||Student studies cortisol levels in primates
RELEASED: November 12, 2009
By Laura Pasley
DANVILLE, KY— Have you ever watched monkeys or gorillas while at the zoo? Sure. Would you ever collect urine samples from them? Probably not.
Sam Royalty '11 has done both—it's her job.
Since early 2009, the biochemistry and molecular biology major from San Antonio, Tx., has worked with Matton Professor Emeritus of Psychology Dr. Brent White to observe selected species of monkeys and gorillas at the Louisville Zoo.
As part of White's ongoing research at the zoo, Royalty works with a vulnerable primate species called woolly monkeys that are likely to die from blood pressure related illnesses.
That's where Royalty comes in.
She assists White not only by observing the monkeys but also by processing saliva samples to examine levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
"The woolly monkeys suffer from hypertension, which could be stress-related," White explains. "Our study of cortisol is designed to monitor this hormone, not to deal with a stress-related disorder."
White and Royalty also monitor a group of all-male gorillas at the Louisville Zoo.
"The gorillas do not have any on-going stress related issues," White says, "but we monitor their cortisol and behavior to see whether stress will emerge as the group gets older."
Royalty and White began their research together after a CentreTerm trip White led in Barbados, where students studied primate behavior. After the term, White invited Royalty to help him perform research throughout the summer and academic year.
White appreciates the help and often incorporates students into his research work.
"I enjoy their enthusiasm and interest in learning new skills," he says. "There are mutual benefits to these collaborations. The student gets experience executing, analyzing and reporting scientific research."
Part of the experience, he adds, "is the opportunity to do some of the problem-solving that goes into the day-to-day conduct of research. From this, the students should have a more realistic perception of what research involves."
For Royalty, this is true.
"What I like about working for Dr. White is that I get to take part in so many different parts of the research, from data collection, lab work and, more recently, data analysis. Even though data analysis isn't as fun as behavioral observations or cortisol assays, I appreciate that I'm seeing so many sides of research."
Royalty also appreciates the distinct opportunity to work in a zoo.
"The zoo is a unique and exciting place to work," she says, "and it gave me many opportunities, such as shadowing the zoo vet and observing a surgery on a zebra this summer. Here on campus, I also get to take part in the lab work, which is a little more applicable to my BMB major."
Though White gets the benefit of working with students and Royalty benefits from her experience, research they do reaches far beyond Kentucky.
"In a more general sense," White explains, "humans are continuing to reduce the wild space that is available to other animals. This is likely to lead to a situation where virtually all of these large mammals are living in managed populations. The more we know about these animals in the captive setting, the better will be our basis for managing wild populations."
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Consumers Digest ranks Centre No. 1 in educational value among all U.S. liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
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