Dordt College News

A semester spent with Zebrafish

June 23, 2014

For most students, daily homework looks pretty similar: studying in the library or at a desk in their rooms. But for Senior Jordan Bousema, homework included spending at least an hour every day feeding bloodworms to approximately 20 zebrafish.

Tending the zebrafish was part of Bousema’s senior research project. But Bousema learned much more than how much food to drop into the tank; he tried to answer the question: Do elevated levels of homocysteine alter fin regeneration and bone growth in zebrafish? If the answer to this question is yes, his research could point to a way to treat diseases such as osteoporosis and spina bifida.

Bousema did his research in a small, previously unused room in the science building, allowing him to control the environment and provide a day and night cycle for the fish. He designed a system of four tanks, filters, and water basins. Each tank holds five fish that he studies for one week.

With each group of fish, Bousema examined fin growth. During the week, he added varying amounts of homocysteine to the water, documenting the results in fin growth at the end of the week. Bousema compared the results of what he learned from the nearly 80 fish that were part of four weeklong studies. What he finds could lead to further research related to the influence of homocysteine on human bone diseases.

Bousema knew he wanted to work with animals for his senior research project and, based on the facilities available, he knew his subjects would need to be small. His project connects to a previous student’s research, to his previous work in histology, and to his animal lab experiences.

Bousema has appreciated the guidance of Dordt’s biology professors in his research. He meets with his advisor, Dr. Tony Jelsma, each week, and every third week, he shares his progress with all biology faculty members. He knows that at larger schools, he would not have the opportunity for this kind of shared expertise and experience between faculty and students, he says.

Bousema plans to return to his family farm in Southern California following graduation. The farm specializes in raising swine for biomedical research. He appreciates the perspective on a researcher’s role with animals that he gained and will use as he raises animals for research after graduation.

Elizabeth Riley ('15)

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