W&J rising senior April Bonifate sits at a desk with computer monitors displaying scans and smiles.

Something fishy: rising senior investigates aquatic parasite in Washington internship

Created: July 26, 2022  |  Last Updated: August 24, 2022  |  Category:   |  Tagged: , , ,

WASHINGTON, PA (July 26, 2022)—Scientific discovery is pulling at the line of aquatic researchers in Washington state and W&J rising senior April Bonifate is helping them reel it in.

A biology major with a concentration in professional writing, Bonifate has interned at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences for the past several weeks and is working with researchers Chelsea Wood, Ph.D., and Julieta Martinelli, Ph.D., in the Wood Lab to compare modern Olympia oysters with historic Olympia oyster samples (between 2,000 and 3,000 years old) to determine if the shell-boring parasites currently seen on the oysters are new to the Pacific Northwest (PNW) or are long-time residents.

“This is a very unique role to be in as an undergraduate,” Bonifate said, noting her contribution to a study that impacts shellfish farmers, native tribes, and natural resource management.

Photographing shell samples, imaging shells with a Computed Tomography (CT) scanner, analyzing images, sharing progress on social media, and assisting with manuscripts, she does seem significantly involved in research that is beginning to develop results.

“So far, [the CT scans] show evidence of a parasite,” Bonifate said. “Regardless of species, we can already tell that a parasite has been infecting PNW oysters for quite a while, and we hope to establish a timeline of just how long they have been here.”

She’s grateful to W&J for her ability to do so.

“I pretty much was able to create my own internship since W&J has flexible options to fund student projects,” said Bonifate, who received a Maxwell Award to support her work in the lab, and application advice from Professor of Biology Candy DeBerry, Ph.D. and Associate Professor of Biology James March, Ph.D.

“Dr. March encouraged me to…make the most of my undergraduate summers,” Bonifate said, “and Dr. DeBerry’s expertise and resources for landing student research internships helped me make this a reality.”

So too did her courses and co-curricular activities.

“Working as a supervisor in the Office of Admission and as an [Residential Assistant] prepared me to take initiative…and the breadth of my classes are also contributing to my success,” Bonifate said “Having access to a CT scanner is no small feat, and to be trusted to run scans on my own, as a visiting undergrad, really makes me consider how lucky I am to have had lab experiences that prepared me.”

Those same experiences, along with her internship, are now preparing her for post-graduate life.

“As a biology major who decided not to follow the medical route, it was scary to navigate what I might want to do after college,” Bonifate said. “However, this opportunity is teaching me that I can be on the forefront of scientific discovery and in a career using my degree.”

To learn more about the research of Dr. Wood and her team, follow @olysfromthepast on Instagram and Twitter.

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, proudly located in Washington, Pa., is a historic liberal arts college founded in 1781 that values ethical leadership, professional readiness, and inclusive communities. Our highly customized and intellectually engaging student experience develops professionals of uncommon integrity to lead in an ever-changing world. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu or call 888-W-AND-J.