#IAmScience

Duolin Wang #IAmScience

Duolin Wang

Duolin Wang, a researcher in the Dong Xu lab in Bond LSC, works in bioinformatics. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

By Allison Scott | Bond Life Sciences Center

“#IAmScience because I want to explore the beauty of biological sequences through computational methods.”

Bioinformatics is a melting pot in the world of science. As a study of analyzing complex data, it’s not a field for everyone, but its applications are vast.

Duolin Wang, a researcher in the Dong Xu Lab at Bond LSC, isn’t intimidated by the complexities her field presents. She came to America from China to conduct research for Xu’s lab while she simultaneously works on her thesis to earn her Ph.D. from Jilin University in China.

“The reason I came to American is because the education is great,” Wang said. “It provides me a very good opportunity to study and do research.”

Wang and her lab practice deep learning, which is a state-of-the-art approach to machine learning.

“There has been a growing interest in applying deep learning methods to understanding the function of biological sequences directly from sequence,” Wang said. “It allows computational models composed of multiple processing layers to learn representations of data with multiple levels of abstraction.”

Essentially, deep learning is a way to better understand the complex data that the bioinformatics field covers. For instance, it turns terabytes of information on a sequence to help researchers predict how best to improve its effectiveness.

She didn’t just stumble into her research position, though. Her supervisor at her university in China had collaborated with Xu in the past. When Xu traveled overseas, Wang was able to meet him in person.

“I showed my interest in his research, and I asked him if I could come to the United States to continue my research,” Wang said.

The rest is history. In the three years she’s been at Mizzou, Wang has been able to work on a number of projects in her field. That’s largely thanks to Xu’s flexibility with the topics she focuses on.

“I have freedom to choose what I want to study,” Wang said. “As a scientist, I can explore what I’m really interested in. Professor Xu didn’t make any barriers to my research field; I can show him my interests and he can see whether it’s a good topic and if I can explore it.”

Wang has even written a few papers, including one for Monsanto thanks to the help of Juexin Wang who also works in the Xu lab. That experience has helped her to prepare for a future in research writing proposals.

It’s not all about the work, though.

“The most valuable thing I got from this lab is the people,” Wang said. “They’re excellent scientists, and I’ve learned a lot from them.”

Wang is on track to finish her Ph.D. this summer, but she’d like to continue what she’s been doing at Bond LSC.

“I might do a postdoc here after I earn my degree,” Wang said. “I want to continue my research here.”

Eric Fedosejevs #IAmScience

Eric Fedosejevs

Eric Fedosejevs, a postdoc, stands in front of his lab station in the Thelen Lab in Bond LSC. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

By Allison Scott | Bond Life Sciences Center

“#IAmScience because I want to discover how plants decide what to store in their seeds.”

The family garden doesn’t typically turn into a life-long journey of studying plants. But when Eric Fedosejevs went to college, the native Canadian found that plants naturally made sense when deciding what to do with his life.

“Growing up, we always had a big garden with a lot of vegetables,” Fedosejevs said. “And with the ever-present need to increase food supply and address world hunger, combined with the innovation in plant-based technologies, there seemed like a lot of potential in plant biology.”

As a postdoc in Jay Thelen’s lab in Bond LSC, Fedosejevs has gone from longtime student to full-time researcher.

“A major focus of the Thelen lab is to look at oil biosynthesis in developing seeds,” Fedosejevs said.

Specifically, Fedosejevs works with soybean, which is a key crop in the United States because it has such a high protein content. But oil production suffers because of the high protein and his focus is looking at altering that part of the seed.

“The oil content of soybean is not as high as most oil seeds,” Fedosejevs said. “The goal of my project is to boost that content without causing any significant decrease to the valuable protein.”

In his role as a postdoc, Fedosejevs has the freedom to do what he loves with the guidance of an established researcher in Thelen.

“This experience has been great,” Fedosejevs said. “Jay gives a lot of research freedom to his postdocs, so I’ve been able to bring many of my own ideas into my project. I appreciate that a lot.”

When he’s not in the lab working on soybeans, Fedosejevs can be found reading about anything that piques his interest.

