to the day-long wait local health officials have had in the past.
The total federal grant award is for $17,900, and non-federal contributions make the project’s total cost $74,000.