The MSU Museum provides unique opportunities for undergraduates to obtain hands-on research experience in the biological sciences. This year, 6 students are participating in an Honors Research Seminar on the evolution of the mammalian brain, co-taught by Drs. Laura Smale (Departments of Psychology and Integrative Biology) and Barbara Lundrigan (Department of Integrative Biology and MSU Museum). The goal of the research is to determine how regions of the brain devoted to sensory functions (i.e., sight, hearing, smell, touch) change with evolutionary transitions between diurnal (day-active) and nocturnal (night-active) lifestyles. Brain tissue is extremely expensive to the individual (calorically), and thus we hypothesize that there will be trade-offs, for example that a diurnal species will invest more in vision and less in olfaction (smell) than a nocturnal one.
Over the course of fall semester, the class has met regularly to discuss relevant literature and develop testable hypotheses. Students have also begun data collection in the lab, using state-of-the art techniques to calculate regional volumes from sectioned rodent brain tissues preserved in the MSU Museum’s collections. This winter, they will be mastering the analytical skills to evaluate their data, and in March, the results will be presented at a university-wide undergraduate conference (the 2020 University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum).