On the first day of my summer internship at Barnard College, I walked in Dr. McGuire’s microbial ecology lab not feeling even a little bit nervous since I had been working in the lab the past spring semester. I was already familiar with the work environment and saw a few familiar (and new) faces. Right now, there are multiple research projects going on in the McGuire lab and I have not been officially assigned to a specific project -- I have been working in ones that need an extra helping hand. I spent the first week of my summer internship doing DNA extractions from soil samples collected from Puerto Rico, a technique that isolates microbial genomic DNA, and will later undergo shot-gun sequencing for further analysis.
The research project I am most interested in working on this summer is the investigation of the correlation between dog urine and soil microbe communities in NYC. I hypothesize that while urea from dog urine may benefit soil microbes as a fertilizer at initial application, additional application of dog urine past a certain threshold will negatively affect the water retaining capabilities of ground-level green infrastructures. This has a significant impact on water quality especially after a precipitation event because the unabsorbed stormwater runoff combines with raw sewage which then gets released to the nearest water outlets. Such a phenomenon is especially important in urban areas (i.e. NYC) that are highly populated with pets that urinate outdoors, such as dogs. Results from this research project may lead to increased water quality and educate dog owners on the effects that their pets may have on the environment in which they live in.
In this past week, my lab mate, Jee Min, and I have been researching on facilities that may be interested in donating dog urine for our project. Although we have already secured donation from Bideawee, a dog shelter in the city, a total of 34.6 gallons of dog urine is needed for this project and collecting urine samples from one location is simply not enough. This past week we have also personally visited dog parks in the nearby area, asking owners of pet dogs if they were interested in contributing to our research study. As expected, most initial responses were negative. (Catching dog urine is actually more difficult than expected!) Of the dog owners that were willing to participate, we will be personally collecting the stored dog urine from the household upon contact.
In the upcoming weeks, we hope that facilities and dog owners that we have reached out to will contact and follow up with us. Meanwhile, my other lab mates have been learning how to perform DNA amplification, a technique that increases the number of copies of a particular DNA fragment. With the help and guidance of Dr. McGuire and my fellow lab mates, I hope to take part of this training as soon as I have secured additional locations to collect dog urine from.