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Lee Capristo
Director of Publications
Email: lwcapristo@smcm.edu
Phone:240-895-4795
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Study of Fish Ears Helps Measure Antibiotic

Written by Barbara Geehan, River Gazette Editor

SMCM student Gordon Michael Selckmann in the lab.

Did you know fish have ears? Did you know their inner ears are similar to humans? So similar in fact that scientists are using them to study hearing damage?

St. Mary's College biology professor John Ramcharitar asked senior Gordon Michael Selckmann to help him study the effects of using too much gentamicin, a popular antibiotic for children's ear infections, by studying the effects on the sensory hair cells of goldfish.  Their resulting paper has just been published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, "Differential Ablation of Sensory Receptors Underlies Ototoxin-Induced Shifts in Auditory Thresholds of the Goldfish."

Bottom line: An overdose of the antibiotic can indeed kill hair cells, which can damage hearing. The correct dosages are fine.

"It was an amazing opportunity for me to go through the entire process of such a study," says Selckmann. "Working for Dr. R gave me the chance to understand how academia works."

Selckmann dissected euthanized fish, then dyed the ear tissues; hair cells not destroyed by the gentamicin turned a bright green. He counted the damage under various circumstances, then helped analyze the numbers.

Selckmann, a biology major headed after graduation to a job with the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons, came to be scrunched over a microscope by a circuitous route. Growing up in Frederick, Maryland, with a summer home in Calvert County, he "fished my entire life. If it had gills, I knew how to catch it."

He also credits his passion for fish to field trips with his uncle, who works at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum.

But at 6'9", Selckmann has another love besides biology: pounding the courts with a basketball. "I played on the team for two years, but then realized I had to choose between them. Even if you are giving 110%, you end up giving 55% to each, and failing both. It was a big turnaround for me, a defining year, a real conflict of passion." He still plays pick-up with friends on the team, and was thrilled when St. Mary's captured the program's third CAC championship title this year.

Selckmann worked on the project with Ramcharitar all last summer, while juggling research for his St. Mary's Project. For that, he also went to the sea, studying how the brains of fish like croaker and spot are connected to the ear and how auditory signals are sent through this neural network. "I'd go out in the afternoon, catch some croaker for research - and dinner," he says.


Other SMCM Authors

In another recent example of St. Mary's students getting published - a rarity for undergrads, senior psychology majors Katie Bamberger, Kelli Hill, and Kevin Turek worked alongside Laraine Glidden, distinguished professor of psychology and human development, since their sophomore years, on the 20-year-old Project Parenting that compares families with biological children with developmental disabilities to those who voluntarily adopt. The results were published in the Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities in January 2010 and demonstrated positive outcomes for families rearing children with disabilities.

Theater, Film, and Media Studies major Ian Prince's contemporary Japanese-inspired kyôgen play, The Healing
Drink
, was recently published in The Wittenberg University East Asian Studies Journal.