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Biochemistry Summer Internship Program

Biochemistry Summer Internship Program

Dr. Mark Merchant holding an alligator.

As part of a three-week biochemistry summer internship program at McNeese State University, high school students traveled to local marshes to catch wild alligators and collect blood samples for their research on the unique immune systems of these reptiles. Out in the marshes are from left: Kostas Cheliotis, Andonis Mandenakis, Eirini Tsekitsidou, Dr. Mark Merchant, Alexandra Kiritsis, Emma Zahm, Janet Woolman and Vasilis Morkotinis.
McNeese Photo

Southwest Louisiana is a well-known habitat for alligators, and several high school students are taking advantage of a three-week biochemistry summer internship program at McNeese State University to study the unique immune systems of these reptiles.

The focus of the program - sponsored by the university - is on the immune systems of alligators and crocodiles led by Dr. Mark Merchant, professor of biochemistry and an internationally known expert in alligator immunology, a field of research that might lead to a new class of antibiotics for modern medicine.
Among the participants are four students from Anatolia High School in Thessaloniki, Greece--Kostas Cheliotis, Andonis Mandenakis, Vasilis Morkotinis, Eirini Tsekitsidou--and two students from Barbe High School--Alexandra Kiritsis and Emma Zahm.

This was a pilot summer internship program targeting qualified domestic and international high school students, according to Dr. Nikos Kiritsis, dean of the college of engineering and engineering technology who was one of the hosts for the McNeese program. "The program seeks to bring together international and domestic high school junior and seniors for a three-week scientific inquiry coupled with weekly excursions that highlight local places and customs."

Activities have included traveling to the local marshes to catch wild alligators, collecting blood samples, processing the samples in a lab and conducting experiments to determine the alligator's immunological capacity, as well as visiting New Orleans, NASA Space Center in Houston, Texas, and the Kisatchi National Forest.

"Summer internships are great opportunities for high school students to explore career fields by actually participating in activities related to a chosen field," said Janet Woolman, executive director of research and governmental relations who also served as one of the local hosts.