When BUILD PODER Scholar Jessica Yamauchi was growing up in Santa Clarita, California, she loved to be outdoors. She enjoyed hiking, fishing and camping, but nothing made her happier than when she learned about and observed animals in the wild. She said her interest in animals inspired a scientific curiosity that fueled her through high school, community college, and lead her to California State University, Northridge.
Now a junior majoring in biology, Yamauchi is currently working in CSUN biology professor Bobby Espinoza’s Integrative and Comparative Herpetology Lab studying the invasive American Bullfrog. Specifically, she focuses on the organism’s gut microbiome throughout development including metamorphosis (when a tadpole transforms into a frog). When an herbivorous tadpole becomes a carnivorous frog, its intestine changes from a spiral intestine into a descending digestive tract similar to humans. Not much is known about their microbiome—the combined genetic material of the microorganisms in an environment—during this transition, and she is working to identify them.
Yamauchi and her labmates capture frogs from the wild and study their 46 life stages. This year they caught more developed tadpoles, but they will go back in the spring and catch newly laid eggs and younger tadpoles. By studying each stage, they hope to understand more about how the American Bullfrog’s microbiome evolves over time.
“I have always loved animals, helping people and being outdoors,” Yamauchi said. “My interest in animals pushed me into the field of science in the first place. Since elementary school I knew I was going to study biology pertaining to animals, and tying this all together is really a dream come true.”
Yamauchi joined BUILD PODER this semester as part of the program’s third cohort. Though her passion for science started much earlier in life, the young biologist said that BUILD PODER has given her a clear path toward a fulfilling and successful career.
“BUILD PODER has opened so many doors for me and I hope that my journey as a researcher inspires others along the way,” Yamauchi said. “BUILD has shown me that research could be a career, introduced me to a lot of likeminded people and all the resources that I’m going to need to pursue this in the future. Having the community of researchers to encourage and inspire each other while working, struggling, failing and succeeding has been really helpful.”
After winning third place for her oral presentation about her research at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology’s Southwest Regional Meeting of Organismal Biologists, a conference that took place in October at Claremont College, Yamauchi plans to pursue a Ph.D in conservation ecology or animal science. She is interested in a variety of animal-related programs and is eager to broaden her experience in a summer research program next year.
“I had this conversation with some of my lab mates and what I realized is that what you are interested in as a child is an indication of what you are going to be interested in as an adult,” Yamauchi said. “I’ve loved animals since I was young and now I’m hoping to make a career studying what I loved as a child. My passion has come full circle and I can’t be more excited.”