Maria Boftsi #IAmScience

Maria Boftsi

Maria Boftsi, a Ph. D candidate, stands near her lab station in the Pintel Lab in Bond LSC. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

 

By Allison Scott | Bond LSC
Change is hard. Especially when you’re comparing weather, like Maria Boftsi, a second year Ph.D. student in the Pintel Lab at Bond LSC, did.

From the sunny skies of a small town in Northern Greece, where she’s originally from, to the contrastingly harsh winter of mid-Missouri, Boftsi was in for a lot of change when she came to Mizzou.

“The summer after my third year of undergraduate I came to work in the Sarafianos Lab. Then I went back to Greece to finish my bachelor’s degree,” Boftsi said. “When he moved to a different university, I joined the Pintel Lab about six months ago.”

In the Pintel lab, Boftsi studies parvovirus interactions with the host genome. This virus is among the smallest in terms of DNA.

“We study the parvovirus Minute Virus of mice, or MVM,” Boftsi said. “MVM infection leads to a sustained DNA damage response in cells, which the virus exploits to enhance its replication.”

The replication process is anything but simple. Boftsi uses previous work to better understand this aspect of the virus life cycle.

“Recent studies in our lab have shown that the virus establishes replication centers at specific sites of the cellular genome,” Boftsi said. “I’m trying to investigate the role of viral proteins on virus-host interactions.”

Once the lab does that, they’ll be able to apply what they’ve learned to future projects.

“Parvoviruses are important pathogens and cause infections in many animal species,” Boftsi said. “Our work can provide important insights into virus-host cell interactions in general.”

That kind of impact is what allowed Boftsi’s original interest in science to grow.

“I first got into research because of a biology class I had in high school,” Boftsi said. “Then I realized how amazing it is to study something closely and learn the details.”

And the curiosity she’s developed is a driving factor in her decision to keep her education going.

“I want to do a postdoc,” Boftsi said. “I really want to continue research.”

Even though being thousands of miles away from home is hard, Boftsi has grown from the experience, and she’s grateful for the opportunities she’s had thus far.

“It’s been great. I really like it here,” Boftsi said. “The environment is amazing, and the people are so friendly and helpful.”

Vivariums and The Hidden Metropolis Beneath Bond LSC

 

One of the researchers working under Bond Research Lab Manager, Raye Allen, observes one of the vivariums.

Bond LSC Facility Manager Dana Weir observes a family of rats in one of the vivariums. Photo by Raye Allen

By Madelyne Maag

You’ve heard of aquariums and terrariums, but probably not of a vivarium before. These enclosed structures take on a whole new meaning when science is brought into the picture.

And little do people know when they walk across the main floor of Bond LSC, they are walking above a city-like work space where the occupants work to improve our lives.

Vivariums functions as cubicles, condominiums and daycare centers for the rodents that live within them. The 10,000 square-foot lab at Bond LSC uses these transgenic rodents to study muscular dystrophy, diabetes, fertility, and oncology research, among other health research areas.

“These rodents are the living, working team that help us learn more about our health.” said Dana Weir, the facility manager from the Office of Animal Resources. “We want to make sure they are well taken care of so Raye Allen’s team works year-round to make sure they are monitored, well-fed, and comfortable in the vivariums.”

Raye Allen, the lab supervisor for Bond LSC’s vivarium, said cleanliness and care are the top priorities in addition to research. Cleaning, transporting, feeding the rodents all require a carefully detailed process.

The 1,700 clear polycarbonate containers are arranged in rows with single, coupled or a small family of rodents within them. Each shoebox-sized rodent condo, is provided with dry cushioned bedding, large quantities of food and water, as well as their own little hiding space. Clean, filtered air is also pumped through the back of their homes.

“These rodents live a cleaner life than you or I could ever imagine.” Weir said.

Each person who enters the lab must wear closed toe-shoes, two sets of nitrile gloves, a white floor-length, long-sleeved button up lab coat, a face mask and hairnet.

