Mizzou is a family tradition for some. It’s passed down from generation to generation of Tigers as more and more family members join the lineage of “True Sons and Daughters.”
Andrea Ravelo, a Ph.D. candidate in Chris Pires’ Lab at Bond LSC, came to Mizzou to continue that trend.
“My parents went to Mizzou as graduate students when I was a baby,” Ravelo said. “After I finished my undergraduate degree, I decided to come back here, and it’s been good.”
But Ravelo didn’t have the typical academic journey. She spent nine years teaching high school before electing to go back to school.
“I enjoyed teaching, but I wanted to move back to research because I missed it when I was teaching,” Ravelo said.
And that’s exactly what she did. In the Pires lab, Ravelo works with endangered orchids alongside the Department of Conservation in Missouri.
“One of the things I wanted to do when I came back to research was plant conservation,” Ravelo said. “My research has been looking at the microbiome that associates with orchids and how that might affect the populations.”
This specific orchid species used to be found all throughout northern Missouri, but now, it’s only in certain pockets of the state. Ravelo works to figure out why that is and what the department can do to fix it.
The process isn’t as easy as it might sound, though. Because the plants are endangered, it’s a lot less hands-on than other projects.
“When you’re working with species that are endangered, you can’t just pull them up. You have to use a non-invasive approach,” Ravelo said.
That means the lab uses sequencing to try to determine what is preventing the orchids from thriving. Although they haven’t figured out the answers quite yet, the lab is hard at work to find the answers.
When she’s not in the lab, Ravelo spends her time working on a business she started with her husband.
“It’s a laser engraving business, so we mainly make custom gifts,” Ravelo said. “It was something my husband started, but I loved it. I like the freedom you get when you have your own business.”
And that freedom has inspired Ravelo in all she does.
Whether in the future she continues to work on growing her business or heads back to the lab, she’ll always be building on the foundation of knowledge she learned because of research.
“Once you’re in the mindset of learning, which is what we do here in lab, you can do anything,” Ravelo said.
“#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.
“#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.”
“#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.”
“#IAmScience because I am passionate about solving real world problems with creative solutions.”
A lot of people get signs as a guide for the direction they’re supposed to take in life. Tyler McCubbin’s sign was more literal.
“There was a giant billboard alongside a county road and it said ‘Pray for Rain,’ and it’s probably still there,” McCubbin said. “Seeing that at the height of the drought was inspiring. It made me question why anyone studies anything other than drought responses.”
Now as a second year Ph.D. student collaborating with Scott Peck’s lab in Bond LSC, McCubbin studies drought’s impact on the crown roots of corn, which grow from the stem.
“We’re interested in what’s unique about those and why they can keep growing while everything else stops,” McCubbin said. “I’m able to make crown roots grow in a very dry environment. Then I dissect them into different regions and see which genes are turned on and off in response to drought.”
By using a strategically designed apparatus, McCubbin can control the soil environment the corn grows in and better understand why crown roots continue to grow.
“It took a lot of time to come up with the apparatus,” McCubbin said. “We’ve spent about a year optimizing it so that it’s repeatable and accurate.”
Doing that has streamlined his research and given him the opportunity to find results that can be applied to other aspects of the grant.
While the effort is collaborative between a number of labs, McCubbin is impressed by how centralized it is.
“The project is funded by the National Science Foundation,” McCubbin said. “There are six labs working on this project all at Mizzou, which makes this unique.”
And when he’s not working on the mechanisms that make corn roots able to survive drought, McCubbin spends as much time as possible outdoors.
“I am passionate about wildlife conservation and have participated in wetland ecosystem restoration efforts for most of my adult life,” McCubbin said. “If I’m not in the lab, I’m outside because it’s where I feel most at home.”
Bacteria and disease show no mercy to any organism they can effectively attack, including plants.
Yet, plants can also develop an immune response against these threats from their complex genetic makeup.
Scott Peck’s research delves into how plants do this and how bacteria evade those defenses.
Over the course of the last decade, the Bond Life Sciences Center investigator and professor of biochemistry has specifically looked into how plants are able to initially perceive and respond to potential bacterial threats through phosphorylated proteins and pathogen-associated molecular patterns.
