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“It’s been a great learning experience,” says Erin, a junior biochemistry major from Riverton, Conn., and a graduate of Northwestern Regional No. 7 High School. “I appreciate it very much because I know a lot undergrads at larger schools don’t get this opportunity.”

Erin Muller is working with Bernard Fried, Kreider Professor of Biology, and Joseph A. Sherma, Larkin Professor of Chemistry, on research that spans two countries and involves Lafayette alumna Laura Rosa-Brunet ’91, a post doctoral fellow at Cambridge University in England.

Muller is participating in Lafayette’s EXCEL Scholars, in which students collaborate closely with faculty on research projects. Rosa-Brunet is infecting mice with a type of flatworm that can also infect humans, and sending tissues samples from infected mice and control mice across the ocean to Muller, who analyze them for differences in lipids, or fat.

Muller uses a technique called high-performance thin-layer chromatography to study the samples. She learned the process from Sherma, a world authority on the technique, Fried says.

“I’m looking to see if the parasite is depleting the fat content of those cells,” Muller says. “If we can understand how the parasite works in mice, we would be better able to fight the parasite in people.”

Fried says the parasite alters the lipid profiles of mice and man, but the details of the changes in lipid chemistry are not clear. One consequence of the infection in both mice and man is liver damage due to the egg-laying potential of the parasite. The damaged liver becomes cirrhotic, as with alcoholism, and may become fatty. Infection may also cause fat accumulation in the blood and intestine.

Muller, who has doing experiments with parasites and snails under the direction of Fried and Sherma since 1998, has also done an independent study and is working on a thesis stemming from the project.

Fried says, “This is a very unique project for an undergrad to pursue and I would only pursue it with someone with the drive, enthusiasm, intelligence, and motivation of an Erin Muller. Erin is an excellent student. She’s in the top five percent of all the students I’ve ever had at Lafayette.”

Muller says she has enjoyed the work. Believe it. She has published four articles with Fried and Sherma, and a fifth paper with just Sherma.

“I’ve definitely been busy, but it’s been a great learning experience. I appreciate it very much because I know a lot undergrads at larger schools don’t get this opportunity,” she says. “Lafayette gives you that opportunity, because it’s small and you have the chance to work with professors closely. It’s very exciting.”

Another side of Erin

Muller is a resident advisor in Watson Hall and a member of LEAD, Lafayette Educators on Alcohol and Drugs. “I love it here,” she says. “It’s been great to see all the opportunities I’ve had.”

Categorized in: Academic News