The work was tiring. The hours were long. However, Ph.D. candidate Li Su wasn’t affected by any of it. She was in her element
During her undergraduate degree in China, Su studied turfgrass science.
“There was a chance for undergraduates to do some research project, so I tried it and, although it was exhausting, I stayed in the lab and time just passed,” Su said. “I felt quiet and at peace. I kind of enjoyed it.”
As part of the Dong Xu lab at Bond Life Sciences Center, Su works on statistics and data analysis for many research studies throughout Bond LSC.
Originally from China, Su moved to Springfield, Missouri in 2016 to earn her master’s in plant science at Missouri State University. Once she graduated in 2018, she moved to Houston, Texas to work at a biomedical research institution. After a while, she applied for graduate school but wanted to go in a new direction.
“While I was in Houston, at that job, I was confused,” Su said. “I was just thinking about my skills, what I liked to do in the lab and what will make me survive … I realized even a lot of postdocs or senior graduate students were kind of limited in the statistics and data analysis, so I tried to figure out how to do those things.”
Su switched her focus, was accepted by Mizzou in 2020 and soon found her place in the Dong Xu lab.
“As we are trying to handle this big data, the main weapon for us is coding,” said Juexin Wang, Dong Xu’s lab manager. “So, when we are trying to deal with that big amount of data, we have to highly rely on the coding skills and [Su] does that very, very well. She is learning fast and uses all her resources to learn that.”
Su joined the lab while it was strictly Zoom lab meetings and everything was remote. Despite the digital barriers, Su stood out to Wang.
He had found a paper where he believed the lab could replace its methodology with theirs and make the study stronger. Wang mentioned this to Su over Zoom, not thinking much of it.
“Probably weeks later, she came to me and she tells me many things about the other methodology,” Wang said. “So, I was really impressed.”
Su understands what it means to do good science in the lab and what that could mean for others.
“I think a lot of people I work with tell me to be honest with yourself about your science, about your work,” Su said. “I want some work to be like this, so you have a novel idea, you scientifically prove it and make the conclusion helpful to a group of people. I feel like if I have such work, I can be part of the [scientific] community.”
Even though Su isn’t working on any of her own projects right now, her main goal is to publish new and better papers during her Ph.D.
“Smarts, diligence, persistence — I think those are very, very key characteristics,” Wang said. “[Su] is making her weapons much more powerful and much sharper. I think she will get some very good achievements.”
At 24 weeks pregnant, a baby can hear the mother’s lullabies. At 30 weeks, her belly is a little over a foot large. At 40, the hospital bag is already packed and ready to go.
But imagine delivering only two weeks after the bump starts showing.
Preeclampsia makes induced birth necessary as life-threatening symptoms start 20 weeks into pregnancy, and delivery is the only cure. There is a lack of ways to detect it, and it’s difficult to ethically study the early stages of human reproduction. But what if it was possible to rewind the process to see when the source of the disorder took hold?
Different cellular models of the placenta might be that time machine researchers need to study early pregnancy disorders.
The Michael Roberts lab at Bond Life Sciences Center combines the knowledge and practices of three cellular models to learn more about early pregnancy and diseases.
“We can use these different models to study placental infection with viruses like Zika virus and, of course, COVID because there’s still a controversy as to whether COVID is a hazard in early pregnancy,” principal investigator Michael Roberts said. “And my suspicion is it probably is.”
The placenta is the brand-new organ generated by the embryo — the baby — before any of its other organs develop to give the baby nutrients and support as the embryo grows.
Megan Sheridan, postdoctoral fellow working with the Roberts lab, works on a project to combine 2D and 3D models to see how Zika and Dengue virus interact with the placenta and affect early pregnancy.
“[Complications] occur but you don’t necessarily know that until the end of pregnancy when the baby is delivered,” Sheridan said. “We really want to kind of go back in time and try to determine what’s going wrong in early pregnancy.”
Modeling early placental development is vital to see the beginning of disease complications, but the challenge is to get an accurate glimpse while not putting a healthy pregnancy at risk.
“It’s hard to get a good model to do research on that,” said Jie Zhou, postdoctoral fellow in the Roberts lab. “So that’s why we are working on different stem cells and trying to build up the best model to work on.”