“Raye Allen’s team is mindful of everything they touch when handling the rodents or their homes in the lab. We spray everything with bleach to prevent any outside bacteria from contaminating the lab and only handle our rodents under the biosafety hoods present in each room.”

Several university, state and federal regulations ensure the safety and security of Bond LSC’s transgenic rodents. The National Research Council, USDA’s Animal Welfare Act, and University of Missouri’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee work together to monitor animal welfare and set standards for lab research on animals.

Weir carefully holds one of the rodents underneath a fume hood. Photo by Raye Allen

Weir carefully holds one of the rodents underneath a fume hood. Photo by Raye Allen

The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) inspects Bond LSC’s vivarium every six months, in order to make sure that containment, handling and safety protocols followed by lab researchers are up-to-date. The IACUC also reviews the purpose of animals being used for each particular research project. A board of faculty members, veterinarians and two non-science community members review justification from lab researchers.

The safety and security of these rodents are the top priority of the researchers working in the labs, but there is also an emotional bond that is formed between them as well.

“Rodents are intelligent and emotional animals, so they learn who their caretakers are very quickly.” said Allen. “They recognize us by the smells we put off and get pretty excited when one of our researchers enters the room to interact with them.”

The researchers like Allen who work with these rodents on a daily basis, care deeply about the rodents as well as the work these furry critters do.

“The bond formed between the animals and their caretakers is equally as important as the research they help us do,” said Weir. “This goes for all of the animal research conducted in Bond as well as other research that is conducted across the Mizzou campus.”

 

Mark Schroeder #IAmScience

Mark Schroeder

Mark Schroeder, a Ph.D. candidate, works in Lloyd Sumner’s lab in Bond LSC. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

“#IAmScience because I like to learn how things work from the deepest level.”

By Allison Scott | Bond Life Sciences Center

For most people, a television breaking or a computer shutting down is annoying at best. It means they’ll have to embark on the often drawn out process of choosing a newer, more expensive version to purchase.

Fortunately, Mark Schroeder isn’t most people.

“If I have something that breaks, I’ll take it apart just to see if I can put it back together,” Schroeder said. “I had a broken TV and took all the screws out to see what was in it. I enjoy it because you’d be surprised at how simple some things are.”

That innate curiosity is what guided him toward a career in science. As a graduate student in biochemistry, Schroeder now works in the Lloyd Sumner Lab in Bond LSC where dives deeper into how things work.

Specifically, the lab has two main research interests: plant natural products and metabolomics. They use a model legume plant, Medicago truncatula, because it is rich in natural products.

“I currently work on the metabolomics instrumentation side,” Schroeder said. “The goal of metabolomics is to identify as many small molecules as possible in a biological sample.”

Once as they identify the small molecules, Schroeder and the rest of his lab can do comparisons between samples, such as disease tolerant and more susceptible plants.

“We try to understand the profile and compare samples because then we can get a signature on the small molecules,” Schroeder said. “My current job is developing a reference library for the small molecules so they can be quickly compared in a metabolomics setting.”

This means they can investigate two different samples and determine exactly what is different, an insight that might lead to agricultural or medical applications.

“Our lab is big picture because our methods are trying to collect as much information as possible,” Schroeder said. “We can, however, focus what we’re doing to target specific compounds or compound classes like lipids or flavonoids.”

To do their work, they use cutting-edge technology. While highly useful, it can require some troubleshooting.

“We encounter some unforeseen challenges, but we do our own maintenance on the instruments,” Schroeder said. “That helps us troubleshoot more quickly because we would otherwise always be calling for help.”

And Schroeder doesn’t mind being in the lab at all. In fact, it was something he’s always wanted to do.

“This was the goal all along — doing things hands-on,” Schroeder said. “People who invent incredible things typically aren’t starting with that as their primary job. I tried to find how I could turn my interests into a career, and I feel like I’ve done that here.”

Ben Spears #IAmScience

Ben Spears

Ben Spears, a Ph.D. candidate, works in the Gassmann Lab in Bond LSC. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

“#IAmScience because science is like solving a puzzle, and I can take any scientific question and boil the results down to chip away at much greater puzzles.”

