Cohort 5 2018-2019

PREP@UGA Alumni Cohort 5 2018-2019

Front Row L-R: Jilarie Santos Santiago (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill); Kristen Dominguez (University of South Florida); Ayush Kumar (PREP@UGA – Dr. Perez’s Lab)

Back Row L-R: Roseanne Davila Rivera (University of Pennsylvania); Ian Liyayi • (University of Virginia); Aws Ahmed (Lincolnton Memorial Medical School)

Hello, my name is Barbara Talavera-Figueroa, and I am from the north coast of Puerto Rico. I graduated from the University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo Campus with a B.Sc. in Microbiology with a medical emphasis. Looking back on my childhood years, I have always admired the wonders of science that further sparked my curiosity to delve into the world of science and explore its limitless boundaries. During my undergraduate science courses and research experiences, I really wanted to know more about pathogens and how they have the potential to not only change the evolution of humanity, but also the course of history. Therefore, I came to realize the importance of understanding their pathogenicity in causing diseases and the urgent need to develop therapeutic interventions. However, during my undergraduate studies, I had very limited opportunities to pursue training in biomedical research which motivated me to apply to the NIH Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) at the University of Georgia, since it was aligned with my research interests in infectious diseases and provided me an extensive research experience. During my time at PREP@UGA, I joined Dr. Harvill’s lab within the Department of Infectious Diseases to study the bacterial pathogenesis of Bordetella spp. and their host-pathogen interactions using in vitro and in vivo models. Getting to work with this respiratory pathogen enhanced my interests in bacterial pathogenesis. Thus, I had the opportunity to join Dr. Tompkins’ lab at the Center for Vaccines and Immunology (CVI) to study bacterial and viral co-infections. My project was to establish an in vivo model to investigate the interactions between Streptococcus pneumoniae and influenza A virus, and to understand how an existing pneumococcal infection can change after a viral infection to cause respiratory tract disease. Overall, my experience in this program helped me gain confidence as a scientist, explore many aspects of bacteriology, and prepare for my transition to graduate school.

After PREP@UGA, I will begin my doctoral studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Barbara Talavera-Figueroa

My name is Cierra Gladfelter and I am from Colorado.

I graduated from Colorado School of Mines with a B.S. in biochemistry. Ever since early high school, I knew I had a passion for the biosciences and wanted to pursue future career in that field. I was able to join PREP@UGA right after my graduation from Mines, leading to a seamless transition from undergraduate to postbaccalaureate. Being a part of PREP@UGA has given me the opportunity to be more involved in specialized research in the infectious disease field and really helped to refine my skills and confidence in pursuing a biosciences PhD. During my year in PREP, I joined the Kyle lab in the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases (CTEGD) at the University of Georgia which is a parasitology lab focused on Plasmodium and Naegleria fowleri research. My research project consisted of investigating the Kelch13 propeller domain (pfk13) and the Plasmodium falciparum chloroquine transporter gene (PfCRT) from Plasmodium falciparum isolates collected during the 1990s from South America and Southeast Asia in search of resistance-conferring polymorphisms that may have evolved before the widespread use of anti-malarial drugs artemisinin and its partner drug piperaquine through artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs). Being able to work in a parasitology-based infectious disease lab for my PREP experience has solidified my decision in pursuing a PhD in the infectious disease field and a future research-heavy career and has prepared me fully for starting graduate school in the fall! After the PREP@UGA program, I will be starting in the Integrated Life Sciences (ILS) PhD program at the University of Georgia.

Cierra Gladfelter

My name is Alexander Lee, and I am a Georgia native. I graduated from the University of Georgia with a B.S. in Pharmaceutical Science. When I was a child, my grandmother passed away from leukemia and an uncle of liver disease, focusing me on medicine and disease. Later on, I wanted to be a pharmacist but found patient care and counseling to be unsatisfying during my time as a pharmacy technician. Instead, I turned to drug development and biomedical research. After graduating with my Bachelor’s, I was accepted into PREP, leading to an experience that I feel prepared me very well for life as a graduate student. Being a part of PREP@UGA has given me the opportunity to be more involved in specialized research in the infectious disease field and really helped broaden my view in conducting research that would help other researchers understand the basic biology to get a drug to work. During PREP, I joined the Moreno lab in the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases at the University of Georgia, a parasitology lab focused on Toxoplasma gondii. My research project was investigating the Coenzyme Q3 protein which is responsible for making Ubiquinone, an electron transporter in the Electron Transport Chain. Finding differences between T. gondii and human Coq3 would enable the development of drugs to target Toxoplasma effectively. Being able to work in a parasitology-based infectious disease lab for my PREP experience has broadened my view on disease and solidified my decision in pursuing a PhD in infectious disease and drug development. It fully prepared me for starting graduate school this fall and pursuing biomedical research! After the PREP@UGA program, I will be starting in the Integrated Life Sciences (ILS) PhD program at the University of Georgia. Go Dawgs!

Alexander Lee

Hello, my name is Courtney Manning, and I am from Northern Virginia.

I graduated from Hampton University with a B.S. in Chemistry with a concentration in forensics.

Originally, I planned to pursue a career as a forensic analyst. However, my life experiences have always made me interested in biomedical research. To strengthen my interdisciplinary training, I applied and was accepted to a post-baccalaureate research program at the University of Georgia, PREP@UGA. This experience has allowed me to explore more fields of biomedical science and prepares me for a bioscience Ph.D. program. During my time in PREP@UGA, I was co-mentored by Dr. Art Edison and Dr. Ross Marklein. My project gave me a unique opportunity to work in a collaborative effort in their labs to improve mesenchymal stromal cells for manufacturing purposes using cell morphology and NMR metabolomics. I learned a variety of techniques such as cell culture, fluorescence microscopy, and NMR spectroscopy. My time at PREP@UGA gave me the experience and confidence to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical research. From the hands-on experience in a bioengineering and metabolomics lab to the graduate level class work, I was able to “trial run” graduate school before committing to a degree program that could take 5+ years. I am currently at Duke University in the Developmental and Stem Cell Biology program, an interdisciplinary program where I am able to rotate in a variety of labs that span multiple facets of biomedical research.

Courtney Manning

Hi, my name is Armoni Mayes and I am from Norfolk, Virginia. I graduated from Old Dominion University with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences in 2021. Before attending Old Dominion, I attended a small community college for two years because I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do after graduating high school. After trying out a couple of different majors I finally settled on biology, because I had an amazing biology professor my sophomore year that made me fall in love with the subject. Once I transferred to Old Dominion, I continued on the biological sciences track but by the time graduation was coming around I still did not have any hands-on research experience which I would need in order to apply to PhD schools. I was recommended to apply to a PREP by a mentor at Old Dominion, and the University of Georgia’s PREP program was the perfect fit for what I was looking for as far as research areas. I ended up choosing to work in the Garfinkel Lab (Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology), which works with a retrotransposon called Ty1 in Saccharomyces cerevisiae (budding yeast). Ty1 is a class 1 transposable element that utilizes a copy-and-paste mechanism of replicating in the genome, and its life cycle is comparable to a retrovirus life cycle. My research project was focused on a functional loop in the n-terminus domain(NTD) of the Gag protein because the structure had recently been solved by collaborators of the Garfinkel lab. In comparison to closely related retroelements, such as Copia and Ty3, Ty1 had a considerably longer length of amino acids that make up this loop. This loop is dynamic with two different conformations, and it was of interest to investigate how the loop impacts Ty1 in its function and possible assembly. Mutations that deleted this functional loop were designed, with one mutation deleting the entire loop(M1) and a second mutation that only deleted a small portion of the loop(M2). Both of the mutants lost the ability to transpose, did not have detectable protease, reverse transcriptase and integrase protein levels, and also had an assembly defect. Being able to work in the Garfinkel lab taught me a myriad of biochemical techniques, writing, and technical skills that I will carry with me through my PhD and beyond. I applied and was accepted into the Microbiology and Immunology PhD program at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA.

Armoni Mayes

Hello everyone, I am Teryn Railey, a native of Jackson, Mississippi. I am a 2021 graduate of the historic Tougaloo College, where I received my B.S. in Biology with high honors. Since a young age, I have been a very curious individual and never afraid to ask questions. I always enjoyed figuring out the “why” of something. Prior to my matriculation at Tougaloo, I had aspirations of becoming a medical doctor, as it was the only field I knew that involved science. My world changed in the summer of 2019 when I participated in my first biomedical research internship at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. I had finally found my niche that fulfilled my personality as well. Biomedical research is an amazing and expansive field that allows you to ask questions and develop your methods for answering. Upon completion of my first internship, I continued to participate in research at UMMC, but I struggled to decide if I still wanted to pursue an MD or a PhD. After graduating, I decided that a PhD made the most sense for what I enjoyed doing daily and long term. Shortly after, my mentor encouraged me to apply to the PREP@UGA program. This program has poured so many invaluable lesson into me, as well as affirmed that I’m capable of being a research scientist. This meant so much to me as a Black woman in a white male-dominating field. PREP also greatly prepared me for the application process and interviews. With their help, I received an offer of admission to every graduate school I applied to. I am now a first-year in the Experimental Therapeutics & Pharmacology program at UMMC. I can confidently say that PREP@UGA fully prepared me for my graduate school experience.

Teryn Railey

Hello, my name is Cristian Sanlatte Reyes and I was born and raised in Carolina, Puerto Rico. I have B.S. in Industrial Microbiology from the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez campus. My research interests focus on plant-microbe-environment interactions. I believe that environmental science is a very underrepresented discipline with a heavy toll on all aspects of life as we know it. Therefore, important questions that are of my interests are: how do plant and microbe interactions work? Furthermore, how are these affected by environmental stressors that are occurring due to climate change? Seeking to gather a more robust research training, the NIH Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program at the University of Georgia (NIH PREP@UGA) gave me the chance to venture within these environmental questions while simultaneously giving me the experience of preparing myself to make the best decision for a graduate PhD program. During my time at UGA, I first worked in the department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Dr. Michael Adam’s laboratory under the supervision of Dr. Jennifer Goff and Farris Poole. Here I worked with tungsten utilization by the anaerobic denitrifying microorganisms Zoogloea ramigera. The main objective was to determine the effects of toxic and essential metals on the microbe by monitoring its growth, measuring metal uptake, and nitrogen oxide production by plate assays and gas chromatography. Next, I worked in the Marine Sciences department with Dr. Mary Ann Moran under the supervision of William Shroer and Christa Smith. Here I worked on the use of random barcode transposon sequencing (RBTn-Seq) library growth trends upon diverse ocean metabolites. The main objectives were to discover and annotate unknown gene-substrate uptake functions and determine whether transposon location inside the gene of interest affects its expression. Lastly, I took a Bioprocessing Technology course given by Dr. David Blum and T.A./Dr. Marley Brimberry. Here I learned the theory and practice of biotechnological biomanufacturing. The course guided me to understanding and performing from the complete upstream (production) to downstream (purification) process of a recombinant TURBO RED fluorescent protein (TURBO-RFP) within E. coli. I learned how to perform industrial laboratory techniques such as bacterial transformation, cell lysis through sonication, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), hydrophobic interactions chromatography (HIC) and SDS-PAGE analysis. My experience within UGA exposed me to a varied, strong and research-intensive environment where I definitely felt I was gathering an extensive amount of training that boosted my confidence as a student trainee. They did not only equip me with a great set of research skills, but also helped me recognize what type of research, community, and program I wanted to apply for a PhD program. PREP@UGA gave me an experience that surpassed my expectations. I highly recommend incoming students to take advantage of all the faculty and resources, plus make sure to identify what are your requirements as a scientist and as a person, for your incoming PhD degree.

After finishing my program at UGA, I am currently starting my Microbial Biology PhD program at Rutgers University in New Brunswick!

Cristian Sanlatte Reyes

The 2021-2022 PREP@UGA scholars are in their first year of Graduate School at the following Institutions:

University of Georgia – ILS, Johns Hopkins University, Drexel University, Duke University, Rutgers University, and University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC).

We are extremely proud of our 8th cohort of scholars!

Hello, my name is Magdalena Argomaniz and I was born in Guanajuato, Mexico but raised in Idaho. I graduated from Idaho State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. During my undergraduate career I had a difficult time finding my path, however after taking an immunology course I fell in love with this topic and wished to learn more. After discovering my interest in Immunology, I sought out research experiences to expand my knowledge as well as prepare me to be a scientific researcher. I began with an internship at Idaho State University with Dr. Kinta Serve, her lab focused on the effects asbestos fibers have on immune cells. Specifically, I observed B cell differentiation in response to asbestos exposure. though I learned valuable skills during my time in Dr. Kinta Serve’s lab, I knew I needed to further develop my intellectual and technical capabilities to be competitive for graduate programs. After graduating I applied to the NIH Post Baccalaureate Research Program at the University of Georgia. Currently, I have a position at the University of Georgia in Dr. Chester Joyner’s lab. The Joyner lab conducts research on the parasite Plasmodium vivax, which is a major cause of malaria. The long-term goal of this project is to utilize the Aotus nancymaae model of Plasmodium vivax infection to discover biomarkers of infection and new vaccine candidates for Plasmodium vivax, an important human malaria parasite. My project contributed to this goal by characterizing the antibody response using a protein microarray composed of over 1,000 Plasmodium antigens. My time in the PREP program has prepared me for the challenges that will lie ahead me when I attend graduate school. PREP has allowed me to reach my goals by providing great learning and research opportunities. This program has provided me with a platform to become a biomedical researcher who will produce innovative and collaborative ideas.

