Sarachek Fellowship Award Recipients


Bianca Morejon Viteri

PhD, Microbiology


Morejon's research is aimed at keeping the world safe from diseases spread by mosquitos. Mosquitoes are considered the most dangerous animals in the world, as they transmit diseases, like malaria, and are responsible for approximately 750,000 human deaths annually. To fight pathogens, mosquitoes mount a vigorous immune response which is partially regulated by extracellular protease cascades. Morejon's dissertation research uses genetics, transcriptomics, and gene co-expression analyses to investigate the role of protease cascades in overcoming infections in the African malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae. She has identified 27 proteases regulating the immune response, which control the infection outcome by enabling the mosquito to eliminate the infection. The results of Morejon's research reveal a significantly expanded set of proteases, exceeding in number and complexity the molecular make-up of protease cascades known to regulate immunity in other animals, including humans. These findings not only enhance our fundamental understanding of immune system function but could also inform the design of novel malaria control strategies that prevent the parasite from reaching the human host.

Morejon will use the Sarachek Fellowship to support the transition to her next career phase. She has accepted an offer for a postdoctoral position in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The fellowship will also support her initial research there, which will focus on insect ecdysteroid hormones in mosquito reproduction. The initial data she will be collecting will form the basis of fellowship applications for early-career scientists.


Linah Alkotami

PhD, Biochemistry

Jun HuangAlkotami’s research aims to genetically modify the seed oil composition of two non-food winter oilseed crops, Camelina sativa and pennycress, to produce large amounts of acetyl-triacylglycerols (acetyl-TAG). Acetyl-TAG oil has reduced viscosity and can be used without the costly processing that is required for regular vegetable oils in many industrial applications, such as ‘drop-in’ biofuels, biodegradable lubricants, and food emulsifiers. Alkotami has been successful in generating transgenic plants with seeds that accumulate 93-98% of acetyl-TAG without compromising germination and see viability. Alkotami’s work has demonstrated that with the precise manipulation of biochemical pathways, it is possible to completely change the type of oil that a plant can produce. In addition to their industrial value and contribution to green energy, these modified plants can be used as a resource to study and gain fundamental insights into the functions of different oil biosynthetic pathways and how these pathways redirect in response to genetic engineering.

After completion of her doctoral degree, Alkotami plans to continue working in the field of genetic engineering with a focus on advancing plant science and improving agricultural productivity. Alkotami intends to pursue a postdoctoral researcher position to facilitate her transition into an academic career as a principal investigator. Her primary goal is to develop market-ready crops that produce high-value compounds and crops that match the needs of farmers for agronomic performance in specific climates. Alkotami will use the fellowship funds to broaden her expertise in interdisciplinary areas by attending bioinformatics and entrepreneurship training programs, as well as professional development and networking events. Part of the funds will also be used to support relocation to a prospective postdoctoral position.


Jun Huang

PhD, Plant Pathology

Jun Huang

Huang is working on fungal genetics and biology of the pathogenic fungus Magnaporthe oryzae, which is the causal agent of the devastating rice blast disease and a model system for studying pathogen-host interaction. The estimated annual loss of rice production due to rice blast is equivalent to the amount needed to feed 60 million people. Using Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, or CRISPR, genome-editing tool, Huang studies how DNA repair pathways affect the genome editing and genome evolution in the rice blast fungus. He has found that multiple error-prone DNA repair pathways provide preferential repair across the genome that could create biased genome variation. The findings from Huang's research underscore the need to further understand how DNA repair interacts with the genome-editing outcomes and how specific DNA repair pathways impact the genome evolution in filamentous pathogens.

Upon earning his doctorate, Huang plans to continue studying fungi to achieve his childhood dream of creating a better world through the reduction or control of fungal diseases affecting plants and humans. He will use the Sarachek Fellowship to support the start of his postdoctoral research. He plans to gain more training in molecular microbiology and bioinformatics analysis. Huang also will utilize this fellowship to attend more fungal genetics conferences to network with others and share and learn new ideas with the fungal genetics community.


Anil Pant

PhD, Biology

Anil Pant

The primary focus of Pant's research is to understand how vaccinia virus infection repurposes the nutrient resources of host cells to support optimal viral replication. Vaccinia virus was used as a live vaccine to eradicate smallpox and is still used as a model to study infections caused by other members of the poxvirus family that cause significant morbidity and mortality in humans and economically important animals. Vaccinia virus is also used as an agent for cancer therapy and the development of vaccines against diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Ebola, influenza, MERS/SARS-coronavirus.

