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Biotechnology research program prepares students for graduate school

Eleven students from across the United States and Puerto Rico have been conducting research and preparing for graduate school as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) program this summer at WKU.

WKU Biology Department’s NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program wrapped up on Aug. 3.  Dr. Shivendra Sahi, Dr. Rodney King and Dr. Audra Jennings direct this grant-funded program that focuses on the interdisciplinary field of Investigative Biotechnology.

Getting students excited about research and providing hands-on laboratory experience is one of the goals of the NSF-REU program. The WKU Biotechnology program has been successful in encouraging students to continue their education and training by entering graduate programs in the STEM disciplines.

The following students participated in the 10-week program (May 31-Aug. 3):

  • Paige Appleton, William Patterson University in New Jersey, investigated circadian rhythms with Dr. Sigrid Jacobshagen.
  • Savannah Bell, Owensboro Community and Technical College, studied the effect of growth hormone on the restoration of auditory function with Dr. Michael Smith.
  • Breanna Brennenman, Ball State University, investigated Cathepsin L, a protein involved in tumor invasion and growth with Dr. Ajay Srivastava.
  • David Donald, East Tennessee State University, worked with Dr. Rajalingam Dakshinamurthy and studied a family of proteins involved in the formation of new blood vessels and their interaction with antiangiogenic drugs.
  • James Dulaney III , University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, identified genetic regulatory elements in the mycobacteriophage Backyardigan with Dr. Claire Rinehart.
  • Jonathan Hendrie, Owensboro Community and Technical College, characterized an anticancer drug with Dr. Kevin Williams.
  • Dana Leigh, Eastern Kentucky University, investigated how landscape affects genetic variation in a California newt population with Dr. Jarrett Johnson.
  • Sebastian Sanchez, Universidad Metropolitana in Puerto Rico, studied a tripartite association between bacteriophages, endosymbiotic bacteria and arthropods with Dr. Rodney King.
  • Wendy Stegall, Fort Valley State University, studied gene expression from plant and viral-derived promoters using a green fluorescent protein reporter gene in transgenic tobacco with Dr. Shivendra Sahi and Dr. Chandra Emani.
  • David Sekora, Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science, helped develop statistical methods for analyzing highly complex data sets with Dr. Michael Collyer.
  • Elise Valkanas, St Mary’s College in Maryland, used molecular methods to study the relationships within and among related genera of cave beetles in southcentral Kentucky with Dr. Keith Philips.

Students were assigned to a research project based on their interests. The projects were directed by WKU faculty mentors from Biology and Biochemistry and the research topics encompassed broad areas of biotechnology, including animal physiology, plant gene expression, microbiology, virology, biochemistry, protein structure and modeling, bioinformatics, neurophysiology and mathematical biology.

In addition to working closely with faculty mentors and interacting with graduate students, fellow undergraduates, post-docs and research technicians, students received bioethics training and participated in a series of Office of Scholar Development-sponsored workshops that provided guidance on graduate school applications, recommendation letters and grant writing.  Furthermore, WKU research faculty gave seminars on how to access and read the primary literature and how to give a scientific presentation.

Contact: Rodney King, (270) 745-6910.

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