“The overarching goal really with all of this research is to improve a plant’s resistance to potential pathogens in order to decrease crop loss,” Peck said. “That’s hundreds of millions of dollars lost every year to disease, so then that’s less food available and higher costs in the market.”
Peck recently published new work from his lab that observes how plants receive messages from potential pathogens and how they develop an immune response to these pathogens on a genetic level.
Similar to humans and animals, plants have a sensory immune response to know when a foreign object, such as a potentially infectious pathogen, shows up. One way they do that is by using receptors to detect certain molecules particular to an enemy like bacteria or viruses when they encounter the surface of a plant’s cells.
These pathogen-associated molecular patterns, or PAMPs, are recognized by the plant’s innate immune system and cause the plant to create a chemical defense against them. More specifically, when PAMPS are perceived, cells activate messenger proteins called mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), which signal the plant of a potential problem. Because too much defense signaling can be harmful, another protein, MAP kinase phosphatases (MKPs), helps the cell determine how much of a defense response the cell should make against the enemy.
To better understand the plant’s processes of recognition and response to a potential pathogen, two separate studies analyzed how MKP1 is regulated and which cellular pathways are regulated by MKP1.
“For one of the first times, these studies using MKP1 gives us a large, specific set of gene markers to define individual pathways that respond after perception of bacteria,” said Peck. “We can now specifically take individual genes and know how they work and where to place them like a Jigsaw puzzle.”
Both of these studies are able to help us better understand how one particular plant protein reacts to a potential threat.
Peck made it clear that proteins and responses are altered during defense responses.
The next step would be to better understand how these processes interact to help the plant defend itself against a variety of pathogens.
“By really understanding how the plant does what it does under the best circumstances, we can try to then, either through traditional breeding or engineering, get plants to grow and reproduce without being as vulnerable to pathogens,” Peck said.
“#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.”
“#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.”
“#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.”
Computer scientists create applications to speed up research in the lab
By Samantha Kummerer, Bond LSC
Three years ago, Ke Gao stood uncomfortably beside rows of biomedical students and plant scientists at the Bond Life Sciences research fair. His poster wasn’t discussing the DNA of seeds or how plants transport nutrients but rather a scientific device.
“At the beginning, the visitors didn’t understand what we were presenting, but once I explained how our application can help them accelerate their research and how we can really turn their phones into a research device, they got really excited,” Gao explained.
Gao’s presentation highlighted a mobile app that transforms images of seeds into objective, quantitative data.
It started with a simple problem. Plant scientists were manually comparing hundreds and in some cases thousands, of seed photos. The process was meticulous, slow and subjective.
The solution began with a collaboration with Michele Warmund (Plant Sciences), Tommi White (MU Electron Microscopy Core) and Filiz Bunyak (Computer Science) that led to a MU Interdisciplinary Innovations Fund grant.
Gao was part of this team that developed an algorithm to turn the photos of seeds from the field into data with the touch of the button.
Gao explained the app is very similar to Instagram.
A user takes or uploads photos of seeds. Then the app calculates measurements describing shape, color and size characteristics of the seeds. This data can be emailed or stored in a database.
Some experiments need thousands of seeds analyzed; this would be a massive feat for even a group of students. With this app, hundreds of seeds can be photographed and measured from a single photo. The app analyzes each seed individually and also computes measurement averages for groups of seeds.
There are other apps that analyze seeds, but this is the first mobile application as far as the team knows. Its ability to analyze multiple seeds at once, even if they are touching is also an outstanding ability. Bunyak’s previous experience developing applications to quantify microscopy images and videos of touching and clumping cells helped them design the algorithm to make that function possible.
This isn’t just a problem for researchers in this one lab or even at the University of Missouri.
MU Computer Science professor, Filiz Bunyak, said noninvasive methods to observe and understand biology, imaging equipment and corresponding computing devices have advanced considerably in recent years, leading scientists to produce large amounts of data. The ability for researchers to analyze and quantify this large amount of complex and unstructured data, however, was still missing. Bunyak said this app began as a project to advance scientists’ capabilities to automatically analyze image-based plant phenotyping.