Pant's research has identified metabolic weaknesses in the poxvirus lifecycle that could be targeted to develop efficient anti-poxviral therapies. His work has also identified key virus and host factors that interact at the interface of metabolism, which could lead to the development of novel strategies for the advancement of poxvirus-based tools for vaccine development and cancer treatment.

Upon completion of his doctoral degree, he will use the Sarachek fellowship to support the next stage of his career as a postdoctoral researcher. He intends to continue his research in the field of metabolism to get a better understanding of the mechanism of cancer causation and broaden his understanding of why tumor cells have a greater dependence on specific enzymes and/or nutrients than normal cells. Pant hopes that his contribution to science will someday provide avenues to develop effective anti-cancer therapies.


Konner Winkley

PhD, Biology

Konner WinkleyKonner Winkley is interested in a quantitative and comprehensive understanding of organ formation. Specifically, how do the cells that make up an organ become the right kind of cell for that organ? How do they express the correct genes? How do the cells interact to build an organ of the correct shape? Konner has identified a new mechanism for the control of organ shape that is based on asymmetries in how cells divide. To understand these processes, Konner studies the sea squirt Ciona an invertebrate with a particularly small, simple embryo that is well-suited to quantitative analysis. Understanding cell fate and behavior in this simple model organism enables future advances in regenerative medicine and in the treatment of diseases, such as cancer, in which cell fate and behavior are altered.

Konner plans to finish his PhD in August 2020 and will move to a postdoctoral position in Kansas City at the Center for Pediatric Genomic Medicine and Children’s Mercy Research Institute at Children’s Mercy Hospital.


Ryan Greenway

PhD, Biology

ryan greenway

Ryan Greenway received his bachelor's degree in zoology from Oklahoma State University, Stillwater Oklahoma. The primary focus of Greenway's research is to understand the genetic changes that allow animals to live in extreme environments and how these changes can cause new species to form. Greenway studies different species of fish living in extremely toxic environments. The toxin these fishes are adapted to is highly toxic to most other animals, including humans. Figuring out if these different fish species have evolved in the same way or in completely unique ways will provide useful insight into the predictability of evolution at the molecular level. Studying evolutionary solutions to dealing with high concentrations of this toxin may have implications for biomedical and toxicological research relevant to human disease and aging.

Greenway has secured a postdoctoral research position at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG). In this position, Greenway will link evolutionary processes at the molecular level to phenotypic changes that influence environmental processes (such as nutrient cycling and food web dynamics), resulting in feedbacks between evolutionary and ecological processes. The Sarachek funding will support Greenway’s research and professional development activities associated with his postdoctoral position. Ultimately, Greenway plans to pursue a tenure-track faculty position at a research institution.


Pragyesh Dhungel

PhD, Microbiology

pragyesh dhungelPragyesh Dhungel dissertation research title is, "Selective Synthesis of Viral and Cellular Proteins during Vaccinia Virus-induced Host Shutoff". Dhungel studies vaccinia virus, which is used as a live vaccine to eradicate smallpox. Vaccinia, member of poxvirus family, is presently being engineered to treat various infectious diseases, multiple cancers, and is used as vaccines for diseases like AIDS, Zika, Ebola, etc. While vaccinia is engineered for many purposes, there is a major gap in understanding the fundamental mechanism of vaccinia gene expression during host protein synthesis shutoff.

Dhungel received his bachelor's from Kathmandu University in Nepal. Dr. Zhilong Yang, professor in biology, is his major professor.

Pragyesh Dhungel is seeking a post-doctorate position and is currently communicating with the National Cancer Institute, Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California-Berkeley. His research emphasis is to address the major gap in the mechanism of fundamental gene expression of vaccinia. The finding will provide knowledge to improve poxvirus-based therapies and vaccines.

The Sarachek funding will be used for relocation and to attend the XXII International Poxvirus, Asfarvirus and Iridovirus Conference, in Taipei, Taiwan from May 26th-30th, 2018. The remaining Sarachek Fellowship will be used to aid his own project to generate preliminary data, this data will open doors to the academic career that Pragyesh Dhungel is seeking.


