Move over CSI, CSI: Miami and CSI: New York, there's a new hit series in town. CSI: Calnali, the Texas A&M University Department of Biology's own version of crime scene investigation with a side of educational outreach, is taking the College of Science by storm and possibly opening new mediums of recruitment, research communication and social networking in the process.

CSI: Calnali takes place in Calnali, Hidlago, Mexico, where all is well until the mysterious and untimely deaths of six young swordtail fish at the CICHAZ scientific investigation center in Calnali. Three neighborhood children put their young forensic skills to the test as they work to solve the daunting 'crime' and bring the perpetrator to justice.

The brainchild of Texas A&M doctoral student Zach Culumber, the two-part series is a comical, yet enlightening spoof of the television-hit crime show involving a female swordtail fish that mates with a male of another species. She then murders her heterozygote children by tossing them out of their tank and attempts to frame the "gringo" researchers -- all in an effort to cover up her sinful rendezvous.

Culumber says the idea to film the spoof came to him during a seven-week research trip to Mexico this past summer as a member of Texas A&M Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Gil Rosenthal's research group, which focuses on animal communication, behavioral ecology and ichthyology, or the study of fish. Culumber and the team traveled to Calnali to collect and examine fish for general research purposes and also to conduct an experiment to determine whether or not scent plays a role in fish mating preferences.

As for the video, Culumber explains it was a unique take on one facet of the team's research that stemmed from a contest.

"My advisor [Rosenthal] came up with the idea for a photo and video contest," Culumber adds. "Somehow I got the idea to do 'CSI.' It's a show I've always watched a lot, so I just ran with it."

Many photos were submitted to the contest, but because Culumber was the only participant to submit a video, he admits he "won" for best video by default.

Before the team left Calnali, Rosenthal says they hosted a screening for the local community, where it received rave reviews from both kids and adults, who now want their own version to be filmed during this year's trip.

"We'd like to think this is going to encourage local kids to imitate art and consider science careers, particularly once they realize how much there is to discover literally in their own backyards," Rosenthal adds.

While it's not likely to make its network television debut anytime soon, Rosenthal says CSI: Calnali does have pioneering potential in one increasingly significant area -- social networking and awareness. Where previously the only information from field research was the data that scientists brought home, Rosenthal says online videography and photography from abroad keeps others informed of what is going on in different areas of the world. As such, he believes the World Wide Web should be further utilized for such documentation. In his opinion, if other schools and research institutions from around the world have the ability to see what the Texas A&M College of Science is doing, it could lead to future interest in collaboration, not to mention a greater interest in scientific research.

"Zach's video shows how you can bring the cutting-edge laboratory research we do in the College of Science into the heart of the Sierra Madre," Rosenthal explains. "In future videos, we'll be hiking to remote mountain streams and showing you what these fish do in their underwater habitat."

Another seven-week trip to Mexico is being scheduled for later this year. One idea under consideration is to provide students with Flip video cameras to encourage them to document their travels and field experiences, furthering increasing the College of Science and Texas A&M's worldwide visibility on iTunes University and through streaming media on the College of Science's Web site.

"The more we can reach out and the more we can take advantage of the Net, the better," Rosenthal adds.

Watch Culumber's CSI: Calnali here on YouTube:


Contact: Chris Jarvis, (979) 845-7246 or cjarvis@science.tamu.edu or Dr. Gil Rosenthal, (979) 845-2891 or grosenthal@mail.bio.tamu.edu

Jarvis Chris

  • Zach Culumber, trapping minnows for the team's study. Photograph courtesy of Dr. Gil Rosenthal.

  • Dr. Gil Rosenthal (foreground) and Zach Culumber (in maroon cap), along with two students from UAEH in Pachuca, Hidalgo, Mexico, sorting fish at a field site. Photograph courtesy of Dr. Gil Rosenthal.

  • Zach Culumber, performing mate-choice trials in the team's outdoor lab, which formerly served as a pigsty. Photograph courtesy of Dr. Gil Rosenthal.

  • Dr. Gil Rosenthal, in front of the CICHAZ scientific investigation center in Calnali, Hidalgo, Mexico. Photograph courtesy of Dr. Gil Rosenthal.

  • Dr. Gil Rosenthal.

© Texas A&M University. To request use of any of our photographs for educational use or to view additional options from our archive, please contact the College of Science Communications Office.

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