“I can spend a whole day reading about a topic I know nothing about,” Fedosejevs said.

It is that dedication to learning that landed him in academia, and it’s also what guided him to a career as a researcher. Fedosejevs, however, believes that genuine curiosity is the foundation for being successful in science.

“If you have that mindset and you find a research area you’re also passionate about, a postdoc is very much something to look forward to,” Fedosejevs said.

He’s able to focus all of his energy on his work, and he loves it.

“I’m really happy coming to work and doing research every day.” Fedosejevs said. “I’m going to keep doing that for as long as I can.”

Patrick Nittler #IAmScience

Patrick Nittler

Patrick Nittler, a Ph.D. candidate in the Division of Biological Sciences at MU, stands near his lab station in the Liscum Lab in Bond LSC. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

By Allison Scott | Bond Life Sciences Center

“#IAmScience because I push through failures knowing that eventually something will work out.”

Breaking things apart and putting them back together has been engrained in Patrick Nittler’s life for as long as he can remember. Growing up, Nittler served as his dad’s sidekick as he salvaged parts of a broken computer to boost performance in their new one. Moments like those were bonding experiences that encouraged the innate curiosity of the now second year molecular plant biology Ph.D. candidate.

Although plants and your run of the mill computer have little in common, Nittler was inspired to follow his interest in how things work.

“I’m a curious person in general, so once I started working with plants I realized it’s something I’m really interested in,” Nittler said.

As part of Mannie Liscum’s lab in the Bond Life Sciences Center, Nittler works on a protein called Nonphototropic Hypocotyl 3 (NPH3) that belongs to a 33-gene member family. This protein is part of the complicated way plants respond to light and the signals that make them grow toward or away from sunlight.

“Right after the photoreceptor in Arabidopsis thaliana receives blue light, it cues a domino effect,” Nittler said. “The protein I study is the next step, and I’m working on characterizing its structure.”

Doing so could help Nittler and his lab to learn more about the rest of the gene family. It could also contribute to his main area of expertise: phototropism, which is how plants perceive and respond to light sources. This can increase the efficiency of photosynthesis by orienting the leaves of the plant toward sunlight.

“They all seemingly do different things, so I’m trying to figure out what influences phototropism,” Nittler said. “We only know what happens after mutating six of the 33, so we’re working to better understand them. Some of them might not have functions, though.”

Nittler, however, directs his attention to just part of the family.

“I work with the three most closely related,” Nittler said. “One of those has a known function and the other two don’t.”

Meaning that two of the three are recognized as genes, but what happens when you mutate them is uncertain. While figuring out what mutations cause is important, Nittler has his attention elsewhere.

In order to better understand the genes, Nittler is attempting to learn the 3D structures of the protein’s middle section.

“We’ve had issues experimentally getting it to work,” Nittler said. “The main thing I want to find out from the 3D structure is why Nonphototropic Hypocotyl 3 is involved in phototropism while its close gene family members aren’t.”

Even though it hasn’t worked out just yet, Nittler continues to try new things in hopes of finding the solution.

“I like the challenge,” Nittler said. “Science doesn’t work a lot of the time, but when it does it’s really exciting.”

Rohit Rao #IAmScience

Rohit Rao

Rohit Rao, a junior biology and psychology double major, works in the Sarafianos Lab in Bond LSC. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

By Allison Scott | Bond Life Sciences Center

“#IAmScience because I get to apply knowledge from the classroom to my research.”

There are a number of ways to get involved in research, but tennis probably doesn’t come to mind. Rohit Rao was practicing his serve alongside Kamal Singh in 2015 when the two began talking about science.

The junior biology and psychology double major expressed his interest in working in research, and Singh offered for him to join Stefan Sarafianos’ lab in the Bond Life Sciences Center.

“I got my first taste of research in high school and found a passion I didn’t know I had,” Rao said. “I wanted to continue to grow as a researcher when I went to college, and meeting Kamal was a pretty clear path to doing that.”

Rao understands the idea that research builds upon itself, which is why learning the basics before coming to Mizzou proved helpful.

