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Two East Central University students have won a national award for research they conducted at ECU that could have implications in biofuels and bioenergy research.

Josh Belcher of Ada and Brent Biddy of Seminole received the John C. Johnson Award for excellence in undergraduate research presented in a poster session at the national Beta Beta Beta (Tri-Beta) convention in May in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Belcher made the presentation after winning the Johnson Award at the regional level. The award came with an all-expenses-paid trip to Puerto Rico to compete at the national level.

The students’ research, titled “Characterization of a Temporary Cryptophycean Endosymbiont of the Freshwater Dinoflagellate, Gymnodinium acidotum,” was conducted in collaboration with Dr. Stephen Fields, ECU assistant professor of biology.

One of the main goals for the project, Belcher said, was to be able to show that in the presence of G. acidotum secretions, growth rates for its algal prey are increased.

“We were able to prove this through extensive growth studies on the prey that involved different concentrations of the G. acidotum secretions in its growth medium. On a broader scale,” he explained, “if we can isolate this compound from the secretions and subject other algal species to it, hopefully their growth rates will also increase. This would have implications in biofuels and bioenergy research utilizing algae as a way to produce fuels.”

At each conference Belcher said he looked forward to seeing other research being conducted and to be able to show one aspect of the research underway at ECU.

“It is a great privilege and honor to receive these awards,” he said, “and we would like to thank Dr. Stephen Fields and the biology department at ECU for giving us the opportunity to work on this project for the past year.”

The research was initiated last summer through two Oklahoma EPSCoR awards to Fields and Biddy, funded by the National Science Foundation, and other students are continuing the research at ECU this summer through the same EPSCoR grant.

This summer Biddy is completing an internship at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and Belcher is in the Environmental Research Apprenticeship Program through ECU at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at the Robert S. Kerr Research Center in Ada.

Beta Beta Beta is a national biological honor society that was founded in 1922 at Oklahoma City University.

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