Magdalena Argomaniz

My name is Morgan Friedman and I am from the Bay Area in California. I graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder with a B.A. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Since I was young, I have always been interested in questions pertaining to disease and population health, particularly animal health. I initially intended on pursuing a degree of veterinary medicine after graduation however, through my various research and academic experiences, I found that I was more passionate for research than a career in medicine. This revelation came later in my academic career and the change left me with little time to fully develop my skills as a research scientist. However, through PREP, I have been able to build upon my skillset for studying animal health, disease ecology, and parasitology.

Previously, I worked in the Taylor Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder where I studied the Leucocytozoon presence in black flies (Simuliidae) collected in the Colorado Front Range. I was also a member of the field crew which examined the life history and mating of black-capped (Poecile atricapillus) and mountain chickadees (Poecile gambeli). My experience in this lab drove me to continue to explore questions in disease ecology and wildlife health. My time in the Taylor Lab was brief due to my graduation, so I joined PREP shortly after graduating to gain further research experience and prepare for my PhD.

I am currently a member of Dr. Christopher Cleveland’s lab within the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS) at the University of Georgia. There, I am conducting a multi-seasonal survey of ixodid tick biodiversity in Chad, Africa. I am particularly interested in investigating how vector ranges are impacted by ecological change and anthropogenic influence, like land-use change and disturbance. Additionally, I work on projects examining the prevalence of various tick-borne pathogens (i.e., Rickettsia) in vectors and hosts through molecular techniques, such as PCR. I have also had the opportunity to work on a field study of invasive arthropods, further strengthening my diverse research skillset. Thanks to support from PREP and the Cleveland Lab, I have also given several academic talks on my research in progress. Overall, my time at SCWDS under Dr. Cleveland has been an avenue to explore the many aspects of animal health and parasitology and preparation for my transition into a PhD program.  After completing the PREP program, I will begin my PhD at the University of Georgia with Dr. Cleveland remaining as my PI and mentor.

Morgan Friedman

Hey, my name is Nathan Gravel. I grew up in Naperville Illinois. I attended Iowa State and have undergraduate degrees in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology and also in Genetics. I always had an affinity for computers but my passion lies in biology. On top of that, there are some many questions in biology that could be more efficiently solved with the aid of computers. When applying my passions, my main goal is to incorporate computer science into every biology lab. My background has taught me to enjoy working with scientists that view the world differently. The PREP program gave me the opportunity to work with scientists of differing  backgrounds and diverse thinkers. I feel like some problems in science need “outside of the box thinking” to solve. UGA PREP also gave me time to think about my career path. Coming into this program I wasn’t aware if academia was right for me. I grew up with some learning disabilities. Because of this, school was always a giant hurdle for me and I never really got the best grades. So when I say that I was hesitant to dive head first into upper level education, I mean it. PREP really did give me a lot of help in making me feel confident in knowing what I was getting into. I now have a great understanding of the inner workings of graduate school that I was not taught during my time as an undergrad.

My previous work has been in entomology and creating novel pipelines with transcriptomics data. We used statistical modeling to assemble transcriptomes in a high throughput manner. This was mostly done in a dry lab and really got me interested with research in bioinformatics. The main goal of the lab was to apply statistics in a biology setting.

I also work in a plant pathology lab that specializes in post translational modification with mass spectrometry. This was where I spent some time in a wet lab environment. The goal of the lab was to apply arabidopsis biochemical pathway to maize. This is where I got to work on my own projects and I enjoyed the freedom that came with working in a research lab.

I currently work in Dr. Kannan’s lab at UGA. His lab specializes in using computational tools to explore kinases across species. I personally create evolutionary tools to aid in finding relationships among different kinases throughout the tree of life. We utilize computational tools ranging from machine learning to molecular dynamics to achieve our goals. This lab really gives me the opportunity to work with all types of scientists. I really like the environment in lab and at UGA and I feel like it gives me everything I need to thrive.

Nathan Gravel

Hello, my name is Ariana Jimenez and I graduated from Oglethorpe University with a B.S. in Biology.

When beginning my undergraduate career in Biology, I knew that I wanted to help people and thought becoming a physician was the best way to accomplish this goal. I later learned that no matter what task you perform, in some way you are helping people. My academic advisor and later laboratory mentor Dr. Alford showed me that performing research helps answer bigger questions that can be applied to multiple different fields. My interest in research started in the Genetic Engineering course I took junior year where Dr. Alford incorporated her research into the lab portion of the course. From this experience I grew more curious of the possibilities of research and worked in her lab full time the following summer and throughout my senior year where I studied the structure and function of ciliary assembly through techniques such as immunoblotting and immunofluorescence microscopy. At the close of the summer, I decided I wanted to pursue my PhD in the biological sciences because I found joy in the challenges and support that come with lab work. My overarching research interest is to continue asking molecular and cellular questions and apply the findings wherever necessary. Although the lab life may seem like an endless cycle of the same steps day-to-day to onlookers, in the lab each day was different, and this notion is what motivated me to continue forward with pursuing a PhD with the long-term goal of establishing my own lab in an academia setting.

I joined the PREP@UGA program to gain additional research experience as well as broaden the scope of my research interests. I feel as though I just scratched the surface of my potential during my undergrad and hope that during my time here at UGA I will gain the skills and knowledge necessary to make me a competitive graduate school applicant and a well-rounded scientist.

I am currently working in the lab of Dr. Melinda Brindley under the mentorship of a 5th year graduate student Marissa Acciani. My primary project focuses on investigating the role of cellular flippases in Ebola virus entry through using techniques such as basic tissue cell culture, flow cytometry, and end-point dilution assays.



Ariana Jimenez

My name is Ela Mitchell and I was born in Jamaica, but raised in Brooklyn, New York. I attended Cornell University where I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Society.

I started my research in the social sciences, with a strong interest in biological and evolutionary anthropology. In high school I loved learning about species adaptation in humans and hominids. As my interest in species adaptation grew deeper and more specific, a mentor helped me realize that genetics and the factors that govern gene expression was where my true interest lay.

Since then I’ve worked in a variety of labs studying genetics and genomics. I started in Dr. Darell Killian’s lab at Colorado College, looking at the role of post-transcriptional gene regulation in dendrite morphogenesis. I then did an REU at the University of Georgia and worked in Dr. Michael Tern’s Lab looking at CRISPR, an adaptive immune system seen in prokaryotes. CRISPR is also a powerful and precise genome-editing tool. I completed another REU at the University of Utah with Dr. Tom Lane studying disease progression in preclinical mouse models of multiple sclerosis. At Cornell, I worked with Dr. Mariana Wolfer looking at the genes that contribute to egg activation in drosophila.

During my senior year of college I helped coordinate Cornell University’s hackathon, a 36 hour non-stop event where undergraduate students gather to create novel mechanical or app designs that address real-word issues, from environmental sustainability to disparities in health care access. During this event I got to see the potential that machine learning would have in both medicine and research. I wanted to learn more about the technology industry and upon graduation I worked at a recruiting startup that built algorithms to rid the industry of discrimination and bring equity to the hiring process.

While deeply passionate about research, I am equally passionate about medicine. I ping-ponged between either for a career until I discovered MD-PhD programs. I am excited to be a PREP participant because it will help me develop my skills to be a more competitive applicant for MD-PhD programs. I look forward to a rewarding career as a physician scientist one day.

Ela Mitchell

Hi, my name is Luis A. Rodríguez Rodríguez. I grew up in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico and went to the University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo Campus. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in sciences with a concentration in Microbiology.

It was not until I was in high school that I realized my real interests. In these years, I took the general biology and chemistry courses, where through laboratories and activities, I fell in love with science. Also, I found it curious that beyond the biological macro perspective, where we observe everything with the naked eye, the entire planet is also home to microorganisms, which plays an essential role in nature and the organisms that inhabit it. These let me to develop an interest in the microbiology field. My bachelor’s in microbiology allowed me to learn and explore about different topics related to microbiology. Still, it was not until I took the courses of immunology and molecular biology that I began to show interest in learning more about host-pathogen interactions and infectious diseases. At the same time, my research interest arose after taking these courses’ laboratories, where I discovered a particular interest in biomedical science research.

Despite having participated in research projects during my undergraduate studies, I did not have the opportunity to research biomedical sciences, specifically in host-pathogens interactions and infectious diseases, thus I applied to the NIH-PREP at University of Georgia to acquire more experience and training in research before applying to a graduate program. What grabbed my attention to this program is that it offers training in infectious diseases research, which has allowed me to receive research training in a laboratory aligned with my research interests.

As a PREP@UGA scholar, I joined the Dr. Daniela Rajao and Dr. Daniel Perez Laboratory at the Poultry Diagnosis and Research Center. I worked with my research mentor, Dr. Joaquin Caceres, and an undergraduate research assistant, Claire Gay on the develop or improve methods for controlling influenza viruses.  My main focus is related to the development of Live Attenuated Influenza Virus (LAIV) vaccine platforms against H9N2 IAVs using the reverse genetic approach. H9N2 IAVs cause economic loss to the poultry industry, and due to their zoonotic potential, the World Health Organization places H9N2 among those with pandemic potential. My project’s objective is to evaluate the feasibility of developing a LAIV vaccine for H9N2 IAV by employing genomic rearrangements. In this project, I have used laboratory techniques such as Cell Culture Preparation, Plasmid Cloning, Reverse Genetic Transfection, Hemagglutination Assays, Reverse Transcript-PCR, Real Time-PCR, Sanger Sequencing, Luciferase Polymerase Assays, Viral Serial Passages, among others. Throughout my time in the Rajao/Perez Lab, I began learning the foundations needed to perform molecular biology and virology research. Beyond research experience, the PREP@UGA helped me develop skills such as project management, independence, time management, scientific maturity and good communication.

I aspire to obtain a doctoral degree to become a professor and leader investigator focused on elucidating crucial host-pathogen interactions for the development of novel antimicrobial treatments. After a PhD, I want to pursue post-doctoral training to enhance my training and acquire the skills necessary to excel in academia. As a mentor, being part of the Latinx community, one of my goals is to promote STEM careers in disadvantaged communities by establishing links with the National Institute of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) to encourage diversity in Biomedical Sciences programs.

Luis A. Rodríguez Rodríguez

Hello, my name is Fredejah and I was born in St. Croix, U.S.V.I. I attended undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke where I obtained my Bachelor’s in the Science of Biology. I was a part of the NIH’s RISE program during undergrad for about 2 years, upon graduation I was accepted into the NIH’s PREP program here at UGA. I have been a PREP scholar for going on 2 years now and I am currently conducting research in the Center for Vaccines and Immunology in the Jarrod Mousa lab. I am working to characterize human monoclonal antibodies against a highly conserved surface protein of S. pneumoniae, the pneumococcal histidine triad D (PhtD). Specifically, I mapped the epitopes targeted by each human antibody by cloning and recombinantly expressing truncated fragments of PhtD, which were used in ELISA assays to determine antibody binding. I determined the serotype breadth of the human mAbs by conducting western blots and ELISA assays with fixed bacteria and probed with each mAb to assess binding. In addition, we are assessing the therapeutic efficacy of the human antibodies in a mouse model of pneumococcal infection. As part of this project, I have carried out experiments that involve gene cloning, ELISA, PCR, protein expression and purification, size exclusion chromatography, whole cell ELISAs, western blots, and mouse studies. These studies will enable us to understand the mechanism by which human antibodies target this surface protein in efforts to create broadly reactive antibody therapeutics. I plan to further my education by joining a PhD program in the Fall of 2021. My areas of interest are Immunology, Bacterial pathogenesis, host-pathogen interactions, Virology, and Microbiology.


Hello, my name is Blake Vilchez. I was born in Lima, Peru and moved to Texas in 2004. While growing up, I began to develop an interest in infectious disease after reading about Dr. John Snow and the cholera epidemic in London in a kids’ science magazine. This interest stayed with me and led me to attend New Mexico State University where I graduated with a B.S. in Microbiology in December 2018. In my undergrad at New Mexico State University, I joined Dr. Geoffrey Smith’s lab where I worked on developing a technique for sterilizing the surface of ancient halite crystals. The long-term goal of the experiment was to study equally ancient halobacterium in liquid inclusion within the crystals. We did not want to damage any bacteria within the crystal but needed to ensure that modern bacteria dwelling on the surface would not contaminate our sample. By being able to look at ancient bacteria we would be able to learn more about how they have evolved over time. I was also able to learn much more about viruses and bacteria through passionate professors and focus my interest to zoonotic viruses. As my research experience drew to a close, I knew that I wanted to focus on infectious disease, and I wanted to acquire research experience on the field before applying to a graduate program. On my search for research opportunities, I came across the PREP@UGA program funded by the NIH. This post-baccalaureate research program at the University of Georgia, allowed me to come in contact with investigators working with infectious diseases of zoonotic potential and I joined the Rajão/Perez Lab located at the Poultry Diagnostic and Research Center (PDRC). The lab focuses on avian, human and swine influenza research and is led by Dr. Daniel Perez and Dr. Daniela Rajão.

