Sarachek Fellowship Award Recipient
Courtney Passow is a doctoral candidate in Biology. Her research focuses on determining the underlying genetic and physiological mechanisms of adaptation to extreme environments. Extreme environments are characterized by the presence of environmental stressors that limit organismal survival. Nonetheless, some organisms exhibit specific adaptations that allow them to thrive in conditions lethal to most forms of life. Poecilia mexicana is an extremophile fish that lives in the presence of hydrogen sulfide, a naturally occurring potent respiratory toxicant. Hydrogen sulfide has been shown to play a crucial physiological role in therapy for treatment of chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases; yet a major obstacle for the safe application of sulfide as a therapeutic includes the lack of knowledge relating to the biological metabolism of sulfide. Hence, the genetic analyses are poised to help identify genes and physiological pathways involved in coping with elevated hydrogen sulfide
Passow received her bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University. Dr. Michi Tobler, assistant professor in Biology, is her major professor.
Passow will use the fellowship to relocate to St. Paul, Minnesota where she will pursue a post-doctoral position with Dr. Suzanne McGaugh and Dr. Peter Tiffin at the University of Minnesota. Passow plans to use a majority of the funds to collect preliminary data that can be used to secure post-doctoral funding. Shewill primarily be working with blind Mexican cavefish (Astyanax mexicanus), investigating how organisms adapt to nutrient- and light-poor cave environments. In particular, Passow will be utilizing new technological and theoretical tools to identify changes in gene co-expression networks between cave and surface populations and test whether divergent co-expressed nodes are also under direct selection.
Sarachek Travel Award Recipients
Kirsten Grond is a doctoral candidate in biology. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. The first part of Grond’s research focuses on characterizing microbial communities in the guts of migratory shorebirds throughout their development from embryo to adult, and on determining what environmental and genetic factors affect microbial communities. Long-distance movements and intercontinental migrations of shorebirds annually expose them to a wide range of microorganisms and potential pathogens, and shorebirds can act as disease vectors that spread pathogens over long- distances. Secondly, her research is aimed at identifying disease risk of shorebirds throughout the Western Hemisphere, which is a first step towards identifying current and future threats to both avian and human populations. From 2011-2015, Grond collected fecal samples from 11 different shorebird species at 15 different locations ranging from the Arctic to Argentina, which she analyzes with a combination of bacterial DNA sequencing and microbial detection assays. Her major professor is Brett Sandercock, professor of biology.
Grond will use the Sarachek Travel Award funds to attend the International Society for Microbial Ecology in Montreal, Canada, which will provide her the opportunity to network and present her research.
Kerri Neugebauer is a doctoral candidate in plant pathology. She received her bachelor’s degree in agronomy plant science and biotechnology from Kansas State University. Neugebauer’s research focuses on Puccinia triticina, the casual agent of wheat leaf rust. It is a devastating disease that can cause up to 50% yield loss. The most common control strategy for leaf rust is genetic resistance, however this strategy is not always durable and can break down within a few years after release. Neugebauer’s research has identified wheat genes that are important for leaf rust infection. By altering these genes in the host, durable resistance may be obtained. Plants have been engineered to lower the expression of these genes and the resulting transgenic plants have shown signs of resistance to leaf rust. A wheat mutant population has also shown resistance to leaf rust that could provide a non-transgenic alternative and could be a source for identification of new resistance genes. Ultimately, this research will be able to provide valuable information about the leaf rust and wheat interaction and could help lead to a long-term solution to leaf rust for wheat producers worldwide. Her major professor is Harold Trick, professor of plant pathology
Neugebauer plans to use the funds to attend the American Phytopathological Society annual meeting in Tampa, Florida. Attending this meeting will allow her to interact with potentially thousands of scientists devoted to studying plant diseases and ways to manage them.