So, the Roberts lab uses the BAP model. By working with a hospital, the lab first takes fibroblast cells from discarded umbilical cords after the baby is born. These fibroblast cells can be collected from mothers experiencing a normal pregnancy or pregnancies associated with complications, like preeclampsia. Then, as Sheridan puts it, they add a “cocktail of genes” to turn the cells into induced pluripotent stem cells. From there, the lab adds BAP — a mixture of growth factors and inhibitors that turn the stem cells into trophoblast cells.
Now the lab is back at the beginning of pregnancy except in a Petri dish of cells. In pregnancy, these trophoblast cells line the outside of the embryo.
This last model inches even closer to an early placenta. These 3D organoids float around inside a jello-like substance called Matrigel where they self-organize into a placental-like structure.
Together the two models give them a full picture. The 3D model gives a clue into how multiple cell types interact with each other while the 2D model allows researchers to see how a single cell type responds.
Since no model is perfect, the Roberts lab is combining their BAP model with protocols and growth conditions from the other two models to create a foundation for their experiments. Now researchers can start asking deeper questions.
While nothing is quite like a real womb, the Roberts lab will continue working backward.
“All of these models, put together, are really useful because we can kind of use them to their fullest potential and systematically assess which one might represent a certain disease or best answer a certain research question,” Sheridan said.
The best piece of advice Ph.D. candidate Billy Schulze ever received was from his father before a baseball game in high school. In past games, Schulze kept striking out. He wasn’t getting any runs. Things seemed bleak.
Schulze’s father pulled him aside and said with a smile, “Don’t suck.”
“That just kind of made me giggle,” Schulze said. “I think the real message behind that story is don’t think about it too hard. Relax. Have some fun…You can’t take things too seriously, having a sense of humor is so important. Working hard and pushing through problems is vital, especially in science where failure is so common.”
Schulze has brought that mentality to his research in the Margaret Lange lab at Bond Life Sciences Center since he joined in 2019. Whether he’s working on innate immunity or becoming one of the first biomedical engineer graduates at Mizzou, Schulze understands balance is vital in and out of research.
Taking after his father, Schulze wanted to become an engineer. However, it didn’t quite tick all his boxes.
“I have always been fascinated with biology,” Schulze said. “I just distinctly remember being in eighth grade when we went out to the pond water behind my middle school and looked at the pond water with a microscope. Seeing all of the protozoa and stuff that are in the pond water was really cool to me, and that just kind of stuck with me.”
Schulze merged engineering and biology when he became one of the first four students to graduate from biomedical engineering in 2018.
Soon after going back for his Ph.D., Schulze founded the Molecular Pathogenesis and Therapeutics Graduate Student Organization (MPTGSO). It’s aimed at improving the MPT degree by facilitating student feedback to faculty.
“I think that’s the thing I’m most proud of that I’ve done here, just being president of [MPTGSO], founding that and really just trying to be a voice for the entire student body of the program to the faculty in an attempt to just make everybody’s lives better within the program,” Schulze said.
When not helping graduate students, Schulze is in the Lange lab studying viruses, the innate immune systems and what causes Toll-like receptors (TLRs) to activate. TLRs are a class of receptors that can recognize various structures and molecules to trigger an immune system response. The Lange lab focuses on nucleic acid detecting TLRs.
Schulze is using a piece of the poliovirus genome (PV-5) known to bind to these specific receptors to create an immune response to the virus. This allows him to see which receptors activate and why.
“We’re asking what specifically is in PV-5 that is activating the receptor,” Schulze said. “So as opposed to looking at the receptor from the amino acids and what amino acids are required for binding, we’re looking at the RNA, and what RNA structures and motifs are required for binding to TLR.”
The Lange lab is creating a library of RNA sequences based on the genetic information of PV-5 to find which receptors activate.
“In this pandemic-affected world, viruses are at the forefront of health right now, and it’s something that everybody’s thinking about, and we’re specifically looking at the host-virus interface, something that is not necessarily the best understood,” Schulze said. “But at the same time, if we can help to modulate the immune response to viruses, we can potentially have better…potential antiviral therapeutics.”
When Schulze joined Bond LSC in 2016 as part of the Marc Johnson lab, he still had to learn all basic bench skills. Johnson lab supervisor Terri Lyddon was the one who showed him the ropes.
