Previous Sarachek Fellowship Award Recipients
2015 Sarachek Fellowship Award Recipient
Damien Downes is a doctoral candidate in genetics. His 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.
2014 Sarachek Fellowship Award Recipient
Kai Yuan is a doctoral candidate in animal sciences and industry. His 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
2013 Sarachek Fellowship Award Recipient
Ismael E. Badillo-Vargas is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Plant Pathology working under the guidance of Dr. Anna E. Whitfield. His 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.
2012 Sarachek Fellowship Award Recipient
Erica Lynn Cain is a doctoral candidate in the Division of Biology, in the laboratory of Dr. Alexander Beeser. Her 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
2011 Sarachek Fellowship Award Recipient
Mauricio Montero Astúa is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Plant Pathology under the direction of Dr. Anna Whitfield. His 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.
2010 Sarachek Fellowship Award Recipient
Alison Luce-Fedrow is a doctoral candidate in the Division of Biology, working under the direction of Dr. Stephen Chapes and Dr. Tonia von Ohlen. Her 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
2009 Sarachek Fellowship Award Recipient
Vinai Chittezham Thomas, a doctoral candidate in the Division of Biology under the mentorship of Dr. Lynn Hancock, has been awarded the 2009 Alvin and Rosalee Sarachek Predoctoral Fellowship in Molecular Biology. His 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.
2008 Sarachek Fellowship Award Recipient
Lalitha Peddireddi is a student of Dr. Roman Ganta and works in the Department of Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology. Ms. Peddireddi is evaluating 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
2007 Sarachek Fellowship Award Recipient
Even 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.
2006 Sarachek Fellowship Award Recipient
Chanitchote 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.
2005 Sarachek Fellowship Award Recipient
David has been awarded the 2005 Sarachek Predoctoral Honors Fellowship for his work studying chitinmetabolism 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.
Hogenkamp, who is working under the direction of K-State biochemist S. Muthukrishnan and U.S. Department of Agriculture biochemist Karl Kramer, is studying 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.
Hogenkamp enrolled as a Ph.D. candidate at Kansas State in 2002.
2004 Sarachek Fellowship Award Recipient
Akiko Sugio, a Ph.D. candidate in Kansas State University's Department of Plant Pathology, has been awarded the 2004 Sarachek Predoctoral Honors Fellowship for her work studying the causal agent in bacterial blight of rice.
Sugio, who is working under the direction of K-State professor of plant pathology Frank White, is studying 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.
2003 Sarachek Fellowship Award Recipient
Israel 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.
2002 Sarachek Fellowship Award Recipient
Tom 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.