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Biology Student Stories – Noah Amrstrong

Jokingly, but with at least an ounce of truth, Noah shares: “I am likely one of the world’s leading experts on fox squirrel genomics.”


When it comes to research at the University of Utah, there are so many fascinating and niche topics being studied in the various labs. Noah found an opportunity to explore his passion for animals and the outdoors by working as an undergraduate research assistant in the lab of Dr. Denise Dearing, Distinguished Professor, School of Biological Sciences.

After spending some time learning from graduate students about the various projects that were underway in the lab, Noah carved out his own niche, studying the “geographic source of Utah’s introduced fox squirrels.”  During his time working in the lab, he has learned a lot about fox squirrels and their relevance in the state of Utah.

He sums up his research, “Introduced species pose a major threat to biodiversity. An important step in managing an introduced species is identifying their origins. Fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) are a highly successful species that has been introduced to multiple western states… Fox squirrels were identified in Utah in 2011, and their population has increased exponentially since then. We used whole genome sequencing on 32 fox squirrels, from 10 states (8 states with native populations, 2 states with introduced populations, including Utah), to identify

Fox squirrels (Sciurus niger): The Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU) is a great resource for learning more about fox squirrels and you can even get involved in tracking the distribution of this invasive species during their annual “Squirrel Fest.”

the geographic source(s) of the introduced fox squirrels and resolve the genetic population structure in this species.” Noah has presented his research at four undergraduate research conferences, which included trips to Alaska and Washington state.

Noah’s passion for biology was reinforced through research but surveying the breadth of the discipline, by completing an emphasis in microbiology, ultimately informed his next step. Noah’s future took an unlikely turn when he looked at life through the lens. He says, “I was initially drawn to biology by my love of animals and the outdoors, but after taking my first cell biology class [microbiology (BIOL3210), taught by Dr. Naina Phadnis] I fell in love with molecular biology and microbiology.” He also speaks very highly of Dr. Naina Phadnis, saying her class was his favorite he has ever taken during his five years at the U.

After graduation, Noah will be continuing his education as a PhD student at the U, in the Microbiology and Immunology PhD Program.

By Isabel DuBay

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