“He was definitely a worthwhile undergraduate student to have in the lab,” Lyddon said. “He was dependable, and he liked the work and came in with a positive attitude every day.”
Lyddon remembers how Schulze was always the one to speak up in lab meetings and ask questions about anything from the lab equipment to why they used particular procedures.
“There are certain levels of enthusiasm and inquisitiveness that come with almost anybody that comes to the lab because you have to want to do this kind of work in the first place…but he brought it to the lab in a unique way,” Lyddon said. “He was curious, and while some others may be curious, they don’t go on to find out the answers to those questions.”
When Schulze’s time in the lab eventually ends, he hopes to move on to a biotechnology company he truly believes in. For now, he’ll be in the lab keeping his dad’s advice in the back of his mind.
“Frankly, I think [science] is a frustrating field to work in, but it is also one of the most rewarding fields for that reason because you’ve overcome so much to find what you found, to prove what you’ve proven,” Schulze said. “I think it’s really cool, but it does require a lot of persistence.”
Whether it’s through kernels, cereal or chips, corn pops up everywhere in our diet, providing nutrition to countless people all over the world.
But that nourishment isn’t enough to be satisfied, especially when a staple so widespread still lacks some building blocks key to balanced nutrition.
Researchers have tried different reverse genetics approaches to making crops like corn, soybeans and rice higher in essential amino acids — building blocks for proteins something the human body can’t produce on its own.
Many approaches have yielded limited success, so the Angelovici lab at Bond LSC took a step back to examine the seed’s nutrition from a broader perspective.
“This is where…we are slightly different than other studies,” principal investigator Ruthie Angelovici said. “We are not focusing just on lysine or just on tryptophane. We’re trying to look at it as a whole to understand the mechanism of all the amino acids composition.”
Finding the mechanism that builds certain proteins means potentially improving the seed’s nutrition. Instead of focusing on specific amino acids, Angelovici’s lab looked toward manipulating a specific process at the heart of amino acid regulation. It found that the process of protein synthesis is strongly associated with certain levels of key amino acids
“It’s super surprising,” Angelovici said. “It’s like saying the factory is responsible for variation we see in some sort of a product. If that’s the case, we can now go and look at the components in this factory that are spitting out this variation.”
It might seem straightforward to genetically biofortify corn, but adding and removing proteins low or high, respectively, in essential amino acids to corn seeds didn’t work. By the next generation of maize, the plant would reset itself through proteomic rebalancing.
“Even if you completely knock out a large amount of storage protein in the seed, the seed has an intrinsic mechanism that it can reprogram, and, ultimately, it can balance those proteins in the seed, so that was very interesting but equally challenging,” said Vivek Shrestha, first author on this study and now a post-doctorate at The University of Tennessee.
Shrestha and others in the lab decided to find which proteins were responsible for the high and low composition of certain amino acids through two complementary experiments.
The first matched amino acids created in the kernel to genes related to them. When that gave a long list of genes, the second experiment whittled it down by finding associations between amino acid compositions and proteins during seed development.
This final list of genes helped Shrestha, Angelovici and others find their new direction.
“We saw a really big group of translational-related genes that seem to be highly dominant in the last piece of the [narrowing down genes process], which we wanted to distill for further inquiry,” Angelovici said. “So, basically what we’ve seen is that the translational machinery is in the heart of the regulation of the amino acid.”
This translational machinery synthesizes proteins and seems to be associated with amino acid composition variations when it wasn’t expected to. This means that there could be something else going on where researchers could manipulate to create more nutritious corn.
“From our paper, it seems that this translational machinery itself probably also has an input that we did not really put a lot of emphasis on,” Angelovici said.
Angelovici believes that this isn’t a corn-specific finding. They reported seeing it in their model plants, Arabidopsis, as well. Next is to experiment with wild mutants of maize and understand its ribosomal footprint.
“I think we had a challenge…but as we go along, we tried to solve them,” Shrestha said. “That’s what scientists are like. They take small steps, remove the challenge and then move forward.
Sara Ricardez Hernandez starts her day in the Chris Lorson lab with a vibrant demeanor while wearing her jet-black lab coat. Within five minutes, the graduate student is already at her microscope.
