Mike Zulch

Student Seeks Crowd Funding for
‘The Scoop on Poop’

Biology major Michael Zulch ’17 of Ludlow is counting on big crowd support for his research project on very small crowds -- microbial populations.

Since he was a freshman, Michael has participated in a metagenomic study involving microbes in the guts of horses for Dr. Janet Williams, professor and advisor for premedical/pre-health professions, and director of the Postbaccalaureate Premedical Studies program. Now two semesters into his independent research project, he has discovered a unique way to obtain funds to map the equine microbiome: crowd funding.

Crowdfunding Research Experiences for Undergraduates (CREU) is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between institutional funds and external grants to increase undergraduate research funding.

“We believe that these populations of microbes are carrying out important and vital functions for our health and wellbeing,” Michael says in the explanation of his project on the CREU website. “Then you might ask, ‘How does one go about studying this internal world and unlocking its special secrets?’ This is the focus of my proposal.”

The microorganisms found in horse guts are analogous to those in humans, he said.

“It has been shown that the human microbiome (the community of microorganisms that share our body spaces and surfaces) is critical to maintaining our own health,” Michael said. “Using the human analogy, we will study the microbial life in the gut of the horse.”

Horses are extremely sensitive to changes in their diets, exercise and even weather, he added. Diseases also affects changes in the horse’s intestinal tract.

“We hope to determine how these changes affect the dynamic of life in the gut and might potentially lead to problems for the horse,” Michael said.

In the 30 days the project will be actively raising money on CREU, Michael hopes to raise $2,414. Most of the funds will be used to buy the supplies necessary to perform DNA extractions, while a small portion will pay for library prep and deep sequencing work at New England Biolabs. He and Williams hope to publish the research, possibly in NCBI GenBank or PLoS, and to present it at the Eastern Colleges Science Conference.

The projects requesting funding are vetted by CREU, which gave Michael’s project a “highly recommended” designation.

“Overall, it’s a good project that an undergraduate can understand and technically perform,” wrote one CREU project reviewer.

To learn more about Michael’s project on CREU, which goes live on March 30, visit: https://creu.tilt.com/what-s-the-scoop-on-poop

To track his progress, follow his updates on Twitter @ElmsBioResearch

For more on Michael’s work in Janet Williams’ lab, see: “As the Worm Turns”