Environmental Toxicology Student Wins Competition for Research on Snails

Doctoral student Evelyn Reátegui-Zirena won the Three Minute Thesis competition for her presentation on her environmental toxicology research.

Evelyn Reátegui-Ziren

Evelyn Reátegui-Ziren

Texas Tech University doctoral candidate Evelyn Reátegui-Zirena recently won the Graduate School’s Three Minute Thesis competition with a presentation on her research regarding toxicology and the effects of human contamination on aquatic environments.

Reátegui-Zirena , originally from Peru, studied biology as an undergraduate, environmental science as a master’s student and now specializes in environmental toxicology as a doctoral student at Texas Tech.

“As a master’s student, I spent a summer in Peru working on a project related to the oil industry in the Peruvian rainforest. While I collected samples and performed aquatic toxicity tests, I realized that toxicology was the field I wanted to work in for my doctorate,” Reátegui-Zirena said.

Texas Tech has one of the few environmental toxicology departments in the country, which is part of what drew Reátegui-Zirena here. She began her studies in Lubbock in the spring of 2013, where she developed a unique interest in studying snails.

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“I work with snails because they are very diverse and play an important role by providing food for other animals. Some are even estimated to be of medical importance,” Reátegui-Zirena said. “They are also very sensitive to contaminants and are one of the most endangered groups in the world.”

Reátegui-Zirena uses a specific species of freshwater snail as a model organism in her research. By studying the snails’ “energy budget,” or how they acquire and allocate energy, Reátegui-Zirena can better understand population-level responses to contaminants in the environment.

“I’ve spent the last three years using a series of short- and long-term contaminant exposures on snails trying to understand how energy-based indicators can be used to detect non-lethal effects,” Reátegui-Zirena said. “I’ve found growth rate, feeding rate, behavioral changes, fecundity and the measurement of fats and carbohydrates in snails are good indicators of the organism’s overall condition.”

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Reátegui-Zirena hopes to apply the results of her research to an energy budget model that can help better predict how contaminants impact populations of aquatic organisms as well as help develop a new standardized protocol for toxicity testing on snails that can prevent further endangerment of the species.

Reátegui-Zirena brought her research to Texas Tech’s Three Minute Thesis competition in April, a contest designed to cultivate students’ academic, presentation and research communication skills that has participants explain their research to a non-specialist audience in three minutes or less.

Reátegui-Zirena entered the competition because she thought it would be useful in helping her better explain her extensive research to others.

“I thought trying to summarize my dissertation in three minutes would be useful in improving my ability to explain what I do to anyone, like my family, who always wonders why I sacrifice snails,” Reátegui-Zirena said. “I’m also just a very ambitious and competitive person.”

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Three Minute Thesis participants are evaluated on their ability to concisely provide judges with a clear understanding of their research topic and its background, significance and outcomes as well as the engagement and enthusiasm of their presentation. This year’s competition marked the first time it has been hosted by Texas Tech.

“I’m glad Texas Tech decided to start this competition,” Reátegui-Zirena said. “It’s excellent practice for students, and I really liked that everyone was from different departments, so I got to see what other people in science and non-science programs are doing.”

Reátegui-Zirena won first place for her presentation at the Three Minute Thesis competition as well as the People’s Choice Award. She credits her win to both a lot of practice and natural presentation skills.

“I made several people read my script, both science and non-science friends and advisers,” Reátegui-Zirena said. “I wanted to make sure every single word was absolutely clear for everyone. I really enjoy sharing my research with others, so it was fun to be able to do it competitively while working toward my ultimate goal of making people care about the environment.”


Graduate School

The Graduate School at Texas Tech University offers unlimited opportunity for advancement with more than 160 different masters and doctoral degree programs complemented by interdisciplinary programs from 50 specialized centers and institutes.

More than 5,300 graduate and professional students are currently enrolled in the Graduate School.

From toxic waste research to archaeology, from land-use programs to nationally known laser fingerprint detection studies, the Graduate School offers unlimited opportunity for aspiring scholars.

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