Kirsten Grond

PhD, Biology

kirsten grondKirsten Grond dissertation research title is, "Linking gut microbiota composition to development and life-history traits in migratory shorebirds". Gut bacteria play an important role in health due to interaction with the immune system and nutrient uptake. Next generation DNA sequencing allows for the identification of all members of a microbial community, without depending on bacterial culturing. Reconstruction of microbial communities in animal guts enables novel investigations into variation within and among species, and allows us to study how external factors such as diet and environment affect gut bacterial dynamics. Grond characterized gut bacterial communities of migratory shorebirds throughout their life from embryos to migratory adults. Migratory birds vary in life-history characteristics, which can impact the gut microbial community and bird health. Grond showed that shorebirds are sterile in the egg, and acquire their gut microbes from their local environment immediately after hatching. Gut communities of adult shorebirds were predominantly influenced by local habitat, which necessitates furthering our understanding of the interactions between shorebirds and their microbial environment.

Grond received her bachelor’s and master's degree from the University of Groningen, in Groningen, the Netherlands. Dr. Brett Sandercock, professor in biology, is her major professor.

Grond will work in Dr. Sarah Hird's lab at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut, for a post-doc position starting in June 2017. In her lab, Grond will focus on unraveling the next step in bird microbiome research: Investigating the interactions between birds and their gut microbiomes through studying microbial function under varying environmental conditions. Grond will use metagenomic and transcriptomic techniques to determine presence and expression of bacterial genes in a range of wild bird species over temporal and geographical gradients. The Sarachek funding will be used to relocate to Connecticut, and to cover genomic and transcriptomic sequencing of Grond's first project.


Courtney Passow

PhD, Biology

passow Courtney Passow received her bachelor's degree from Texas A&M University. She received her doctorate in summer 2016. Passow's research focuses on determining the underlying genetic and physiological mechanisms of adaptation to extreme environments. Michi Tobler, assistant professor of biology, is Passow's major professor. Passow will use the fellowship to relocate to St. Paul, Minnesota, where she plans to pursue a postdoctoral position at the University of Minnesota. Shewill primarily be working with blind Mexican cavefish, Astyanax mexicanus, investigating how organisms adapt to nutrient- and light-poor cave environments.



Damien Downes

PhD, Genetics

Damien Downes

Damien Downes research focuses on DNA-binding proteins that are involved in regulating genes for the uptake and metabolism of nitrogen from the environment, as nitrogen is essential for fungal growth. Fungal plant pathogens pose a major threat to world food supplies, causing billions of dollars in crop losses annually, with $4 billion in North America alone. Therefore, understanding the mechanisms used by fungi to infect plants is critical for global food security. To cause disease, plant pathogens must adapt to changing environmental conditions. Understanding the mechanisms underlying gene regulation will help combat the ways in which pathogens infect their hosts and cause disease. Downes uses the molecular genetic model research organism Aspergillus nidulans, a close relative of several plant and animal pathogens, to investigate the mechanisms that fungi use to regulate gene expression. The results obtained from his research will lead to a clearer picture of transcriptional regulatory mechanisms in fungi and lay a foundation for future work in fungal pathogens of animals and plants.

Downes received his bachelor's degree with honours at the University of Melbourne. He will graduate with his doctorate in May 2015 with a 4.0 GPA. Dr. Richard Todd, assistant professor in plant pathology, is Downes' major professor. Downes was a recipient of a Sarachek Scientific Travel Award in 2014.

Downes will use the fellowship to relocate to Oxford, UK, where he plans to pursue a post-doctoral position. Downes also plans to attend conferences and workshops in 2015 and 2016 to further his research contributions. Downes intends to continue his research in the field of transcriptional regulation and broaden his understanding of different techniques and approaches by working with different model organisms.


Kai Yuan

PhD, Animal Sciences

Kai YuanKai Yuan research focuses on investigating the interactions between inflammation and metabolism and developing strategies to improve immune function, metabolism and health of dairy cows. This research has advanced the understanding of dairy cow nutritional physiology and immunology and has contributed to improving the health and production of dairy cows.

Yuan received his bachelor's degree in Veterinary Medicine from Yangzhou University and his master's degree in dairy science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He plans to complete his doctorate in May 2014. Barry Bradford, associate professor of animal sciences and industry, is Yuan's major professor.

