By: Emily Scott
Lauren Todorov likes to think that life is a web — if you look hard enough, you’ll find that everything is connected.
She’s applying this mindset to the research she is pursuing as this year’s Carl R. Woese Undergraduate Research Scholar.
The scholar program awards funding to undergraduate students so they can pursue interdisciplinary research at the IGB over the summer.
Todorov, a rising senior in molecular and cellular biology, joined Professor Bruce Fouke’s research group last fall and became involved in the lab’s research on universal biomineralization, a concept that focuses on the interactions between water, rock, and microbes, and how “life makes rock.”
Todorov’s research this summer will focus on studying coral and several aspects of its biology, ecology and evolution.
One aspect of her research will involve studying the formation of a coral’s skeleton. Studying this process can help scientists better understand many processes in the human body and the natural world.
Much like trees, coral form bands as they grow. Scientists use these bands to study climate; the layers allow scientists to understand past climatic events and make future climate predictions.
“We’re finding that there are so many more elements within the bands that have not been looked at,” Todorov said. “The calculations for climate change . . . can be off due to eliminating that information.”
Coral calcification, the process that forms a coral’s calcium carbonate skeleton, can help scientists better understand human arthritis and osteoporosis, which have to do with bone loss and the loss of calcium.
Coral also have similarities to kidney stones, which similarly form in layers. In coral, older layers form below newer layers, and this is seen in kidney stones as well. Studying this layering process could lead to new methods and procedures for eliminating kidney stones.
A better understanding of coral formation could also help scientists understand crystallization and rock formation in other places on earth — and even in space.
“This project is really important for, not only understanding the coral and its ecology and evolution, but also understanding how is this occurring for our planet, how has this evolved to fit our planet, and how can this evolve to fit other planets?” Todorov said.
Todorov sees this as more evidence for life being an ever-connecting web.
“It all comes down to water, microbes, and rock. Everything, how we’ve evolved and how the earth has formed, it all comes down to the same stuff,” she said. “I’m really excited to see how this basis of understanding that I’m getting from this is going to lead me to whatever research I end up in.”
She said she is excited for the unique research opportunities that the multidisciplinary environment of the IGB has to offer.
“We have technology here that no one else in the world has,” she said. “With this coral project alone, I’ve learned so much that no one in the world can even test or see.”
She said the Woese scholarship program will help her discover what research she wants to pursue in the future.
“Research is my passion,” she said. “I’m just excited to do that and see where the research takes me.”
By: Emily Scott
Photos By: Jillian Nickell