Luther senior researches the mating structures of wild deer

September 18, 2018

According to Luther College senior Gabrielle Blair, the prevalence of deer in the Midwest has led to the importance of studying their mating structures. This kind of study has been done primarily on captive deer, so being able to research the mating structures of wild deer creates a new direction for researchers.

Blair, the daughter of Sandy and Tony Blair of Osceola, Wisconsin, is a 2015 graduate of Osceola High School. She is majoring in Biology at Luther College.

Blair is assisting Dawn Reding, a Luther assistant professor of Biology, on her research regarding multiple paternity in white tailed deer. They do this using single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, from DNA from within tissue of road-killed deer, from a mother and her fetuses, supplied by the Iowa DNR, to determine the mating patterns of the deer. They use the genetic data that they generate to find whether the offspring are “full” siblings or “half” siblings, which essentially helps them to determine who the fathers of the offspring were.

“The most interesting part of this research has been the different ways that DNA can be cleaned.” said Blair. “One particular way is using magnetic beads that the DNA adheres to. After mixing the DNA and beads together, I place these tubes in a special magnetic tube rack which pulls the beads and DNA to the back of the tube. This effectively allows me to clean ‘around’ the DNA.” Blair explained that she needed to do this in order to remove degraded fragments from the older DNA, and leave only the parts that could be used in the research.

“Doing this research has allowed me to apply and broaden the skills I learned in labs at Luther and really get to understand the mechanics behind it all,” said Blair.

Her advice to those considering a research project at Luther is “Prepare yourself. It can be overwhelming at times, so be sure to communicate with your supervisor or professor because they care about the research you’re doing and will help you if you’re lost or confused. You might be alone in the lab, but someone is always willing to help out.”

Blair and Reding’s collaboration is one of 30 summer student-faculty research projects funded through Luther’s College Scholars Program and Dean’s Office. The Student-Faculty Summer Research projects provide students an opportunity to research topics of interest alongside Luther faculty. This program is one of a wide selection of experiential learning opportunities that are part of Luther’s academic core and intend to deepen the learning process.

A national liberal arts college with an enrollment of 2,050, Luther offers an academic curriculum that leads to the Bachelor of Arts degree in more than 60 majors and pre-professional programs. For more information about Luther visit the college’s website: