By: Shweta Ramdas
As a second-year masters student in the Frontiers program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan, Imani Russell divides her time between classes, her lab, and the forests of the Amazon, where she swabs various species of frogs to collect skin samples. These samples are then shipped to her lab in the US, and that’s where, as Imani says, “the fun stuff happens.” Imani studies a particular fungal species Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd for short) which infects the frogs. She is trying to understand the genetics of why certain frogs are resistant to this infection.
Imani is a native of Sacramento, California, and her interest in all things nature was piqued by her grandfather. He worked for the Fish and Wildlife Service, and took her along on trips to the outdoors in the Southwest. After a brief rebellious phase in high school where she decided she hated nature, she pursued a degree in Ecology from Mills College. Before grad school, she worked on diverse questions at different scales of ecology—studying reforestation, fleas, ticks, and tamarind parasites—before she chose disease biology as her area of interest.
Despite a full course-load, research, and teaching responsibilities, Imani participates in Michigan DNA Day so she can interact with high-schoolers, and see how they absorb new concepts that are often not taught in school. What did she think? “I had fun!” she says, and chuckles at having learnt a lot about what she taught (Pharmacogenomics) as she was teaching. After grad school, she plans to work at the intersection of teaching, research ,and public policy, working on problems that can help with the conservation of endangered species.