Yuan will use the fellowship to relocate to Michigan to begin postdoctoral research at the University of Michigan Medical School. His research will study the molecular links between obesity and diabetes with the goal of developing drugs that could prevent and mitigate metabolic disorders. Yuan also plans to use the funds to attend the 2014 American Dairy Science Association Annual Meeting and the 2014 American Dairy Science Scientific Sessions, as well as the Molecular Biology Summer Workshop at Smith College.


Ismael E. Badillo-Vargas

PhD, Plant Pathology

IsmaelIsmael E. Badillo-Vargas' research focuses on understanding the molecular basis of the interaction between Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) and its most efficient insect vector, Frankliniella occidentalis. TSWV is one of the most devastating plant viruses known and it is transmitted plant-to-plant by tiny insects commonly known as thrips. Ismael characterized the proteome of thrips and studied the response of thrips to the virus to identify insect molecules that respond to virus infection or that may play a role in antiviral defenses. He is also studying the thrips proteins that directly interact with TSWV particles during entry to, replication in, and spread through the insect vector’s body. Furthermore, Ismael is developing RNA interference (RNAi) tools to conduct functional assays with thrips. His research will provide farmers with novel strategies to control plant viruses transmitted by insects and scientists with new research tools to further understand TSWV-Frankliniella occidentalis interactions.

Prior to coming to Kansas State University, Ismael received a bachelor’s degree in Crop Protection from the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez, his home country, and a master’s degree in Plant Pathology from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. At K-State, Ismael earned a 3.9 GPA and he has been awarded the Timothy R. Donoghue Graduate Scholarship, the K-State Ecological Genomics Graduate Fellowship, and the Tillman Family Agriculture Graduate Student Enhancement Award. Additionally, Ismael has received a K-State Arthropod Genomics Center Travel Award, an NSF-funded Ecological Genomics Travel Fellowship, and a United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Predoctoral Grant.

Ismael will use the Sarachek Fellowship to support future postdoctoral research and professional development. He plans to attend a proteomics workshop in Cold Springs Harbor Laboratories, New York, and the X International Symposium on Thysanoptera and Tospovirus in Brazil. The fellowship will also help Ismael relocate to Europe to begin postdoctoral research.


Erica Cain

PhD, Biology

Erica Cain

Erica Lynn Cain's research focuses on the dual specificity phosphatase 12 (dusp12) gene. The dusp12 gene is amplified in many cancers suggesting that it may function in cancer development and/or progression. Erica is examining the cellular function of DUSP12 and examining whether over-expression of this gene promotes cancer properties in cells.

Erica has published one paper from her doctoral research and has an additional manuscript in preparation. She is also a co-author on two papers on research she conducted as an undergraduate in the laboratory of Dr. A. Lorena Passarelli in the Division of Biology.

Erica received her Bachelor's degree in Microbiology from Kansas State University in 2007 and immediately began her graduate studies in the Division of Biology. She maintains a 3.9 G.P.A. and will graduate in May 2012. She was a recipient of a Sarachek Scientific Travel Award in 2011 and a NSF GK-12 EIDRoP Fellow (2010-2011).

Erica will use the fellowship to help her to relocate her family to San Francisco, California, where she is excited to begin her post-doctoral training in the lab of Dr. Peter Walter at the University of California, San Francisco in June 2012.


Mauricio Montero Astúa

PhD, Plant Pathology

Mauricio AstuaMauricio Montero Astúa's research focuses on Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) and its vector, the thrips Frankliniella occidentalis. TSWV is a plant virus of worldwide distribution that infects hundreds of plant species, including crops such as tomatoes, peanuts, tobacco and ornamental plants. TSWV is transmitted by several species of thrips, insects belonging to the order Thysanoptera. The virus causes losses of billions of dollars due to yield decrease, unmarketable produce or the cost of control applications.

Mauricio is studying one of the glycoproteins of the virus, G N-S, that is responsible of virus acquisition by thrips. He is characterizing the localization and in planta behavior of a recombinant soluble form of the protein G N-S. Additionally, he is developing transgenic plants expressing the G N-S protein. His aim is to control the virus by interfering with the transmission mechanism by thrips. This research will provide growers with a novel tool for the management of plant diseases and will contribute to the understanding and control of other viruses transmitted by insects.

