MDI Biological Laboratory
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SMCC students take part in an intensive clam cancer research project

Ten Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) students and two faculty members spent one week of their January winter break at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory (MDIBL) in Salisbury Cove, participating in an intensive course.

The SMCC Biology Research Experience Short Course focused on a form of contagious cancer that can spread among bivalves, an aquatic mollusk with a compressed body enclosed within a hinged shell such as clams. José Fernández Robledo led the course from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.

In the five-day residential research course, students learned to use microscopy and quantitative PCR, a process to help understand biological pathways and diseases, to detect Bivalve Transmissible Neoplasia (BTN) in steamer clams. Students also introduced a gene through transfection for green fluorescent protein into a eukaryotic marine parasite that affects oysters and saw expression of this gene using fluorescent microscopy.

“The research short course is an excellent way for students to see what it is like to work all day in a research lab with others.” SMCC Biological Sciences Professor and Department Chair Daniel Moore said. “The students see that research is a team effort, and they learn what it may be like to pursue a career as a scientist.”

“Electroporation of cells is so cool. Zapping cells to insert DNA? I had no idea it was even possible,” SMCC student Lucas Girard said. “I feel like I’m thriving here; being around passionate peers is just the best.”

“I had a wonderful time at MDIBL,” SMCC Marine Studies student Toby Dunne said. “Having the chance to engage with professionals encouraged me to pursue a career in science.”

The course was created and taught by three experts in the field: José Fernández Robledo and Peter Countway from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and Michael J. Metzger from Pacific NW Research Institute. Moore and SMCC Professor Laura Dorsey also instructed students during the course. SMCC students participating in the study were: Solidago Adams, Evan Coughlin, Gemma Dufour, Toby Dunne, Lucas Girard, Kenny Law, Jillian Lewis, Kelsea Lowell, Lotus Luke, and Bradi Sladek.

This research is supported by an Institutional Development Award (IDeA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under grant number P20GM103423. This is the fourteenth year of support from this grant which has helped SMCC students to participate in summer fellowships at research institutions, including Bowdoin College, Bates College, Colby College, University of Maine Orono, University of Maine Farmington, University of New England, University of Southern Maine, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, MDI Biological Laboratory, and MaineHealth Institute for Research.

For more information about SMCC’s Biological Sciences program, visit our website at

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