If anyone questions whether CTAHR students can think outside the box, Exhibit A for the defense surely goes to Angelica Valdez.
The grad student in the Dept. of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering, who is conducting studies on the endemic ʻopihi, was initially stymied when project funding ran out. She applied to the feds for grant support, but was told those monies were ‘temporarily’ earmarked for Covid research.
Rather than give up, Angelica contacted the Experiment Foundation, which works with companies, government agencies, and the general public to fund scientific research. Notably, actor Robert Downey, Jr., recently gave the foundation $250,000.
“It’s a campaign-based website where researchers pitch their projects (purpose, importance, goals, and timeline) and people/companies who are interested can donate to help meet your goal – like GoFundMe meets Shark Tank,” Angelica explains. “It’s an all-or-nothing type of situation, so you must meet your goal – which I did!”
With support in place, Angelica and undergraduate Mitchell Marabella will resume looking at ʻopihi settlement and grow-out phases, and how we can master these for the potential of population restoration. This is especially needed data, since ʻopihi continue to experience excessive harvesting and climate change.
The money from Experiment Foundation donors is going toward a water-quality meter for the ʻopihi settlement tanks and peptide synthesis materials. These settlement tank systems aim to mimic a more favorable intertidal habitat for the larvae, ideally boosting settlement and grow-out rates. Other monies received from UH UROP and GSO are for the settlement tank systems.
Angelica and Mitchell, through the use of novel biochemical techniques (development of peptides targeting specific neural pathways in reproduction), hope to induce spawning (reproduction), allowing for control of reproduction. In previous projects, Angelica used modified jellyfish tanks improve settlement and increase survival rates.
“Reaching my goal through this foundation shows there are more people, beyond just in Hawai’i, who share the same love for ‘opihi as we do,” says Angelica. “We are able to reach a wider audience, bringing more attention to our endeavor.”
Mitchell adds, “As an undergraduate, I’ve had to learn quickly to contribute to the project. By improving quickly, I’ve been able to lighten Angel’s workload a little bit, and in doing so, we have been able to make quicker progress on the project as a whole.”
View Angelica’s Experiment Foundation fundraising page for “Improving Hawaiʻi’s endemic limpet population through novel biochemical techniques.”