By Allison Scott | Bond Life Sciences Center

Like a lot of science majors, Ben Spears had plans to go to medical school after graduating with his bachelor’s degree. That is until he realized the very sight of blood makes his stomach turn.

So, it was back to the drawing board.

Spears took one plant sciences course during his undergraduate career and he knew it was what he wanted to do with his life.

“I took that class and did undergraduate research. Since then, I’ve been entrenched in plant sciences,” Spears said.

Now, as a Ph.D. student in the Gassmann lab in Bond LSC, Spears spends most of his time working on how plants and their interacting microbes interrelate.

“We’re interested in what signals are coming from the plant on a molecular level and the microbe of interest,” Spears said. “We care about how we can make these plants resistant.”

For Spears, that’s specifically looking at one family of transcription factor proteins, which can eventually be applied to other plants and help with immunity.

“I’ve uncovered a new role for the transcription proteins,” Spears said. “If we think about the immune system, it’s multilayered. Previously, we’ve characterized the role for these proteins in one layer of immunity we thought they didn’t have a role in another.”

As with most science, though, Spears soon uncovered more information that allowed him to better understand what was actually happening.

“If we think about the immune system, it’s multilayered,” Spears said. “Previously, we’ve characterized the role for these proteins in one layer of immunity and we though they didn’t have a role in another. In taking a closer look, I’ve found they do have a role in this other layer.”

Part of the challenge is about finding a balance between plant development and immunity to pathogens. Plants divvy up their limited resources between growing and protecting themselves. If they can’t put enough energy into growth, they won’t produce a good crop to feed people,  however, if they’re dying from lacking the ability to protect themselves, they aren’t able to make food either.

“If we can manipulate the balance between immunity and yield in something like maize, that’s the holy grail,” Spears said. “We think the proteins I’m working on could have a crucial role in this balance.”

Another part of his work in the lab is mentoring undergraduate students, which has helped him get a better idea of what he wants to do after finishing his Ph.D.

“It’s been a great experience,” Spears said. “There’s more responsibility in the student’s learning experience than being a teaching assistant because it’s more intimate.”

Working closely with students has furthered Spears’ interest in becoming a professor himself.

“Being a mentor has been pretty good experience to prepare me to have students of my own one day,” Spears said.

At the end of the day, Spears hopes to influence students like his first plant sciences professor did.

“If I can teach at a university and point another student in the direction of plant sciences like my professor did with me, I’d love that,” Spears said.

Sam Smith #IAmScience

Sam Smith

Sam Smith, a freshman plant sciences major, works in Walter Gassmann’s lab in Bond LSC. | Photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

“#IAmScience because I overcame my doubts and was able to find my place within the field.”

By Allison Scott | Bond Life Sciences Center

It’s no secret that science is intimidating. The test tubes, white coats and field-specific jargon paint a picture of a field that’s difficult — sometimes too difficult for some people to imagine themselves being in.

Sam Smith, a freshman studying plant sciences through the Freshman Research in Plant Science (FRIPS) program, knows this feeling all too well. She grew up in Bethalto, Illinois, a municipal village that’s about half an hour outside of St. Louis.

“I thought science was cool, but I didn’t feel like I had any space in it,” Smith said.

That is until she figured out exactly where she fit, leading  her to join Walter Gassmann’s lab at Bond LSC and having Chris Garner as her mentor.

“I interviewed with Chris, and it just clicked,” Smith said. “He’s the best mentor, and we have a lot of fun in a professional setting.”

Right now, Smith works with Arabidopsis thaliana to better understand the immune response of plants.

“Chris is supervising me while I work on a project where I’m trying to find a triple mutant to see if it has any impact on the immune response of Arabidopsis,” Smith said. “The goal is to understand immunity regulation because we need to understand how plants are reacting.”

Plant immune responses are important because they can help scientists like Smith to better protect the plant from disease.

