Flushing student wins prestigious conservation award

By Carlotta Mohamed

Gabriella Sosa Medina wasn’t expecting to win an award at the ninth-annual Student Conference on Conservation Science, an event organized by the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation held every fall.

The 18-year-old Flushing resident and her teammate Angela Benton received a prize for best poster for their research on bobcats, conducted with wildlife biologist Dr. Claudia Wultsch as part of the Museum’s Science Research and Mentoring Program (SRMP).

The SRMP program provides high-school students the opportunity to join museum scientists for a year and get hands-on experience involving a real-world research project, according to Wultsch.

Medina conducted the research last year, when she was a senior at New York City iSchool.

“The poster was basically a rather simplified rundown of what our current research paper is going to be — introduction as to why studying the microbiome is a new scientific frontier and why we don’t study it in wild animals, and how this study can further assist in conservation and health screening,” said Medina.

The team analyzed swab samples collected from wild bobcats, evaluating the carnivore’s microbiome — thousands of microorganisms that inhabit its body — to identify important baseline information that may aid conservation efforts.

As in humans, microbes have an enormous impact on animal health and biology, but remain severely understudied in wild animal populations. The team is now preparing their results to be considered for publication in a scientific journal.

“Working amongst Claudia every meeting was something new I’ve never done before and it was overall a pretty eye-opening experience,” said Medina. “Prior to doing the SRMP program, I wasn’t really on the science research track, but now am thinking of it as a possible career.”

“Right now I’m a little between science research and emergency medicine, so I’m trying to see how I can weave those two together,” she added. “I’m actually speaking with a professor here at St. John’s in the hopes of participating in a research project this summer.”

Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmohamed@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4526.

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