Meet biology students Kat Fleury and Melissa Rioux
8/7/2018 10:20:27 AM

Honours students conducting research in the Czech Republic this summer, will present at international conference in Prague

KatFleury_MelissaRioux_biostudentresearchersMount Allison honours biology students Katherine (Kat) Fleury (’19) and Melissa Rioux (’19) are gaining some international experience this summer. The pair are in the Czech Republic conducting research with Mount Allison biology professor and Canada Research Chair in Phytoplankton Ecophysiology Dr. Doug Campbell.

The Mount Allison research team is working at the Centrum Algatech, a microbiology institute affiliated with the Czech Academy of Science. In additional to collaborating with researchers there, Fleury is also working with scientists at the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences at the University of South Bohemia, Zoltán Füssy.

“I am working on a theory with Dr. Campbell surrounding reductive evolution in phytoplankton. The smallest picocyanobacteria, a type of phytoplankton, have outsourced reactive oxygen species (ROS) detoxification, instead making others in their environment do the work for them,” Fleury explains. “We are curious if this can also happen in diatoms and other phytoplankton. I use bioinformatic tools to analyze the genomes of different species in order to examine the role that size may play in the ability for a function to be lost.”

“My project involves the phenomic screening of phytoplankton sinking,” explains Rioux, who is also working with Campbell. “Basically, I’m testing the sensitivity of the sinking assay method to various phenotypes, with the goal of implementing sinking velocity as a screen in phenomics/physiomics. I’m also working to make the sinking data analysis more manageable by developing an R package, which has been a (fun) challenge.”

Fleury and Rioux will present their findings at the Integrated Plant and Algal Phenomics (IPAP) meeting in August before to returning campus for their final year.

“I chose to study biology because I was fascinated by the world around us and how everything came to be,” says Fleury, who plans to continue her studies in a master’s program in international health following Mount A. “Evolution is one of my favourite topics and I gained an interest in computers after taking introductory statistics. This project allows me to combine both of my interests by using computers to study reductive evolution.”

Rioux says her a class in microbiology with Campbell lead to her current research job. 

“I’ve always found biology interesting and I really liked Dr. Campbell’s microbiology course in second year, so I asked to work in his lab that summer,” Rioux says. “It turned out to be one of those, ‘I can’t believe I get paid to do this’ kind of jobs. I have no idea what my post-grad plans are at the moment. I may do a master’s in this field, but my dream has always been to study medicine, so who knows?”

Both Fleury and Rioux received MITACS GlobalLink grants to support their international research and Fleury also received an undergraduate student research award from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Outside the research lab Fleury, who is originally from Shoal Lake, MB, works as a teacher’s assistant in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, a bartender at The Pond, and last year worked on the MASU as the international student affairs co-ordinator. This year she will volunteer as a student member of the International Programs Committee, and co-president of the ‘Women in Science’ club.

Originally from Campbellton, NB, Rioux helps out in the lab during the school year and tutors students in biology courses. Last year she was a part of Nature NB’s “Day in the Life of a Scientist,” which involved teaching members of the Sackville community about the research that’s happening in the community.

When asked what piece of advice they might give to their first-year selves, Fleury and Rioux both encourage communication, seizing opportunities, and self-care.

“Think big and ask questions! Whatever you’re interested in, there is definitely a professor who can help you realize it,” says Fleury. “There are so many opportunities available, you just have to start a conversation in order to reach them.”

“There are a lot of things I wish I had known in first year, but I think the most important thing is to take care of yourself. No test, exam, interview, etc. is worth sacrificing your physical and mental health over,” says Rioux. “Of course, doing well takes plenty of sacrifice, but don't make yourself miserable — try to find balance and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.”

Photo caption: Campbell, Fleury, and Rioux at the Centrum Algatech in the Czech Republic.