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Tracking Diversity in Indonesia

BU biologist Paul Barber gets new funding for international student research in Indonesia

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Paul Barber, an assistant professor of biology in the College of Arts and Sciences and in the Boston University Marine Program (BUMP), uses genetic techniques to study the biodiversity of marine species. His work involves collecting minute marine specimens and then returning to the laboratory to apply techniques of genetic analysis and population genetics to better understand how species are distributed in the waters around the islands and coral reefs of Indonesia.

In conjunction with his work on the diversity of species, he founded The Diversity Project, a program that recruits students from underrepresented minorities to work as research assistants during the summer. Over the past three years, the National Science Foundation has funded The Diversity Project. Beginning in the summer of 2008, continued support from NSF combined with new funding from Partnerships in International Research in Education will allow Barber to recruit up to four students each summer for the next five years and cover their travel, living, and research expenses.

Students will spend two weeks in the field collecting specimens and then eight weeks carrying out genetic analysis in labs that Barber is in the process of establishing in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

Martha Muñoz (CAS’07) participated in the program during its first year. “The Diversity Project appealed to me," she says, "because it was a unique opportunity to combine fieldwork with independent research in evolutionary biology.”

The program took Muñoz to the island of Halmahera, off the northeastern coast of Sulawesi in Indonesia, where she collected specimens and investigated the genetic relationships of two seastars, Linckia laevigata and Protoreaster nodosus, their parasitic gastropod Thyca crystallina, and commensal shrimp Periclemenes soror.

“This system was particularly interesting because it combined parasitology with population genetics,” she says. “The fact that DNA could be used to see if parasites follow the genetic patterns of their hosts was completely new to me and fomented my interest to pursue evolutionary biology.”

Muñoz graduated from BU in January 2007 and is currently conducting research in evolutionary biology in the National Natural Sciences Museum in Madrid, Spain, under a Fulbright scholarship, an award that she attributes to her experience in The Diversity Project. She will begin graduate school in evolutionary biology in September 2008.

For more information about The Diversity Project, visit its Web site.

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