“In high school, I did civil engineering research testing water quality from the Missouri River,” Rao said. “It was clearly something I could see myself doing for many years.”

The Columbia native is following in his family’s footsteps by pursuing science.

“My family is full of doctors and scientists, so having that has given me a greater understanding of what goes on,” Rao said. “I was never pushed into it, though, because it’s something I really want to do.”

After graduating next year, Rao plans on attending medical school and applying the knowledge he’s gained from all of his experiences.

“There are things I learn from the lab and then it’s taught in class, and there are things I learn in class that are helpful in lab,” Rao said. “There’s a big class-lab application interaction.”

Those applications have proved helpful for Rao while working with Singh. He has grown as both a scientist and a researcher since that conversation on the tennis courts years ago.

Now, he works with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and contributes to the drug development process.

“We check the biochemical characterization of HIV proteins,” Rao said. “We run various reactions with the HIV proteins to determine their biological characteristics and how the virus mutates to become resistant to approved drugs. Once we do that, we can help choose drugs to overcome that resistance.”

This process serves as the precursor to clinical trials, which ultimately leads to drugs going on the market.

While the work is classified as basic research, Rao is happy to do his part.

“You can’t do applied research without the basic research,” Rao said. “In science, creating the foundation for others to build upon is critical.”

Ashten Kimble #IAmScience

Ashten Kimble

Ashten Kimble works in Walter Gassmann’s lab in Bond LSC studying plant pathogens. | Photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

By Allison Scott | Bond Life Sciences Center

“#IAmScience because I am constantly learning and questioning. We try to understand life in order to improve it, but every answer brings on new questions and new areas to advance.”

If you walked into Ashten Kimble’s apartment, you’d notice immediately that it’s filled with plants. While some plant biologists refrain from caring for plants on their days off, the graduate student embraces being surrounded by life.

As a part of Walter Gassmann’s Lab in Bond LSC, Kimble is able to analyze the inner workings of plants, too. Her dissertation is about understanding the relationship between a plant’s defense mechanisms and proteins from pathogens like viruses, bacteria and fungi.

“The plant tries to stop the pathogen from invading it, but to do that it has to recognize proteins the pathogen sends inside it,” Kimble said. “I’m trying to see if it’s enough for the plant to recognize half of a pathogen protein and still be able to stop it.”

If a plant is unable to stop the invasion, its fate is sealed.

“The pathogen infects the plant leaf by leaf until it shuts down,” Kimble said.

Specifically, Kimble works with Arabidopsis — a model that is believed to have applicable characteristics to other plants. That means the impact of her findings can be great.

“If the plant can recognize the pathogen protein, I want to know what part of the plant’s DNA that occurs in,” Kimble said. “If I can identify a region [of the plant where it occurs], that information could translate to other plants.”

Doing so could lead to a significant shift in food safety; however, plant diseases are constantly changing.

“We have to think of things in an evolutionary scale,” Kimble said. “I’m working on a specific gene, but in the future what we know about it could change and be very different.”

That would put a wrench in her findings, but the ever-changing nature of plant pathogens serves as a point of excitement for Kimble.

“It keeps things interesting,” Kimble said. “From a science perspective, it’s a good thing. It’s something new to explore.”

The variety in her day-to-day experiences in the lab mirrors why Kimble pursued an education in plants in the first place. She worked in agriculture and was entranced by everything plants are capable of.

“I like the variety of things I can do with plants, whether it’s in the field, a greenhouse or the lab,” Kimble said.

After graduation in Summer 2019, Kimble hopes to enter the industry side of science. She wants to encourage others, especially those who wouldn’t consider themselves science-savvy, to better understand what exists at the root of research.

“I think it’s important for people to be curious and question what they’re told,” Kimble said. “If people seek out knowledge first hand, rather than just go off what they are told, they have better information to make decisions.”

Braden Zink #IAmScience

Braden Zink

Braden Zink, a biology major at MU, stands near his lab station in the Angelovici Lab in Bond LSC. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

By Allison Scott | Bond Life Sciences Center

“#IAmScience because I have learned to think critically and approach scientific unknowns in a way that will prepare me for a career as a successful physician.”

