Crabs crawl their way into medicine

Crabs are more than just a delicious seafood dinner. The crustaceans not only taste great on a platter, but may hold the key to finding treatment for human ailments.

Don Lovett, professor of biology, presented “Crabs as model organisms; What a crab can tell us about our cells” on Wednesday, Nov. 8, to a Forcina lecture hall that was over half-filled with curious students.

“The most common question (is), ‘Why crabs?'” Lovett said at the beginning of his presentation.

Lovett began his research because he wondered why blue crabs and green crabs were able to survive in both fresh and salt water. The crabs live in a stressful environment: they must battle tides, variations in salt content and temperature changes. Lovett wondered why they were able to function so well.

Lovett found that crabs are great at regulating the salt content in their blood. Humans use kidneys to osmoregulate, or filter. Crabs use their gills.

Due to the crab’s ability to adapt to difficult environments, they are model organisms for the study of hypertension, or high blood pressure. When a crab is moved from high salinity to low salinity, the levels of dopamine and serotonin in their blood increases.

“By studying how dopamine and serotonin affect the cells in crabs, we may be able to understand how the cells in our kidneys work and use the crabs as model organisms with which to develop possible treatments for hypertension in humans,” Lovett said.

Lovett described the road to scientific discovery as “little bricks being put into a wall and eventually you have a wall.” The path to scientific discovery is a long one, he said, and the process requires patience.

“This is where science gets hard. You have to ask the right questions,” Lovett said.

Two students involved in research with Lovett, senior biology majors Peter Treitler and Purak Parikh, were among those in attendance. The two have been working with Lovett for about two years.

“It’s cool to see the big picture again,” Parikh said.

According to Treitler, the presentation was “easy to understand” and “basic enough” for students of all majors.

“This one was one of the better (lectures),” Alex Rass, sophomore biology major, said.

The lecture was part of the Colloquium for the Recognition of Faculty Research and Creative Activity, a bi-annual event and a new endeavor for the faculty senate. This is the second series that has been held by the faculty senate. According to the College’s Web site, the faculty senate is a body whose job it is to “encourage and support excellence in teaching, scholarship and service.”

Lovett received two bachelor’s degrees, in zoology and fisheries, from the University of Montana, and went on to receive his master’s from the University of Michigan and his doctorate from the University of Southwestern Louisiana. Lovett has also worked for the Educational Testing Service and the College Board, the organizations that develop the SATs and the Advanced Placement exams, respectively.