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K-State Today Student Edition

April 19, 2012



Gift for discovery: Outstanding research earns doctoral students fellowship, travel awards from Wichita couple

By Communications & Marketing

Three Kansas State University doctoral candidates with exceptional research accomplishments will benefit from a gift made by a Wichita alumnus and his wife. 

Erica Cain, doctoral candidate in biology, Wamego, is receiving the $15,000 Alvin and RosaLee Sarachek Predoctoral Honors Fellowship in Molecular Biology. Eric Olson, doctoral candidate in genetics, Topeka, and Vijayalakshmi Iyer, doctoral candidate in biology, India, are receiving $1,000 Sarachek scientific travel awards. 

Alvin and RosaLee Sarachek established the fellowship and travel awards to recognize exceptional achievements in scholastics and research by resident graduate students enrolled in a doctoral program at Kansas State University. An interdisciplinary faculty selection committee determines the fellowship and award recipients. 

Cain is researching the DUSP12 gene in the lab of Alexander Beeser, assistant professor of biology. DUSP12 is suspected to function in cancer development or progression. She is examining the cellular function of DUSP12 and whether the gene's overexpression promotes cancer properties in cells. Cain plans to use the fellowship to continue basic cancer research in a postdoctoral position in the lab of Peter Walter, professor at the University of California, San Francisco. 

"This fellowship will allow me to continue my scientific training by helping me to move to San Francisco for my postdoctoral training," Cain said. 

Cain was the 2010-2011 president of the Division of Biology's Graduate Student Association. Her other awards and honors include the 2011 H. Henley Haymaker Award for outstanding presentation by a graduate student from the Division of Biology, a 2011 Sarachek Scientific Travel Award, a National Science Foundation GK12 Evidence-Based Inquiry into the Distant, Remote or Past Fellowship for the 2010-2011 academic year and third-place platform presentation at the university's research forum in 2010. She is the daughter of Eric Hutfless, Bellevue, Neb

Olson plans to use the travel award to visit the Ug99 Stem Rust Screening Nursery in Njoro, Kenya. Discovered in Uganda in 1999, Ug99 is a strain of stem rust -- a fungus affecting the stalk of the wheat plant -- that can cause total crop loss and devastation for wheat production in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Olson will evaluate phenotypes of Ug99-resistant wheat varieties with new genes transferred from a wild wheat relative. He is the son of Catherine and Leonard Olson, Spring Green, Wis

"With the Sarachek Scientific Travel Award I can travel to Kenya and observe, firsthand in the field, the effectiveness of multiple Ug99 resistance genes that I have transferred to wheat from the wild goat grass species, Aegilops tauschii," Olson said. 

Iyer is using the award to travel to Miami for the sixth annual American Society for Microbiology conference on biofilms in September. She is researching the mechanisms of biofilm formation by Enterococcus faecalis, a leading cause of hospital-acquired infections. The bacterium is highly resistant to antibiotics and form biofilms --aggregates of bacteria that are held together by substances secreted by them and contributed by the environment. Iyer is working on understanding the contribution of the rpoN gene to enterococcal metabolism and biofilm development. She is the daughter of G.V. and Meenakshi Subramanian, Mumbai, India. 

"This award will help me attend the meeting on biofilms, giving me an opportunity to learn the different perspectives and approaches studied by others in the field of biofilm research," Iyer said. "It will also help my overall development as a scientist. Presenting my work at national and international conferences gives me an opportunity to interact with experienced researchers in my field and helps me build a professional network that can lead to good collaboration in the future." 

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 university's tradition of offering a broad array of quality programs in the life sciences, many with outstanding national reputations. They also 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 at http://www.k-state.edu/grad/sarachek/.