The Knox Student (TKS): What is your Honors project?
Rachel Lyman (RL): My honors project is on mutation accumulation in fruit flies. I’m looking to see how mutations develop over time.
TKS: What led you to be interested in that?
RL: I started working at a lab at North Carolina State University and working with fruit flies about four years ago, and I got really interested in the behavioral research they were doing, and this was a project that got put up with them, and I grabbed it. So I’m doing this with Knox and with North Carolina State.
TKS: What made you decide to pursue Honors?
RL: Well, I plan on doing this for the rest of my life. I want to do research, maybe teach, and Honors, I feel, gives you that experience to really focus on your research a great deal and also practice defending it: standing up and defending your research to outside examiners … so I felt like it would be a good experience to do now. And I love research, so I’ll take any excuse to do more research.
TKS: What do you want to do after Knox, and how will your project play into that?
RL: I’m taking a few years off to actually continue this research. After I finish Honors, I’m going to be back at NC State and working on it for the summer, possibly for the next year. So I’m trying to finish that. And I’m planning on applying to grad school going into genetics. I’m looking at evolutionary [biology], ecology, genetics … I’m not entirely sure yet, which is why I’m taking a few years off.
TKS: Tell me what exactly you’re doing to examine mutation accumulation in fruit flies.
RL: My project has a lot of different components. I’m focusing on sleep and sleep traits. I put … individual flies in a machine that monitored their sleep activity for a week by how often they moved. I then get to look at all the computer output from it and find out how it changed. I did a later generation [of flies], and previous generations were done by one of my other coworkers. I’m hoping to see that their behavior, whether it’s sleep length or their waking activity, has changed over 60 generations.
Eventually, I’m going to be looking at the DNA sequence. I’m very excited. That probably won’t be part of my Honors project; it may not get back to me in time. This summer, I will be focusing on looking at the specific mutations in the sequence for these flies.
TKS: When you say “mutation,” I think of lumps growing out of bodies. I don’t think that’s what you mean.
RL: There’s no outward, physical mutation. It’s all genomic within the DNA sequence. Different genes attribute to sleep, and we know a lot of what these genes are. Maybe I’ll find a new gene that contributes to it. And there could be just one little thing that’s different in the DNA for that … fly that has to do with sleep.
TKS: What advice do you have for students who are thinking about doing Honors?
RL: Make sure that you have the time to do it and that it’s something that you really are passionate about doing because if you’re not, that’s a lot of time going to something that’s going to make you very stressed out … I know that I’m personally very stressed with this project, but I enjoy doing it, so that makes it easier. But if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, then maybe it’s not the best thing.