“If I find the mutant, I’ll take ribonucleic acid (RNA) out to measure the genetic expression of the immune response,” Smith said. “The more it’s being expressed, the more immune response there is.”

And that will lay the foundation for future applications with other plants.

Being a freshman, Smith acknowledges the impact of FRIPS and research on her experience thus far.

“It has already opened doors for me,” Smith said. “I’ve made relationships with other scientists and grown from working within such a collaborative community.”

For the future, Smith plans on continuing her research throughout her undergraduate career. However, she would love to see more students pursue research because it’s not as challenging to get started in as it might initially appear.

“Anyone can do science,” Smith said. “You just have to take the chance because you can learn so much. It isn’t as scary as you think, I promise.”

Biosafety Breakdown: Understanding the safety precautions taken by labs working with viruses

Graduate student Yuleum Song prepares cells for viral infection in the BL-2 hood. | Image by Jennifer Lu, Bond LSC

Graduate student Yuleum Song prepares cells for viral infection in the BL-2 hood. | Image by Jennifer Lu, Bond LSC

By Madelyne Maag | Bond Life Sciences Center

Viruses can be nasty things and scientists have to take precautions.

You might think of researchers in floor-length lab coats, safety goggles, and plastic gloves or even the more extreme look of bulky, yellow hazmat suits similar to what Jim Hopper wear in Stranger Things. But, depending on the type of viruses being handled, these stereotypes aren’t quite the truth.

For labs like that of Marc Johnson in Bond LSC, safety comes from the incomplete nature of the HIV viruses they study. The viruses in Johnson’s lab are defective, meaning they cannot reproduce themselves. It doesn’t mean the virus is completely safe to handle. If it were to come into contact with another living being it would only infect the cells exposed to the virus and could not expand further. With defective strains of HIV, the virus can be grown at biosafety level two.

This level two is one of four levels of biosafety that are used to define how a lab might be physically set up and how its researchers are equipped in order to contain a virus. The levels act as more of a scale than a concrete definition of the lab since the type of virus being handled by a lab can vary.

Johnson, a professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, says that his lab teeters between BSL-2 and BSL-3 depending on what type of virus they are working with.

“Our lab is classified as a BSL-2 (Biosafety Level 2) because we work with pathogens that have a low chance of spreading and a low chance of doing significant damage if they do spread,” said Dr. Johnson. “This simply means that our lab is shut off from anyone outside the lab who might try to come in outside of business hours. We also equip our staff with safety goggles, and gloves while they work with a virus under a Laminar Flow Hood to keep the air sterile.”

The major difference between levels like BSL-2 and BSL-3 often comes down to the type of virus being handled, whether it be something like HIV or a more lethal infection like SARS. The Laboratory for Infectious Disease Research is one of the only facilities on the MU campus, that can be classified as a level three. Because the lab handles airborne viruses, they take extra precautions to regulate air and waste coming out of the facility.

The highest level of biosafety can be identified as BSL4, which typically handles deadly viruses such as Ebola that could cause significant harm if it spread. This is where the terrifying and bulky hazmat suits come into play. The virus being handled in a BSL-4 lab comes with a high risk of researchers being infected if the proper steps are not taken to properly handle or contain the virus.

There are no BSL-4 laboratories in Columbia. In fact, one of the nearest labs won’t be opening its doors until 2022 in Manhattan, Kansas. These levels of safety are simply put in place to protect those who wish to study a virus and further medical research for the rest of the world.

The different levels of Biosafety might seem frightening to some, but there is nothing really to fear. These precautions are put in places just as signs that remind us to wash our hands after using the restroom. They are ways to prevent the contamination and spread of viruses and disease. MU Researchers don’t just have these precautions in place to protect everyone around them. They also have these precautions in place so that viruses like HIV can be better understood and treated by medical professionals around the world.

Garren Powell #IAmScience

Garren Powell

Garren Powell is a freshman involved in research through the Freshman Research in Plant Sciences (FRIPS) program. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

“#IAmScience because research helps fulfill the curiosity I have for learning about the world around me.”