Labs aren’t born in a day. Neither are researchers.

Braden Zink, a senior biology major, could tell story after story about just that. He came to Mizzou with little knowledge of university research but with the determination to get his feet wet. As a member of Ruthie Angelovici’s lab, he did both.

“I came to college completely unaware of how research worked and the kinds of problems that research scientists work to solve,” Zink said. “I joined Dr. Angelovici’s lab during her first year as an MU professor and was thrilled to have the opportunity to help get it off the ground.”

With the lab’s goal of improving sustainability and nutritional quality of seeds, Zink has been able to make great strides in plant sciences. His current project is focused on how the size of seeds relate to their metabolic profiles.

“I had to come up with a way to measure Arabidopsis seeds because they’re the size of salt grains,” Zink said. “I came up with a protocol and performed size analysis on hundreds of ecotypes. My ultimate goal is to identify a gene or several that explain the observed variation in seed size.”

Last summer, Zink took advantage of working as a full-time researcher at Bond LSC.

“My work this past summer led to the conclusion that there’s a significant negative correlation between seed size and the quantity of several amino acids,” Zink said. “In general, I discovered that bigger seeds have proportionally less amino acids.”

This information led him to a working hypothesis that metabolic adjustments other than amino acids must be responsible for seed size variation.

Zink was able to work all summer solely on his research in Bond LSC thanks to the Cherng Summer Scholars grant funded by the founders of Panda Express, who happen to be Mizzou alumni. As one of 12 recipients — making it the most competitive grant for undergraduates — Zink’s dedication to his craft was recognized in a big way.

“I was able to focus intensely on my research and was immersed in it. Over the summer I didn’t have obligations to course work, so I was really able to be all in,” Zink said. “I believe what I’ve accomplished in research will help to set me apart from other candidates as I apply to medical school this year.”

He took his findings from the summer and presented as part of the Missouri EPSCoR program, which is run by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to provide more financial resources to scientifically underfunded states.

“I presented the poster as one of around 80 Missouri scholars,” Zink said. “Included in the presenters were students at all levels below professor, so it really highlighted what up-and-coming scientists are doing.”

After the event in late August, Zink was one of 10 presenters chosen to move forward and share their work in front of a national committee of NSF scientists. As the only undergraduate student selected from the state, it was an exciting opportunity.

“It was a closed room presentation with scientists whose work I’ve been reading for a while asking me questions about my science, so it was nerve-wracking,” Zink said. “While intimidating, this was also an incredible opportunity for my work to undergo an acid-test. Having my project hold water while being evaluated by nationally recognized scientists was an experience that confirmed that the work I’m doing is both professional and meaningful.”

While his accomplishments as an undergraduate researcher speak for themselves, Zink’s next step is medical school.

“Ideally, I want to become a cardiologist,” Zink said. “I’ve shadowed Dr. Greg Flaker — a seasoned cardiologist and head of cardiac research at the University of Missouri Hospital — and the work is something I could see myself doing in my professional career. I see this as an opportunity to offer critically ill patients 10 or 15 more years of life. It is a force that drives me towards joining this field.”

Zink plans to incorporate the lessons he’s learned at Bond LSC on his path to becoming a cardiologist.

“I’ll be doing a lot of the same style of critical thinking I do now,” Zink said. “Research has helped me do things that most undergraduates don’t get to. It helps you get ahead of the ball.”

Although there are more discoveries to be made, Zink is happy to contribute what he can to get things moving in the right direction.

“I understand that the contributions I’ve made — and continue to make — will only be a drop in a massive bucket,” Zink said. “However, each drop in this bucket is necessary if it is ever to be filled.”

Carson Broeker #IAmScience

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Carson Broeker, a biochemistry junior at MU, works in the Angelovici lab in Bond LSC. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

By Allison Scott | Bond Life Sciences Center

“#IAmScience because learning and chasing my innate curiosity about the living world with them makes me excited to work in lab each day.”

