Elaine Zhou ’20


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Project Title

Nitrogen Acquisition by Marine Phytoplankton

The overall goal of this project was to analyze the genes of marine phytoplankton in order to examine how these organisms utilize nitrogen. Understanding the pathways in which marine phytoplankton transform nitrogen is important because oxygen-deficient zones in the ocean are major contributors of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide to the atmosphere. Two genes were looked at, rbcL and NR. The rbcL gene is important in coding rubisco, which is a carbon dioxide-fixing enzyme, and the NR gene is responsible for coding nitrate reductase. The primary activity I engaged in was amplifying the DNA sequences for the rbcL and NR genes by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). I helped determine the ideal PCR conditions in which each gene could be amplified, and I gathered gene sequences in order to perform sequence analyses. Through this internship, I gained experience working in a wet lab and insight into what a researcher or scientist’s daily life would be like. I also was able to develop more confidence in my lab skills. This internship influenced my future academic study by allowing me to realize that I am interested in concentrating in science.

* This internship is connected to the PEI Water and the Environment Grand Challenges project, “Control of Microbial Nitrous Oxide Production in Coastal Waters.”

Internship Year


Project Category

Climate and Oceans


Princeton Environmental Institute, Princeton University


Bess Ward, William J. Sinclair Professor of Geosciences and the Princeton Environmental Institute