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Junior Jessica Schneck (Walnutport, Pa.) discovered that snails are what they eat as she studied their intake of fatty foods during the January interim session. Depending upon their diet, Schneck’s snails turned either a bright orange-yellow or greenish-brown.

A participant in Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars Program, Schneck worked with Bernard Fried, professor emeritus of biology, and Joseph Sherma, professor emeritus of chemistry. In EXCEL, students collaborate with faculty on research while earning a stipend.

Included in the current edition of Who’s Who in America and once featured on the Discovery Channel, Fried is one of the world’s foremost experts in the field of parasitology, with three organisms named in his honor. His research has led to important advances in the effort to conquer tropical diseases caused by parasitic flatworms.

Author of more than 490 research papers, books, and reviews, Sherma has spent much of his career advancing the fields of pesticide analysis and chromatography, a procedure for separating closely related compounds for analysis. A recipient of the Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution by American Chemical Society, Sherma has involved more than 125 different students as coauthors for over 170 papers published in peer-reviewed journals.

Temperate climate Helisoma trivolvis snails were fed strict diets of either egg yolks or lettuce. Those fed egg yolks turned a bright orange-yellow, while the snails eating lettuce turned a very different greenish-brown.

Fried observed that the fat-fed snails live as long, but don’t grow as large as the others. “We don’t know why yet, but we’re working on that,” he says.

The predicted outcome of the experiment was that snails on the egg yolk diet would have a higher concentration of fats in their bodies than those fed lettuce.

Schneck, a biochemistry major, says her findings were as expected, with the snails on high-fat diets showing equally high concentrations of fat in their blood. She is now writing a manuscript on the project results.

Schneck, who is looking at a possible career in pharmaceuticals when she graduates, used thin layer chromatography (TLC) to quantify the concentrations of fats in the snail bodies.

“Dr. Fried and Dr. Sherma were really helpful with getting me started on the project,” she says. “They pushed me to work independently, but they were available when I had questions. I was really excited work with both of them.”

According to Fried, the study is aimed at understanding invertebrates. Schneck, he explains, is learning about snails, TLC techniques, and basic research as well as “generating a lot of specific data.”

A General Chemistry teaching assistant, Schneck takes piano lessons on campus. She has already begun similar research this semester with Fried and Sherma, this time using a different strain of snail and looking at age as a factor. She plans to continue her research with them this summer.

Categorized in: Academic News