Nicholls Chemistry Student Receives Grant for Research That Led to Publication and a Bombshell Discovery

THIBODAUX, La. — Yusra Soorya, a chemistry major with a biology minor, received a $4,000 grant from the Louisiana Space and Sea Grant Opportunities (LaSSO) for Undergraduate Research Program in the summer of 2021. This supported her nine-month research project which led to a bombshell discovery that CO2 acidified seawater speeds up crabshell hardening through increased mineralization. 

This important finding for the field of ocean acidification effects in marine shell builders was published on Aug. 30, 2022, in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, the flagship journal of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC).

Yusra’s research took place in Dr. Enmin Zou’s Environmental Toxicology/Animal Physiology Lab. The lab is utilized to unravel how crustaceans function under normal conditions as well as when subjected to chemical stress. There are three research foci:

  1. Disruption of crustacean molting by environmental chemicals and its mechanism
  2. Interactive effects of hypoxia and petroleum contamination in brown shrimp
  3. Crab shell formation and its interference by environmental chemicals

Yusra’s ocean acidification project falls under the third research focus. Soft shell crabs cannot defend themselves against predators and are susceptible to pathogens. Rapid shell-hardening can quickly close this window of vulnerability. In this regard, ocean acidification may be beneficial to crustaceans. 

However, physiological processes oftentimes have their own rhythms and are intertwined with each other. This is especially so for crustaceans, whose physiology is cyclic due to periodic shedding of the shell. If one process speeds up, it may disrupt other processes. Therefore, more research needs to be carried out to determine the effects ocean acidification has on other aspects of crustacean biology, such as growth, development and reproduction.

“Undergraduate research is a salient component of the research activity in my lab. Over the years, the undergraduate students have made quite a few seminal contributions to the fields of environmental toxicology and animal physiology,” Nicholls Theodore Shepard Endowed Professor and Distinguished Service Professor Dr. Enmin Zou said, “Undergraduate research experience plays an important role in student career development. Students can apply what they learn in the classroom to practical use and get their findings published.”

Yusra was also the winner of the Inclusive Excellence Scholarship Award at the Nicholls State University 2022 Scholars Expeaux. The event celebrated the 17th annual showcase of student and faculty research and creative activity on April 13 and 14, 2022. Cutting-edge research and fascinating discoveries at Nicholls are highlighted through faculty and student presentations.

The LaSSO for Undergraduate Research Program is directed at science and engineering students working on projects in research areas deemed a priority by both NASA and NOAA. A LaSSO project is a joint effort between a faculty researcher, who serves as a mentor and project Principal Investigator, and an undergraduate researcher. 

The intent of the program is to supplement and enhance the undergraduate academic curriculum by providing students with a hands-on, mentored research experience relevant to space, earth, coastal and/or marine sciences. To learn more about the LaSSO for Undergraduate Research, visit https://laspace.lsu.edu/lasso-la-space-sea-grant-opportunity/.

The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (ET&C) publishes papers describing original experimental or theoretical work that significantly advances understanding in the area of environmental toxicology, environmental chemistry and hazard/risk assessment. To read Yusra Soorya’s published research on ET&C, visit https://setac.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/etc.5474

For more information about Nicholls Biology or Chemistry Departments, please visit https://www.nicholls.edu/biology/ or https://www.nicholls.edu/chemistry/

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, September 19, 2022

MEDIA CONTACT: Jerad David, Director of Communications, 985.448.4303 or jerad.david@nicholls.edu

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