The effects of methyl mercury on spatial memory in zebra finches: Weeks 8-10

The last two weeks of my summer research were spent mainly retesting birds, entering all the data into an excel spreadsheet, and learning the procedure to preserve the brains of the zebra finches we tested. This research is studying two components: the birds spatial memory, and the structure and immunochemistry of their hippocampus, which is the structure believed to be responsible for spatial memory in avian species. The main goal of the research was to tie the effects that mercury has on spatial memory and the hippocampus together, in order to see if it negatively affects both their performance and the structural integrity of their hippocampus. During these last two weeks, Neil and I learned the process for preserving the brains of the zebra finches so they can be studied for this at a later date. My partner Neil Huckstep plans to take these brains back to his lab at Virginia Tech in order to study them more in depth. While I learned the basic procedure for preserving them, my partner is going to be the one actually preforming the procedure next week since I am leaving this coming Friday.

We spent these last weeks retesting the birds that had failed out over the course, which were one control bird and four mercury birds. Since our sample size is relatively small, we couldn’t afford to just discard the birds who failed out completely, so we had to try and retest them to see if they could provide useable data. In doing so, 3 of the birds passed finally, one failed, and one is currently still being retested. Because trials are still in progress, I can’t determine the results for the spatial memory aspect of this experiment just yet, since all the data points are required to preform statistical analysis on the various data points collected in this experiment. Once the final bird passes after I leave, I will be able to do this, and will post another blog post once I have done so, presenting the final results from the statistical analysis. The one data point I do have at the moment, however, is that the mercury birds were 4 times more likely to fail the trial compared to control birds, which is an important data point in and of itself, even though it isn’t the result of a statistical test for significance.