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Biology professor awarded Fulbright grant

TAMPA, Fla. -- Assistant Professor Christina Richards of the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of South Florida received a 2016-2017 Fulbright U.S. grant to research and teach at the University of Rennes 1 in France.

At the University of Rennes, Richards will be collaborating with Professor Malika Ainouche and Armel Salmon, Ph.D., on their proposal: “Enhancing the biology curriculum at University of South Florida and University of Rennes with ecological epigenetics: Merging ecology and epigenomics approaches to understand plant invasion.”

The research impact is great because of the biological invasions that have “threatened native species and caused an estimated €1 trillion per year globally in economic losses,” Richards said.

In order to learn how to control these invasions, Richards is studying the responses to different environmental challenges in native populations of the invasive plant species Spartina alterniflora. This plant is an example of an invasive and critical foundation plant species capable of surviving in an exceptionally broad range of environments.

“[The University of Rennes’] research is particularly novel because they investigate epigenetic mechanisms of response which are molecular modifications to DNA that allow for much more rapid response to environmental challenges than DNA mutation,” Richards said.

This rapid response means a potentially more rapid solution.

While conducting her research on the invasive plant species, Richards also will be teaching. The master’s course she is offering will be instructed in English to aid Rennes’ students in their fluency.

“This is a skill that is increasingly important for participation and presentation at international conferences,” Richards said.

This component of teaching means Richards will not only build her own international connections through her collaboration withAinouche and Salmon, but connections between students at USF and Rennes as well.

“We will establish research exchanges between students in my lab at USF and those at the MOB in Rennes 1. Thus, all will benefit from our complementary expertise,” Richards said.

Richards intends to learn from the students as much as she teaches them and will bring that knowledge back to USF.

“Through the Fulbright program, I will have the opportunity to interact with new students who have developed academically in a different system,” Richards said. “I will have new ideas about our research and approaches in the United States when I return.”


Filed under:Integrative Biology Arts and Sciences    
Author:Sam Risak