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Mount and Battelle Announce Grant to Support Student Summer Research

Donna Klinger

Jameelah Wallace in lab

The Battelle National Biodefense Institute (BNBI) has awarded Mount St. Mary’s University a $20,000 grant to support faculty-mentored summer research experiences for four students on campus. The students began working on campus in faculty labs on 10-week immersive projects early this month.

“We are tremendously proud of our students and grateful to BNBI for their support of these promising young scientists,” said Christine Seitz McCauslin, Ph.D., dean of the School of Natural Science and Mathematics at Mount St. Mary’s University. “Building additional research capacity through BNBI scholarship support will provide the opportunity to create meaningful training experiences for students and contribute in substantive ways to educating the next generation of ethical scientific leaders.”

The four Battelle Scholars are senior Monica McNicol, juniors Julianna Mariano and Naomi Leno, and sophomore Jameelah Wallace.

mcnicol-in-text.jpgMonica McNicol, a senior majoring in chemistry. McNicol, of Alexandria, Virginia, is focusing on understanding pH and solubility of complex organic acids derived from natural products such as hops used in the beer brewing process. If experimental conditions using high-performance liquid chromatography and ultraviolet-visible spectrophotometry can be optimized, it ultimately is possible to develop an instrument that provides information to brewers that would improve the flavor and consistency of their products.

mariano-in-text.pngJulianna Mariano, a junior majoring in environmental science. Mariano, of York, Pennsylvania, will study the composition of mayfly and stonefly populations that serve as indicators of water quality. She will also be looking to see if land use plays a role in shaping fly elemental composition by comparing residential, agricultural, and rural streams.

leno-in-text.jpgNaomi Leno, a junior majoring in chemistry and biochemistry. Beginning with basic bioinformatics, Leno, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, will work to identify the protein and gene sequences of two enzymes involved in metabolism a fungal inhibitor. Once identified, she will analyze the kinetic behavior of both enzymes in an effort to understand how fungi become resistant to anti-fungal agents. Her work is part of a larger project aimed at determining the biochemical mode of action of calcium propionate, an organic salt commonly used as a fungal inhibitor in baked goods. The project hypothesizes that genetic differences in specific enzymes across species impact their kinetic behavior and account for the observed differences in sensitivity to calcium propionate treatment.

wallace-in-text.jpgJameelah Wallace, a sophomore majoring in biology. Wallace, of Newark, New Jersey, will collaborate with Leno because her project is also related to the biochemical mode of action of calcium propionate project described above. Wallace’s work will focus on protein expression and kinetic characterization of methylcitrate synthase and methylisocitrate lyase from Rhizoctonia solani, a fungal turf grass pathogen. Using site directed mutagenesis, she will create expression constructs that will allow her to identify key amino acids that contribute to the catalytic efficiency of these enzymes. Ultimately, this work has applications to development of “green” fungal inhibitors.

“The building of a successful career in STEM starts with hands-on experience and mentoring by seasoned faculty and other professionals so that students begin to absorb all the elements of scientific methodology. The range of projects that these students are undertaking will give them experiences that will last a lifetime and lead in unexpected ways to even greater opportunities,” said BNBI President George Korch, Ph.D.  “We are delighted to be a part of the creative and learning potentials each of these students will now have.”

“Every year we turn away students who wish to conduct faculty-led research on campus over the summer due to funding constraints. Before we received this grant, we had to turn away several students or ask them to work on a limited volunteer basis even though we already were hosting a record number of 30 students on campus this summer,” said Provost Boyd Creasman, Ph.D. “We are grateful for BNBI’s support in helping students secure early research experience.”  

Donna Klinger