Chemistry major Jen Reeve’s senior thesis (“Investigations Into The Fungal Degradation of Crude Oil”) was an outgrowth of the work that her advisor, Assistant Professor Helen White, is doing related to the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill. But it was also partly inspired by a comment made by the very observant parent of one of her labmates.
“This work started because a parent visiting our lab noticed some fungi growing on some of our samples,” says Reeve, who graduated with a concentration in biochemistry and is heading to graduate school for chemical oceanography in Canada next. “We realized that this probably meant that the fungi could grow on crude oil alone so we decided to investigate that. We wanted to see if it was growing and what methods it might be using to degrade oil.”
What did you learn working on your thesis?
My thesis has taught me a lot about a subject I knew next to nothing about before. I knew almost nothing about oil degradation, fungi, or fungal degradation prior to my work on this project. It’s one of the upsides to working on a thesis in the sciences—you get to dive into a very specific topic that you may not have learned anything about in your coursework or which may have only been briefly discussed.
What are the implications for your research?
My thesis work is interesting for several reasons. The first is the possibility of utilizing fungi in the bioremediation of oil spills. But [what] I find more interesting is that it shows that fungi are present in marine environments and may play a bigger role in ocean carbon cycling than we are aware of. There is next to no information on fungi in marine environments outside of mangroves, so learning about how this fungi grows could prove very interesting.
How has working on this thesis helped guide your future career path?
My specific thesis topic didn’t really guide me to this career path—in fact, it guided me away from working with oil and oil spills. But Helen White has, as my adviser, guided me and helped me to determine what steps to take to pursue the career I want. She is a great resource that most students at other small schools don’t have when it comes to entering oceanography.
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of members of the Class of 2014.