Scientific Process

Millikin biology scholars study turtles as part of immune system, wetland research

Scientific Process

The field of ecological immunology is seeing a growing interest in the causes of variation in immune responses in populations. One question that has sparked from this particular field is what does this difference in immune response mean for organisms?

Leighty Scholars at Millikin University have spent the summer researching this topic with help from red-eared slider turtles at the Rock Springs Conservation Area in Decatur, Ill. Students Katie Stromsland, a senior biology major from Gillespie, Ill., and Whitney Gray, a junior biology major from Greenville, Ill., are looking at how variation in immune responses, and factors such as age, impact the turtle's defense against different types of parasites.


"We're all studying their immune systems and looking at different things," Stromsland said. "I'm looking at their natural antibodies and ones that are interacting with the parasites."

Gray is looking specifically at salmonella antibodies and whether they are natural or adaptive.

Student Erica Forbes, a junior biology major from Bourbonnais, Ill., is working on validating a couple of new immune measures for use in the painted turtle, the most widespread native turtle of North America.


"I'm researching to see if the turtle white blood cells will kill breast cancer cells," Forbes said. "We take their blood and put their white blood cells on cancer cells to see if there is any cell death."

Brooke Smith, a junior biology major from Franklin Grove, Ill., is taking her research in a different direction by researching turtles in a wetland to see how the wetland itself is functioning. Smith's research addresses an important topic in the agricultural arena as wetlands can be used to reduce nutrients, such as nitrates in water.