During my time at the lab, I have been working under the direction of Dr. Stivalis Cardenas Garcia, the Assistant Research Scientist at the lab. During the first months, I was trained on basic laboratory techniques related to infectious diseases and molecular biology. Later on, my mentor assigned me the task of developing a live attenuated avian influenza virus of H7N3 subtype for its potential use as a vaccine against highly pathogenic avian influenza H7N3 in poultry. The main goal of this project is to generate a live attenuated vaccine with impaired ability to replicate in the lower respiratory tract of birds and with impaired reassortment potential. My job here has been to generate a plasmid containing temperature sensitive mutations adopted from other viruses developed at the lab, virus rescue and stock preparation. I am currently rescuing two more viruses with the same features but expressing H7-Hemagglutinin and N3-Neuraminidase of different origin. In the upcoming months I will conduct in vitro characterization to test their suitability to move to in vivo studies. Through this project I have learned several molecular virology techniques such as molecular cloning, enzymatic digestion, dephosphorylation, DNA purification, transformation, PCR, virus propagation in eggs and cell culture, hemagglutination assays, titration of virus stocks in cells and eggs, maintenance of cell lines, and necropsies.

My goal is to enter a PhD program that will allow me to focus on the study of zoonotic viruses and their mechanisms of adaptation to the human population and interspecies transmission. With this I hope to contribute to the understanding about the emergence of diseases causing epidemic or pandemic episodes around the world. Later on, I would like to pursue a carrier in biosecurity working for the federal government using my skills and knowledge to aid in disease prevention and control.

Blake Vilchez

The 2020-2021 PREP@UGA scholars are in their second year of Graduate School at the following Institutions:

University of Georgia – ILS, University of Georgia – CBS, UT Southwestern, University of Iowa, University of California – Davis, and Johns Hopkins University.

We are extremely proud of our 7th cohort of scholars!

I’m a graduate PhD student here at UGA after having matriculated through the ILS program. I’ve joined Dr. Claire de La Serre’s gastrointestinal neurophysiology lab in the department of nutrition as a microbiology student. Currently, my project focuses on how reconstruction of the vagus nerve can influence or rectify over-eating patterns. Grad school has been treating me well, I’m very blessed to be here and to be learning about the concepts specifically related to the future I envision for myself.

Jillian Allen

Hello, my name is Morgan Barkley. I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia.  When I started as a biology major at Clark Atlanta University, I thought becoming a physician was the only way I could apply my scientific knowledge. However, I met my Microbiology professor and mentor, Dr. David Logan. He was the first person to introduce me to the research world and explain the importance of it. Participating in the microbiology wet lab, exposed me to scientific inquiry that sparked my curiosity for specific subjects. After the microbiology course, Dr. Logan continued to push me to pursue the research experience.  Towards the end of my junior year, I applied to UGA Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Summer Program. I accepted the invitation for UGA REU program with the aim of gaining experience, conducting research and further develop my lab skills. I spent the summer working in Dr. David Garfinkel’s lab, which focuses on the mechanism of Ty1 element retrotransposition and copy number control (CNC) in the budding yeast Saccharomyces (S.cerevisiae). With his guidance I explored the prevalence and variation of CNC in six haploid derivatives of domesticated and wild S. cerevisiae strains from Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, as well as the S288c reference strain. This experience ignited my interest in research to thrive. A year later, I graduated from Clark Atlanta University with a Bachelor of Science degree and a handful of research experience. The next step would be graduate school. Before entering graduate school, I decided to apply to the PREP@UGA scholar post baccalaureate program because I wanted to gain more research experience and become prepared for the challenges of graduate school. While in PREP@UGA I decided to gain research experience in Dr. Jarrod Call’s lab. Working close with my mentors gave me a better understanding of atrophy in muscle fibers and how certain complexes in the mitochondria affect respiration rates. These experiences gave me the confidence to keep pursuing research. After completing the PREP@UGA program, I was accepted into Graduate Biomedical Sciences program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Currently, I am a PhD student in the Cell, Molecular & Developmental Biology theme. I recently just joined Dr. Andrew Pickering’s lab, which focuses on investigating the role of proteostasis in aging and neurodegenerative disease. My current project focuses on understanding the role of TXNIP and the influence it has on organism’s lifespan. Grad school is very challenging, but my past experiences have taught me how to embrace these challenges without fear.

Morgan Barkley

Kailene is currently attending Mercer University.

Kailene Richbow Dozier

My name is Sarah Dysinger, and I attend the University of Pennsylvania. I’m in the Microbiology, Virology, and Parasitology group in the Cell and Molecular Biology program within the Biomedical Graduate School at the University of Pennsylvania. I just completed my first rotation working on a COVID project. My next rotation starts in January.

Sarah Dysinger

My name is Ayush Kumar and I was born in the Fiji Islands and immigrated to the United States when I was five to the state of Oregon. In order to broaden my scope of awareness in research, I applied and was accepted to the NSF REU “Exploring the Anthropocene” at the Great Rivers Field Station and received mentorship from Dr. Colaninno-Meeks and Dr. Chick. The goal of the research was to use ecological and archaeological datasets to understand how anthropogenic factors affect water quality and fish communities. I spent the majority of my time on large fishing boats on the Mississippi River electrofishing and collecting water quality samples. My goal was to analyze and relate species richness to various chemical concentrations in locations along the river. Ultimately, we wanted to gauge how population distribution changed over time due to pollution, hydrologic dams, and levees. This experience was formative for me because I gained experience with population health and wildlife management and also field and laboratory work, including working with live wild organisms and performing quantitative analysis with large data sets. I was also able to present my research at the Mississippi River Research Consortium on how water quality has affected fish communities since the Clean Water Act, further developing my public speaking and communication skills. As a biology major at a small liberal arts college, I had limited options for research on campus. To gain research experience, I interned at the Oregon National Primate Center (ONPRC) in the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute (VGTI) where I developed my technical skills and virology knowledge. Working alongside postdoctoral associate, Dr. Travis Whitmer, I learned about HIV’s ability to evade detection by T-Helper Cells, which typically detect invaders using their MHC Class I proteins. The main goal of the project was to use HCMV as a vector to express foreign antigens (HIV/TB), which generates novel T cell responses that are protective against their corresponding diseases. We were able to look at the closely related rhesus macaque CMV and test these different constructs in vivo to see how the primate immune system responds. Thus, this would ideally provide us with an idea of how a human test subject would respond to HCMV. I was responsible for the molecular portion of the project: cloning, conducting RT PCR, examining DNA segments virtually, and checking the accuracy of the clones for further use in future experiments. My role in the project allowed me to develop technical skills in sequencing and cloning. As a result, I became interested in virology and disease ecology due to my mentorship with Dr. Whitmer, which further initiated my desire for graduate school. Education: Concordia University, Honors Program, Major: Biology, Minor(s): Psychology and Spanish Description: In August 2018, I started working at the UGA Poultry Diagnostic and Research Center in the Rajao/Perez Lab. In the beginning I was trained in basic lab techniques and I was able to work with a graduate student, Brittany Seibert and my mentor Dr. Cardenas Garcia. With the exceptional mentorship, I was able expand my knowledge about influenza A and B and learn techniques associated with Reverse Genetics and vaccine development. Influenza A (IAV) and Influenza B (IBV) are enveloped viruses with a negative-sense, segmented, single-stranded RNA genome, with eight viral RNA (vRNA) segments. For my project, I primarily worked with influenza B, which can cause outbreaks of seasonal flu and can be just as severe as Influenza A. Influenza B was only known to infect humans (mainly adolescents, school children, and geriatric patients) and comprises up to 20-30% of infections. Influenza B also evolves slower than Influenza A viruses. It has been reported that this virus can infect pigs (Ran, et al., 2015).
Research: In this project, I worked with Influenza B/Brisbane, which was isolated in Australia in 2008. So the major goal is to evaluate to which extent to use swine polymerase I promoter (spolI) with the B/Bris virus. Why do we want to test the spoll? The reason we want to test this is because pol I promoters are species specific and we want to determine if this reverse genetics systems carrying the spoll promoters will be more efficient than hpolI. We also want to assess the viability of a reverse genetics vector carrying the spolI promoter to rescue recombinant IBVs in swine and human origin cells.
We investigated the viability of reverse genetics plasmid vectors containing the swine pol I promoter (spoll) and B/Brisbane/60/2008 (B/Bris) influenza virus, and their capability for virus rescue in HEK293T/MDCK or PK-15/MDCK co-cultures. These viruses are derived from full length cDNA of the influenza viral gene segments. Therefore, with the ability to generate recombinant viruses that have mutations in the viral genome, we can identify the viral and host factors that contribute to influenza pathogenesis, transmissibility, host-range, host/pathogen interactions and restrictions, and virulence. First, we subcloned all eight gene segments from B/Bris into a reverse genetics vector containing the spoll, giving origin to eight plasmids, each one containing a gene segment. Then, we assessed the viability of the newly generated plasmids by transfecting HEK293T/MDCK co-cultures using the 7+1 method (seven plasmids known to function properly and one plasmid containing the gene of interest and the spoll). The project allowed us to understand the potential of spoll for in vivo IV reverse genetics in swine models.
Future: After completing the PREP@UGA program, I will be attending Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Program. My plan after receiving my DVM is to continue on in a PhD program and pursue my interest in Laboratory Animal Medicine. For me PREP@UGA was a steppingstone towards gaining experience in research and understanding the expectations that graduate schools have. Thus, PREP@UGA provided me with exceptional research opportunities, mentorship, and support for my future.

Ayush Kumar

Fredejah is currently a PREP Scholar in Dr. Jarrod Mousa’s lab.

Jewel is currently attending the University of Maryland.

The 2019-2020 PREP@UGA scholars are attending the following graduate programs:

University of Georgia, University of Alabama, Birmingham, University of Pennsylvania, Mercer University, University of Guelph, and the University of Maryland

We are extremely proud of our 6th cohort of scholars!

Hello, my name is Aws Ahmed. I attended the University of Texas at El Paso, where I graduated with a Biomedical science degree. Growing up in Iraq, I did not know anything about research. For decades, Iraqi universities have been denied the freedom to do research as well as free access to information necessary to be a successful researcher. I discovered research in my junior year here in the United States when my TA from microbiology lab saw my passion for science and my ability in the lab. He invited me to do research with him in Dr.Sun’s lab in the University of Texas at El Paso. My primary interest was on how bacterial pathogens cause diseases. I studied Mycobacterium tuberculosis ESX-1 secreted proteins.

My previous experience in M. tuberculosis led me a new opportunity working with a post-doctoral researcher in Dr. Spencer’s lab. This focus has been on the intracellular pathogen Francisella tularensis. My interest towards research was nurtured and developed by these two experiences, thus I sought additional training before applying to MD-PhD programs to gain more research experience along with professional development and coursework to prepare for professional school. I chose to become part of PREP@UGA because of the diversity of faculty mentors offered to its scholars, and the quality of research UGA creates.

Here at UGA, I am working in the lab of Dr. Lohitash Karumbaiah under the mentorship of a post-doctoral associate, Dr. Charles-Francois Latchoumane in the regenerative bioscience center. I study Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in vitro and vivo. CNS deficits are limited in their ability to effectuate long-term repair, I am working on previously developed glycomaterials for stem cell transplantation, and trophic factor enrichment after moderate TBI. Also, I been working of various tissue clearing techniques applied on rat brains with a focus on molecular/cellular staining and imaging of large samples. This last experience brought me an even more diverse skill set, a more constructed vision of what can be done and what I could do in the future in the field of scientific research. I now truly respect the impact of basic and translational research on the medical field and I am confident that as an aspiring PhD/MD-PhD I will be able to make a significant contribution.

Aws Ahmed

My name is Kristen Dominguez and I am from Miami, Florida. I double majored in Psychology and Biology at Florida International University, where I first discovered my passion to become a research scientist.

Originally, I was a pre-medical student, thinking I was destined to become a physician my whole life; that is, until I met my undergraduate research mentor during my fourth year, Dr. Evelyn Gaiser. Throughout my experience in her lab studying phytoplankton dynamics, I became enamored with the research process and presented at my first conference. It was here that I met a diverse and international group of passionate scientists that completely opened my eyes to the field of becoming a research scientist. I tackled on a fifth year of study to obtain the Biology degree and during that time took courses such as Parasitology, Virology, and Ecology. I was hooked.

These experiences led me to understand how little I knew about the field of researching infectious diseases. This is why I am here now in the PREP@UGA program. This program offers me exactly what I was looking for – an interdisciplinary training in infectious research. There simply was not another program that gave me the option to work with such a diverse array of faculty conducting infectious disease research. PREP@UGA not only gives me more research experience in my field of interest, but also gives me the opportunity to attend and present at conferences, develop as a professional, and take coursework to prepare for graduate school.

