Caryn MacDonald ’10
Strafford County, N.H.
The results of Caryn MacDonald’s research into hormones might be tricky to grasp. But the starting point is simpler—and also a lot more slippery.
MacDonald, a molecular biology major, is studying hormones in sea lampreys. Step one: She and other students in Professor Stacia Sower’s lab trek down to the Cocheco River in Dover, N.H., to catch the slimy, sucker-mouthed fish during their wiggly migration from the ocean.
“At first, I thought they looked like sea monsters from some horror movie,” says MacDonald, who dons heavy cotton gloves to better grasp the fish, which look something like eels. “But once you get used to it, it’s not too bad.”
It turns out that sea lampreys are ideal for studying hormones. They are among the most primitive (basal) of vertebrates, and their hormone systems share similarities with those in higher vertebrates, including humans. Plus, they’re easy to catch with a dip net.
“Hormones are interesting, because almost every process that goes on in your body is somehow controlled by hormones,” says MacDonald, who grew up in Dover. Her work is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, through the UNH Center for Molecular and Comparative Endocrinology, directed by Professor Sower.
Through the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research, MacDonald was awarded a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship last year, and an International Research Opportunities Program grant to study in a neuroscience lab in Sweden this past summer at Uppsala University.
“In Sweden, I worked with one of Stacia’s colleagues researching neurotransmitter molecules,” says MacDonald. “Learning how to work in a different lab meant getting to know all new people and customs. It was a cultural adjustment, but it was also a big confidence builder.”
McDonald recalls when she first started looking into UNH and going to different orientations. “UNH was always ‘just down the road,’” recalls MacDonald. “But when I started living here and going to classes, it was like a whole different world.”
Someday, MacDonald hopes her work may lead to a better understanding of hormone regulation in humans. She plans on applying to graduate school in neuroscience.