A Miles Addict in Durham, NC

By Jera’lyne Hyland, Summer Intern in Dr. David Hinton’s lab


Jera’lyne Hyland

At the age of seventeen I became obsessed with adding miles onto my 2004 Honda Pilot. I was a high school graduate who was convinced that summer 2013 would be a “true” summer experience. I began subconsciously counting the miles between Point A and Point B. What initially seemed like a pastime during my travel without any personal benefit manifested into a way to remember the places I had left behind, visited, and had yet to pass through. I could recall the mileage on the odometer before the journey began, and then tell myself about the people traveling in the lanes abreast of mine. I would reflect on the state lines I crossed, and which state’s license plate was the most prevalent during a stretch. I was a miles-addict in nomadic form, with a sleeping bag, a wool blanket, two-hundred six-thousand miles under my timing belt and counting.

I grew up in Laurel, DE, a very small town situated in what is commonly referred to as, “Slower Lower Delaware”. By 2013, I found myself hauling three chests of “college essentials” to Huntingdon, Pennsylvania to study LIFE at Juniata College. While at Juniata, courses such as North American Environmental History, Physiology, and Immunology united my interests in field biology and veterinary medicine. During my undergraduate career, I conducted an independent environmental toxicology study on chemical toxins within the Chesapeake Bay. I evaluated the presence of contaminants such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) in order to characterize the properties of sediment dwelling insect communities along with relative impacts from land used for agriculture, forested tracts, and urbanized land, at an individual site level. Driving my Honda to 11 sites around the Chesapeake Bay Watershed to collect water, sediment, and macroinvertebrate samples was the personal highlight of my research and fed my travel obsession for collecting miles.

Two-thousand, three-hundred (+/- several hundred miles) and four years later in May, 2017, I received a BS in Biology from Juniata College. Before I knew it, August had arrived, and I was hauling the same three chests 100 miles south to College Park, Maryland, where I am currently a second year MPH student studying Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. During this time, I have contemplated the role of science in policy making, the global burden of waterborne diseases, adverse health effects in individuals with limited ability to metabolize environmental chemicals, and the links between environmental exposure to aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease. My first year could not have been more perfectly constructed to illustrate the question of, “How can scientists work to protect both human health and the environment?”

May 20th, 2018 arrived, and I was lucky to add another 330 miles traveling from Laurel, DE to Durham, NC. As a Summer Research Intern at the Duke Superfund Research Center, I worked in the Hinton Lab, conducting histopathological (examining biological tissue through a microscope) research on juvenile Fundulus heteroclitus (killifish)—specifically looking at cardiovascular changes. We evaluated first generation offspring of adult killifish collected from both King’s Creek and Atlantic Wood sites in the Elizabeth River area of Virginia. The parent fish were exposed to PAH-contaminated Elizabeth River Sediment Extract (ERSE), a standardized extract of sediment taken from the Elizabeth River.

Previous studies in killifish indicate that individuals adapted to living in PAH-contaminated water are not necessarily protected from long-term adverse effects, such as impacts on the liver. The Hinton lab is further exploring the extent of the killifish’s evolved adaptations and vulnerabilities. The lab is currently evaluation the fish for functional changes in the heart such as valvulopathy (diseases of the heart valves), hemorrhage (bleeding), hypertrophy (swelling), and others. Our recent findings suggests that PAH exposure alters cardiac integrity. This may mean that the hearts of exposed fish and their offspring perform less well for less time. To what degree the killifish’s exposure affects their fitness still needs to be determined.

This research extends further into the realm of public health because we are able to identify exposure pathways for chemical mixtures, as well as monitor how animals can adapt to pollution over time. As I finish my internship, I am ready to return to complete my final year at the University of Maryland, logging more miles on my Honda and continuing my public health journey. Following my MPH program, my goal is to pursue and obtain a DVM in Veterinary Pathology, focusing on hypersensitivities, virology, and disease outbreaks. On to the next journey!