Currently, I am in Dr. Michael Yabsley’s lab studying related native and invasive tick phylogenetics and molecular techniques, as well as screening for a target bacterium, Rickettsia. The invasive tick, Haemaphysalis longicornis, has recently become established in several states throughout the eastern US. This tick is especially concerning due to its ability to reproduce parthenogenetically, feed on a diverse host range with higher burdens, and transmit a large number of pathogens. Because there are now four Haemaphysalis species in the New World, we are developing a restriction fragment length polymorphism assay utilizing two gene targets in order to have a more rapid and cost-effective method for confirming the presence of the invasive tick. In addition, I have also been screening the invasive tick for Rickettsia. Due to the array of Rickettsia species that inhabit ticks, both pathogenic and endosymbiotic, it is important to understand their degree of diversity. This allows for better prediction of bacteria transmission and maintenance across multiple tick species and their hosts. I have also taken up a side project to survey the Rickettsia communities within hispid cotton rats in Georgia. This will be a descriptive study to further determine the maintenance ability of this bacteria.

For these projects, I am given the opportunity to gain skills in molecular biology (including PCR), basic bioinformatics (using Geneious, MEGA, and R studio software to create phylogenetic trees, map modeling, etc.), fieldwork (trapping animals to collect ticks and cotton rat samples), and necropsy techniques (to obtain cotton rat spleen samples).

This year at PREP@UGA will more than prepare me to begin a Ph.D. program in infectious diseases. From there, I will begin a post-doctoral training position to continue in an academia or industry position.

Kristen Dominguez

My name is Ayush Kumar and I was born in the Fiji Islands and immigrated to the United States when I was five to the state of Oregon. My interest in science began in primary school with ecology. In college, I participated in an NSF REU where I was able to work with native and invasive species, which further stimulated my interest in animal studies and research. During my senior of college I became interested in zoonotic diseases after interning for my senior practicum at the Oregon National Primate Center. Thus, participating in the PREP@UGA was the perfect opportunity to gain experience in infectious disease research and gain the much needed mentor-ship.

Education: Concordia University, Honors Program, Major: Biology, Minor(s): Psychology and Spanish

Description: I arrived to the PDRC Laboratory from Portland, OR, and I have been working at the lab since August 2018. Currently, I am conducting research and learning the techniques associated with Reverse Genetics and adjusting to the lab environment before pursuing graduate education.

Research: Currently, I have been part of several vaccine studies that involve animal work with ferrets, quail, chickens, and ducks. The main project I am working on in the Perez Lab involves primer design and construction of virtual clones for B/Brisbane/138/2008 Influenza B virus. The unique aspect of this study is that the gene segments for this virus are cloned into a plasmid that contains a Swine Pol I Promoter. After completing this part of the project, I began testing these plasmid preps for viability through reverse genetics. Currently, my mentor has been teaching me the process of reverse genetics and how to check for viability of the plasmid preps that I have made. Furthermore, I am involved in testing the Swine Pol I Promoter as well within this virus and understand its viability within 293T cells and MDCK cells.

Future Goals: After completing this program, I want to pursue my interest in zoonotic diseases, and thus, I plan to attend graduate school for a Ph.D. and later on a Veterinary Medical School for a DVM.

Activities (I don’t know if this part is necessary): As a native Oregonian, I enjoy hiking and running. My other interests include traveling and learning more about other cultures and languages.

Ayush Kumar

Hello, my name is Ian Liyayi and I was born in Nairobi, Kenya. I moved to Maryland in 2008. I attended Stevenson University (SU) where I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Science in Biochemistry.

During my undergraduate career, I explored different research fields to determine the path that best fit my interests. My first research experience at SU involved quantifying concentrations of ions in water from the Chesapeake Bay. I developed basic research skills and learned advanced techniques such as ion chromatography. Following this experience, I participated in a National Science Foundation funded research program, Research Experiences for Undergraduates, where I had the opportunity to conduct research throughout the summer at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. There, I was part of a drug discovery project involving a transcriptional activator, VirF, that regulates the virulence of intracellular pathogen, Shigella flexneri. I worked on mutating the virf gene in order to isolate the DNA binding domain. I was able to isolate the and express the truncated domain. The long-term goal was to obtain a crystal structure of the DNA binding domain and probe interactions with a lead compound discovered beforehand. This research experience was instrumental in my decision to pursue a doctoral degree.

Near the end of my undergraduate program, I knew that I wanted to pursue a doctoral degree, but I did not feel quite ready. I wanted to strengthen my research and communication skills and develop as an independent scientist. I found out about the Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) through one of my mentors. PREP seemed like the perfect stepping stone to graduate school.

My time at PREP has been fantastic. I joined Dr. Fikri Avci’s lab in the Center for Molecular Medicine. My current project involves examining a glycan structure found on the surface of the bacterium, Streptococcus pneumoniae. I am working to characterize this glycan and test it for immunogenic properties. I am also probing the presence of this glycan in different strains of S. pneumoniae. I’m excited to be expanding my experiences beyond bacteriology and delve into immunology and glycobiology. I am also enjoying the lab dynamic and learning from my lab mates. This experience is helping me improve my lab skills and my ability to read, write, and discuss science, making me confident I’m ready for the next step in my scientific career.

Ian Liyayi

Hello, my name is Roseanne Davila-Rivera. I was born and raised in San Sebastian, a beautiful town of Puerto Rico. When I started my Biology Major at the University of Puerto Rico at Aguadilla, I thought the best way to apply my scientific accomplishments was to become a physician. Then I met my Honors Chemistry professor, mentor, and advisor, Dr. Ruiz-Martinez. He was the first person to point out to me that there is no better way to understand and explain biological phenomena than through chemistry. Later, as a junior, I began to understand what he was saying when I took a biochemistry course with Dr. Nieves-Marrero. I was fascinated with understanding of how life works at the molecular level, the chemical interactions that make life possible, and the fact that all living beings share the same composition: carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids, and, my personal favorite, proteins. My motto is “Proteins have no life, but they make life possible.” From the hemoglobin that carries O2 to our body to the polymerase that replicates DNA to the telomerase that protects our genetic material, proteins carry out critical functions in all living systems. When proteins are folded accurately, they function appropriately, but as little as a single amino acid change can lead to devastating disease, affecting quality of life.
One of the most meaningful experiences in college and a major reason I am motivated to pursue a career in science was volunteering in Splendor Home, a residential home for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. That experience completely changed my perspective on life. It was very hard to understand how people could forget their most precious memories and entirely lose their independence. I felt that patient care was not enough. I wanted to do something more fundamental that could ultimately improve the quality of life of Alzheimer’s disease patients.
PREP@UGA has been a catalyst in my journey to define my career goals. It has given me the time and space to ask myself a very important question. Should I become a physician who diagnoses conditions and prescribes treatments for a limited number of patients? Or a scientist who develops the knowledge to understand biological function and dysfunction, which can ultimately be used to improve the quality of life of millions of people? I aspire to become a scientist and work for the beauty of science, hoping that someday my discoveries could benefit humanity.
I joined the lab of Dr. Shelley Hooks at the Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences Department, where I worked with my research mentor, Membere Yisfashewa Wendimu. The lab is investigating the role of the Regulator of G-protein Signaling 10 (RGS10) in neuroinflammation. The classic role of RGS10 is to regulate the duration and amplitude of G-protein signaling through their ability to function as GTPase-activating protein. RGS10 accelerate the deactivation of G-protein by increasing the rate of GTP hydrolysis. However, previous studies have shown that this protein can also have G-protein independent effects. RGS10 is highly expressed in the brain and immune tissues, and is specially enriched in microglia, which are the resident macrophages of the central nervous system. I worked in the identification of RGS10 binding proteins in microglia and neurons through co-immunoprecipitation experiments. In both cell lines, I identified a binding between RGS10 and Syntaxin-5, a protein involved in the endoplasmic reticulum to Golgi complex transport. Since I identified an interaction between these proteins, I am planning to look for physiologic implications silencing the transcription of Syntaxin-5 in wild type and RGS10 knockout cells.
I plan to pursue a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at University of Pennsylvania with the aim of understanding protein structure and function, especially the role of protein misfolding in neurodegeneration. I believe that understanding the causes of diseases at the molecular level can lead to the development of effective treatments and ways to lessen and event prevent disease. After graduate school, one of my goals is to conduct postdoctoral research in one of the national Alzheimer’s Disease Centers (ADC) or in the National Institute on Aging and pursue a career in academia.

Roseanne Davila-Rivera

My name is Jilarie A. Santos Santiago and I am originally from Carolina, Puerto Rico. I attended the University of Puerto Rico, Humacao campus where I obtained my bachelor’s degree in General Biology.

Since I was little I was a curious about everything. I always asked “too many” questions and wanted to know what happened inside animals, cells or inanimate objects. During my time in high school I decided that the ideal profession for me was to be a physician. As an undergraduate student, I started looking for extracurricular opportunities that would help me become familiar with the environment in hospitals. I joined the Pathology Laboratory at the Veteran Affairs Hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico. There, I learned about tissues, histology and the importance of understanding cellular and molecular events in decision making from physicians, but also discovered a professional career more aligned with my innate curiosity, research. That was the first experience that led me to conclude that research was the ideal career for me. Is the profession that will allow me to go from one question to another. Is the perfect environment to contribute knowledge to society and making cutting edge discoveries.

The area of research that I am most interested include infectious diseases related to the microbiome and the host-pathogen interaction in the gut.

By the time I graduated, I was sure I wanted to pursue a PhD, but I felt I did not have enough research experience. I wanted to be immersed in the environment to which I wanted to commit in the long term. To have the opportunity to be part of the development of a project and to continue developing my critical thinking and decision making skills. I was looking for a program that would help me strengthen my base as a scientist. The PREP@UGA provided me with all these opportunities. In addition to this, it is an excellent program to discover your interests and have a smoother transition to graduate school.

Communication is one of the most important features of the scientific community. Communicating your results and research effectively is crucial. I hope to get from PREP@UGA the necessary tools to share my effectively to scientific and non-scientific communities.

This year I will be in the laboratory of Dr. Steve Hajduk and my mentor will be Dr. Michael Cipriano.

In Dr. Hajduk’s lab we work on Trypanosoma brucei, a protozoan parasite that infects mammals. Subspecies of T. brucei, like T. brucei gambiense and T. brucei rhodesiense, cause human Trypanosomiasis, more commonly known as African sleeping sickness. Trypanosoma brucei is the causative agent of Nagana disease in cattle. Various organisms, including bacteria and eukaryotic, including these parasites, produce small membrane bound vesicles, also known as extracellular vesicles (EVs). Proposed roles for EVs include transfer of drug resistance, growth regulation, quorum sensing, immune regulation, developmental regulation and neurotransmission. Trypanosomes are transmitted through the tsetse fly. When these parasites are in the bloodstream of the infected mammal, they differentiate from a proliferative (long-slender) to a non-proliferative (short-stumpy) stage. This differentiation is mediated by SIF, the stumpy induction factor. The identity of SIF is yet to be determined, but recent publications suggest that oligopeptides produced by peptidases can be internalized by long-slender through a transmembrane receptor, and is this internalization that leads to differentiation.

My role in Dr. Hajduk’s laboratory is to determine if EVs play a role in this differentiation. I seek to verify whether EVs carry enzymatically active proteases derived from the parasite that can provide these oligopeptides or if EVs provide the substrate to host-derived proteases.

The techniques I have used include cell culture, nucleic acid isolation and sequencing from parasite derived EVs, molecular cloning, Mass Spectrometry, proteomic analysis, vesicle quantification, among others.

Jilarie A. Santos Santiago

The 2018-2019 PREP@UGA scholars are attending the following graduate programs:

Lincoln Memorial University, University of Virginia, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of South Florida

We are extremely proud of our 5th cohort of scholars!

The 2017-2018 PREP@UGA scholars are attending the following graduate programs: University of Georgia, University of Alabama, Stanford University, Case Western Reserve University, and University of Washington


We are extremely proud of our 4th cohort of scholars!

Who are you?

Hello, my name is Smriti Hoda and I am originally from Kathmandu, Nepal. I attended Saint Anselm College in Manchester NH. where I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in Biochemistry and minored in Neuroscience.

When, how and why did you decide on a career in research?

Growing up I had an innate curiosity and always enjoyed learning new things. It is very difficult to exactly pinpoint…when I initially became interested in science. Because I grew up in the most fertile of times for science; celebrating the completion of the human genome when I was in 2rd grade and listening to the big stem cell hype in 5th grade. Therefore, it was not just one, but rather multiple factors that sparked my interest. Honestly, for me, it felt like a natural progress for my passion of science to blossom as the workings of the world enticed my crave of learning.

However, my research professors- Drs. Vallari and Greguske were the two most amazing driving forces that got me interested to pursue research. Especially in Dr. Vallari’s biochemistry class, I loved unraveling mechanisms and elucidating the molecular entities that mysteriously governed our world.

What general research area are you most interested in?

The research area that I am most interested in is biochemistry and cell biology.

Why did you decide to join a PREP program? And why is PREP@UGA the best program for you?

I have been very keen on getting involved with the practical side of science. My research experience as an undergrad continued to pique my interest and challenge my critical thinking skills as well as foster my passion, and drive for doing research…  Therefore joining the PREP program at UGA was the perfect opportunity for me to continue developing my skills as a researcher. For example, this program has not only helped me become a researcher, but it also allowed me to gain additional analytical and critical skills that are essential for… a young developing scientist.

