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Released June 21, 2004


OCEAN SPRINGS -- A pair of fish biologists with The University of Southern Mississippi have published a special "south-of-the-border" section in the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory's scientific journal.

The scientific articles in a recent issue of the journal "Gulf and Caribbean Research" are just a glimmer of the gold mine of new knowledge that research associate Nancy Brown-Peterson and her husband Dr. Mark Peterson, professor of coastal sciences and editor-in-chief of the journal, discovered on an academic exchange two years ago at an undergraduate campus of a Mexican university.

Brown-Peterson said the Iztacala campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México serves about 20,000 students and has a strong biology department whose faculty maintains research programs despite limited funding and heavy teaching loads. The invitation for the five-week exchange was for Brown-Peterson to teach a course on her research focus, reproductive biology of marine fish, and for Peterson to collaborate on projects and manuscripts on one of his principal research interests, nursery habitats of juvenile coastal fishes.

"While we were down there, we saw stacks of undergraduate theses in the faculty offices," Brown-Peterson said. "None were published, but many of them contained important information on little-known species in an understudied area - the southern Gulf of Mexico."

The couple learned that in Mexico and many other Latin American countries, students must research, write and defend an undergraduate thesis to receive their licencia, the equivalent of a bachelor's degree in the United States. Brown-Peterson read 40 to 50 of the Spanish-language papers during the visit.

"We realized this was a lot of information that needed to get out," Brown-Peterson said. "We developed a plan with our colleagues down there to publish in English some of the better theses. It is a gold mine of unpublished, unknown knowledge. Even though the students' sampling sizes are small and the scope of a project is often limited, it is a good starting point.

"Researchers who are going into the region to work on those systems may be redeveloping the wheel. These reports of student research results provide at least some data as opposed to starting from zero."

To help with translation and publishing expenses, the couple pulled together modest financial support from the Environmental Defense Fund, the Hart Research Institute of Corpus Christi and Southern Miss' College of Science and Technology.

Brown-Peterson said the translation, review and editing process turned out to be staggering. She and Peterson assembled a team of bilingual GCRL students and their spouses to help translate articles into English.

From that point, the Petersons and a number of coastal sciences graduate students updated references, worked with figures and tables, and rewrote manuscripts to publication standards.

Gretchen Waggy, a coastal sciences master's student with Peterson, has already expanded her professional network as a result of her labor on the project. Her role as third author on an article on needlefish led to a recent call from a world-renowned fish taxonomist at the Smithsonian Institution.

"He is currently working on needlefish and had seen the GCRL journal and wanted an article that the student paper had referenced," Brown-Peterson said. "All the Smithsonian resources had been unable to secure a copy for him. The article was in the journal published by the campus where we did our exchange, and we had brought back a copy. Gretchen just walked over to the GCRL library, found the copy, photocopied the reference and mailed it to him."

The exchange agreement between the GCRL and Mexican journals, plus the publication of the student papers, is evidence that the long-term collaboration the couple had anticipated is on the way. Both researchers also hope that the special section in the GCRL's journal will encourage other universities and agencies to take an interest in publishing Mexican students' papers.

"It has been a considerable amount of work for both of us and for colleagues, but it is starting to show positive results," Peterson said. "Two of my students have assisted us and are authors with our Mexican colleagues. Publishing in English-language journals is important for their careers. This publication and the next one in August or September are also good for the Gulf and Caribbean research as it enhances the information on rare fish and processes for our readership."

The Department of Coastal Sciences is a unit of the GCRL within the university's College of Science and Technology.


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June 23, 2004 4:34 PM