Prior to coming to Kansas State University, Mauricio received a B.Sc. in Agronomy and a M.Sc. in Agriculture Sciences and Natural Resources with emphasis in Crop Protection at the University of Costa Rica, his home country. There he studied plant viruses in potato and a plant pathogenic bacterium, Xylella fastidiosa. At KSU, Mauricio earned a 4.0 GPA and he has been awarded the Tillman Scholarship for the duration of his Ph.D. studies. Additionally, Mauricio has been recipient of the José and Silvia Amador (2006), the Caribbean Division (2009) and the Myron K. Brakke (2011) Student Travel Awards from the American Phytopathological Society.

Mauricio plans to use the money from the Sarachek Fellowship as start-up funds to initiate his career as Assistant Professor at the University of Costa Rica (UCR), and to attend international meetings. At UCR, he will join a laboratory studying plant viruses and phytoplasmas in diverse tropical crops. He aims to start research in thrips vectoring tospoviruses in Costa Rica and establish international collaborative research projects. Mauricio aims to continue to collaborate with scientists at KSU and to promote student exchanges between KSU and UCR to open new opportunities for graduate students at both institutions.


Alison Luce-Fedrow

PhD, Biology

FedrowAlison Luce-Fedrow's research focuses on Ehrlichia chaffeenis, a tick-transmitted bacterium, that causes human monocytic ehrlichiosis, a disease that must be reported to the Centers for Disease Control. Patients with this disease often must be hospitalized and can have significant neurological damage or even die from the disease. Ms. Luce-Federow has developed a model system for the study of this disease in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, and used this non-mammalian laboratory system to identify genes in the fruit flies that participate in infection by the bacterium. Results of this work contribute to the development of therapies, vaccines and diagnostic protocols to combat this disease.

Ms. Luce-Fedrow has published two articles in high-impact microbiology journals, with additional articles in preparation. One of the articles was selected by the journal editors as the "Spotlight" article of the month due to its importance in the field. Ms. Luce-Fedrow also has presented papers on her research at several local and national meetings.

Prior to beginning her doctoral studies at Kansas State University, Ms. Luce-Fedrow received a B.S. (2001) from the University of Pittburgh and an M.S. (2004) in Biology from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. As a student in her graduate work, Ms. Luce-Fedrow earned a 3.9 GPA. She also has been widely recognized on campus for excellence in teaching winning both the Michael C. Watkins Teaching Assistant Award from the Division of Biology and the University-wide Blue Key Graduate Research Assistant of the year award in 2009.

Ms. Luce-Fedrow plans to use the money from the Sarachek Fellowship Award to help her and her family move to Silver Springs, Maryland. There she will conduct postdoctoral research at the U. S. Naval Medical Center under the guidance of Dr. Allen Richards on the bacterium that causes epidemic typhus. She also will use some of the funds to defray graduation expenses and to attend and present her work at national and international conferences.


Vinai Chittezham Thomas

PhD, Biology

VinaiVinai Chittezham Thomas' research focuses on the modulation of biofilm formation by proteases secreted by the opportunistic bacterial pathogen Enterococcus faecalis. Mr. Thomas's research has demonstrated that these proteases are critical in regulating the early stages of biofilm development. His research may lead to new treatments for cardiac endocarditis, including novel antimicrobial intervention strategies that exploit strategic weaknesses in the biofilm formation process.

Since joining Dr. Hancock's laboratory four articles have resulted from Mr. Thomas’s work. He is the first author of papers in Molecular Microbiology and Journal of Bacteriology and a co-author of additional publications in Environmental Microbiology Journal of Bacteriology. He has presented his research at several national and international conferences.

Prior to beginning his doctoral program at Kansas State University, Mr. Thomas earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in Microbiology form the University of Pune in Maharashtra, India and a M.S. degree in Biotechnology from the University of Abertay in Dundee, Scotland. During his doctoral program at Kansas State University, Mr. Thomas has maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA and an exceptional record of academic accomplishments. After completing his doctoral degree he plans to pursue a postdoctoral research position and a career as a molecular microbiologist.

Mr. Thomas plans to use the Sarachek Fellowship funds to support travel to interview for postdoctoral research positions, to participate in academic and scientific meetings that will allow him to network with professionals in his discipline, and to participate in professional development workshops sponsored by Cold Spring Harbor and the American Society for Microbiologists.


Lalitha Paddireddi

PhD, Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology

paddireddiLalitha Peddireddi's research evaluates proteomics and transcriptomics of Ehr-lichia chaffeensis, an intracellular bacterium that is transmitted by ticks and is becoming an in-creasingly serious problem in humans. The genes in which she is particularly interested encode a portion of the proteins on the outer membrane and are differentially expressed in the tick and vertebrate host.

