Sumeet SekhonSumeet Sekhon’s honours thesis research earned her an award for Best Presentation in Ecology at a provincial conference.

Study of imperilled fish earns notice for biology student

Sumeet Sekhon, who graduates today with an honours baccalaureate in biological sciences, beat out the provincial competition at the Ontario Ecology, Ethology, and Evolution Colloquium to win Best Presentation in Ecology.

Sekhon characterized the genetic make-up of the federally endangered lake chubsucker, a small freshwater fish, across its entire geographic range, from as far north as Ontario and as far south as Florida.

Trevor Pitcher — a professor of integrative biology, researcher with the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER), and Sekhon’s supervisor — says her honours thesis research will make an impact, as it will be used by government agencies to make decisions in the future about which populations may be used to rescue imperilled populations in Canada.

“Freshwater biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate and poses a threat to everyone who relies on rivers, lakes and tributaries for food, water, and cultural or economic well-being,” says Dr. Pitcher.

“Many species of freshwater fishes are in serious decline and are listed as endangered and there is a critical need for genetic information about their populations in order to make conservation decisions.”

Sekhon presented her research virtually alongside fellow undergraduates as well as graduate students. She says she was happy about the results and thanks Pitcher and her lab colleagues Ryland Corchis-Scott and Ali Mokdad for providing the genetic samples and for overall support.

“It was a big conservation effort using genetic analysis, which involved a lot of independent computer work,” says Sekhon.

“I enjoyed the opportunity to work independently, and I enjoyed the problem-solving aspect with the genetic software — I feel like through the challenge I’ve gained a lot of skills that I wouldn’t have gained just from attending class.”

Isabelle Barrette-Ng, head of the Department of Integrative Biology, says it is exciting to see Sekhon’s undergraduate thesis work recognized at the colloquium.

“Sumeet’s success is a testament to the quality of the many hands-on opportunities for undergraduate research that are offered to students in our programs in the Department of Integrative Biology, and the faculty mentors that make them possible,” says Dr. Barrette-Ng.

“We are lucky to work with so many outstanding students in the Faculty of Science.”

Sekhon is heading to Ottawa in the fall to pursue medical studies.

—Sara Elliott