What do you hope and plan to get out of PREP@UGA?

I hope my year at PREP@UGA will provide me with the basic resources I need to excel in a competitive graduate program.

Who are your research mentor and faculty mentor?

I am spending the year in Dr. Roberto Docampo’s lab with Dr. Teresa Cruz as my research mentor.

What are the objective(s) and hypothesis underlying your project?

In Dr. Docampo’s lab, I work with Trypanosoma cruzi, a protozoan parasite that causes Chagas disease. Symptoms of this disease include cardiomyopathy, megacolon, and death. Although, this disease burdens more than 8 million people and nearly 20 million animals, there still are no… effective vaccines or treatments available for this disease. One of the reason why T. cruzi is the “least well understood and understudied” parasite, is because T. cruzi’s genetic and cellular machinery is difficult to manipulate using conventional techniques such as RNAi, and tetracycline-regulated expression. Recently, Dr. Docampo’s lab has developed a p-Trex-Cas9-n plasmid that effectively and efficiently facilitates genetic manipulation of T. Cruzi without killing the parasite.

Preliminary data and proteomic analysis has shown that zinc cation transporters are over expressed in acidocalcisomes of epimastigotes form of T.cruzi, however, the zinc transporters are not highly expressed in other life stages of T. cruzi.

Hence, my working hypothesis is to determine whether zinc cation transporters are essential for the infective stage of this parasite’s development.

My goal in Dr. Docampo’s lab is to successfully perform endogenous C terminal tagging by utilizing CRISPR/ Cas9 system to localize zinc cation transporters. I plan to tag the zinc transporter with three different tags- 3xHA, cMyc, and GFP- to firmly validate the location of the transporter. Then I will perform a gene knockout of the zinc transporter by CRISPR/Cas 9-mediated homologous recombination in T. cruzi.

Our ultimate goal is to better understand the role of zinc’s metabolic activities in T. Cruzi’s acidocalcisomes.

What laboratory techniques will you use in this project?

Recently, I have just finished constructing a single vector of sgRNA/Cas9/pTREX-n plasmid, and 3xHA C-terminal tagged DNA cassette for homologous recombination.

My next step is to co-transfect T.cruzi epimastigotes with these plasmids by electroporation and examine the results.

My name is Smriti Hoda and I am a PREP @UGA scholar.

Smriti Hoda

Hi, my name is Troy Michael King Jr. I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and raised in Powder Springs, Georgia. I went to college at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma and graduated with a Dual Degree in Biochemistry and Microbiology in the Spring of 2016.

My interest in science began as early as elementary school but more particularly during my 12th grade Biology class where my teacher presented science as a fascinating prospect filled with vast mysteries within our genetic code and the organisms we interacted with.

During my first year at Oklahoma State, I wanted more exposure to science. While researching careers, I found that upper-tier careers in science required an education beyond a bachelor’s. From my ambition to conduct research, I was allotted my first opportunity by a graduate student when I expressed interest in aiding him with his project. This experience further rooted my admiration of science and I continued to grow and evolve over my additional research opportunities.

My current interests involve the study of host-pathogen interactions. I am particularly interested in understanding the mechanisms pathogens possess to evade host immune responses and develop infection.

When looking at long-term prospects, I envision myself as a research professor at an institution where I can mentor students to pursue higher education. Research, to me, is an outlet for my creativity and wonder. A research professor possesses responsibility and integrity in their lab and towards students in their classroom and I plan to become a role model that possesses a fire in my teaching to incite my passion towards others.

I joined PREP because I wanted an opportunity to conduct research in an infectious disease lab where I can explore host-pathogen interactions. Additionally, I wanted to obtain additional laboratory and critical thinking skills that would prepare me for future graduate studies.

PREP@UGA has been a program that focuses on my desire to grow in my writing and oral communication. I love PREP@UGA’s connection with the department of Infectious Diseases because this is the field that most fascinates me. Through PREP@UGA, I have resources such as an Individual Development Plan and presentation feedback forms which aligns with my goal to become further adept in science and achieve my goal to be a principal investigator.

There are several elements I plan to receive from my time in PREP@UGA. First, I hope to increase my scientific literacy to be able to express my ideas to a broad range of individuals. Second, I plan to build a strong foundation for becoming a disciplined and passionate scientist so that I can motivate others to consider a career in an exciting field of science. Lastly, I want to increase my confidence to be an independent component of a lab to be able to form ideas from my experiments that exhibit advancement in the field.

My faculty mentor is Dr. Eric Harvill, and two of his postdocs, Dr. Holly Vuong and Dr. Illiasou Hamidou Soumana, are my research mentors. Together we are addressing questions on the interactions of pathogens and commensal bacteria.

My project is to understand the role of the respiratory microbiota in protecting the host against an invading pathogen. We have two Bordetella species that produce very different results in how they interact with the host microbiota, even though they are genetically very closely related to each other. Bordetella bronchiseptica and Bordetella pertussis. Dr. Harvill’s lab has shown that while B. pertussis, the human pathogen, cannot easily invade into a mouse unless the mouse was given high amounts of the pathogen, B. bronchiseptica very easily infects mice with very low amounts. It appears that B. bronchiseptica can disrupt the nasal microbiota and occupy the nasal cavity, and still be the primary culturable bacteria even after 70 days of the initial infection! I hypothesize that host specificity by Bordetella species can affect their disruption ability and colonization rates in hosts. Because we have such a good mouse model with this, my work will focus on how B. bronchiseptica displaces the nasal microbiota. But to get to the larger picture first, we need to carry out simple, clearly defined competitive experiments in culture to study their interactions and understand the mechanisms behind the disruption before we can move to the actual mouse host

My approach to answering this question involves breaking down the composition of the mouse nasal cavity using 16S rRNA sequencing to identify potential candidates for interaction with Bronchiseptica. I will identify the specific conditions to study clearing in culture. I will also strengthen the growth assay to determine important genes for this clearing mechanism by using mutant RB50 strains that lacks the clearing mechanism mice. In order to further test implications of pertussis clearing of human microbiota, I will manipulate mouse microbiota to acquire the appropriate conditions to test pertussis colonization strategy.

The Harvill Lab has been supportive in helping me develop and expand upon my ideas and the collaborative setting is crucial for my development.

My name is Troy M. King Jr. and I am a PREP@UGA scholar.

Troy Michael King Jr.

Hi, my name is Edwin Pierre Louis. I grew up in Haiti and went to University of Florida where I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and received a minor in Spanish. My immediate goal is to earn a doctoral degree in Biomedical Sciences.

My passion for science began as a young boy while growing up in Haiti. Haiti does not have a vast amount of scientists but my 11th grade professor who was one of the few biochemists in Haiti had a huge impact on me. He inspired me to start questioning basic scientific notions related to chemistry.

I started my quest in United States in search of opportunities. After earning my Bachelor Degree in Biochemistry at UF, I decided to work for the University at the Biotechnology department, which focuses on Gene Therapy and Cell Therapy. My experiences in gene therapy lead to my awareness of CRISPR for its biomedical application and its revolutionized impact in gene-editing platform.

As I was more exposed to cutting-edge research questions, my interest in research continued to grow which guided me towards this career path.

Earning a PhD in biomedical research will advance my skill set in this area and help me bare scientific work on a daily basis.

In the future, I would like to further acquire post-doctoral training before venturing into academia, industry or government institutes as a principal investigator.

I joined the PREP program because of the high quality research the faculty mentors at UGA have, which will help me to grow as an early career researcher.

Dr. Michael Terns is my faculty mentor and Dr. Yunzhou Wei is my research mentor. My research in the Terns lab focuses on investigating the mechanisms that underlie invader DNA acquisitions by a type II A CRISPR-Cas System in Streptococcus thermophilus.

CRISPR-Cas systems are RNA-based immune defense mechanism systems that protect prokaryotes from invaders such as bacterial viruses called phage. During phage infection, short phage sequences are integrated into the bacterial CRISPR loci, then transcribed into small RNA molecules, which further guide the nucleases components to the viral targets to cleave the phage DNA and achieve immunity.

Previous studies have shown that the process of adaptation by a type II-A CRISPR-Cas system in bacteria Streptococcus thermophilus requires four proteins: Cas1, Cas2, Cas9, and Csn2. My research aims to understand the role of each required protein. For this investigation, a genetic approach on the CRISPR adaptation will be taken by sequencing analyses. Furthermore, a biochemical approach will also be considered to reconstitute adaptation via molecular cloning, protein purification and in vitro activity assays.

Bacteria are constantly challenged by infection by their viruses called bacteriophages. Similar to our immune system, bacteria also possess immune defense systems called CRISPR-Cas systems. These systems memorize past virus infections and protect the bacteria from future infections. My project focuses on the molecular mechanism of these systems, specifically how the immunization memory was achieved. For this investigation, I am applying a genetic approach to examine the immunization process with deletions of the required genes. Furthermore, I am also taking a biochemical approach with purified proteins to reconstitute this process.

My name is Edwin Pierre Louis and I am a PREP@UGA scholar.

Edwin Pierre Louis

Hi, my name is Sandra Mendiola. I grew up in Hemingford, Nebraska, and attended Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where I graduated with a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

I first became interested in science after I spent the summer after high school graduation working as a lab technician for the Potato Certification Association of Nebraska (PCAN). As part of PCAN, I collected, identified, and screened potato psyllids for Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum, the bacterium responsible for zebra chip disease in potatoes. Working at PCAN was a catalytic experience for me. Not only did it allow me to explore the world of laboratory science, but it also introduced me to one of my major research interests, the dynamics of vector-borne disease.

Throughout my time at Yale, I became increasingly interested in questions at the intersection of the ecology, epidemiology, and evolution of infectious disease. Although I was able to explore these interests both in the classroom and at the bench, my undergraduate education barely scratched the surface of what I wanted to know.

It was clear that the only way to answer the higher order research questions I was interested in was to pursue a PhD.

However, because I was intrigued by various disciplines, I felt I needed more time to reflect on my research interests before applying to graduate school. PREP@UGA was an ideal program for me to explore my interdisciplinary interest in infectious disease. During my time here, I hope to grow as an independent researcher and enhance my science communication skills in preparation for graduate study and for an eventual career in academic or government research.

At UGA I am working with Dr. David Stallknecht and Dr. Mark Ruder with the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study which is part of the Department of Population Health in the College of Veterinary Medicine. My project is focused on epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), an acute and often fatal viral illness in white tailed deer. EHD is vectored by biting midges of the genus Culicoides.

It is known that EHD infection leads to long-term viremia in deer, however, the amount of time viremic deer remain infectious to midges has yet to be characterized. My project seeks to elucidate temporal variation in host infectivity as measured by infection rates in Culicoides sonorensis, a major vector of EHD in North America. To do this, I will use both traditional virology and PCR techniques to isolate and titrate EHD virus from midges that were fed on experimentally infected deer over the course of viremia. Data obtained from this experiment will help determine the time frame during which midges are most likely to acquire EHD from infected deer and serve as potential vectors. This knowledge will further optimize disease models of EHD by accounting for differences in host infectiousness throughout viremia.

My name is Sandra Mendiola, and I’m a PREP@UGA scholar.

Sandra Mediola

Hi, my name is Belen Molina.

I attended college in my hometown at the University of Arizona, where I graduated with a degree in Ecology & Evolutionary biology with a second major in Molecular & Cellular biology. My journey toward becoming a young scientist started off on an unpredictable path. As a first generation undergraduate student I found myself disoriented and without guidance. During this time I met a wonderful Argentinian woman who would undoubtedly change my life. Her name is Dr. Patricia Stock.

She welcomed me into her lab where I learned how to critically think about my surroundings, ask interesting and important questions and challenge myself to try to find answers. I also found myself captivated by the diversity in her lab. For the very first time during my college career I was working with diverse individuals; people who I feel I can relate to. My peers and mentors shared stories of how they overcame hurdles as minorities to become successful scientists. I realized then that science has no borders and that through science many could have a voice; a progressive impact on others. I knew from that moment on that I wanted to strive to pursue a Ph.D. in science while also contributing my passion to the public.

My excitement for science and community sparked my interest is in microbiology and science policy. I am intrigued by host-pathogen interactions but also find myself passionate about policy and change around the world.

My long term goals are to obtain a PH.D. in microbiology where I can study host-pathogen interactions in neglected diseases. I hope to use this knowledge to become involved in science policy and implement better strategies regarding these diseases in destitute countries, like Latin America.

I decided to join PREP because I wanted to be better equipped for a graduate school. I wanted the guidance and preparation I need to be successful in obtaining my Ph.D. The program has enriched my path toward a doctorate degree and has benefited me professionally. My hope is to hone the skills necessary for answering meaningful questions and also to gain the professional development needed to engage in a collaborative science community.

This year I have the honor of working with a brilliant disease ecologist, Dr. Vanessa Ezenwa, on a project involving a very interesting mouse with regenerative properties in adulthood called the spiny mouse. This mouse is originally from Kenya Africa and in addition to its awesome ability of growing back tissue the mouse also has a high bacteria killing capacity. Previous studies have narrowed down this characteristic to the humoral immune system but the specific element that is contributing the high elimination of bacteria remains a mystery. Preliminary results have already ruled out component proteins as a contributor and it is now my job to find out if lysozymes are at the root of this phenomenon.

