CSI Awarded Three-year NSF Collaborative Grant

Posted: September 15, 2020

Research has potential to make broad impacts in studying the metabolic rate in animals

by Irene Gray

As many great research projects begin, it all started with an innocent question.CSI Awarded Three-year NSF Collaborative Grant

While in their lab one day, Director of the Center for Stable Isotopes (CSI), Zachary Sharp, PhD, asked his Associate Director, Seth Newsome, PhD, and then-Postdoc student, John Whiteman, PhD, something that he had been thinking about casually: where does the oxygen in the air end up in the body?

“It started a whole conversation,” Sharp said, “What began as a passing comment became an idea that was eventually turned into a whole research project.”

That project has now become a fully funded $900,000 three-year collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) titled, “Triple oxygen isotopes as a new method to study water inputs and metabolism in wild animals”. By developing a new stable isotope method that requires a single sample to measure water sources, they aim to analyze the amount of water an animal needs to live while also seeing how reliant it is on different forms of water.

Sharp and Newsome are two of the Co-PIs on this grant, which was a large collaborative effort thanks to their strong relationships throughout the country and within the UNM Biology and Earth & Planetary Sciences departments. While CSI will be responsible for analyzing the data in their lab, there are many other moving parts spread out between two other universities.

The lead institution will be Old Dominion University, where their former Postdoc, Whiteman, is now an assistant professor. Whiteman is an animal physiologist and his lab will be doing much of the research with the mice, sparrows, and lizards involved in this project.

In addition to their partnership with Old Dominion, CSI is also collaborating with another animal physiologist by the name of Alex Gerson, PhD, who is an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Gerson is also another former Postdoc of CSI’s and his expertise in birds will help take this project to the next level.

CSI’s wide range of capabilities gives them the unique distinction of being a broader stable isotope facility than others, which significantly sets them apart from many other labs like theirs throughout the country. Because of this, a separate equipment grant to Sharp and colleagues in E&PS has also been funded by NSF which will actually give them the ability to make their measurements more accessible to other labs by using equipment that is smaller and less costly to acquire - ultimately giving the results of this research the potential to be broadly disseminated.

This equipment will be used to conduct field research at the Sevilleta Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site and will help expand their understanding of metabolic  changes in wild animals, including how they may vary from season to season. Undergraduate students will be able to take part in this field work, giving them valuable experience in their future careers.