Science can be about serendipity that leads to better discoveries and opportunities that researchers don’t expect. Carson Broeker knows this all too well.

“I wasn’t always interested in research,” said Broeker, a junior biochemistry major. “I took the three science classes my high school offered, but didn’t really get into the research side of things until I came to college.”

After speaking with his undergraduate research advisor his freshman year, Broeker began looking into which professors in Bond LSC were doing work he was interested in. From there, he contacted Ruthie Angelovici and was offered a position working in her lab during his sophomore year.

Now in his second year as part of the lab, he uses his biochemistry background to work with amino acids and uncover ways to increase nutritional benefits in seeds by analyzing their genes.

Candidate genes are selected through an observational method known as a genome wide association study (GWAS), where differences in the genetic sequences of a population are compared to their respective phenotypes. In this case, it is the amino acid levels in seeds. From there, Broeker can select a gene for further study via loss of function mutation, where the gene of interest is prevented from being expressed.

Broeker’s work has been on the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, with hope that research performed is transferable to a staple crop species.

“My job is the precursor for engineered plants that will provide more food security,” Broeker said. “I confirm that each gene of interest has lost its function.”

If both alleles of the gene he studies have transfer DNA in them, they have supposedly lost their function. Once Broeker confirms genes that have done so, he can compare the amino acid levels from the mutant seeds to the normal wild type seeds.

“From that data, we can draw conclusions to see if the knockout of my gene of interest influenced certain amino acid levels,” Broeker said.

This information can then be used to engineer plants with sufficient nutrition to sustain a healthy human diet, which can have a great impact on the world’s food supply.

While his work with genes is the main way Broeker has been exposed to research, he is always learning from those he works alongside.

“I get to talk and work with others who either have the same or more knowledge about scientific topics than I do,” Broeker said. “Learning and chasing my innate curiosity about the living world with them makes me excited to work in lab each day.”

Next year as a senior, Broeker will join Chiswili Yves Chabu’s lab in Tucker Hall. Its focus is on developmental cell-to-cell communication and tumor progression and will allow Broeker to expand his knowledge in different areas of science, all while continuing to work in the Angelovici lab in Bond LSC.

“I’m excited to get more exposure to different types of research,” Broeker said. “Interdisciplinary aspects of research are strong right now, so joining the Chabu lab is a great way to be a part of that.”

While the added work will prove challenging, Broeker is excited about what his work in both labs will contribute to his graduate school applications, which he began working on this year.

“I’ve been studying for the GRE to prepare for applications,” Broeker said. “I worked in Angelovici’s lab last summer, but am in the process of applying for Research Experiences for Undergraduates programs for next summer.”

These programs, often referred to simply as REUs, allow students to better prepare for a graduate school path. They include workshops and seminars about various components of research, as well as GRE preparation classes.

“Under the guidance of mentors, I believe that pursuing an REU would be the best for me and my future in applying for graduate school,” Broeker said.

And while he’s excited about the opportunity to better understand research and continuing to find answers to the questions he has, Broeker is largely looking forward to life after earning his degrees.

“Trying to teach others about science is very important to me,” Broeker said. “I don’t want to go to graduate school just for more classes, I want expand our collective knowledge. Teaching people is just as important as doing the research. If you can’t teach, you won’t see any results from it.”

Suman Gurung #IAmScience

SumanGurung.jpg

Suman Gurung, a Developmental Neurology Ph.D candidate, stands in front of the zebra fish he studies. Gurung works in the Chandrasekhar lab at Bond LSC. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

By Allison Scott | Bond Life Sciences Center

#IAmScience “because it allows me to get involved in our quest to understand how the brain develops.”

The smallest discoveries often yield the greatest rewards when it comes to science. Suman Gurung, a Ph.D. candidate in the Division of Biological Sciences, is well aware of that.

Gurung works to uncover those small discoveries through the movement of neurons in the brain as a member of Anand Chandrasekhar’s lab in Bond LSC.

“We study how neurons migrate in the brains of zebrafish,” Gurung said. “We look at how they go from where they’re born to where they finally end up and make different connections.”