My goal in the Ezenwa lab is to find out if the pattern of lysozyme content in the spiny mice match the pattern seen in bacteria killing assays and thus contributes to the high bacteria killing capacity. To test this question I first have to optimize a tubidimetric assay for the use in wild rodents. The assay essentially measures the loss of intensity of transmitted light of a known wavelength due to the particles suspended in it. A measurement is then given for the amount of absorbed light and can be used to find the number of cells in a solution. Once the assay is optimized I can use the data to best interpret if lysozymes are causing this mouse to be especially good at killing bacteria.

This project will allow me to develop skills in experiment design and troubleshooting, as well as, hone molecular techniques like measuring cell counts and monitoring proteins of interest.

My name is Belen Molina and I am a PREP@UGA scholar.

Belen Molina

Hello, my name is Tequila Porter and I am currently a PREP Scholar at the University of Georgia. I am a native of Asheville, North Carolina, and I earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology at Winston Salem State University. Growing up, my first exposure to seeing the possibility of an African American have a career in medicine was from the Cosby show. Since then, I have always found myself curious about how I could have a future career in medicine, and I believe this is when my interest in science truly began. However it was even more inspiring, when I encountered my first African American female Obstetrician sophomore year of college at a conference at Wake Forest University.

My greatest motivation to succeed with my future endeavors and strongest influence is driven from the fact that I lost my mother to a drug overdose at the age of fourteen. From that moment on, I immediately knew I wanted to learn about human physiology and pharmacology so that I could ultimately reach back into my community and help alleviate issues of drug abuse.

During my undergraduate studies, I became interested in studying the body, pharmaceutical design, and drug treatment mechanisms by conducting research. This is when I truly found my passion in life. Because of my limited research experience from my undergraduate university and my fair academic performance in my science courses, I wanted to take the appropriate steps and build a foundation in basic science research skills by applying for and becoming a PREP scholar at the University of Georgia.  At the University of Georgia, I have two mentors; my faculty mentor is Dr. Melissa Davis, who is the principal investigator of the lab I am currently performing research, and my research mentor is Brittany Jenkins, a third year Ph.D. student in Genetics.

Our lab focuses on DARC or Duffy Antigen Receptor for Chemokines, which is an atypical chemokine receptor that binds to two structurally distinct classes of chemokines, CCL- and CXCL-. DARC has two protein isoforms that are differentially expressed in certain cell types depending on genetic ancestry. My project is to investigate expression levels of one isoform in ancestry specific cell lines to determine the binding specificity of the ligand.  In order to do this, I will overexpress one isoform in an ancestry specific cell line and a knockout the other isoform in same line. I will then do a verification process where I will perform, an immunofluorescence and qPCR to validate if certain chemokines are present or not present. I am enjoying the research experience at UGA through the PREP program, and hope to apply the skills I have learned here to a graduate program in the future.

My name is Tequila Porter and I am a PREP@UGA scholar.

Tequila Porter

Hi, my name is Jose Luiz Rodriguez. I grew up in Long Beach, California and attended North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina and graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies. I became interested in the field of science around my junior year in high school. My teachers for chemistry and biology showed me a world that internally motivated me to pursue my new found interest in science.

Once accepted to North Greenville University, my interest towards research was nurtured and developed by the countless professors who dedicated time and knowledge to my time as a student. In particular, one professor, Dr. Dodson, showed me the countless possibilities of research focuses through her courses of Biochemistry, Parasitology, and Advanced Metabolism.

As for my research interests, I am interested in infectious diseases and proteins related to host invasion. Ultimately, my goal as a researcher would be to operate my own clinic and laboratory in cutting edge research for infectious diseases that are poorly funded. In order for me to reach my long term goal, I decided to join PREP@UGA because it was the best path to prepare my future as a graduate student in a top research institute. Prep@UGA is the best program for me due to its focus on the scholars success not only as current post-baccalaureate students, but also in all aspects of professionalism, research, and life as scientist. (As a PREP scholar, I hope and plan to advance my knowledge and skills in all areas of lab research, but also to mature as a scientist in professionalism and conduct.)

During my time at PREP, I will be under the mentorship of Heather Bishop, a fourth year PhD candidate, and my faculty mentor, Dr. Vasant Muralidharan. In our lab we study the deadly malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. This parasite is responsible for almost a million death cases a year, most of them in children and pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a eukaryotic pathogen with a complex life cycle, unknown function that is named GRP170, after its yeast homolog. Despite the challenging genetics of P. falciparum, we took a conditional knockdown approach and inhibit the activity of GRP170 in order to study its biological roles under physiological settings. We found that GRP170 inhibition results in parasite death, indicating that it is essential for parasite viability. We also found that upon GRP170 inhibition, the parasite becomes more sensitive to high temperatures, suggesting that GRP170 is involved in heat shock response. Moreover, gameto-cytogenesis was found to be impaired in the mutants, suggesting that it is involved in sexual development.

We are currently designing tools that will enable us to identify potential molecular partners of GRP170. We hope that this project will shed light on the complex mechanisms of protein trafficking in P.falciparum and will help us not only to better understand the biology of this parasite, but also potentially identify new drug targets.

My name is Jose Rodriguez and I am a PREP@UGA scholar.

Jose Luiz Rodriguez

Hi, my name is Nathalie Carla Thezan. I grew up in Miami, Florida and went to college at Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology.

I first became interested in science while volunteering in Port au Prince, Haiti. I participated in numerous medical missions, but the experience that stood out to me the most was when I witnessed the process of rapid HIV tests. I was astonished by how simply adding the combination of a blood sample and latex reagent to an immunoconcentrated cassette can instantly detect a life-threatening virus. Further investigation led to basic comprehension of the assay of rapid HIV tests, but I wasn’t satisfied; I was still craving to understand the proper science behind it.

I decided on a career in research because I am predominately interested in making a broader impact on the elucidation of infectious disease mechanisms in context of pathogenesis.

I am mostly interested in the association of microbiology, infectious diseases, and public health.

My long-term career goals are utilizing knowledge from my doctoral studies to continue performing research in a governmental or industrial setting. In addition, I plan to construct a non-profit laboratory in Port au Prince, Haiti, where scientists can collaborate and study maladies that affect the native population.

I decided to join the PREP program to fortify my research experience, which will contribute to making me a top candidate as I apply to competitive and prestigious doctoral graduate programs. Being a PREP Scholar has further confirmed that I belong in research.

My faculty mentor is Dr. Vincent Starai and my research mentor is Emily Carpinone. In Dr. Starai’s lab, we identify and biochemically characterize secreted proteins from intracellular bacterial pathogens that are capable of modulating host membrane dynamics. Bacteria from the genus Wolbachia, are considered one of the world’s most common parasitic microbes, as they can survive within the cells of a diverse number of invertebrate species. While it is unknown how Wolbachia persists within its host, it likely uses a set of secreted proteins to ensure its intracellular survival. Using a simple yeast model system to mimic a eukaryotic host cell, we have obtained preliminary data that demonstrates one such protein, called wBm0152, has the ability to alter the normal trafficking of endosomal cargo. My independent project focuses on identifying the molecular targets of wBm0152 in yeast, which are likely conserved in Wolbachia’s nematode host. I hypothesize that Wbm0152 alters eukaryotic membrane traffic in order to ensure Wolbachia endosymbionts persist and disseminate in its natural host. To address my hypothesis, I will use a varied research approach including yeast DNA transformations, florescence microscopy, PCR, and Western blotting. Identification of these molecular targets will provide new information regarding the ability of Wolbachia to alter host physiology.

My name is Nathalie Carla Thezan, and I am a PREP at UGA Scholar.

Nathalie Carla Thezan

The 2016-2017 PREP@UGA scholars are attending the following graduate programs:

Emory University, Purdue University, the University of Arizona, the University of Georgia, the University of Virginia, and the University of Wisconsin

We are extremely proud of our 3rd cohort of scholars!

Who are you?
Hi, my name is Brent Allman. I grew up in San Diego, California and attended the University of San Diego where I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics with a minor in Biology.

How and why did you first become interested in science?

I have always been one to ask questions. Growing up I was fascinated with the natural world and I began to develop interests in biology, recognizing the plethora of unanswered questions for study.

When, how and why did you decide on a career in research?

During my freshman year I immediately began working in a lab. I found the research process both fun and rewarding. Continuing research in the same lab for four years solidified in me the idea that scientific research allows one to contribute to the world’s collective body of knowledge.

What general research area are you most interested in?

At the beginning of my undergraduate career, I quickly realized I had an affinity for mathematics. As my intellectual interests matured, I discovered that mathematics is used as a powerful tool to study biological systems. For this reason, I want to pursue graduate training in quantitative biology so I can master tools in computational biology and bioinformatics.

What are your long-term career goals?

Once I obtain a PhD, I will pursue post-doctoral training in industry or academia to continue developing myself as a successful independent researcher. My ultimate career goal is to become a professor a university that will allow me to both develop coursework and mentor students through research so they may be prepared for an interdisciplinary career path.

Why did you decide to join a PREP program?

I decided to join a PREP program because I did not have the opportunity to pursue interdisciplinary research in my fields of interest during my undergraduate career. Before pursuing quantitative biology at the graduate level, I wanted more concrete experience in the field.

Why is PREP@UGA the best program for you?

PREP@UGA is affiliated with many faculty members that have developed strong interdisciplinary research environments, particularly in quantitative biology.

What do you hope and plan to get out of PREP@UGA?

While at UGA, I will be spending the majority of my time doing research while taking graduate courses and actively participating in seminars and journal clubs. I plan to develop both my wet and dry lab skills so I can be equipped for a variety of laboratory environments in graduate school.

Who are your research mentor and faculty mentor?

My primary faculty mentor is Dr. Jessica Kissinger, and my secondary faculty mentor is Dr. Juan Gutierrez.

What are the objective(s) and hypothesis underlying your project?

My project focuses on the apicomplexan parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Until recently, Toxoplasma gondii was believed to exhibit an almost exclusively clonal population structure. However, Dr. Kissinger and her colleagues analyzed genomes of 62 T. gondii strains and they suggest that their population structure involves more sex across evolutionary time than previously thought.

What laboratory techniques will you use in this project?

I will be creating a mathematical model to quantify how sexual recombination has played a role in the population structure and evolutionary history of the parasite. To do this I will be using genomic data of the 62 Toxoplasma strains to determine regions of the genome that may provide insights to their evolutionary past.

My name is Brent Allman and I am a PREP@UGA scholar. 

Brent Allman

Who are you?

Hi, my name is DeJuana Ford. I grew up in Newnan, Georgia and went to college at the University of Georgia in Athens, where I graduated with a degree in Genetics.

How and why did you first become interested in science?

I have been passionate about science for as long as I can remember, but I became interested in the field of human genetics in particular after my 9th grade biology teacher gave a lecture on how scientists use genetic markers to track human migration patterns.

When, how and why did you decide on a career in research?

For over ten years, my mother has battled systemic Scleroderma, which is an autoimmune disorder. I’ve been actively involved in an organization that provides support to Scleroderma patients. Watching my mother and other patients struggle to overcome the daily obstacles associated with incurable chronic illness inspired me to use my passion for science to explore questions that might improve people’s lives. Working in Dr. Melissa Davis’ lab as an undergraduate further cultivated my passion for the process of research and led me to seek a career in academic research.

What general research area are you most interested in?

I am most interested in the field of human genetics, especially as it relates to the study of autoimmune disease, immunology, and cancer immunology.

What are your long-term career goals?

Ultimately, I aim to have a career that incorporates academic research, teaching, and community outreach. As a researcher, my goal is to gain a better understanding of the genetic and environmental factors which drive the development of autoimmune diseases.

Why did you decide to join a PREP program?

I joined the PREP program, because I was seeking opportunities to gain additional laboratory and research experience and to further enhance my communication skills. These experiences will prepare me to maximize my graduate education and ultimately to be a highly effective independent researcher.

Why is PREP@UGA the best program for you?

PREP@UGA’s focus on infectious diseases has been especially beneficial for me, as I have a variety of opportunities to explore my interest in immunology.

What do you hope and plan to get out of PREP@UGA?

I look forward to gaining excellent mentorship, learning new laboratory techniques, and building upon my scientific knowledge over the course of this year as a PREP@UGA scholar.

Who are your research mentor and faculty mentor?

My faculty mentor is Dr. Melissa Davis in the Department of Genetics.

What are the objective(s) and hypothesis underlying your project and what laboratory techniques will you use in this project?

For the past decade, Dr. Davis has worked to gain a better understanding of the molecular and environmental factors driving tumor aggressiveness and breast cancer survival disparities. My project is focused on understanding the role that insulin-like growth factor pathway genes play in triple-negative breast cancer, which is a breast cancer subtype characterized by aggressive tumors that are unresponsive to hormone-based targeted therapies. Insulin-like growth factors, or IGFs are structurally similar to insulin, but are distinct in that they associate with a set of binding proteins that regulate their activity.

Recent studies have linked breast tumor aggressiveness with increased levels of IGF-II protein expression. Prior to becoming a PREP scholar, I along with other members of the Davis lab, observed that IGFBP6, IGF-II’s preferred binding partner demonstrates distinct patterns of expression and subcellular localization in triple negative breast cells.

