Newswise — A West Virginia University biology student’s neuroscience research on zebrafish took her to Capitol Hill this week – virtually.
Abreanne Andlinger, a Moundsville native, is among 60 students selected nationally by the Council on Undergraduate Research to participate in Posters on the Hill April 27-28.
"We are proud of what Abreanne has achieved since arriving at WVU. She has taken advantage of all that WVU and its Research 1 research enterprise have to offer and is really getting the most from her education," said Michelle Richards-Babb, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, referring to WVU’s Carnegie Classification as a very high research activity institution. “She began her research journey as a freshman in the Research Apprenticeship Program and, ultimately, applied for and was competitively selected for WVU's premier Beckman Scholars Program. She assists the Office of Undergraduate Research in informing others of the benefits of engaging in research and is a great representative of what a first-generation student from the rural state of West Virginia can accomplish."
The highly competitive event featured the most talented researchers from colleges and universities around the U.S. While the event is normally held in Washington, D.C., the 2021 event included virtual meetings with members of Congress, resources on advocacy for undergraduate research and a virtual poster showcase.
“I met with Senator Shelley Moore Capito and talked with her about my career path, my research and why it’s important,” Andlinger said. “It was a new experience. Before I started research, I didn’t realize how much government and politics is involved with and influences research. I’m open to new experiences.”
Andlinger got involved in undergraduate research from the start of her college career. While searching for federal work study opportunities, she stumbled upon the Research Apprentice Program in WVU’s Office of Undergraduate Research.
“I am supporting myself through college, so finances were a major factor in my college-going decision. WVU was the best option for me. I didn’t even know how good the research was here until I arrived on campus,” Andlinger said. “I didn’t know much about doing research when I was in high school and first starting out in college. When I came to campus and found out I could get paid to do research, I was so excited. It ended up being such a good fit.”
She has been researching in Assistant Professor of Biology Sadie Bergeron’s developmental neuroscience lab since fall 2018, her first semester at WVU.
“The amount of time Abreanne has spent in the lab, starting all the way back to her freshman year, stands out. It was a unique challenge because most of the undergraduate researchers I’d had previously were more experienced and had taken more classes, but she made such an impression from the start,” Bergeron said. “When Abreanne first came to meet with me, it struck me how much she wanted to learn things beyond what she was learning in the classroom. She has had really diverse experiences and accomplished a lot.”
Andlinger studies the relationships between genes and proteins in zebrafish that are related to neural development – how the brain and nervous system grow and mature. Zebrafish and humans share about 70% of genes and many other body systems, making them an ideal model for studying the human body.
“Our lab is trying to figure out how the genes and proteins work in zebrafish and apply that knowledge to learn more about how those same systems work in humans,” Andlinger said. “If we can understand how these systems work in zebrafish and in ourselves, we can understand more about neurodevelopmental disorders like autism spectrum disorders or schizophrenia.”
Andlinger was named a WVU Beckman Scholar in 2020. As such, Andlinger and her research are supported by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. The Beckman Scholars Program provides in-depth, sustained research experiences for exceptionally talented undergraduate students.
Andlinger was also nominated for the Goldwater Scholarship, the nation’s most prestigious award in STEM, earlier this year, and she presented her research to the West Virginia State Legislature at the 2021 Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol.
Andlinger is grateful to Bergeron and the graduate students in the lab who mentored her from day one.
“I have learned a lot about how things work from my time in the lab before I took classes, so that was definitely a learning curve. Dr. Bergeron and the graduate students have really helped me,” Andlinger said. “Before college, I didn’t have this deep understanding of science. I know there are a lot of professors who aren’t as involved in their undergraduates’ research, so I appreciate that she has taken the time to be involved.”
After graduating from WVU in December 2021, a semester early, Andlinger aspires to go to graduate school to earn a Ph.D. and eventually conduct research in a private or government-funded laboratory.
“I have always loved learning about living things. When I was younger, I was constantly outside looking at insects, snakes. I’ve always had an interest in learning about living things and how life works. That’s how I decided on my major because biology is the study of living things,” Andlinger said. “I’m a curious person. I need to know how things work. Research is a way to find out how living organisms work and how our bodies work.”