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Washington & Lee undergraduate student chosen as medical science grant recipient

Rebecca Barnabi
Courtesy of Washington & Lee University.

Washington and Lee University student Megan Dufault ’24 recently presented at the Virginia Academy of Science (VAS) undergraduate research competition in Richmond, Virginia.

She was selected as a VAS grant recipient. Dufault is studying the risks that environmental pollutants pose to fetal development.

Established at the College of William and Mary in 1923, VAS promotes the advancement of science in the Commonwealth by providing financial support for research projects and a platform for the dissemination of research results. The VAS undergraduate research competition was held as part of the 2023 VAS Fall Research Meeting at Virginia Union University, and $900 grants were awarded to the 10 most outstanding proposals to help fund the completion of their projects. Grant recipients are also awarded an annual VAS membership and are expected to present their final research findings at the academy’s annual meeting to be held at the University of Mary Washington in May 2024.

“I had a great experience presenting my research at VAS, and it was an honor to meet a variety of distinguished science professors from across the state,” Dufault, a Johnson Scholar from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, said. “I had a great time meeting other undergraduate students and hearing dozens of proposal pitches, ranging from physics to environmental science to psychology.”

Dufault is majoring in neuroscience with a minor in women, gender and sexuality studies at W&L. Her current neuroscience thesis presented at VAS is conducted under the mentorship of Fiona Watson, associate professor of biology. Dufault’s project is focused on the effect of glyphosate herbicide (commercially sold by Bayer under the brand name Roundup™) on neurological development and uses a chick egg as a model for a growing fetus within the uterus. The proposal is based on a preliminary study she conducted with Maggie Johnston ’23 in Watson’s Developmental Biology class in fall 2022. The results of Dufault’s current study will have implications for pregnant women exposed to glyphosate herbicide and add to a body of literature investigating potential fetal abnormalities caused by glyphosate. The VAS grant expands her budget for continuing the study.

“My neuroscience education has culminated in the execution of this project,” Dufault said. “I am pursuing a career in reproductive and women’s health, and this study is preparing me for the intensive research that path requires.”

After graduation, Dufault plans to work at Massachusetts General Hospital in the Center for Transplantation Sciences as a research technician before attending medical school.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.