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UNF moves water bear research lab remote

What happens when you have to close your lab down because of a pandemic? You bring your little research critters home with you.

Frank Smith, UNF assistant professor of biology, and student researchers are utilizing an over $300,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to study tardigrade development.

Like most research labs, the Smith lab at UNF is closed for the foreseeable future. However, that doesn’t mean that the research stops. Smith’s research team is very busy working on manuscripts and bioinformatics studies from their homes while babysitting the tardigrades.

home lab set up on a deskTardigrades, known colloquially as water bears, are a phylum of water-dwelling eight-legged segmented micro-animals. Tardigrades are found everywhere on Earth and are among the most resilient animals known, with individual species able to survive extreme conditions that would quickly kill most other known forms of life. They are even more resilient than cockroaches.

The evolution of animal body plans has traditionally been difficult to study because their origins lie in an ancient period for which fossils are extremely rare. Recent advances in developmental biology and genomics techniques now provide alternative methods to reconstruct evolutionary steps.

This project is providing training to eleven undergraduate biology students, focusing on students from underrepresented groups, who will conduct the research with Smith. Research on tardigrades also provides an excellent opportunity to foster public science outreach.

The little water bears are getting all the special care and attention they need in the safety of our researcher’s homes.