Bunyak and her students are advancing the field of high-throughput phenotyping beyond this mobile app.
High-throughput phenotyping (HTP) refers to the process of connecting an organism’s DNA makeup to its physical characteristics; it is also a hot topic buzzing through the science community in the last five years.
Two years ago, Bond LSC scientist David Mendoza, who studies how plants collect nutrients, said he never imagined he would be doing HTP.
“The old way of doing this is growing plants on plates and, I’m not kidding, with a ruler you measure how long the roots are,” Mendoza explained of the traditional process that now seems archaic.
Now, the lab is working with computer scientists to design a robot to code the measurements for multiple roots at a single time. For a student, it would take 15 minutes, but now it’s complete in an instant.
Speed isn’t the only reward researchers are reaping.
Bunyak said computational image analysis allows researchers to come up with new ways to quantify and study data that they were not even able to do before, leading to the design of novel experimental methods.
Ruthie Angelovici is another Bond LSC researcher who uses computer scientists to aid in her research.
She said without computer imaging there would be no way for her team to do research that measures plants physical and biochemical traits. Angelovici’s lab uses Bunyak’s mobile app system but on a computer. Eight plants are photographed at once and the application keeps track of features of plants such as shape, color and area as they develop.
What is really revolutionary to Angelovici is the ability for the data of plant growth parameters to be stored and revisited without the need to re-grow. This contrasts with past experiments where researchers would scribble some notes and never be able to return.
“It’s not lost and I think that’s a big step in this field,” Angelovici said.
The collaboration is creating more than advanced tools by fostering a new way to think and approach research.
Rather than buying pre-existing software, the groups from Bond LSC utilizes the resources on campus to build their own devices.
“I would have been in front of a black box that is doing things for me and that would not have given me the tools to teach to my students,” Mendoza reflected. “Now I know what they need to learn to be competitive. Now I know what the gaps are and how they can be filled. I think that was worth it.”
Mendoza’s team publishes all the instruction to its robot online, so the technology can aid other labs in making faster discoveries at a lower price.
Angelovici compared it to buying a cake versus making a cake — at the end of the creation process, she said she would have the knowledge to do a lot of other experiments.
This new way of thinking already began to pay off this summer when her lab expanded computer software to analyze seed size.
“We only approached it because we saw how things worked together. I just pitched a project to engineering about seed collector. Again, this opened my eyes that even undergraduates can do something not so difficult for engineers, but I have no clue how to do it,” Angelovici said.
Mendoza agreed the collaboration is exciting but challenging, “You got a Ph.D. and you got a faculty position and you think you know stuff. When I started this I realized how much I don’t know, but at the same time it reminded me that it is really cool to learn something new.”
Both teams continue to work towards maximizing the functions of their individual machines, but even after the projects reach fruition the collaboration will not be over.
“On the contrary, I think we’re going to keep building more and more and better,” Mendoza said.
Nowadays, Gao no longer feels out of place at the Life Sciences fairs. Researchers from various labs come up to him and ask how they can implement his app in their own lab.
“It seems like I’m doing something that can really help people, so that’s the best part of this process,” he said.
Ruthie Angelovici is an assistant professor in the Division of Biological Sciences and is a researcher at Bond Life Sciences Center. She received her degrees in plant science from institutions in Israel — her B.S. and M.S. from Tel Aviv University, and her Ph.D. from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the Weizmann Institute and at Michigan State University and has been at MU since fall of 2015.
David Mendoza is an associate professor in Plant Sciences, Life Sciences Center investigator and a member of the Interdisciplinary Plant Group. His research focuses on the mechanisms plants use to resist toxic elements or acquire nutrients. He received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from UNAM in Mexico City and continued on to do post-doc training at UC San Diego.
Filiz Bunyak is an assistant research professor in the Department of Computer Science. She received her bachelors and masters degree from Istanbul Technical University and her Ph.D. from the University of Missouri- Rolla. Her work focuses on computer imaging, image processing, and biomedical image analysis.
Ke Gao is a doctoral student in the University of Missouri’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He earned his bachelor’s of science from the Henan University of Science and Technology in China.