Specifically, we noticed that in triple-negative cells, IGFBP6 tends to form aggregates at the edge of the nucleus and co-localize with IGF-II. This is significant, because exclusion of these aggregates from the nucleus could limit IGFBP6’s IGF-II-independent, pro-apoptotic activities within the nucleus. Also, IGF-II’s association with IGFBP6 might be prolonging the half-life of IGF-II, thus promoting cancer cell growth.

To further investigate this pattern, I used RNA interference to reduce IGFBP6 mRNA expression in cells derived from triple-negative tumors. To accomplish this, I extracted RNA from triple-negative breast cells and used cDNA synthesis, PCR, and finally, a transcription reaction to synthesize a double-stranded RNA fragment specific to IGFBP6. After transfecting triple-negative cells with the double-stranded RNA, I observed IGF-II expression and subcellular localization in these cells.

I hypothesized that IGF-II would be more evenly distributed throughout the cytoplasm after the IGFBP6 knockdown, and my preliminary data seem to support this hypothesis. This is significant, because it suggests that distinct IGFBP6 expression patterns have the potential to impact IGF-IIs cancer cell growth-promoting activities.

My next set of experiments will use qPCR to access whether the IGFBP6 knockdown in these cells impacted the expression of two anti-apoptotic, downstream targets of IGF-II. Taken together, these data will give us a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which the insulin-like growth factor pathway might impact triple-negative breast cancer.

My name is DeJuana Ford, and I am a PREP@UGA scholar.

DeJuana Ford

Who are you?

Hi, my name is Michael Mills. I am a United States citizen originally from Ghana, West Africa. I went to college at The University of Georgia, in Athens, Georgia and graduated with a degree in the Pharmaceutical Sciences.”

How and why did you first become interested in science? When, how and why did you decide on a career in research? What general research area are you most interested in? What are your long term career goals?

My ultimate goal, as a freshman, was to earn a doctorate degree in Pharmacy. This changed my sophomore year when I started working at Synageva Biopharmaceuticals. Through the experiences I gained from working in a rapidly growing Pharmaceutical company, I realized my interest lay in the ever-changing field of scientific research. As a result, I changed my degree track to the Pharmaceutical Sciences where I learned about the various aspects of drug formulation and delivery. This whet my appetite for research, and though I have broad interests in varying research areas, my experience in my current PREP lab has helped me recognize my attraction to Microbiology as a fundamental science. After graduate school, I plan to continue gaining experience as a post-doc before venturing into academia.

Why did you decide to join a PREP program?   Why is PREP@UGA the best program for you?  What do you hope and plan to get out of PREP@UGA?

The PREP program was perfect for me because my late career change to the pharmaceutical sciences led to two semesters of research experience as an undergraduate student. I felt, THAT experience was not enough to prepare me for graduate school. Now I plan to use my time at PREP@UGA to be adequately prepared to perform in the best Microbiology graduate programs in the nation.

Who are your research mentor and faculty mentor?

My current research and faculty mentor is Dr. Vincent Starai.

What are the objective(s) and hypothesis underlying your project?

Brugia Malayi, a nematode pathogenic to humans, causes a crippling disease known as filariasis in tropical locations. This nematode harbors endosymbiotic bacteria from the genus Wolbachia, and these bacteria are known to be required for the nematode to survive within a host. Therefore, understanding how these bacteria live inside the nematode may provide information towards the treatment of filariasis.

Wolbachia Wbm0076 is a gene which encodes for an excreted protein of the bacterium. This protein is hypothesized to be required for the association of Wolbachia with the nematode. Interestingly, bioinformatics tell us that Wbm0076 belongs to the WAS family of proteins, which are involved in remodeling the actin cytoskeleton in eukaryotic cells. Using the yeast platform as a simple eukaryotic cell, my project involves studying the hypothesized role of the Wolbachia effector protein Wbm0076 in eukaryotic actin rearrangements.

What laboratory techniques will you use in this project?

To help drive my discoveries regarding Wbm0076 activity in host cells, I’ll be using a variety of laboratory techniques including yeast DNA transformations, molecular biology, fluorescence microscopy, Western blotting, PCR, and gel electrophoresis. These studies hope to identify key ways that this fascinating endosymbiotic bacterium can survive within a pathogenic nematode.

My name is Michael Mills and I am a PREP@UGA scholar.

Michael Mills

Who are you?

Hi, my name is Ivelisse Resto. I grew up in Las Piedras, Puerto Rico and went to college at University of Puerto Rico, in Humacao, Puerto Rico and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology.

How and why did you first become interested in science?

I’ve always have a desire for knowledge and understanding of the unfamiliar aspects of the world that surrounds me. As I grew up, and with the support of my teachers, I began to participate in science and math competitions, which further increased my curiosity and triggered my interest in science.

When, how and why did you decide on a career in research?

As an undergraduate student, I had the opportunity to conduct research in prokaryotic biology for the first time during a summer research program at the University of Georgia, in Athens. During that time I was able to use critical thinking to contribute to the understanding of host-pathogen interactions. This very enriching experience, in addition to faculty encouragement, was fundamental in my decision to pursue graduate studies in biomedical research.

What general research area are you most interested in?

The general areas of research that I’m most interested in are immunology and virology .

What are your long-term career goals?

My long-term career goals are to earn a PhD degree related to one or both of those areas, and then proceed to post-doctoral studies. Once these goals are reached, the next step in my career is to conduct research at academia level as well as to teach and advise the future generations to prepare them to succeed in their chosen career path.

Why did you decide to join a PREP program?

Joining a PREP program would be the first step on my way to reach my career goals. A PREP program would help me gain more research experience in a laboratory, improve my research skills, and at the same time it would give me a glimpse of the life of a graduate student.

Why is PREP@UGA the best program for you?

By participating at UGA’s REU summer program I was able to see and experiment firsthand the excellent and diverse training in pathogen biology and host/pathogen interactions UGA can provide. Together, faculty members, student mentors, and PREP@UGA coordinators provide a supportive environment and the necessary tools to help you go in the right direction to fulfill your established goal.

What do you hope and plan to get out of PREP@UGA?

The type of preparation received from PREP @ UGA will make me a competitive candidate for graduate school and it will help me further explore my areas of interest.

Who are your research mentor and faculty mentor?

My research mentor is David Rose, and my faculty mentor is Dr. Kimberly Klonowski.

What are the objective(s) and hypothesis underlying your project?

Seasonal influenza is an acute viral infection that can affect anybody in any age group, however, infants and the elderly are most susceptible to infection. Annual epidemics of influenza worldwide result in about 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness, and about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths in these high risk populations. Variants of influenza virus that circulate every year are the result of changes in the surface proteins hemagglutinin (HA or H) and neuraminidase (NA or N). These proteins are important for the attachment, and eventual release, of the virus from host cells. Cells of the adaptive immune system, including B and T cells, are required for viral clearance. However, early viral control is mediated by innate immune cells like macrophages, natural killer cells (NK cells), and dendritic cells. NK cells are granular cytotoxic lymphocytes that are activated through cytokines and cell surface receptors, most which are not virus-specific. However, NK cells in mice and humans both express an activating receptor specific for influenza HA called NKp46. The overall goal of our research is to determine whether differences in HA expression and strain specificity regulates NK cell activation and downstream immunity or pathology. Our hypothesis is that NKp46 is key determinant regulating NK cell function after influenza infection.

What laboratory techniques will you use in this project?

To test our hypothesis, we will produce a recombinant NKp46 by means of molecular techniques such as bacterial transformation, transfection, and protein isolation. Once we determine we have correctly expressed our protein, we will then use the recombinant NKp46 to probe the interaction between NK cells and a library of HA  proteins from different influenza strains, like H3, H5 and H7. Specifically, we will determine whether the addition of our recombinant NKp46 protein to these co-cultures blocks NK cell activation and killing. This is measured by NK cell expression of CD69 and CD107a by flow cytometry and killing of the HA expressing cells in cytotoxicity assays.

My name is Ivelisse Resto and I am a PREP@UGA scholar. 

Ivelisse Resto

Who are you?

Hi, my name is Cybelle Tabilas. I grew up in Woodland, California and I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.

How and why did you first become interested in science?

I first became interested in science as a young child through television specials and series. In an episode of The Magic School Bus called Inside Ralphie, Ms. Frizzle and the class try to figure out what Ralphie is sick with and this sparked my interest in human illness. By watching shows like this, I was introduced to a world that I could not see or control and this is when I decided I wanted to understand the mechanisms that drive the world.

When, how and why did you decide on a career in research?

For me, a career in research means standing between the line of knowledge and the unknown and having the tools, power, and creativity to decide how you want to cross that barrier.

What general research area are you most interested in?

The research area I am most interested in is immunology.

What are your long-term career goals?

I am still unsure of what my ultimate career goals would be. I would love to do research for a government institute like the CDC or NIH to address public health issues in infectious diseases, but I am also interested in becoming a professor and mentoring the next generation of scientists at a liberal arts college similar to the one I graduated from.

Why did you decide to join a PREP program?

I always knew I wanted to take a gap year between my undergraduate education and graduate school. When I learned about PREP, it sounded like the perfect mixture of what I imagined my gap year to be. It would allow me to experience and understand what life as a first
year graduate student would entail while doing an intensive and independent yearlong project in a subject I was interested in.

Why is PREP@UGA the best program for you?

I chose to become part of PREP@UGA because of the diversity of faculty mentors offered to its scholars, the quality of research UGA creates, and the support the program offered. PREP@UGA emphasized its dedication to its scholars success by allowing us to take graduate level classes, take a GRE prep course, have ability to travel to topic specific conferences, and form meaningful professional relationships with the research community. Without these resources, I would not feel as confident or prepared in embarking on the graduate path.

What do you hope and plan to get out  of  PREP@UGA?

I hope my year at PREP@UGA will provide me with the basic resources I need to excel in a competitive graduate program.

Who are your research mentor and faculty mentor?

I am spending the year in Dr. Nancy Manley’s lab with Dr. Julie Gordon as my research mentor.

What are the objective(s) and hypothesis underlying your project?

Objectives and hypothesis:

The notch signaling pathway is highly conserved amongst multicellular organisms and it regulates cell fate specification during development and tissue maintenance. There are four Notch receptors in vertebrates and for my project, I will be focusing on Notch1. When the Notch1 receptor comes into contact with a ligand, it induces a proteolytic cleavage of the Notch1 Intracellular Domain which then enters the nucleus and modifies gene expression.

Hypothesis: Preliminary data generated by the Manley Lab shows “a clear phenotype after thymic epithelial cell specific Notch1 deletion” suggesting there is a connection between Notch1 and TECs. We hypothesize Notch1 is required for TEC formation and maintenance therefore deleting Notch1 will result in an abnormal thymic epithileal cell phenotype. My project is a time-course analysis of TECs using fetal stage to post-natal stage mice. I will be focusing on the earlier stages of TEC development in relation to the absence of Notch1. By identifying the earliest time point in which deletion of Notch1 is able to affect the progenitor cell phenotype of the mice, we can begin to understand the role of Notch in TECs.

What laboratory techniques will you use in this project?


In this project, I will be utilizing cre-lox technology to create conditional Notch1 knockout mutants in thymic epithelial cells.  Foxn1 is expressed in TECs, therefore crossing FoxN1 cre mice with a conditional Notch1 mouse strain will delete Notch in TECs.

To analyze the role of Notch1 in the development of TECs, I will use immunohistochemistry to stain for TEC progenitor markers to identify meaningful differences between the Notch1 mutant thymus and control thymus.

My name is Cybelle Tabilas and I am a PREP@UGA scholar.

Cybelle Tabilas

Who are you?

Hi, my name is Alexis Thomas.  I grew up in Rosedale, Indiana and went to college at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana and graduated with a degree in microbiology.

How and why did you first become interested in science?

Growing up, I was in and out of doctors’ offices and hospitals.  I became interested in disease and what makes people sick. That led me to become a human biology major and set a track for medical school.  Upon arriving at IU, I heard a presentation on microbiology and I was so intrigued by all the different types of bacteria and pathogens, that I changed my major that day.

When, how and why did you decide on a career in research?

Until going to IU, I was never really exposed to the possibility of research as a career path. I began working in a lab my sophomore year and discovered that I enjoyed research. I have always liked doing puzzles.  I view research and scientific discovery as a never-ending puzzle. I believe this is what draws me to research.

What general research area are you most interested in?

Even though I started research in my sophomore year, it was not until my senior year that I had felt that I had explored other fields and options, enough to be confident in my decision to go to graduate school and do biomedical research. I am interested in and host pathogen interactions and drug and vaccine development.

What are your long term career goals?

It is my plan to work in industry or a government lab in the future. As I decided later that I wanted to go to graduate school, I knew I needed time to learn more about the process and the various career paths available.

Why did you decide to join a PREP program?  Why is PREP@UGA the best program for you?  What do you hope and plan to get out of PREP@UGA?

When I discovered the PREP program I knew it was the perfect program for me.  I am able to do full time research in a field that I am interested in as well as interact with graduate students, something that I did not do as an undergrad.  The program allows for me to get an inside look at graduate school and has affirmed my decision to pursue a career in research. PREP at UGA was perfect for me because of the focus on infectious diseases this closely aligns with my interests and goals.