By Allison Scott | Bond Life Sciences Center

Some people spend their whole lives trying to figure out what they want to do. Garren Powell, however, has known that science was his route for as long as he can remember.

“As a kid I was always the one doing my own little science experiments at home,” Powell said.

It’s no wonder he wound up as a biochemistry major at Mizzou. He works in Richard Ferrieri’s lab at the University of Missouri Research Reactor (MURR), which he found through Mizzou’s Freshman Research in Plant Sciences (FRIPS) program.

One day last summer, Powell was scrolling on his computer when he came across a posting for FRIPS. He immediately knew he was interested.

“I wanted to get involved in research,” Powell said. “I had already grown up around corn and farming, so I wanted to be able to see a different aspect of it.”

And the rest is history. After being accepted to the program — which chooses a select class each year — Powell’s next step was finding a lab.

“Before interviewing at any labs, FRIPS gave us a list of options,” Powell said. “From the beginning, I knew I wanted to work in the Ferrieri lab.”

Now, Powell works with Risobacteria — which colonize near the root system of plants — to help better understand malnourished soil.

“We’re trying to see how the bacteria interact with the root system to increase iron and the nutritional value of corn,” Powell said.

Doing so will allow his lab to help alter the farming industry.

“Dependency on nitrogen fertilizers is one of the reasons the soil is being stripped of nutrients,” Powell said. “Reducing that will help to create more sustainable farming practices.”

And his work isn’t just lab basics. He’s doing real research and getting his feet wet in the industry.

“I get to do actual projects and not just wash dishes,” Powell said. “In the Ferrieri lab, I have the chance to become a better researcher.”

Even though he’s just begun his career in research, Powell is excited to see where things will go from here.

“I’ve always been involved in science,” Powell said. “And doing it in a professional setting is something I’ve always dreamed of.”

Maddie Willis #IAmScience

Maddie Willis

Maddie Willis, a senior biochemistry major, works in the Burke Lab in Bond LSC. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

By Allison Scott | Bond Life Sciences Center

Setting a routine makes everything easier. However, changes to a set routine often leads to complications.

For Maddie Willis, a senior biochemistry major, that change came in the form of working in different labs and learning their unique styles and areas of emphasis. She started in Lori Eggert’s lab freshman year and switched into Frank Schmidt’s lab for the next two years before changing labs a final time for her last year at Mizzou.

“I got involved in research as a freshman [in Eggert’s lab] through the Honors College Discovery Fellows program,” Willis said. “Then when Professor Schmidt retired, he recommended I look into Donald Burke’s lab.”

In Burke’s lab, she works with ribonucleic acid (RNA) aptamers — artificial RNA molecules that bind a particular target. Aptamers can be used for synthetic biology applications, molecular therapies and to investigate origin of life questions.

Willis works on the latter of the three questions and is characterizing features of an RNA aptamer that can discriminate between the two redox states of Flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) — a nucleotide cofactor that appears along with many others in modern metabolism. It has been hypothesized that they are holdovers from an RNA world, when RNA catalyzed prebiotic reactions before being replaced by protein enzymes.

“It’s unprecedented that we found an aptamer that can do that, because it’s such a minor change to the molecule,” Willis said. “I’m doing a reselection, allowing mutations to find out what still binds FAD, to find what’s important.”

Willis’ work is more in touch with human nature than anything else. If the aptamer can change the redox potential of bound FAD, it could potentially enable redox chemistry, which is essential for life.

“To an extent, we’re never going to be able to answer what actually happened at a molecular level billions of years ago,” Willis said. “My project, however, helps humanity to learn about where we came from.”

While the project doesn’t have immediate applications, its implications are significant.

“There are huge advances that come from basic research that no one could’ve anticipated, so it’s important to do,” Willis said.

After she graduates in May, Willis is looking to work in industry for a few years before attending graduate school.

“I had an internship last year, and I learned a lot,” Willis said. “I want to get real-world experience before pursuing more education.”

