Grants Provide Opportunities for Undergrad Research

For two years, Greer Darden has assisted faculty members with their research at the LSU AgCenter Aquaculture Research Station. Darden, an LSU College of Agriculture senior from Glen Dale, Maryland, is now leading her own project.  

One of 12 College of Agriculture students who received an undergraduate research grant from the college, Darden is studying the effects of environmental factors on oyster larvae after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. 

“Being able to conduct my own research makes me think like a scientist, and I have the freedom to make the project what I want to be,” Darden said.  

Darden is majoring in natural resource ecology and management and is working under the guidance of Wei Xu, an assistant professor in the School of Renewable Natural Resources. Each student must work with a faculty member, but Darden is determining the course of her research.  

She is looking at bacteria found in algae from areas of the Gulf where oysters are present and studying the bacteria’s effect on oyster larvae.  

“Some bacteria that can be found in algae are natural biological methods for oil control. So now we are trying to figure out if these oil-consuming bacteria are present, and what happens if these bacteria get filtered through the oyster,” she said.  

Oysters are most susceptible to environmental factors while they are in the larval state, Darden said. She will study temperature effects and carbon dioxide levels in the water as well.  

She anticipates the research will continue into the spring semester and may tie in with another undergraduate research project on oysters in Xu’s lab.  

Ryan Ardoin, a senior from Lafayette, Louisiana, majoring in nutrition and food sciences, is in the second year of his research project – a consumer perception and purchase intent study of a low-sodium mayonnaise-type spread.  

Ardoin received an undergraduate research grant last year to begin his study and is continuing to test potential products, using potassium chloride to replace sodium chloride at different levels to determine consumer preference.  

“I’m testing different concentrations – no sodium, low sodium and reduced sodium,” Ardoin said. 

Ardoin is working with Witoon Prinyawiwatkul, a professor in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences who overseas the school’s food sensory lab.  

“Ryan’s research is part of my ongoing research on sodium reduction in foods,” Prinyawiwatkul said. “In addition to gaining research experience in the lab, he has had the opportunity to present his work at the annual meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists, which expands his professional network and is good for his career.”  

Potassium chloride tends to be bitter, so Ardoin wants to test consumer preferences of saltiness and bitterness. He is also adding flavor modifications to the mayonnaise, such as ranch or bacon, to see if they make it more acceptable.  

In the consumer preference study, Ardoin tested the likelihood of a consumer purchasing the product. In previous tests, consumers were 25 percent more likely to purchase the produce once when they learned that it was a healthier option than regular mayonnaise. 

“This study could give consumers alternatives for reducing their daily sodium intake,” Ardoin said. “It is an important step in figuring out how to alleviate sodium in the American diet.”  

Other students also received College of Agriculture undergraduate research grants.  

Torrey Alexis, a senior from New Iberia studying nutrition and food sciences, is working with nutrition professor Carol O’Neil. He is conducting a case study on the foods and physical activity opportunities available in East Feliciana Parish.  

Cameron Cason, of Baton Rouge, is working to determine the time and temperature parameters for a hot water treatment during pecan processing that can kill microbes but maintain pecan quality. Cason, who is studying nutrition and food sciences, is working with food science assistant professor Achyut Adhikari. 

Trent Dugas’ research aims to study and determine the differences in body composition and meat properties with different goat breeds during their development. Dugas, a senior from St. Martinville majoring in animal sciences, is working with animal science professor Kenneth McMillin.  

Lauren Gatenby, a senior from Duson studying animal sciences, is working with animal science professor Kenneth Bondioli. Gatenby will compare different methods of sperm injection using the conventional sharp beveled pipette verses a piezo drill in oocytes.  

Norlethia Harris, a senior from Smyrna, Georgia, studying animal sciences, will work with animal science assistant professor Shannon Cruzen to determine the effects of low protein diets on the muscle protein degradation and beef tenderness in cows.  

Courtney Healy is working with Wei Xu to study the genomic adaptation of oyster larvae to the environmental stresses in the Gulf of Mexico. A senior studying natural resource ecology and management, she is from Rockville, Maryland. 

Julie Huynh, a senior from Baton Rouge majoring in natural resource ecology and management, aims to study the experience and evaluate the needs, preferences and activities of College of Agriculture undergraduate minority students. She is working with Luke Laborde, an instructor in the School of Renewable Natural Resources.  

Samantha Lanjewar, a senior studying animal science, is working with Kenneth Bondioli. Her objective is to determine whether mutations that cause early onset Alzheimer’s disease can be inserted into a certain pig gene to create the first large animal model of Alzheimer’s disease. Lanjewar is from Valhalla, New York. 

Grace LeBlanc is studying the effects of hands-on environmental science education activities on scientific understanding and interest in middle school students. A senior from New Orleans majoring in environmental management systems, she is working with professor Maud Walsh in the School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences.  

Molly Robin, a senior from Shreveport studying nutrition and food sciences, is working with professor Georgianna Tuuri to study the effect of participating in a summer nutrition education and culinary skill-building program on high school students’ diet quality and consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.