Ms. Peddireddi has been at KSU since 2004 and has two published articles on this topic and has made presentations at two national professional meetings. She plans to use the funds she has been awarded to, among other things, attend some of the professional development workshops offered by the American Society for Microbiology for young scientists.


Kamesh Reddy Sirigireddy

PhD, Diagnostic Medicine

sirigireddyEven in his formative years, there were clues Kamesh Reddy Sirigireddy would grow up to become a researcher who looks for ways to combat such deadly diseases as West Nile virus. That pursuit has now brought him honors.

Sirigireddy, who anticipates finishing his Ph.D. at Kansas State University in December, has been named the 2007 Sarachek Predoctoral Honors Fellowship winner. The fellowship recognizes his study of the molecular mechanisms employed by a tick-transmitted pathogen, Ehrlichia chaffeensis, which causes diseases in wildlife, livestock, pets and humans.

While earning master's and Ph.D. degrees at K-State, Sirigireddy also helped develop diagnostic tests for such emerging infectious diseases as canine ehrlichiosis, West Nile virus and others. Those tests are used today in K-State diagnostic laboratories.

A native of Kadapa, India, Sirigireddy said that he has always been interested in science. Although neither of his parents is a scientist, they always encouraged him.

That combination led to his earning a doctor of veterinary medicine degree at Sri Venkateswara Veterinary University (formerly the Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural University). In 2002 he moved to the United States to pursue further studies at K-State.

"I'm excited and honored to receive this award. It will give me the freedom to look at different career opportunities that might be available, once I finish at K-State," Sirigireddy said. An only child, Sirigireddy credits his parents, teachers and wife for the successes he's had so far in his career.

"I have also been very fortunate to be able to work under the guidance of Dr. Roman Ganta (K-State veterinary pathobiologist)," he said. "We are trying to identify genes that are responsible for persistent infection and pathogenicity. This knowledge will help us in devising better disease-control strategies."

Sirigireddy said he will pursue a career in either industry or at a university, adding that he enjoys teaching, as well as learning.


Chanitchote Detvistisakun

PhD, Biology

Chanitchote DetvistisakunChanitchote Detvisitsakun was not a farm girl growing up in her native Thailand, but the work she is doing at Kansas State University may one day benefit farmers and food processors around the world.

Detvisitsakun, who goes by the nickname Am, is the recipient of the 2006 Sarachek Predoctoral Honors Fellowship for her study of the pathogenesis of baculoviruses in insects.

The fellowship provides a $15,000 award to a resident graduate student enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Kansas State University. The student's research must be in a field of study relating significantly to contemporary molecular biological techniques.

Detvisitsakun is working under the direction of K-State assistant professor of biology Lorena Passarelli. Her research proposed that virus fibroblast growth factors (vfgfs) play important roles in spreading infection within an infected insect. By studying the mechanism by which infections are spread within the insect, researchers may one day be able to apply that knowledge to control pests in the future.

Detvisitsakun grew up in Panasnikhom, a city of about 100,000 people in the Chonburi province, about 30 minutes from the beach.

The young scientist's career was headed in a different direction in the mid-1990s, when she accepted an internship in Thailand's Ministry of Public Health. There she took samples from patients to test for such diseases as human papillomavirus (HPV) and Hepatitis C. It was her first exposure to DNA evaluation and the related laboratory equipment.

"I was impressed. I saw that this was a very good field - one in which I could apply my work to many kinds of research," she said. Detvisitsakun earned a bachelor's degree in biotechnology from King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang in Thailand and a master's degree in genetics under the direction of George Liang, professor of agronomy at K-State. She plans to finish her Ph.D. in biology within the next year.

Once she finishes her studies at K-State, Detvisitsakun plans to return to Thailand to teach and conduct research. "I've received a lot of encouragement and support at KSU," she said, adding that she hopes to pass along some of the same help and encouragement to students in Thailand.


David Hogenkamp

PhD, Biochemistry

2005David Hogenkamp studies chitin, the second most abundant (carbohydrate) polymer in nature, next to cellulose (found in plants, including trees). "Chitin provides the structural support in insect structures much like the steel rods do in reinforced concrete," Hogenkamp said. "Because chitin is absent in mammals and higher plants, chitin metabolism represents a selective target for the development of insect growth regulators (IGRs), or insecticides. These IGRs may be valuable for use in agriculture."