When she’s not in the lab working with RNA, Willis serves as an undergraduate research ambassador for the university.

“We support the office of undergraduate research by talking to students about research opportunities throughout campus,” Willis said.

It’s no secret that Willis has benefited from her time in the lab, so it makes sense she jumped at the opportunity to help others find their place too. In fact, it’s something that has rounded out her college career.

“Research has been the cornerstone of my experience at Mizzou,” Willis said. “Helping people find that is rewarding.”

At halfway mark, Mizzou scientists look to quench thirst for understanding drought’s impact on corn roots

 

Shannon King, a Ph.D. candidate in Biochemistry from the Peck Lab in Bond LSC, gives instructions as faculty and students prepare for harvest. | photo by MJ Rogers, Roots in Drought Project

Shannon King, a Ph.D. candidate in Biochemistry from the Peck Lab in Bond LSC, gives instructions as faculty and students prepare to harvest root samples for later experiments. | photo by MJ Rogers, Roots in Drought Project

By Madelyne Maag | Bond Life Sciences Center

If you’ve ever sat down on a beach, then there is a good chance that you’ve stretched your fingers into the sand, like a plant spreading its roots underground. By sinking deeper into the sand, your fingers are bound to encounter cool, damp sand, where water is more abundant and available to nourish plant life above it.

It’s no secret that commonly known crops like corn need plenty of water to thrive, yet little is known about the massive network of roots that help this plant survive through periods of drought. In March 2016, the National Science Foundation awarded a grant to members of the University of Missouri’s Interdisciplinary Plant Group (IPG) to study corn’s nodal root system under drought conditions.

“One of the largest factors that affects yield in terms of environmental stresses is water limitation,” said Scott Peck, a plant biochemist at the Bond Life Sciences Center. “With the increasing global population and around 70% of water going to agricultural production, there simply won’t be enough water to sustain the global population that needs it. Therefore, we need to figure out a way to maintain crops with less water production.”

Peck is one of several faculty members working on this project that aims to be a first step in finding a solution for farmers when it comes to drought.

So what makes nodal roots so special? Bob Sharp, the project’s primary investigator, plant physiologist in the Division of Plant Sciences and Director of the IPG, explains that corn needs a significant amount of water to maintain growth. Nodal or crown roots, which can be seen growing out from the cornstalk and into the ground around it, provide the framework of the mature plant’s root system that collects most of the water it needs to thrive. The nodal roots grow to more than six feet into the ground to obtain water.

“Roots are a relatively unexplored part of the plant because they’re underground and difficult to study,” Sharp said. “Roots are also critical in the field because they are the part of the plant that directly experiences the drying soil environment, and can influence how the rest of the plant responds to drought.”

Joined by researchers from MU’s Division of Plant Sciences, Department of Biochemistry, Division of Biological Sciences, Department of Health Management and Informatics, School of Journalism and Bond LSC, Sharp is hopeful that they will be able to understand how the roots are able to continue to grow and survive under drought conditions.

As climate change shifts global weather patterns, droughts have hit various parts of the world more severely. Take 2012 in Missouri for example. By mid-July, all 114 counties had declared a state of emergency due to severe drought and suffered millions of dollars in crop loss.

Despite this being one of the most memorable droughts in recent years, these phenomena are not uncommon and certain crops, like corn, have developed a way to battle drought conditions underground.

From the start of the project in 2016, faculty and students have studied one season of growing and harvesting maize plants in the field, as well as using a novel controlled water deficit imposition system in the lab. In the field, Shannon King, a Ph.D. candidate in Biochemistry who is part of the team, is using a “drought simulator” to impose and maintain drought conditions during inclement weather. It works like a massive, open-ended greenhouse on train tracks. When it begins to rain, the simulator rolls over the cornfield being used for this project to keep water at bay. It is then removed once weather conditions improve.

