Honours Profile: Maggie MacKinnon

Maggie MacKinnon is a fourth-year biology honours student working with Matt Litvak. Her research involves embryonic development of the zebrafish species Danio rerio.

MacKinnon’s thesis is entitled “Zebrafish and chicken yolk injections in early embryonic development and its effects in zebrafish larvae.” Her research involves collecting zebrafish embryos and  administering microinjections. Microinjections involve using a micropipette to manipulate the volume of an embryo’s yolk sac.

By making various changes in the embryo’s yolk sac, MacKinnon will track the development into larvae, and observe what changes occur from having more, or less, yolk. By conducting these manipulations, McKinnon can discern the potential benefits (or detriments) that arise with having yolks of different sizes.

MacKinnon’s research aim is to look at early life strategies in the zebrafish. This is important in terms of conservation, as climate change can have a significant impact on the early life stages of aquatic life.

In zebrafish embryos, wide ranges of sizes are observed. Bigger is often considered to be better, but that’s not necessarily the case; MacKinnon aims to shed light on why variability on yolk sac sizes exist.

Working with Litvak was considered a natural choice for MacKinnon. One of Litvak’s areas of expertise is aquaculture (the farming of aquatic organisms), which fits with MacKinnon’s study.

“[Litvak] developed the microinjection technique,” MacKinnon said. “I found his research extremely interesting.”

By manipulating yolk sac size through microinjections, one can determine a diet needed in order to achieve that size by observing the structures within the sac, such as fatty acids. This is a more efficient way compared to other diet studies, which involve manipulating fish diets, followed by yolk sac measurements.

After larvae development, MacKinnon has been taking several measurements, such as duration to hatching, standard length, body area, and yolk sac utilization efficiency.

MacKinnon has been interested in biology for as long as she can remember.

“Both of my parents are biologists,” MacKinnon said, “so when you live with two parents who are [biologists], you are always aware of what’s going on in the science world and the environment.”

As for her current research, MacKinnon is enjoying the work she’s doing.

“I like working with things that you can see. With my project, you can actually see the embryos grow and develop,” MacKinnon said.

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