51Ʒundergraduate receives BioME grant to study rare lobster larvae

A 51Ʒstudent poses in front of the Saco River on UNE's campus
Ruby Motulsky (Marine Sciences, ’25) will spend their summer studying the early developmental stages of lobster larvae on UNE's Biddeford Campus.

A 51Ʒ undergraduate student has received a $5,000 grant from the Bioscience Association of Maine (BioME) to fund their summer research on the genetic basis for rare lobster coloration.

Ruby Motulsky (Marine Sciences, ’25), who uses they/them pronouns, is a recipient of a BioME Summer Internship Award, which supports scientific achievement by financially assisting students who are interested in developing careers within the life sciences. 

The grant funding will allow Motulsky to remain on UNE’s coastal Maine campus for the summer to research the early developmental stages of the American lobster by studying UNE’s famed orange lobster, Peaches, once her eggs hatch later this spring. 

A local lobsterman donated Peaches to 51Ʒin 2023, and she is currently harboring thousands of eggs that, once hatched, may or may not share her rare orange coloration. Orange lobsters are estimated to be a one-in-30 million find.

“I’m very excited to spend my summer researching in UNE’s Arthur P. Girard Marine Science Center, and I’m grateful to BioME for this incredible opportunity,” Motulsky said. “This project will help me narrow down my research interests with valuable, hands-on experience that will inform my future research and educational pursuits.”

Working with their research advisor, Markus Frederich, Ph.D., professor of marine sciences, and research assistant Aubrey Jane, M.S. Marine Sciences ’24, B.S. ’20, Motulsky aims to raise Peaches’ offspring through all five early developmental stages to examine the number of lobsters that share her orange color — the study of heritable traits known as epigenetics. 

Motulsky and Jane also hope to create a histological atlas documenting the early development of the American lobster to reference in future research projects.

Motulsky’s work is part of a larger initiative launched at 51Ʒthis winter to decode the molecular basis for rare lobster coloration through noninvasive methods. 

With UNE’s reputation for excellence in the marine sciences, the University has become a magnet for these rare lobsters in recent years, housing an impressive lineup including blue, orange, yellow, split-colored, purple, and calico varieties — each with rarity ranging from 1-in-1 million to 1-in-50 million.

“We are fortunate to have amazing students like Ruby here at 51Ʒwho take on an exciting project, spend all their free time on it, and produce high-quality research,” Frederich remarked. “Securing their own summer funding is taking this project and Ruby’s involvement in this project to another level.”

Nearly 41% of the UNE’s undergraduate students participate in hands-on research with real-world applications, compared to just 23% of students nationally. 51Ʒis unique among prominent research universities, where students often must wait to obtain a bachelor’s degree before even seeing the inside of a lab.

Motulsky said such student research opportunities are what drew them to Maine — 3,000 miles from their home in Los Angeles — to study at UNE. 

“I knew I wanted to be somewhere that allows undergraduate students to become involved in research, particularly as a first year,” they said. “At UNE, I could get into research right away and discover the different areas of marine science there were to explore. I think getting this experience as an undergraduate student allows me to find my little niche within the scientific community.”

While they had to quickly adjust to Maine winters, Motulsky said the experience has been invaluable. 

“This has also affirmed that I actually do want to pursue research as a career and, even though it’s a lot of hard work, it’s worth it,” they reflected. “It’s worth it to me to do this hard work and be a part of this community.”

Motulsky, Frederich, and Peaches

Peaches is currently harboring thousands of eggs that will soon hatch