Ricardez Hernandez’s eagerness has only enhanced since she and principal investigator Chris Lorson won the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Gilliam Fellowship on July 22. HHMI created the Gilliam Fellowship and its three-year funding to award and advance diverse and inclusive environments in science.
For Ricardez Hernandez, fostering a healthy, diverse lab environment hits home. Being from Mexico and president of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) chapter at MU, she knows minority students are often left out of the research career conversation and need opportunities to connect to research.
“I went to [University of Missouri-St. Louis], and I was the only Latina in my whole class,” Ricardez Hernandez said. “I also didn’t really have any mentors that looked like me. I was very interested in showing other people from the same background that they can also be scientists.”
Ricardez Hernandez found out about the fellowship in the middle of an online conference.
“I was super excited,” Ricardez Hernandez said. “I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ And then I went home, and I celebrated it with my fiancé.”
The $50,000 per year will be used to better understand disease and therapeutic developments for the infantile disease spinal muscular atrophy with respiratory distress type 1 (SMARD1). The genetic disorder occurs in children with mutations in the Immunoglobulin-μ-DNA Binding Protein 2 (Ighmbp2) gene.
The Lorson lab looks at SMARD1 in mice to better understand the disease and do preclinical testing of treatments, which fills much of Ricardez Hernandez’s day in the lab.
This involves doing anything from perfusing and dissecting mice tissue to staining mice diaphragms to see if there’s a disruption between the muscle and the muscle nerve cells. Often, Ricardez Hernandez visits the mouse room.
“That’s my favorite part of the day because I love mice,” Ricardez Hernandez said. “They’re so cute. We study an infantile disease, so we mostly use baby mice. These mice can die very prematurely, so if we treat them, they can be rescued.”
Lorson is frequently in and out of the lab helping lab members with their experiments. Lorson has been an important mentor and support system for Ricardez Hernandez even before she joined the lab in 2020.
“It was my first semester of my Ph.D., and I really wanted to go to the [SACNAS] national conference,” Ricardez Hernandez said. “We needed some funding, and [Lorson] being in the veterinary school was like, ‘Oh, I heard that you’re looking for funding. I know someone who can help you with that,’ and it was himself.”
Lorson’s mentorship may have rubbed off on Ricardez Hernandez a little since it’s now a passion in her daily life. Usually, she’ll work with undergraduates in the lab and meet with her mentees from the Maximizing Access to Research Careers/Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (MARC/IMSD) program after work. Then, she’ll help students as a teacher’s assistant for a microbiology class.
“She’s honestly an inspiration for any minorities seeking medicine, research, or higher education,” said Zayd Al Rawi, an undergraduate in the Lorson lab. “Although I come from a different background, being Middle Eastern, we share the commonality of being minorities in America, so I see her as a role model. She’s a true inspiration to minorities seeking their goals.”
The Gilliam Fellowship will help Ricardez Hernandez advance her research and gain her Ph.D. in molecular pathogenesis and therapeutics. Until then, Ricardez Hernandez will spend her afternoons helping students and quantifying data with her favorite show on in the background.
“Overall, [she’s] one of the best people, best researchers, and one of the best supportive mentors that I’ve met,” Al Rawi said. “I’m really glad that I’m in this lab and I’ve crossed paths with her. I know she’s going to continue doing great things in the future.”
More information on the HHMI Gilliam Fellowship can be found here, and information on the Mizzou SACNAS chapter can be found on their website.
Think about how a home alarm system alerts a person to a potential burglary with sensors detecting whether an intruder picked a lock, came through a window or came through a garage.
Plants are much like this, surviving with the help of their thousands of sensors that can send danger signals to the whole plant so it can react effectively.
“Plants have to have a whole variety of different mechanisms to respond to their environment because they’re stuck in one spot,” said Gary Stacey, principal investigator at Bond Life Sciences Center. “The way they do that is they have all these membrane-associated receptors, and they receive signals from the outside … so they can induce a defense response.”
Stacey’s lab recently made an observation that could lead to interesting future advancements in plant breeding and engineering. Its work was published May 12 in the journal Nature Communications.
