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Thiel College biology professor and research assistant hoping to aid amphibian conservation


GREENVILLE, Pa.—The research completed last summer by Thiel College Assistant Professor of Biology Christopher Fonner, Ph.D., on amphibian population decline has generated two new research questions during this summer’s Greenville Neuromodulation Center Faculty/Student Research Institute.

In the summer 2016 project, Fonner focused on whether sex and gender differences in salamanders affected their susceptibility to a deadly fungal pathogen. This summer, he will work with undergraduate research assistant Amy Ritchie ’18 to test if infection by the same pathogen impacts mating rituals between male and female salamanders. At the same time, they will classify and isolate strains of bacteria residing on the salamanders’ skin, that may help the amphibians fight the pathogen.

How salamanders are affected by this kind of fungal infection in a courtship and mating setting is largely unknown, said Fonner. It is possible that the effects of this infection such as loss of mating chances and decline in courtship may contribute to population decline.

“Any data gathered from this mating project, as well as the skin bacteria inhibition project, could prove invaluable for amphibian conservation efforts,” he said.

“It is really interesting to be able to apply what I have learned in the classroom, as well as working as a microbiology lab teacher’s assistant, to real world applications,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie, of Madison, Ohio, is a senior biology and conservation biology double-major and a 2014 graduate of Madison High School.

Fonner is one of six faculty members participating in the Institute this summer. Other projects cover such varied topics from adolescent nicotine exposure to the impact of threat on supporters of female politicians.

About the GNC Faculty/Student Research Institute

In 2015, Thiel College alumni Fred Haer ’65 and his wife, Jill (Shackett) ’66, pledged more than $400,000 to fund the GNC Faculty/Student Research Institute. The Haers have given $135,000 per year for three years to pay for multi-year research projects and the summer research institute that focus on connecting science and liberal arts at Thiel College. Thiel College Assistant Professor of Biology Delbert Abi Abdallah, Ph.D., was named the director of the GNC Faculty/Student Research Institute in February 2016. The institute is open to all Thiel College faculty members, but maintains an emphasis on interdisciplinary science activities.

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About Thiel College

Thiel College is an independent college founded in the Lutheran tradition. Located in Greenville, Pa., the College offers 60 majors and minors, 24 varsity sports, and an 11:1 student-faculty ratio. The College is also home to a Master of Science in speech-language pathology, a Leadership Master of Business Administration and a Management Master of Business Administration. Both master’s degree programs offer innovative and accelerated five-year paths which allow students to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years. The speech-language pathology program also has an accelerated 15-month graduate-level program. The M.B.A. program also has a 12-month post-graduate program. A dedicated faculty paired with dynamic research and internship opportunities produce numerous graduate school and job placements. Coeducational from its beginnings, the College remains committed to combining tradition with innovation.

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