Those connections play a big part in how the brain works and can tell scientists like Gurung a lot about its inner workings. The paths the neurons follow, though, aren’t absolute.

“We investigate the cell behaviors of facial branchiomotor neurons in the zebrafish hindbrain to understand how migrating neurons respond to the environment,” Gurung said. “We also investigate the interaction between facial branchimotor neurons and the neighbouring cells as they migrate to their final destination where they carry out their function.”

It might sound complicated, but those nerves primarily control muscle movement in the jaw of the fish.

Knowing why these neurons take the paths they do could reveal significant information about the inner workings of the brain.

“We’re interested in how neurons in the vertebrate brain know when to start, which direction to take, and when to stop migration” Gurung said. “We’re interested in these questions because many human brain disorders are the result of failed neuron migration, which often result in poor motor function, seizures and impaired cognitive development.”

This work centers in a single room in the basement of Bond LSC where rows of fish tanks contain thousands of zebrafish.

“Zebrafish are transparent, and also easier and cheaper to maintain [than other lab animal models],” Gurung said. “They produce a lot of offspring and their development happens outside the mother’s body, meaning we can physically see the live growth and migration of neurons.”

The fish also develop rather quickly, requiring only about 20 hours for their branchiomotor neurons to complete migration. These neurons start migrating around 18 hours after fertilization and complete their migration by 48 hours after fertilization, meaning Gurung and his lab must work quickly.

“We monitor the fish all the time,” Gurung said. “The lab members take turns caring for the fish, everything from feeding to cleaning tanks and checking water quality.”

That makes the research an around the clock activity. However, Gurung doesn’t mind the extra effort because of how connected he is to the work.

“When you work with the same fish, they become your babies,” Gurung said. “Everything is dependent upon the health of those fish, so keeping them healthy is essential.”

Having grown up in Nepal, Gurung came to the United States right after graduating from high school. Before ending up at Mizzou, Gurung attended the University of Nevada-Reno and earned a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in biotechnology.

After completing his Ph.D., Gurung wants to stick with research.

“My long-term goal is to establish a career on a research-intensive path,” Gurung said. “Since I enjoyed teaching and mentoring undergraduates and junior colleagues during my graduate studies, I would like to hold a position with ample opportunity for mentoring and teaching.”

Ultimately, he’s excited about the future and the opportunities working at Bond LSC has granted him.

“I am fascinated by this opportunity that I have,” Gurung said. “To work in a lab, do research and tackle things the way we do is incredible. Growing up, I never thought I’d be able to do all of this.”

Madison Ortega #IAmScience

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Madison Ortega, a junior biology major, works in the Rosenfeld lab at Bond LSC. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

By Allison Scott | Bond Life Sciences Center

“#IAmScience because research gives me an avenue to explore my curiosity and possibly discover something groundbreaking.”

Research is all about discovering the answers to the unknown, pushing boundaries and exploring the depths of the field. As a junior biology major, Madison Ortega is already getting a taste of that.

Her freshman year, Ortega got a brochure for the Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity program (IMSD). This program encourages students to get involved with science even if they have had little exposure to it previously. Its ultimate goal is to provide a foundation of advanced science skills for minorities that can be applied to higher degrees within the field.

“I got to start exploring research right away through IMSD,” Ortega said. “It gave me the opportunity to look into various labs.”

Ortega landed on working in Cheryl Rosenfeld’s lab at Bond LSC because she felt she would have ample opportunities. That experience has led her to an individual project working on samples of spiny rats — an endangered species from Japan.

“The male doesn’t have a Y chromosome, so we’re trying to figure out how sexual differentiation occurs in the species without it,” Ortega said.

Through Bond LSC, she connected with Hokkaido University in Japan who donated the samples.

“They’re not fresh samples — they’re about 10 years old,” Ortega said. “But I showed interest in the project and ended up getting to work on it one-on-one with our lab mentor.”

In addition to her individual project, Ortega works with other undergraduates within her lab.

“We’re doing a variety of experiments that include social testing on mice,” Ortega said. “We do anxiety testing and also perform Barnes maze with the animals.”

