Julia Redfern – Fishing for Answers

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Playing in the waters of Clear Lake, north of Brandon, left an indelible mark on Julia Redfern, who graduated this past spring from Brandon University with a major in Biology.

“Growing up, I have great memories of being at the lake,” she says. “More recently, while scuba diving, I began thinking about the fascinating life that exists underwater and the similarities with our human world. That’s what I want to study.”

As an undergraduate at BU, Julia received federal funding in 2011 and 2012 to work with her professor, and was bitten by the research bug. In 2013, she completed her undergraduate honors thesis about freshwater parasites found in southern Manitoba, which led to an exciting new discovery. “It’s relatively significant in the parasite world,” she says modestly. “I studied how different parasite species interact within a given freshwater snail host and discovered a soldier morph which, to date, had only been observed in marine parasite species.”

Julia presented her research to the Prairie University Biological Symposium in Winnipeg in February 2013, and was urged to publish the thesis in scientific journals. “I have not,” she says, “but the experience really made up my mind to make research my career.”

Enrolled this fall in a Masters program at the University of Ottawa, Julia will continue her research for the next two years, with a field study on freshwater fish in the summer of 2014 that could have enormous implications for humans.

“I will study chronic stress in largemouth bass,” she says, “specifically the timing of physiological responses to chronic stress. Male bass experience chronic stress during a six week period when they provide sole parental care to their brood. The fish have few opportunities to feed and are very active while fanning the eggs to keep them oxygenated and free of silt, and then defending the young.”

Julia will focus on what happens to the level of a hormone called cortisol, found in all vertebrates including humans, which is produced when a body is under stress. “My research may have important implications for people suffering from chronic stress. I hope to eventually develop a test to predict how an individual will react to chronic stress, which could therefore evaluate whether an individual has a predisposition to developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Knowing one’s risk of PTSD could ultimately help prevent it.”

When Julia entered Brandon University, she intended to become a doctor. “I heard that BU had a great science program. Also, my two sisters and brother received their undergraduate degrees there and said the professors really care.” Instead of healing patients, Julia now sees herself operating a research lab and perhaps, in the future, working in collaboration with Conservation Canada.

“I like studying aquatic animals because of scuba diving, and I like studying freshwater animals because it reminds me of being at Clear Lake.” She pauses, the memories of youth meshing with ambitious ideas of future research. “The important thing is to keep an open mind. You never know where you will find answers.”

This article first ran in the The Current, an annual publication produced by Manitoba Conservation Districts Association (MCDA).

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