Fishy Business: An Exchange With Brazil

UC Riverside lab offers Brazilian undergraduates an opportunity to do high-quality research

Photo shows three students.

Diego Rafael dos Santos Peixoto (left), Marianna de Miranda Gonzalez (seated) and Priscila Wilker Cortes are undergraduates from Brazil who are working in a UC Riverside lab. Photo credit: Iqbal Pittalwala, UC Riverside.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Three undergraduate students from Brazil spent nearly three months doing research in the laboratory of David Reznick, a distinguished professor of biology at the University of California, Riverside.  The students, who are supported by an international Research Experience for Undergraduates grant from the National Science Foundation, leave the United States on April 16.  Two more students from Brazil will visit Reznick’s lab this summer and stay for three months.

The three students — Diego Rafael dos Santos Peixoto and Marianna de Miranda Gonzalez from the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro; and Priscila Wilker Cortes from the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro Faculdade de Formação de Professores — arrived in the U.S. on Jan. 23 to do research work that is part of Reznick’s ongoing study of the evolution of placentas in the fish family Poeciliidae.

“They are concentrating their work on what had been a single species from Brazil, but has recently been reclassified as 23 species!” Reznick said.

Reznick had worked on this species and published a paper about it in 2000 with Ai Li Arias (then an undergraduate at UC Riverside) as senior author.  They discovered that the fish are placental, but in a way that is different from all other members of the family.

Reznick explained that Brazil is taking an initiative to fund exchanges between their universities and universities elsewhere.

“We learned of a special program at NSF that funds international Research Experience for Undergraduate supplements to existing NSF grants,” he said. “The program was developed in partnership with CAPES, the Brazilian equivalent of NSF.”

The three visiting students mentioned that Brazil often lacks the structure they see in Reznick’s lab.

“The laboratories here are well equipped,” Marianna de Miranda Gonzalez said. “In Brazil, we also don’t have the kind of specialists we see in the U.S.  Dr. Reznick is the best person to work with for the kind of research we are doing.”

Diego Rafael dos Santos Peixoto mentioned that the three students heard of Reznick through his research papers.

“Also, a professor of ours in Brazil has done research work with Dr. Reznick,” he said. “Our visit here has been a good opportunity for us to learn both English and another culture.”

Priscila Wilker Cortes is especially pleased that at UCR she got to learn how to work with fish — from dissecting them to doing statistical analyses.  She wants to pursue a master’s degree, possibly in the U.S.

“This visit gave us the opportunity to meet with other students in Dr. Reznick’s lab and discuss research papers with them,” she said.

Two of Reznick’s undergraduate students — Azeem Rahman and Unique Banares — will go to Brazil this summer for eight weeks. They will have an opportunity to immerse themselves in a foreign culture and experience Brazil’s exotic natural history.  At the same time, they will be able to learn about how livebearing fishes provision their young.

“They will learn how to integrate this information with DNA-based family trees to make inferences about how and when their novel form of reproduction evolved,” Reznick said.  “If they did the same work here, they would instead work with bottles of preserved fish.”

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