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Sources: Alison Luce-Fedrow, alfst49@k-state.edu;
and Martha Giraldo, mgiraldo@k-state.edu
Web site: http://www.k-state.edu/grad/sarachekaward/welcome.htm
News release prepared by: Beth Bohn, 785-532-6415, bbohn@k-state.edu

Monday, April 5, 2010

NOTED WICHITA BIOLOGISTS HELP K-STATE DOCTORAL STUDENTS ADVANCE THEIR CAREERS THROUGH THE SARACHEK FELLOWSHIP, TRAVEL AWARDS

MANHATTAN -- Wichita biologists Alvin and RosaLee Sarachek are helping to advance the careers of two Kansas State University doctoral students who use molecular approaches to biological research.

Alison Luce-Fedrow, doctoral student in microbiology, Manhattan, is the 2010 recipient of the $15,000 Alvin and RosaLee Sarachek Predoctoral Honors Fellowship in Molecular Biology, while Martha Giraldo, doctoral student in plant pathology, Manhattan, is receiving a $1,000 Sarachek scientific travel award. Both awards recognize exceptional achievement in scholastics and research.

Luce-Fedrow's major professor is K-State's Stephen Chapes, professor of biology, and she also works in the lab of Tonia Von Ohlen, assistant professor of biology.

Her research uses Drosophila melanogaster -- small fruit flies -- to identify host genes necessary for the replication of the tick-borne pathogen Ehrlichia chaffeensis. The bacterium causes the disease human monocytic ehrlichiosis, also known as HME. The bacteria are transmitted to humans through the bite of the Lonestar tick and causes flu-like symptoms. No vaccine is yet available and few details are known concerning the host genes that contribute to infections.

"Drosophila melanogaster has a genetic makeup that is comparable to humans and other vertebrates," Luce-Fedrow said. "Therefore, we have used Drosophila to aid our understanding of the genes involved in Ehrlichia infections. We performed genetic analysis on infected fly cells and used mutant flies to determine which genes are involved in controlling infections."

Her research has already led to two published articles, one in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology and the second in the journal Infections and Immunity, where it was the prestigious spotlight article. In addition, she has presented her research at national conferences.

The Sarachek Fellowship will help Luce-Fedrow, who plans to graduate from K-State in May, with costs associated with her graduate and postdoctoral education.

"I have accepted a postdoctoral position at the Naval Medical Research Center in Silver Spring, Md., in the lab of Dr. Allen Richards," Luce-Fedrow said. "I will be working on a project involving the pathogen Rickettsia prowazeckki, which causes epidemic typhus. So, the funds will be used for relocation expenses and for any training opportunities that I can use to enhance my postdoctoral experience."

Luce-Fedrow is the daughter of Gary and Linda Fedrow, West Newton, Pa. She earned a bachelor's from the University of Pittsburgh and a master's from Shippensburg University.

The Sarachek travel award will help Giraldo present her research at the ninth International Mycological Congress in Edinburgh, United Kingdom, in August. Giraldo is involved in research on understanding the mechanism by which a fungal pathogen delivers proteins, called effectors, inside living rice cells to take control of the cell and block its defenses.

Specifically, she is working to characterize novel candidate effectors and understand how they are secreted as the fungus invades living rice cells.

"Rice blast caused by the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae remains as a threat to global food security, even with decades of effort toward disease control," she said. "This pathogen also infects other important cereal crops, such as wheat, worldwide. In addition to economical importance, rice blast is a model pathosystem to study fungal-plant interactions because this system has extensive genome resources available for both the fungus and rice."

Giraldo's major professor is K-State's Barbara Valent, university distinguished professor of plant pathology. Her work has been published in several refereed journals, including The Plant Cell, Crop Science and Theoretical and Applied Genetics. She also has presented her work at national meetings.

Giraldo earned a bachelor's degree in biology, with emphasis in genetics, from Universidad del Valle in Colombia. She began her doctoral program at K-State in January 2006. After completing her degree, she plans to return to Colombia and pursue a research career addressing significant problems in agriculture and global food security.

The Saracheks have annually awarded the $15,000 fellowship and one or more scientific travel awards of up to $1,000 to K-State doctoral students since 2002. Winners are determined by a faculty selection committee. Nominees must show evidence of effective communication of research results through publications and presentations at national/international meetings. According to the Saracheks, the fields of study for their awards can be as dissimilar as heart disease research and wheat blight studies, but addressing the important questions of each field demands rigorous molecular level investigations.

Alvin Sarachek received his doctorate in genetics from K-State in 1957. He and his wife created the fellowship and travel awards because he said he values the K-State tradition of offering a broad array of quality programs in the life sciences, many with outstanding national reputations. He also said that they wanted to contribute to that tradition of excellence by recognizing students whose research on a variety of biological problems involves molecular approaches. More information on the Sarachek awards is available online at http://www.k-state.edu/grad/sarachekaward/welcome.htm.