Featured Scholar: Liesl Flandermeyer

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Featured Scholar: Liesl Flandermeyer
Watson, Sara
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Gainesville, Fla.
University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Undergraduate Liesl I'. Flandermeyer
Research 2006 - 2007 University Scholar

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ubl1ssIis disciplines and fields of study in academia, it is that you never know where you might

Archives end up.

Scholar Profiles As is the case with many students arriving in Gainesville for a first taste of tertiary
education, when Liesl K. Flandermeyer came to the University of Florida as an incoming
Contact Et Staff freshman, she was unsure where her academic career would lead her. "In my first
semester at UF, I was on track to be a music major," says Flandermeyer. "But I really
University Scholars Program didn't know what I wanted to do. My strategy was just to keep as many doors open as

Undergraduate Research possible until I really knew exactly what I wanted to major in."

Resources Yet it did not take long for Flandermeyer to narrow down her choices to two of the more

Search: challenging options available to undergraduates at the University of Florida: she became
an Integrative Biology major in order to get on track for either pre-med or pre-vet. In
making this choice as a senior biology major, Flandermeyer ended up writing a research
Enter Search Terms paper on a topic that she would never have imagined when she was taking music courses
as a freshman.

During her senior year, Flandermeyer, who is now in her first year working towards her
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), started investigating a rather unexpected potential
research topic for her senior thesis: the relationship between manatees and red tide.

"When I first started looking into a research project I wasn't on the vet path yet, but I
was definitely drawn to projects that were more animal-related, or environmentally-
related," says Flandermeyer. After looking at a number of different options,
Flandermeyer contacted Professor Don Samuelson, a faculty member in the Department
of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. Flandermeyer thought that Dr. Samuelson's research
into the manatee was "really interesting" and something that she could engage with as a
more in-depth area of study.

Flandermeyer's paper, "Immunohistochemical Localization of the Red Tide Organism
(Karenia brevis) in the Florida Manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris)," looks into the
role of red tide, the algal bloom that has the potential to plague beaches all across the
western hemisphere, and how it relates to increased death rates of manatees along the
coastline of Florida.

In 2006, the Florida manatee, sometimes referred to as a "sea cow," was removed from
the endangered species list by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
under the approval of then Florida Governor Jeb Bush; however, because of the
combination of the manatee's low birth rate with a death rate of over 400 manatees a
year (for a population of somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000), Flandermeyer believes
that the "long-term survival of the manatee population is in severe jeopardy."

With that in mind, Flandermeyer set out to try to pinpoint some of the factors behind the
death rate of the large marine mammals. "The basis of the project was to develop a test
in which you would be able to use manatee tissue to determine which manatees had
been affected by the red tide organism," says Flandermeyer.

To develop the test, Flandermeyer used a series of antibodies: "I incubated manatee
tissues with the primary antibody and different conjugates on top of that which would
result in a substrate that would show up red under the microscope," Flandermeyer says.
"Basically, this means that you could see wherever the red tide antibodies were showing
up on the tissue."

Flandermeyer says that the goal of her research was to identify the specific outcomes of
red tide on mantaees. "I mostly looked at lymph nodes, but also some areas of the
digestive tract and spleen to see if the organism could be localized in those tissues,"
Flandermeyer says. "A lot (of the tests) were successful and I was able to see under the
microscope that the tissues were infected."

In the course of her research, Flandermeyer not only engaged with the particulars of the
manatee but the consequences of red tide for local fauna. "You can find red tide in low
concentrations in the ocean but can sometimes rise to greater concentrations, causing
health problems in humans-- asthmatic problems, for example-- as well as problems in
the wildlife (that are exposed to it)," says Flandermeyer. "It also becomes airborne, with
waves crashing around and breaking up the particles."

"From the research I did, it doesn't seem that red tide has a great effect on the majority
of people," says Flandermeyer. "The people that it does tend to affect usually already
have respiratory difficulties."

What is worth noting is that the leading cause of death amongst manatees in Florida is
due to boat accidents. "I have seen lots of manatees in parks before, and you can see
the scars on their backs," Flandermeyer says. "It's thought that red tide could have quite

an effect on manatees that have already been injured and cannot fight off any resulting

Flandermeyer admits that her research was made much easier by the faculty support
that she received during the research and writing periods of her project. Dr. Samuelson
has been "a really great mentor," Flandermeyer says. "And was really supportive in my
later applications to vet school."

When asked if she is ready to choose between an academic career or life as a working
veterinarian, Flandermeyer is continuing to keep her options open. "Right now, I think I
could end up as a small animal vet, (treating) dogs and cats" Flandermeyer says. "But
there are so many different paths that you can take in veterinary medicine: large
animals, exotic animals, or public health. A lot of people aren't fully aware of what you
can do."

In some ways, Flandermeyer finds herself in the same position that she was in as a
freshman. "It'sjust my first semester (as a graduate student)," Flandermeyer says. "I
think it would be great to get involved in a few different things before I strictly settle on

- Christopher Garland


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