University of Scranton Professor Awarded Six-Figure National Science Foundation Grant Bryan Crable, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology at The University of Scranton, was awarded a $198,265 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for a two-year study of the impact of plastic debris on the physiology of freshwater microorganisms in Lake Lacawac. In addition to Dr. Crable’s role as principal investigator, the research project will involve and train approximately eight undergraduate students in field, laboratory and computer simulated investigations. According to Dr. Crable, microplastics are plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in size that are a common pollutant that have seen widespread accumulation in the environment since World War II. “This type of research is important because we really don’t have a good understanding of how plastics influence ecosystems,” said Dr. Crable. “For the longest time, we thought that microplastics didn’t really impact the local ecosystem. Over the last five to ten years, we have begun to get a better understanding of their impact. In the last few years, researchers have discovered there are microbes that degrade plastics and, although that can be beneficial, the overall impact has to be studied much more.” According to Dr. Crable, comparatively, there has been lots of research on the effects of plastic debris in marine environments, but there has been very little research in freshwater environments. “Lake Lacawac is only about 30 minutes away from campus and is a near pristine freshwater watershed. The lake was privately owned for a few hundred years. There has been essentially no development on the lake and there is no known microplastic intrusion,” said Dr. Crable. “Our experiment will use water from the lake in microcosms that we establish in a lake side field lab. In the first year, we will look at microbial communities which colonize plastics versus natural debris such as leaf litter. In the second year of the study, we will analyze the impacts of different types of plastics on microbial communities.” The project will provide full-time summer research opportunities to two to three students each summer for two years. Dr. Crable noted that students will gain experience using state-of-the-art software programs for analyzing microbial communities as well as learn critical programming languages used for statistical analyses. “One of the great things about the University is that undergraduates are doing actual research projects,” said Dr. Crable. “The benefit undergraduates get out of research, especially working on larger projects in a faculty member’s labs, is that they get to take ownership over some part of a project. The students are able to take the seeds of an idea and move it forward – to design the necessary experiments, carry them out and analyze the results to answer a question,” said Dr. Crable, who noted that students also have the possibility to present their studies at conferences, with some undergraduates having their research published in an academic journal. Through the research project, Dr. Crable will also develop an advanced undergraduate curriculum on microplastics, which will be integrated into the Special Topics in Biology – Environmental Microbiology course. Dr. Crable joined the faculty at Scranton in 2018. His research focuses on the fields of microbial physiology, environmental microbiology and microbial biotechnology. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Saint Vincent College, his master’s degree from Duquesne University and his Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Oklahoma. In 2010, Dr. Crable was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship by the Institute for International Education to conduct research at the University of Wageningen in The Netherlands.