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Student, faculty partner on wood frog research

Faculty Nov 18, 2020
A woman in a white lab coat works with a test tube
A woman in a white lab coat works with a test tube

KOKOMO, Ind. — Could being female mean you are more likely to freeze to death?

Maybe, if you are a wood frog.

In Michael Finkler’s lab, he’s partnered with senior Raheal Takwe, studying differences in body composition between male and female wood frogs, which are known for their ability to survive freezing.

“A lot of times in research, you have to improvise and trouble shoot,” said Takwe, who will graduate from Indiana University Kokomo in December. “You have some confidence in what you are doing, but you are never sure what the outcome will be. You have to figure things out on your own. I’ve learned some new techniques for conducting work in the life sciences.”

The duo’s research studies the female wood frogs. These amphibians expend energy by producing and laying eggs and store less glucose as a result, making them more likely to freeze. The glucose in their livers is released under cold conditions, to prevent cells and blood from freezing.

Takwe, majoring in biological and physical sciences, has spent hours in the lab dissecting the previously-frozen, brown-colored frogs, measuring internal organs for weight and size. She calculates the difference in the stored glycogen in their livers to compare levels between males and females.

It’s a different experience than labs assigned as part of a class, she said, because with those experiences, if you do the work right, there is an expected outcome.

Takwe’s experience serving in the U.S. Navy was good preparation for research, she added.

“You learn to pay attention to details, not to neglect the very minute things, and that everything matters,” said Takwe, who grew up in Cameroon, in Central Africa. “You have to be very precise to get accurate results.”

She has applied to a graduate program at IUPUI. Her plan is to be a pharmacist or to work for a pharmaceutical company, with a focus on data analysis.

Finkler, professor of physiology, said COVID-19 restrictions have meant changes in how hands-on research takes place — including allowing Takwe to work on her own more than she might have otherwise because of the small size of the workspace.

“She works incredibly well independently,” he said. “Once I showed her what to do, she could do it on her own. I didn’t have to be in the lab and we could maintain social distancing. During the last part of the semester, we will finish this part of the work virtually.”

Their goal was for Takwe to complete the hands-on lab work before the campus pivots to planned remote instruction for the last three weeks of the semester. Then, meeting via Zoom, Finkler will show her how to use the statistical software needed to analyze the data.

“We can wrap up the experimentation now, and then conclude the rest electronically,” he said. “I hadn’t used Zoom much before January, but I’ve kind of enjoyed this new format. I’ve conducted a lot of work over it in the last year. It’s been a useful tool.”

The data she gathered can also be used in another study he’s doing, looking at size differences between male and female frogs.

“We do find some really interesting things,” he said, noting that males have larger bodies that support high levels of activity during mating season, when they are combating each other for females. However, females tend to be larger when they reproduce than males are.

“Does that mean the females have to grow to a larger size before they can reproduce? How does that impact the number of breeding seasons they can participate in, versus a male?” he said. “We can explore those questions with the data Raheal has been collecting.”

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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