The lab found when a lipid — a fatty molecule — is attached to a receptor, a cysteine amino acid within a protein is modified. This process, in turn, makes the receptor silent. The addition of the lipid is called acylation. The lab found that they could also reverse this process and reactivate the receptor.
In other words, this process can turn receptors on and off, which is what tells the plant that there’s danger.
In addition, the lab can use the acylation process to identify the binding protein and, therefore, identify the receptor that is binding to the protein.
“There’s a lot of receptors for which we don’t know the ligand,” said Stacey. “In other words, if you line up all the receptors, there are only a few of which we know what they’re binding to.”
Identifying these receptors’ functions and what these receptors bind to is a high priority in plant research and agriculture communities.
“If we knew all the receptors, say, that responded to drought or if we knew all the receptors that responded to high light or pathogens or whatever there might be in the ozone … then that would open up pathways for us to engineer plants that are more resistant to these stresses, which would make crop production more sustainable, especially in lieu of the changing climate that we have, and would really be a big step forward for agriculture,” Stacey said
According to Stacey, researchers have been able to identify the function of “a small fraction” of receptors out of 2,000 in the model plant, Arabidopsis. However, the Stacey lab is currently developing a way to find these receptors’ functions.
Developing this analysis has been technically difficult so far — needing more funding and manpower to do all the experiments — but the lab is currently in the proofing stage to verify what they know. So far, they can correctly identify the binding protein and the receptor it binds to for some receptors, but it’s less clear for other receptors. More experiments are needed to see if the analysis will work.
“There are 2,000 [receptors], and we only know the function of a handful,” Stacey said. “There’s a lot of stuff that remains to be discovered and a lot of potentials to do something useful.”’
Kulbir Sandhu’s curiosity had guided him from place to place, but it was his fascination with plant science that has stayed the same.
While Sandhu has been a postdoctoral fellow in the Bing Yang lab at Bond Life Sciences Center for the past six months, his path towards plant science began when he was 18 years old in his home country of India.
In high school, Sandhu was drawn to the biology route because of helpful and enthusiastic science teachers. He grew to like it as time went on and found that the subject came easy to him.
“I always had, you could say, a ‘scientific’ attitude,” Sandhu said. “Even when I had little understanding of the process of science, I always had an attitude that suited this field.”
Sandhu also received support and inspiration regarding science from his father, who was an engineer.
“When I was young, my dad used to help me with school homework,” Sandhu said. “His favorite subject was maths, and so he always insisted that I do well in maths and science. In this way, it became natural for me to develop an inclination for these two subjects. In India, most students interested in science choose either maths or biology streams after 10th grade. Initially, I wanted to be a doctor, so I chose biology, and it was more of a happenstance that I ended up becoming a plant ‘doctor.’”
Years later, Sandhu received his Master’s in plant breeding from the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana, India in 2003, and in 2013 he received his Ph.D. at Washington University.
Sandhu first met Bing Yang four years later as a postdoctoral fellow at Iowa State University. Since they worked on a previous project together, Sandhu became a great addition to the Yang lab when he joined in November last year.
While Sandhu is working on a few projects, his main one involves using the gene-editing tool, CRISPR/CAS9, to target genes in Arabidopsis that code for reactive oxygen species. ROS helps plants with signaling, development, stress responses and other processes.
ROS is also part of the plant’s innate defense system against pathogens. Understanding how pathogens overcome this primary defense system of plants is necessary to breed better resistant crops and reduce environmental impact due to chemical control.
By causing these gene mutations, he prevents ROS from being formed in cells. That way, they can compare the mutant plant to a wild type and see the difference in basal-defense responses.
“Now this is exciting again because we are working in CRISPR in field crops as well as in basic science,” Sandhu said. “So, I get to do both things.”
First-year researcher Jack Ogilvy has been working on this project with Sandhu for the past three months as part of the Freshmen Research in Plants program.
“This is my first time … mentoring someone, and by this experience, I have realized that it is equally beneficial to me,” Sandhu said. “I mean … talking about scientific concepts helps create a deeper understanding, and both parties gain from this interaction.”
Together, the two are learning more about ROS and the Yang lab.
“He cares more about just being a mentor in terms of science,” Ogilvy said. “He also is just as interested in my personal life … We’ve formed a relationship between the two of us where it’s not just like, he tells me what to do in the lab. It’s like we are working together, essentially.”
