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Scientists & Engineers On Sofas (And Other Furnishings): Navy Veteran Studies Genetic Variation

6 minutes

(Describer) Title: Scientists and Engineers on Sofas (and Other Furnishings) A sign says, “NSF Supports Our Veterans”.

(female narrator) What's it like to transition from the military to the world of scientific research? Amy Battocletti is a veteran who's won a prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. I'm Maria Zacharias with the National Science Foundation. When I saw Amy was presenting her research here, I wanted to chat about her time in the Navy and her research on the impact of genetic variation within plant species.

(Describer) They meet in an atrium.

You've been at this for a while with a poster session, but it would be great to talk about your research. I know a nice spot to go. Want to come? That sounds great.

(Describer) They step into an elevator, and soon after, sit alone in a meeting room.

What was your service like? What was your job? I was an aerographer's mate, which is a weather forecaster that also forecasts oceanographic conditions.

(Describer) A photo shows her in uniform.

We're really the environmental supports personnel for the Navy. Heights of the waves and that kind of thing? Yeah. Were you usually right? We hope so. It's a lot more difficult than it would seem. A lot of it is mathematical modeling based on what we know trying to forecast based on present conditions what will happen in the future. When you made your transition from military to academe, what was that like?

(Battocletti) I had a science job in the military so transitioning to biology class wasn't too much of a transition. I pretty much went from one science right into the other.

(Describer) Maria shows photos of Amy in a marsh.

Look at this. This looks really fun. You're on the salt marsh vacuuming up insects.

(Describer) She holds a large cylinder with a handle.

What is that like?

(Battocletti) We're in the salt marsh collecting planthoppers.

(Zacharias) A planthopper is an insect? Yes.

(Describer) It's small and orange.

(Battocletti) There's a large engine on your back and it's a huge vacuum cleaner. We suck in the insects. Usually there's a net here

(Describer) ...on the end.

where the insects get trapped. We quickly turn the vacuum up, tie the net, and put the insects into a jar with ethanol vapors that euthanizes them.

(Describer) In another photo, she carries a bucket.

This is in New Jersey near Atlantic City. We can usually see Atlantic City from the site. Do you hit the casino afterwards?

(Describer) Many lights flash on a ceiling.

No, I think we'd get funny looks. It would smell like salt marsh at that point.

(Zacharias) What do you do at the lab?

(Battocletti) We go through, under the dissecting microscope and we count how many we find to estimate the census density.

(Describer) Photos show the process.

We also take out many for DNA extraction. That's how we're getting estimates of genetic variation. You're able to see differences in them depending on which part of the population they are?

(Battocletti) We're hypothesizing that there's a larger amount of genetic drift along the edges

(Describer) ...shown in animation.

because a decrease in census density is actually translating into an impact on the amount of genetic variation.

(Describer) Gene strands bunched together are more genetically varied and others spread out away from them are less genetically varied.

If you have a smaller population size there's more chance that a certain variation on that gene will become the only variation

(Describer) Title: Genetic drift yields less genetic variation.

present in the population. If that's the only copy of that gene, then that's identical between all of us. So, the genetic variation is lost at that point. What we want is biodiversity? And we want a whole range of insects, so that they will be different from each other? The more variants on a gene in a population, then those variants will have different strengths and weaknesses. And so, individuals are all different at that point. It's great to have a variety of individuals with different strengths and weaknesses. So, if a hurricane hits the salt marsh, maybe all of those individuals have a weakness, and they can't handle all the salt water and flooding their area for a long period. If there was a greater amount of genetic variation, maybe some of those individuals would be better able to handle that. Though a large part of the population may be killed, other individuals would survive and reproduce and contribute to the next generation.

(Describer) Later, Maria and Amy leave the meeting room.

(Zacharias) I really enjoyed our discussion. I'm glad you had a few minutes to chat about your work. I wish you well with your PhD and all of the things you're working on.

(Battocletti) Thank-you so much.

(Describer) Amy steps into an elevator, which closes. The title Scientists and Engineers on Sofas and Other Furnishings is pushed aside by the round logo for the National Science Foundation. Title: Amy Battocletti was awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2014.

Funding to purchase and make this educational production accessible was provided by the U.S. Department of Education:

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Amy Battocletti is a Navy veteran who was awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2014. She’s a doctoral candidate in biology at Georgetown University, conducting research on the impact of genetic variation within plant species in salt marsh ecosystems. Part of the Scientists and Engineers On Sofas Series.

Media Details

Runtime: 6 minutes

Scientists & Engineers On Sofas (And Other Furnishings)
Episode 1
8 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12
Scientists & Engineers On Sofas (And Other Furnishings)
Episode 2
9 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12
Scientists & Engineers On Sofas (And Other Furnishings)
Episode 3
6 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12
Scientists & Engineers On Sofas (And Other Furnishings)
Episode 4
6 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12
Scientists & Engineers On Sofas (And Other Furnishings)
Episode 5
7 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Scientists & Engineers On Sofas (And Other Furnishings)
Episode 6
8 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12