The Drought Simulator, created by Ph.D. candidate Shannon King, acts as a giant mobile greenhouse. Whenever inclement weather moves in, the greenhouse moves on top of the crop field to protect it from any precipitation. Photo by MJ Rogers, Roots in Drought Project

The Drought Simulator, created by Ph.D. candidate Shannon King, acts as a giant mobile greenhouse. Whenever inclement weather moves in, the greenhouse moves on top of the crop field to protect it from any precipitation.
Photo by MJ Rogers, Roots in Drought Project

As the project approaches the halfway mark, the next steps will involve analyses of proteomics, metabolomics, transcriptomics and physiological data from nodal root samples in the lab and field. Once these studies are complete, the team will integrate the datasets using bioinformatics approaches to generate hypotheses on gene candidates and metabolic pathways involved in root growth maintenance under water deficit.

As a Broader Impacts activity of the project, Dr. Sharp and other members of the team will discuss their research at a workshop in the arid environment of northwest China. Here students, postdocs, and faculty will team up with Professor Shaozhong Kang of China Agricultural University to experience first-hand the problems and solutions of agricultural water-use efficiency near the Gobi Desert. The team will also present the importance of the project to the public, farmers, and legislators at the Missouri State Fair.

By understanding the way roots react under drought conditions in a controlled lab setting, in the field in Missouri, and in arid climatic zones across the globe, Sharp hopes that the findings of this project will help improve the ability of plants to find and use water and thereby lessen the global impact of drought on crop productivity.

This grant on “Physiological Genomics of Maize Nodal Root Growth under Drought” was awarded to Dr. Robert Sharp and colleagues at the University of Missouri on March 16, 2016. It is estimated to be completed on February 29, 2020

Laura Greeley #IAmScience

LauraGreeley.jpg

Laura Greeley, a postdoc, works in the Peck Lab in Bond LSC. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

By Allison Scott | Bond Life Sciences Center

“#IAmScience because I’ve been able to build upon my experiences and explore science in a new, exciting way.”

High school is a weird time for most people because everyone’s trying to figure out where they fit. Laura Greeley was ahead of her time, though.

She uncovered important truths about her passions back then, and the postdoc in Scott Peck’s lab at Bond LSC hasn’t looked back since.

“In high school, I noticed that I had an affinity for chemistry and was inspired by biology, which helped me focus on the path that lead to where I am today,” Greeley said.

While no two days in the lab are the same, Greeley works on a main project centered around mass spectrometry, a technique that is sensitive enough to detect mass changes in molecules as small as a hydrogen atom. This can be used to identify many things, but in Greeley’s case, she wants to identify proteins and molecular changes in them.

“We’re looking at modulations in protein concentrations and possible modifications, such as the adding of a chemical bond,” Greeley said. “These modifications can affect how the protein functions.”

Working on such a small level has bigger applications. How these proteins change when under stressors like drought can tell Greeley and the team of scientists working on this project more about why roots are able to survive, even in the harshest of water conditions.

“We’re still at the exploratory point,” Greeley said. “We’re hoping to see changes in certain similarly functioning proteins that would indicate adaptive behavior.”

Ideally, Greeley would like to see the team uncover how corn root continue growing under harsh drought conditions. This would be an important stepping stone to engineering better crops to help prevent yield losses and, therefore, increase the food supply.

Teaching has also shared the stage with Greeley’s research. Thanks to the guidance of Peck, she’s working toward standing in front of students in the classroom.

“I expressed an interest in being an undergraduate professor one day, and he offered for me to lecture in one of his courses to see if I enjoy it,” Greeley said. “Incorporating that to my postdoc experience in the near future will help me to develop my skillsets for my career.”

Peck’s mentorship has helped Greeley focus her scientific zeal in the classroom and the lab.

“When things go wrong, he’s very supportive about trying to figure out what happened and how to fix it,” Greeley said. “He’s been pushing for more goal-oriented thinking lately, which is great for me.”

After finishing her postdoc, Greeley hopes to keep discovering more answers to the questions she has in the world of science.

“Thus far, each stage of my career has been even better than the last,” Greeley said. “I’m looking forward to that trend continuing.”