Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Koala Poop Smells Good: How I Know This and Ways to Increase the Impact of Research Through Education & Outreach
by Dahlhausen, Katherine Ellen, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2019, 166; 22622137
Abstract (Summary)

Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) are arboreal marsupials native to Australia that subsist on a diet almost exclusively of Eucalyptus leaves. Eucalyptus leaves contain many toxic compounds, yet koalas are able to tolerate this toxic diet with strategies independent and dependent of their intestinal microbial communities. Koala populations across Australia have a high prevalence of Chlamydia infections. Wild koalas are often brought into wildlife hospitals to be tested and treated for Chlamydia infections, but there is evidence that these antibiotic treatments can cause severe negative side effects in koalas.

Chapter 1 explores how the intestinal bacterial communities of koalas shift throughout antibiotic treatment and identifies taxa that are strongly correlated with koala survival during treatment. The most predictive taxa of a koala surviving antibiotic treatment was identified as Lonepinella koalarum, a bacteria known to degrade tannins, a common toxin found in Eucalyptus leaves. While this finding suggests that L. koalarum may be important for koala health, it is unclear what role this bacteria plays in degrading toxins found in Eucalyptus leaves. To provide insight for this, Chapter 2 describes the whole genome sequencing of L. koalarum as well as several analyses of the genome assembly aimed at determining potential toxin degradation functionality.

The second part of the dissertation discusses some of the ways in which the content covered in Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 was used for education and outreach. For example, the research was funded in part by a successful crowdfunding campaign (Chapter 3), the generation of isolates from koala feces was used as the curriculum for a Course Based Undergraduate Research Experience (Chapter 4), and the importance of L. koalarum was used to teach young audiences about the symbiotic relationships (Chapter 5). These examples highlight how research can be used for education and outreach, which engages an audience far outside the realms of academia. Chapter 6 is yet another example of how current research can be rewritten to reach young audiences.

The best way way to engage learners in science (or otherwise) is to utilize teaching techniques for active learning. It has been known for centuries that students learn significantly better when they are actively learning, but lecture-based teaching practices are still profolific, especially in higher education. In Chapter 7, I argue that teaching for active learning does not have to be cost or time prohibitive; the chapter outlines non-time-consuming and cost-free teaching strategies for all audiences.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Eisen, Jonathan
Commitee: Clancy, Colleen, Fairclough, Robert
School: University of California, Davis
Department: Biophysics
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 81/4(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Microbiology, Education
Keywords: active learning, antibiotics, koala, Lonepinella koalarum, outreach
Publication Number: 22622137
ISBN: 9781392629352
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