He is using the tobacco hornworm and the red flour beetle as model insects for studying chitin metabolism.

A native of Canada, Hogenkamp has both U.S. and Canadian citizenship. At an early age he took a job as a busboy at Bugsy's Restaurant in his hometown of St. Catharines, Ontario. He soon was promoted to cook, a position in which he earned enough money to pay for his undergraduate degree in biochemistry at Brock University.

After graduation from Brock with honors, he joined the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Riley, Kan., where he served on active duty in an infantry unit for four years. While there, he met and married his wife, Theresa. The couple has two sons, Jacob and Tyler.

After serving in the army, Hogenkamp worked as an instructor for the TRIO program, Upward Bound Math and Science, where he taught chemistry to high school students who were considering studying science in college. TRIO programs (named for the original three) are educational programs that provide opportunities to low-income and disabled Americans.


Akiko Sugio

PhD, Plant Pathology

akikoAkiko Sugio studies the functions of virulence proteins secreted by Xanthomonas oryzae – the causal agent of bacterial blight in rice. Bacterial blight is a water-borne disease that infects rice plants when droplets carrying the bacteria (Xanthomonas oryzae) land on leaf wounds that are caused by such factors as heavy rains and high winds.

Sugio is a native of Tokyo, Japan. She received a bachelor's degree in bioengineering and a master's degree in biotechnology from the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Following her time there, she spent two years as a researcher for a company that produces industrial enzymes – specifically on clones and characterizations of enzymes from plant pathogenic fungi. That work, she said, sparked her interest in learning more about how different organisms interact with each other and led to her work at K-State.


Israel Muro

PhD, Microbiology

muroIsrael Muro has always been interested in how things function and fit in with the rest of the world. As a little boy in his home state of Colorado, he spent hours observing insects and other animals. He would take apart just about anything electronic and try to figure out how it worked. He usually could put them together again with no harm done. Early in his education Israel was introduced to the world of science. He knew from the beginning that he wanted to be a scientist when he grew up.

To begin his academic career, Israel attended Colorado State University where he majored in Microbiology. During this time his interest in science increased and he knew that scientific research would be a part of his life from then on. During his years at CSU, he was introduced to molecular biology, which became his favorite area of study.

Israel soon viewed molecular biology as the most fundamental aspect of biological research and saw it was the field he wanted to enter. After graduating from CSU, Israel came to Kansas State to study the molecular biology of insects. He soon became a graduate student in Dr. Rollie Clem's laboratory in the Division of Biology, where he began studying apoptosis, also known as Programmed Cell Death. Apoptosis is a program built into most if not all cells, which directs a cell to deliberately kill itself if it senses something is wrong. This sacrifice allows the whole organism to survive by killing only a limited number of cells. This process plays an important role in resistance to diseases.

Israel's thesis research has focused on apoptosis in the model organism Drosophila melanogaster, or fruit fly. His goal is to learn how the fly's cell death pathway functions and how it is regulated, which will add to the general understanding of apoptosis not just in flies but also in humans. To this end he has made some highly significant findings, and he has published several papers in leading scientific journals. He hopes to publish more before graduating in May 2004. Upon graduating he plans to do postdoctoral research and intends to someday return to Colorado as a professor in one of that state's leading research universities. His plan is to continue performing research in the field of apoptosis using all of the tools he has acquired.


Tom Clarke

PhD, Entomology

tomTom Clarke grew up in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and lived at various times in Prince Edward Island, Alberta, and British Columbia.

After graduating from the University of Guelph with a BSc specializing in entomology, Tom moved to Victoria, B.C., to obtain an MSc at the University of Victoria. His MSc research involved studying the evolution and diversification of predacious ground beetles endemic to coastal British Columbia and Alaska, in order to answer biogeographic questions concerning the role of the Queen Charlotte Islands as a biological refuge during the last Ice Age.

Tom is currently completing his PhD at K-State under Dr. Rollie Clem. Tom's research interests at K-State involve understanding how the insect immune system is able to cope with viral invasion, with an emphasis on the role that programmed cell death may play in blocking viral infection. He is published in the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, the Journal of Evolution, and the Journal of General Virology.

An avid naturalist, Tom's non-professional interests include insect collecting and taxonomy, the rearing of exotic insects and rodents, hiking, and spelunking.