SURF participant Delilah Schuerman
SURF participant Delilah Schuerman.

SURF Offers Up-Close Research Opportunity Microbiology Major Researches Stress Effects on Japanese Quail

Delilah Schuerman says she has undergraduate research opportunities at Chapman University that she wouldn’t have gotten at a larger school.

SURF is an eight-week paid research and creative program in which students and newly minted alumni participate in a faculty member’s ongoing work, taking a particular role or making their own project. At the end of the program, they present their research work at Chapman’s Summer Research Conference.

Schuerman, a rising senior, is investigating how chronic stress affects brain responses in Japanese quail. Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Patricia Lopes is overseeing her work.

“It is a huge opportunity,” Scheurman says. “Doing research has made me realize I really enjoy it. I can see myself working in any type of lab.”

This summer’s research builds on work Schuerman, a molecular biology major, did last summer on the quails’ parental care, which she presented at a national biology conference with other professionals.

“Getting to be around other scientists and present my findings was hugely beneficial,” she says. “Doing public speaking there has helped my confidence. And I was able to go to presentations from different graduate schools to hear what types of research they’re doing.”

She says Lopes encouraged her and other students to apply for as many research opportunities as they could.

“We do a lot of different things in our lab – we look at sickness, stress, parental care,” she says. 

During SURF, Schuerman is collecting data to determine how chronic stress affects responses in the hippocampus area of the birds’ brains. That brain region is connected with learning and memory, and in humans is affected by conditions like Alzheimer’s and depression, according to Lopes.

The birds, which are domesticated for eggs and meat, can be stressed out by factors like crowding and migration, Lopes says.

“Other projects in our lab have studied stress hormones – equivalent hormones are present in humans, so understanding how chronic stress affects the genes in Japanese quail can translate over to how chronic stress affects humans,” Scheuerman says.

Schuerman is a member of Chapman’s honors program and the biology honors society.

Joy Juedes

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