Santana Thomas, a third year student at the University of South Florida, pursing her PhD in chemistry was afforded the opportunity to participate in a research study in Antarctica.
Thomas, who was a member of the Bishop Michael Eldon School (BMES) 2006 graduating class, followed up her high school education with a Bachelors of Science in Chemistry from St. Thomas University.
She recently shared with this daily the importance of participating in the research experience in Antarctica and her thoughts on her four month learning experience, researching secondary metabolites that derive from marine organisms.
“My research is in natural product chemistry, specifically marine organisms. What we do is collect organisms such as coral and various organisms in marine life, where hopefully, we can come up with compounds that have potential medicinal drug uses.
“The lab that I am currently attached to has three of four compounds that are displaying good bioactivity, such as biological activity where they either kill certain diseases or they slow the rate of them reproducing.
“There is a compound called darwinolide that was recently published, which derived from the sponge, dendrilla membranosa.” Discovering this compound, she noted, was a great find.
Thomas has been in Antarctica for the past three weeks, working alongside a lab based in Tampa, Florida. Professor James McLintock, a professor at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, who also taught on the island of Exuma for a number of years, along with two other professors (Dr. Bill Baker and Charles Amsler, also a professor at the University of Alabama, Birmingham) together with the other students traveled to the continent to conduct chemical and ecological work there.
“They usually do yearly trips to Antarctica, different graduate students are selected to participate, some dive while others are specially instructed to work on projects only. I have two papers that are brewing, they haven’t been published as yet; but they are well on their way to being. They have some new chemistry within them as well; both are on arctic corals that I have worked on.
“I am currently working on some Antarctic red algae. I am seeking to determine if they have any new or existing chemistry that we will be interested in, that can potentially have some good drug benefits.”
Having been in Antarctica for just over three weeks, Thomas was questioned about her experience thus far. “It is a very pretty place, extremely different from what I am accustomed to … even what I have experienced in Florida. It is quite mountainous and there is always ice, which does necessarily mean that it is always cold.
“We are at a United States based science station, named Pharma Station, which has about 44 people here. It is a really close-knit community. It is really nice being here, meeting new people. Everyone here is either staff or doing some type of scientific research. There are only two of us that traveled from my lab at the University of South Florida to participate in this research in Antarctica this year.”
Not only is Thomas the only female in the group from the University of South Florida this year, but she is also the only student hailing from the Caribbean as well, as her colleague is an American.
Questioned if after she has completed her research studies at the University of South Florida if she intends to return home, Thomas responded, “I have about a year-and-a-half to two years left in my studies. After I am done I do want to return home; however, there is not much experience where I can have a mentor to do so.
“Therefore, I would like to remain in the States before returning home for good; I do want to increase research within The Bahamas as well, but there is no way for me to do that immediately after graduation. I will still have to be under the wing of an experienced chemist in the field before I return home, so that I can ensure that I have all of the tools necessary to go forward in, not only transforming chemical research but also all scientific research within The Bahamas.
“We have so much science that is being published by authors outside of The Bahamas that are not Bahamians, where they get credit for it, when the information comes from Bahamian waters,” concluded Thomas.
Published Tuesday, March, 14, 2017