News Release

An Essential Project: Dalton State Students Researching Yarrow

September 10, 2014

Mary Ann McBrayerMary Ann McBrayer looks to see if the yarrow mixture is boiling yet while extracting essential oils from the plant in a research lab in Peeples Hall at Dalton State.

Mary Ann McBrayer has a shark tattooed behind her right ear.

It may seem unconventional, but it represents her love of sharks and what she is working to become – an ichthyologist, a person who studies fish. More specifically, the 31-year-old Dalton State biology major wants to study sharks.

Since the nearest ocean is hundreds of miles away, McBrayer struggled to figure out how to connect her studies at Dalton State with her aspirations.

An ecotoxicology research project was part of the answer.

McBrayer joined with her friend, a 22-year-old senior biology major, Victoria Roy who had begun a research project on essential oils last summer with Dr. April Kay. The friends’ ideas merged to become a multifaceted study involving essential oils of yarrow – or Achillea millefolium - a common flower.

Part of the project will look at the antimicrobial properties of the oil, while another will focus on ecotoxicology. Dr. Kimberly Hays, assistant professor of biology who is overseeing the project, hopes to reveal other information about essential oils as well since they are currently not under federal regulation.

Yarrow kills certain strands of Bacillus cereus, the bacteria that cause food poisoning, as Roy has found in her research. Roy is receiving class credit for her portion of the research. McBrayer isn’t yet eligible for credit but will be next year.

Victoria RoyVictoria Roy measures out yarrow to extract essential oils from the plant in a research lab in Peeples Hall at Dalton State.

“I tested store bought yarrow essential oils to see if it killed the bacteria,” Roy said. “Then I found when I tested it on our yarrow extract that more bacteria was killed than with the store bought kind.”

Hays said the results indicate store bought essential oils are diluted and could contain other ingredients as well. It takes a large amount of a plant to get just a few milliliters of essential oil.

Yarrow is an old essential oil, though it’s not as mainstream as others, such as peppermint or lavender.

It is also known for driving mosquitos away. Part of the project will try to determine if yarrow can be used to kill mosquito larva instead of dangerous pesticides that can cause long term damage in an ecosystem.

“What we don’t know is how much it takes,” Hays said. “We’ll see what concentration is needed to kill 50 percent of the population in a laboratory study. We don’t know that amount for essential oils like we do in commercial pesticides because essential oils aren’t regulated and commercial pesticides are. Mary Ann is early in the process. Even though we aren’t working on sharks, we can use the principles that will apply to sharks. And there’s a possibility we can test on fish.”

The next step after seeing how much it takes to kill 50 percent of the mosquito population is seeing how much it takes to kill or affect 50 percent of the fish population, using a small population in a controlled lab experiment. The idea is to kill the pest without harming other plants or animals.

The opening of Peeples Hall with top of the line equipment has made the project more likely to succeed.

When Roy began the project she was working in a back room of a lab in Sequoya Hall, sharing space and equipment with not only other researchers but classes.

“I always had to creep through classes to work in the labs,” she said. “It was always limited. We got this new science building and now I have the technology and space.”

The opening of the new science building was one area that helped McBrayer realize she could accomplish everything she needed to be successful at Dalton State.

“I knew where I wanted to go with my degree, but I didn’t think I could do it here,” she said. “I thought I would have to transfer to a research-based college. Everything opened itself up to me. I feel like I can get everything I need from here to go on to graduate school and to do more research.”

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