These mazes and tests aim to see the impact of chemicals in the environment that mimic hormones like estrogen and impact animal growth and development.

“Basically, we’re trying to see how endocrine disruptors we feed the mice affect their offspring,” Ortega said. “We want to know how it affects them neurologically. In order to accomplish this, we are collaborating with various other groups in Bond LSC.”

Ultimately, they’re aiming to uncover if Bisphenol S (BPS) has any impact on the mice neurologically. These substances are similar to Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used as a hardener in production of plastics and in other manufacturing. As concern has raised over BPA, companies have replaced the chemical with BPS and others to allay public anxiety over its impact. But not much research has been done on BPS and its effect on animals.

“They may be found to have some neurological effects, so research is trying to uncover what exactly those are,” Ortega said. “The many tests we run will help us understand to the extent these chemicals are affecting us.”

After graduation, Ortega envisions herself continuing with research as a focal point of her career.

“I love research,” Ortega said. “My end goal is medical school, but I’m considering a program that combines a master’s degree with a Ph.D. in either dermatology or pediatrics.”

Regardless of her path, the lab work she does now leaves her prepared for the future.

“I spend a lot of time in the lab with my team and individually,” Ortega said. “It’s fun to have ownership of a project, and it’s also fun to work with other undergraduates and have camaraderie. I’m really fortunate.”

Janlo Robil #IAmScience

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Janlo Robil, a Ph.D. candidate in Plant Developmental Genetics, admires one of his plants. Robil works in the McSteen lab in Bond LSC. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

By Allison Scott | Bond Life Sciences Center

“#IAmScience because adding a small puzzle piece to the bigger picture is my source of joy.”

Janlo Robil found himself with a difficult decision when he entered a master’s program at Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines.

His passion for insects made him want to pursue entomology, but the lack of coursework in the area made him consider other options. Not wanting to put off his studies for another year, Robil took a course called Plant Microtechnique. After that, he was hooked, a weird place to be for someone with no prior interest in plants.

“I found myself amazed by the diversity and intricacy of plant cells and tissues,” Robil said. “And studying these structures in the laboratory was even more interesting.”

From there, his passion only grew. It led him to apply for and be accepted as a Fulbright Scholar — a prestigious exchange program that allows recent graduates to pursue further education in over 140 countries. He chose to attend Mizzou over Iowa and North Carolina because of its strength in plant sciences.

Now, a year and half into a five-year Ph.D. program in plant developmental genetics, Robil works in Paula McSteen’s lab at Bond LSC.

“I was drawn to her research because it encompasses the areas of biology that I am truly fascinated by: plant morpho-anatomy, developmental biology and genetics,” Robil said. “For me, working in the McSteen lab is a unique opportunity to explore fundamental biological questions using an excellent model system, maize.”

Robil studies corn as a key component of his dissertation.

“The overarching theme of my dissertation is the role of plant hormone auxin in vein development and patterning in maize leaf,” Robil said. “I am interested on how the dynamics of auxin shape the formation and density of veins during different steps of leaf development.”

He chose this topic because of how influential it is to a variety of areas of science.

“This research is important to both fields of developmental biology and physiology because optimized density and spacing of leaf veins in C4 crops like maize is a key requirement for their efficient metabolism and productivity even in arid conditions.”

Robil is also able to better his home country while studying at Mizzou.

“Because Philippines is a developing country, conducting basic research is a luxury and we try to focus most of our resources to applied research.” Robil said. “The United States houses the opportunity to explore the basic side of research, which provides the foundation for applied research in the future.”

At Bond LSC, Robil has been able to take his research to the next level.

“I value the collaborative and interdisciplinary atmosphere here,” Robil said. “You can find experts from a variety of disciplines that you can consult or work with to find answers to your research problems.”

Those insights have helped Robil grow as a researcher and work toward his dream of helping alleviate world hunger. While that’s no small task, he tries to take it one day at a time.

“Never lose the wonder of discovery,” Robil said. “It may not always be that novel or significant, but discovering new things should be considered a personal success.”