PhD Research Focus
My PhD work was conducted at North Carolina State University. In addition to my PhD in biology I will earn a minor in Genetic Engineering and Society. I worked on house mice, which are significant invasive pests, particularly on islands. The Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Rodents program (GBIRd) aims to suppress invasive mouse populations on islands, by heavily biasing offspring sex ratios. Effective implementation of this approach will depend on engineered hybrid mice being competitive and able to mate successfully. To address this question I characterized genetic and behavioural differences between Mus musculus strains. These behavioural and genetic tests used wild house mice derived from an invasive population on the Farallon islands that I personally brought back to NC State. I mated these wild Farallon mice with lab mice with a natural meiotic distorter (tw2). The tw2 impacts sperm transmission and is passed down 95% of the time. To assess fertility in hybrid crosses, tw2 males were paired with wild-derived females from the Farallon islands (MmF). Results of these matings indicated litter sizes are comparable. Next, I used larger (three m2) enclosures with enrichment to increase environmental complexity. I introduced both an MmF and a tw2-bearing male to two MmF females to assess female mate choice. These results indicated that hybrid males are be able to successfully compete and secondarily invade. Experiments then aimed at determining what reproductive and behavioural characteristics contributed to this success. The assessment and selection for characteristics contributing to male mating success is just one important aspect of this project that I have been able to address while also considering the broader aims and social impacts of such a project. As a member of the 2013 IGERT Cohort we designed a website that discusses the potential use of transgenic mice for conservation.
Recent Journal Publications
Serr, M. Valdez, R. Barnhill-Dilling, K. Godwin, J. Kuiken, T. Booker, M. (2020) Scenario analysis on the use of rodenticides and sex-biasing gene drives for the removal of invasive house mice on islands. Biological Invasions
Serr, M. Heard, N. Godwin, J. (2019). Towards a genetic approach to invasive rodent eradications: Assessing reproductive competitiveness between wild and laboratory mice. In: C.R. Veitch, M.N. Clout, A.R. Martin, J.C. Russell and C.J. West (eds.) Island invasives: scaling up to meet the challenge, pp. 64–70. Occasional Paper SSC no. 62. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. DOI:
Yap, T. Nguyen, N. Serr, M. Shepack, A.,Vredenburg. (2017). Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans and the Risk of a Second Amphibian Pandemic. EcoHealth. 14(4), 851-864.
My first research experience was as an undergraduate where I helped explore the behavioral responses of tree frogs to aquatic nitrate and atrazine contamination under field and laboratory conditions. For my masters I conducted my own research project exploring the demasculinization of Northern leopard frogs (Lithobates pipiens) to atrazine and malathion. During my masters I also helped with field trials in Vieques, Puerto Rico, where we tested different marking techniques for Eleutherodactylus. Recently, I helped write a review on the deadly fungal pathogen known as Bsal. Here we reviewed the known biology and pathogenesis of this primarily salamander disease, as well as precautions and advice for preventing spread to North America. A focus area of mine has been on invasive species and their spread. Bsal is thought to have spread to Europe via the pet trade and the release of captive individuals. This review was coordinated with other members of the Bsal communication group for Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. In addition to the review, I have also contributed knowledge content to fact sheets for safe field practices to prevent the spread of this deadly fungal infection.
Serr, M. March 2019. Male mating success in an applied context: what's a girl to do? Defense Seminar for North Carolina State Universities Biological Sciences. Raleigh, North Carolina.
Serr, M. December 3, 2018. When Lab mice and Island mice meet. Research in Progress for East Carolina Universities Biology Department. Greenville, North Carolina.
Serr, M. November 5, 2018. Mouse Tales the history of GBIRd. Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Rodents Conference, Exmouth, Western Australia.