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From bees to bacteria: Loyola biology grads conduct top research around the world

Loyola press release - January 21, 2014

Three recent Loyola University New Orleans biology graduates are using the opportunities and undergraduate research experience they garnered as Loyola students to launch promising careers in scientific research across the U.S. and abroad. Each returned this fall to help inspire the next generation of Loyola scientists.

Loyola biology graduate Juan Calix ’05, Ph.D., is studying the bacteria responsible for everything from pneumonia to meningitis. Margaret J. Couvillon ’00, Ph.D., is decoding what dancing honeybees can tell us about their collection of food in a changing landscape. Christopher Gabler ’04, Ph.D., is finding out what climate change could mean for Gulf Coast wetlands.

“The biggest advantage of going to Loyola for me was being able to work closely with research professors who could then write strong recommendation letters for me,” said Calix, who is now finishing up work for his medical degree as a part of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s joint M.D./Ph.D. Medical Scientist Training Program.

Calix studies Streptococcus pneumonia, a bacterium that normally resides in the human respiratory tract without causing harm, but can also cause deadly illness. By identifying and studying different strains, his research aims to find out what determines whether people become sick or not from the bacteria. A student of Loyola biology professor Patricia Dorn, Ph.D., Calix began cultivating his affinity for scientific research while at Loyola.

Another one of Dorn’s students, Couvillon, is now a post-doctoral fellow and behavioral ecologist at the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. Couvillon’s research uses the honeybee waggle dance—a sophisticated communication system where a successful forager tells other bees where she collected food—as a tool for ecology. Specifically, she is deciphering these dances to determine the challenges bees have collecting food in a changing environment. Her research is featured in a TED talk she gave at the Houses of Parliament in London.

While Couvillon’s research took her to England, Gabler’s research has taken him across the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts—even to China to study Chinese tallow trees invading U.S. wetlands. Gabler works for one of the only national labs for ecology—the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette, La. His research aims to predict how climate change will affect coastal wetland plant communities throughout the Gulf of Mexico so fishermen, oyster farmers and others can take steps to make their lands and livelihoods more sustainable.

Gabler also started his research career at Loyola working on an independent research project on wetland restoration in the Mississippi Delta National Wildlife Refuge under the guidance of biology professor David White, Ph.D.

While the three researchers may not seem to share much in the way of similar scientific interests, they do offer similar advice to Loyola students looking to future careers in the wide world of science.

“Earnestly figure out what you really enjoy and what you really cannot stand to do, then build a career that maximizes the first and minimizes the second. You can do this by getting involved in undergraduate research,” Gabler said.

“For Loyola undergraduates interested in a career in science, experience as many different types of science that you can,” Couvillon said. “Loyola is a great place to do just that.”