Ogilvy appreciates Sandhu’s curiosity and advice.
“He’s always telling me to try to find the answer on my own before I go for help to gain that skill … just because it’s such an important skill to have to be somewhat self-reliant,” Ogilvy said. “But that being said, he’s always there if I get stuck or if I need help.”
Sandhu found a place for himself in the Yang lab. In a few weeks, he plans on focusing more on his own projects.
It’s not surprising that researchers feel discouraged when pursuing projects that involve plant leaf vein density analysis. Manually counting individual leaf veins and measuring their density to understand how nutrients are transported in plants can take weeks of tedious work.
That’s how Janlo Robil was feeling when he was working on a maize leaf project while rotating through the Paula McSteen lab in 2016 in Bond LSC.
Now, researchers can cut that time down to just minutes.
As part of the Bioinformatics in Plant Sciences (BIPS) program, undergraduate and graduate students in plant sciences and computer science have come together to create the first phenotype image analysis system for monocot plant leaf veins called, GrasVIQ.
The GrasVIQ software can process photos of grass leaves, automatically detect and count vertical grass leaf veins and calculate various quantitative measurements such as vein density, width and separation. These measurements help analyze leaf vein network patterns.
“The time that you use for collecting data, you can already use for analysis,” said Janlo Robil, head of the project and graduate student in the McSteen lab. “It will also help you in your decision about the direction of your research because the faster you get the data, then the better idea you have if you still need to pursue this or not.”
The project was spurred by Robil in 2017 when he went to a seminar by Filiz Bunyak, assistant research professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department.
Bunyak was presenting her group’s interdisciplinary image processing and computer vision research, including their work on plant phenotype analysis. Robil got the idea to apply it to plant leaf veins.
“It started from a simple question,” said Ke Gao, co-author and graduate student in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department. “Can we help them do their analysis faster with repeatable quantified results? We were hopeful we could use our previous experiences in plant image analysis to help Janlo and his lab conduct their analysis more efficiently.”
However, the project was on hold until 2019. Robil simply didn’t have the time or manpower for this project until he heard about the BIPS program.
“I think [the BIPS program is] a very good way of promoting interdisciplinarity in research,” Robil said. “Had I not asked the computer science people to collaborate with me, I would still be manually counting veins right now, and not using software to quantify veins more quickly. I think interdisciplinarity can move science forward and faster, literally.”
The software can identify the vertical veins with 95% accuracy and 92% accuracy for transverse veins when compared to the manual quantification.
“Without any doubt, we believe that the software can do a better job by just the rate of it,” Robil said.
While the software saves plant science researchers time and energy, it also provides computer science students something as well.
“Collaborating with plant scientists gives us the opportunity to leverage our expertise in engineering, algorithm development, and mathematical models to contribute to the solution of a real-world problem,” Gao said.
BIPS pairs undergraduate and graduate students from plant sciences and computer science together to work on a project. For undergraduate Claire Neighbors in the McSteen lab and computer science undergraduate Michael Boeding, this was their first published paper.
“It’s super exciting,” Neighbors said. “It feels good like all my hard work meant something.”
Neighbors was the one who had to create the images and do the manual counting to compare to the software’s counting. She said the process took her months.
“It was worth something so that we could make this software valid,” Neighbors said. “Someone had to put in the hours to be able to make those ground truths to show that this software works. So, it feels really good that I was able to contribute something.”
While the software has much to offer, the researchers believe it could be better. Robil thinks vein classification can be improved using machine learning even though the software achieves a detection accuracy of more than 90% for vertical veins.
The current software is designed to be used by scientists and does not have a very friendly user interface. Building a better user interface and further improving the analytics using machine learning approaches are future goals for Gao. GrasVIQ will enable generations of training data for these machine learning-based improvements.
Nonetheless, the software provides an escape from endlessly counting veins.
“We learned how to quantify the veins quickly, but like a year from now, that isn’t going to be what’s taking us months to do,” Neighbors said. “It’s going to be figuring out why this gene made the veins look weird or produced less or thinner, thicker, which is going to make things more efficient in the future.”
