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Lab in Focus: Schwalbe Lab

Mathieu Norcross
Lake Forest College
Lake Forest, Illinois 60045

With the introduction of new professors to the science department comes the introduction of new labs to Lake Forest College. This year’s lab in focus is centered around the Schwalbe Lab, led by Assistant Professor of Biology Margot Schwalbe. The Schwalbe lab focuses on fish and how they sense the environment; specifically, it focuses on how the lateral line system influences swimming patterns in fish. 

Professor Schwalbe’s interest in the lateral line system began in college. Professor Schwalbe was heading into her senior majoring in biology with a focus on ecology. During her final year, she took an Animal Physiology course that caught her attention and led her to take on research in a master’s program that focused on sound localization in fish. This sound localization research led Professor Schwalbe to discover the intricacies of the lateral line system. With an interest in the lateral line system in place, Professor Schwalbe spent time in California looking at the development of the lateral line for her PhD work. This led to post-doctoral work focused around neural biomechanics and investigating how the lateral line applies to locomotion. 

All this past experience has now led Professor Schwalbe to Lake Forest College, where she and two student workers are focused on three main projects. The first project asks: how do vision and the lateral line system contribute to fish swimming in turbulence? This research is done in collaboration with the Tytell lab at Tufts University and was the main focus of Richter Scholar Kylie Morgan and lab mentor Hannah Stinson. The second project asks: how can fluorescent staining aid in the exploration of lateral line diversity? This project entails using fluorescent tools to map lateral line patterns in local Illinois fish and beyond. The third and final project asks: does the lateral line filter out self-generated flow? This project focuses on using electrophysiological techniques to study the mechanisms that allow the lateral line system to filter out hydrodynamic noise. 

This summer, the Schwalbe lab was part of the Richter Scholars program, which allows rising sophomores to participate in research laboratories for a period of 4 to 10 weeks. Kylie Morgan was introduced to the Schwalbe lab as a 10-week Richter. Her research focused on the first main project of the lab, which asked how vision and the lateral line system together contribute to fish swimming in turbulence. Completion of the project consisted of digitizing files sent over from the Tytell lab at Tufts University and then analyzing the lateral line data and imaging. This research has already been presented by Kylie Morgan at the Richter Symposium at Lake Forest College, and it will soon be presented at the Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology (SICB) conference by Hannah Stinson. 

The lab’s focus has real world applications that impact human health and engineering research. The lateral line system is very similar to that of the hair cells in the human ear; therefore, data collected from lateral line research can potentially be used  to treat diseases of the human ear, and it can lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms of human hearing more generally. The lateral line system is also being engineered onto remote vehicles in order to enhance precise movement. The lab’s future direction focuses on finishing the current research question, which Hannah Stinson will focus on for her senior project, as well as beginning to look into the other two projects the lab has decided to take on. The Schwalbe lab is just getting started here at Lake Forest College but is already making significant impacts within the college community. Be on the look for Professor Schwalbe and her lab assistants as they continue to make strides in the scientific community.


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Articles published within Eukaryon should not be cited in bibliographies. Material contained herein should be treated as personal communication and should be cited as such only with the consent of the author.