University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

Student Focus

Suma Lashof in the lab
Suma Lashof examines samples of bat DNA on a UV light table in Marsh Life Science. Photograph by Joshua Brown


Student Focus

Eureka moments make compelling movie scripts, but they aren’t what day-to-day research is really about. Last summer and through this academic year, Suma Lashof, an environmental science major in the Honors College, has worked with biology professor Bill Kilpatrick on the DNA of threatened Vermont bat populations.

In August, Lashof bumped up against difficulty in the lab finding a primer to properly amplify the DNA in bat guano she had collected. This is not failure, Kilpatrick notes, this is education. “There is an advantage of getting into research,” he says. “You do a lab in a genetics course, and, of course, it’s going to work. It’s designed that way.” But Lashof’s struggles to amplify the DNA of these bats requires a much deeper dive into what it actually means to experiment.

“I had this idealized picture in my mind that there’s this clear methodology and it’s just simply going to work,” she says. “That’s not the reality of research.”

A month later, the undergrad would find her way on that particular challenge. And, through her work with Kilpatrick, she’s found something much more. “I didn’t know much about bats before I came to college. Now they are my passion,” she says. It all started with a paper she wrote for a class on invasive species, learning that nine species of North American bats are being devastated by white-nose syndrome, a deadly disease caused by an invasive fungus.

The hope for Lashof’s research project is to help state biologists with Vermont’s Department of Fish and Wildlife monitor the location and health of roosting bat colonies via the DNA in their guano, making it so they don’t have to catch or handle these sensitive creatures.  




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