More information about the project can be found in, “GrasVIQ: An Image Analysis Framework for Automatically Quantifying Vein Number and Morphology in Grass Leaves.” The paper was published on April 29 in The Plant Journal. The study was done by Janlo Robil, Ke Gao, Claire Neighbors, Michael Boeding, Francine Carland, Filiz Bunyak and Paula McSteen. The Bioinformatics and Plant Sciences (BIPS) program is funded under the National Science Foundation, Cellular Dynamics and Function MCB-1818312 to David Mendoza-Cozatl (University of Missouri, Columbia).
Whether Ellie Swan is in the gym lifting 200 pounds or in the lab preparing samples, she loves learning how nutrition and exercise affect the body.
“I’ve always really liked exercising and nutrition, and I like learning about that, so it’s interesting to me to learn about it on a very small level on how your body works so that you can have that better understanding,” Swan said. “I feel like once you have that base knowledge, you can take that on a greater scale for your body and use that for exercise and nutrition and not just those basic cellular functions.”
Swan, a sophomore pre-med student, joined the Ruthie Angelovici lab at Bond Life Sciences Center in January and hopes her work there will help her understand nutrition on a molecular level. This semester she maintains the plant growth chamber and helps graduate students with their projects, but Swan plans to work on her own project this summer.
Swan’s love for science started when dealing with medical issues at a young age.
“The type of person that I’ve always been is I want to understand why this is happening so I can fix it,” Swan said. “That kind of generated my love of science because it’s an explanation for everything. Once you have a base knowledge, you can kind of start building on that understanding.”
Exercise and nutrition are a big part of Swan’s life, especially powerlifting. The sport has athletes try to lift a maximal weight in one of the three positions: back squat, bench press and deadlift. Swan currently holds the Missouri state record for the back squat at 285 pounds. She uses the sport to challenge herself.
“I would describe her as somebody who is tenacious, who is extremely caring and sensitive to others, and somebody who is deeply driven goal-driven,” said Ellie Swan’s father Christopher Swan.
Now, Ellie is applying her goals and love of science in the Angelovici lab. Ruthie Angelovici, a principal investigator at Bond LSC, was her former cell biology professor.
“I really really enjoyed her teaching style,” Ellie said. “She’s so knowledgeable. You just could tell in all of her lectures that she just knew what she was talking about. And obviously, I like that she’s a strong female character. That’s something that I can look up to for sure.”
Once Angelovici mentioned she did cell metabolism research in her lab, Ellie realized she wanted to be a part of it.
The lab is currently trying to pinpoint amino acids in seeds so they can fortify these seeds or equip them with all the necessary vitamins and minerals a person needs in a day. By doing so, the lab can bolster food supplies in third-world countries where many people rely on fortified cereals for their vitamins, minerals and proteins.
Now in the lab for about four months, she’s learned that conducting science isn’t what she originally thought it was.
“To learn more about science, you have to be super, super particular and be very, very specific,” Ellie said. “But whenever you find that one it’s like, ‘Ah hah! Here we are. Here we are. We found it.’”
Despite the hurdles, she is known for her positive attitude.
“There’s been plenty of times when she probably had reason to feel down on herself, and maybe did for a little bit, but she was always able to pick herself back up and refocus and get going,” Christopher Swan said. “I think that shows an incredible amount of self-confidence and fortitude.”
A year from now, Ellie plans on taking the MCAT and starting the application process for medical school. She wants to eventually become a dermatologist.
In the meantime, she will be in the Angelovici lab diving into what’s goes on at the molecular level.
Alexandra Diller Costello, a biology graduate student in the D Cornelison lab in Bond Life Sciences Center, recently received a three-year NIH fellowship from the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute.
It provides Diller Costello with funding to pursue her work on muscle and blood vessel regeneration for three years.
The fellowship comes as a result of her proposal titled, “Signaling in the Microvasculature During Skeletal Muscle Regeneration.” Diller Costello’s research focuses on the coordination between muscles and blood vessels during muscle regeneration in adult mice. Diller Costello is also developing a novel method of 3D co-culture using primary muscle and endothelial cells to expand her investigation.
The study is part of a collaboration between the Cornelison lab at the Bond LSC and the Segal lab in the Medical Pharmacology and Physiology department at the MU School of Medicine.