Who are your research mentor and faculty mentor?

My research mentor is Dr. Carmen Herrera and my faculty mentor is Dr. Stephen Trent.

What are the objective(s) and hypothesis underlying your project?

A focus of the Trent lab is lipid A. Lipid A is the endotoxic portion of Lipopolysacchride or LPS,which is a large molecule on the surface of gram-negative bacteria that has many functions, one of which is inducing an innate immune response. Lipid A is recognized by the immune system via the Toll-like receptor 4/myeloid differentiation factor 2 complex.  Activation of this complex by wt ecoli leads to a strong immune response.  Lipid A is a diverse molecule, whose structure varies between gram negative bacteria.  These bacteria contain enzymes that alter the structure by changing the number of acyl chains, phosphate groups, and polar functional groups.  The structure of the lipidA molecule expressed by a bacterium determines how strong the immune response will be.

The goal of my project is to insert lipid A modification genes from other organisms into the E.coli chromosome.   Alteration of the lipid A will allow it to be used as a vaccine adjuvant by producing a milder immune response.  To alter the structure of the lipid A I will be cloning genes into a plasmid with an antibiotic resistance cassette.

What laboratory techniques will you use in this project?

I will use the lambda red recombination system to insert genes as well as delete others.  Once a modification has been confirmed genetically through PCR and sequencing, we can isolate the LipidA molecule from the bacteria, and visualize the changes through radiolabling and running it on a TLC plate.

My name is Alexis Thomas and I am a PREP@UGA scholar.

Alexis Thomas

Who are you?

Hi, my name is Nicole Williams. I received my Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from Atlanta Metropolitan State College in Atlanta, GA.

How and why did you first become interested in science?

My earliest memory of wanting to go into science was in my 9th grade biology class. I always thought that I was going to follow in the footsteps of my mom and go into criminal justice like her, but I became very interested in this subject called biology; the study of life and organisms. Even though in 9th grade it was on a broad scope and we covered many topics, I was most fascinated when we discussed cells. I was in awe that these little things did so much. And from there I started asking questions because I always wanted to know more.

When, how and why did you decide on a career in research?

I decided on a career in research when I was at my undergraduate institution. There was a program in place for science majors called the Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement program or MESA. Through this program we attended seminars where we heard about various careers in science to determine what track we wanted to take such as Pre-Med, Pre-Nursing or Research. It was then that I was able to realize the track I eventually wanted to follow was biomedical research. I believe that research is perfect for me as I am naturally curious. I love the process of formulating a question or hypothesis and following the necessary scientific steps to finding an answer.

What general research area are you most interested in?

My general area of interest is in infectious diseases. I became fascinated with this while I was in my Microbiology class and further fueled my interest when I enrolled in Virology and audited a Medical Microbiology class. I am most interested in understanding exactly how these infectious pathogens interact with its host in order to find appropriate vaccine targets. Ultimately, I want to be involved in research that explores anti-viral and vaccine design and development.

What are your long-term career goals?

My long term career goal is to secure a position as a principal investigator, leading my own lab in a government agency.

Why did you decide to join a PREP program?

I decided to join PREP@UGA because it not only provides me the opportunity to be a more competitive applicant for a graduate program but it also allows me to participate in cutting edge research that has great societal impact.

Why is PREP@UGA the best program for you?

The PREP program has been the best choice for me because I am given the opportunity to practice more for the GRE with a tutor they have provided while in a research lab acquiring new skills and techniques that I can take with me to graduate school. We as PREP scholars are also given a sneak peak at what it’s like to be a graduate student by taking a few graduate level courses both formally and informally. I am also fortunate to have our program director and coordinator who both genuinely care about our success in the program.

What do you hope and plan to get out of PREP@UGA?

By the time I’ve completed the PREP program, I hope to be more confident in my research techniques and able to think more critically as expected on the graduate level.

Who are your research mentor and faculty mentor?

Currently I am working under the direction of my faculty mentor Dr. Ted Ross and research mentor Don Carter an Assistant research scientist in his lab. One of the current projects in Dr. Ross’ lab explores vaccine design and development for seasonal and pandemic influenza.

What are the objective(s) and hypothesis underlying your project?

The direction of my project is to identify the influence of prior exposure to future infection or vaccination. We want to gain a better understanding of pre immunity on subsequent vaccination to seasonal strains of influenza. Antigenic drift occurs when there are point mutations in a viral gene that lead to antigenic changes and vaccine escape. This results in the different influenza vaccines year to year. The hypothesis of my project is that significant changes in certain amino acid residues can have a direct correlation between cross reactivity in certain influenza strains. Meaning, prior exposure to one strain can potentially provide protection or an immune response to future exposure of another.

What laboratory techniques will you use in this project?

So far, I have used bioinformatics tools to identify amino acid residues of importance that are similar or divergent in influenza strains. I have also completed transformations which allow me to amplify my plasmid DNA containing viral genes expressing mutated amino acid residues. These will be further used to create virus like particles or VLPs. Using VLPs in the lab allows us to work with particular influenza strains safely without the potential to cause infection because they do not contain any viral genetic material and are non-infectious.

Further along in my project, I will also use the technique of reverse genetics to express these mutations in amino acids sequences in the live virus. These will be used to further test the validity of their importance.

My name is Nicole Williams and I am a PREP@UGA Scholar.

Nicole Williams

The 2015-2016 PREP@UGA scholars are attending the following graduate programs: 

Case Western Reserve University, the University of Chicago, Cornell University, Emory University, and the University of Georgia

We are extremely proud of our 2nd cohort of scholars!

I’m Enrico Barrozo. I went to Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN where I earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology.  I’ve always been interested in the human condition. My mom passed away in April of this year and she was chronically ill for nearly 10 years. I was going in and out of hospitals and always being around physicians, I was constantly asking questions to find out what was wrong with my mom. This drove me to be a Biology Major. At Augsburg College I worked with my undergraduate mentor Dr. Matthew Beckman where I learned that I have a passion for research. I find research rewarding and intellectually stimulating. I’m driven by the possibility of discovery and innovation in the daily life of a scientist. I find research rewarding and intellectually stimulating. I’m driven by the possibility of innovation and discovery in the daily life of a scientist. Before this year I would’ve said I’m interested in genetics. However, genetics is a broad field and is more of an approach. I’m interested in personalized medicine and in the future I want to use pharamacogenetics, which is using a person’s unique genetic code to design therapies and prevent disease. Long term goals are to get a PhD where I learn basic science and techniques that will be essential to my future as a scientist. Next, I’ll get post doctorate training and that will determine what I will do for the rest of my life. Eventually, I want to be doing cutting-edge research in my own lab researching medical development or pharmaceuticals.

At Augsburg College I was passionate about a lot of things. A captain of the football team, doing research when I wasn’t in classes, working 2-3 part-time jobs, and working towards getting my degree. Last spring I was awarded with the Student Leader of the Year award for my accomplishments at Augsburg. This meant a lot to me but after graduation I wanted to redefine myself and focus more on my research. Here, in PREP@UGA I’m living the life of a graduate student. I work 40+ hours in a lab, take graduate level courses, and I’m learning essential techniques that will help me to hit the ground running when I’m accepted into a PhD program.

This post-baccalaureate training in infectious disease research will provide evidence that I can be a successful graduate student. I’ve shown that I’m fully dedicated to research and becoming a scientist. My faculty mentor is Dr. Biao He and I work with Shannon Phan, a 4th-year graduate student. I’m studying respiratory syncytial virus. (RSV) infects everyone by the age of 2 and there is currently no licensed vaccine. Symptoms result from lower respiratory infection and virulence of RSV increases when infecting infants, the elderly, and immunosuppressed.  Specifically, my project is investigating the interaction between RSV phosphoprotein (P) and host kinases on the RSV life cycle. The RSV-P protein is a heavily phosphorylated protein that stabilizes the RSV polymerase complex.  It is hypothesized that P phosphorylation by host kinases is important for viral transcription and replication, but the precise role is unclear.  Our goal is to determine which serine and threonine residues in RSV P are critical for RSV replication. Our approach includes… Designing primers to create plasmids encoding RSV P with serine and threonine residues mutated to alanine.  This will prevent phosphorylation at those sites in the P protein.  We will use standard cloning techniques such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), splicing by overlap (SOE), digestion, ligation, and transformation into an E. coli plasmid. Next, we will be… Sequencing the plasmids with the P gene inserted to make sure the correct mutations have been introduced into the gene. Then, we will be… Using these plasmids to perform a luciferase-reporter-based minigenome assay to measure activity of the RSV replication complex. This assay will help us determine if the mutations have an effect on the transcription and replication of RSV.

My name is Enrico Barrozo and I am a PREP@UGA scholar.

Enrico Barrozo

Who are you?

Hi my name is Jessica Elmore. I grew up in Columbus, Georgia and I went to college at Howard University in Washington, D.C where I graduated with a degree in Biology.

How and why did you first become interested in science?

My fascination with science began in grade school. My middle school science teacher, Dr. Kelly, made science exciting by teaching us how people made scientific discoveries.

When, how and why did you decide on a career in research?

I decided on a career in biomedical research when I was an undergraduate at Howard University. My college Microbiology & Immunology classes piqued my interests in pathogenic organisms and the host immune responses that protect us against them. A combination of rewarding laboratory research experiences and faculty encouragement solidified this decision.

What general research area are you most interested in?

I’m most interested in studying host-pathogen interactions of highly infectious agents that lack effective treatments and pose significant health concerns.

What are your long-term career goals?

Working as an independent investigator in a government setting would be an ideal venue to realize this dream.

Why did you decide to join a PREP program?

I joined the PREP program to gain additional research experiences surrounded by like-minded individuals in a supportive environment where everyone wants you to succeed.

What do you hope and plan to get out of PREP@UGA?

I hope to achieve acceptance into a competitive doctoral graduate program where I can further hone the skills needed to become an independent researcher.

Who are your faculty and research mentors?

Dr. Wendy Watford is my faculty mentor. Her lab focuses on the regulation of immune responses by cytokines. My research mentor, Nicole Acuff, is a 4th year graduate student who studies Th17 immunity.

What are the objective(s) and hypothesis underlying your project?

My project aims to determine how the host Tpl2 kinase regulates the antimicrobial functions of neutrophils, which are important first responders during an infection. I will evaluate neutrophil recruitment, phagocytosis of microbes, cytokine secretion, and the generation of antimicrobial reactive oxygen species in response microbes.

What laboratory techniques will you use in this project?

To address this, I will use a varied approach consisting of chemotaxis, phagocytosis, microscopy and gene expression assays, among others. My hypothesis is that Tpl2 is an essential positive regulator of neutrophil functions that promotes host defense.

My name is Jessica Elmore and I am a PREP@UGA scholar.

Jessica Elmore

Who are you?

Hi, my name is Trent Frisbie. I grew up in Redding California and went to California State University, Stanislaus in Turlock, California.  I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology with a concentration in Genetics and a minor in Chemistry.

How and why did you first become interested in science?

I’ve always had a passion for science. I truly enjoy learning about new and upcoming research that paves the way for biological discoveries and innovations.

When, how and why did you decide on a career in research?

Earning a PhD allows me to answer questions in the form of a research project. It provides a unique opportunity to take a project from start to finish. The creative aspect of research allows me to study something that nobody else in the world is researching.

What general research area are you most interested in?

I am interested in variety of research topics broadly associated with genetics, including molecular and medical genetics, developmental biology, cancer genetics and molecular diagnostics.

What are your long-term career goals?

In terms of a career, I envision myself not only teaching science, but also doing cutting-edge biomedical research. Earning a Ph.D. in biomedical science would advance my education and skillset by adding to my skills, both critical and creative, in working with science on a daily basis. I see the doctoral degree as a challenge and an opportunity to make strides toward my career goals.

Why did you decide to join a PREP program?

I decided to join the PREP program to gain high-level research experience along with a first-hand look at what life as a graduate student is like.

Why is PREP@UGA the best program for you?

The support that I have received from everyone in the program has been unparalleled. All the resources provide a great opportunity for success. Both the faculty and student mentors are very involved and truly want me to succeed.

Who are your faculty and research mentors?

My Faculty mentor is Nancy Manley and my research mentor is John O’Neil.

What are the objective(s) and hypothesis underlying your project?

a. My project describes the effects of bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling in the development of the third pharyngeal pouch.
b. The third pharyngeal pouch is an endodermally derived primordium that consists of progenitor cells that differentiate into thymus or parathyroid cells.
c. Foxn1 is used as a marker for thymus specification whereas GCM2 is a marker for parathyroid specification.
d. BMP is expressed in ventral pouch while Sonic Hedge Hog (SHH) is expressed in dorsal pouch.

Hypothesis: We hypothesize that BMP is necessary for normal fate specification and patterning of the thymus. Ultimately, BMP promotes thymus fate and inhibits parathyroid fate.

What laboratory techniques will you use in this project?

a. I am testing this hypothesis using an inducible Gremlin strain of transgenic mice in a tissue specific Cre-Lox induction system.
b. Cre-Lox technology uses the enzyme Cre recombinase to recombine separated Lox P sites, which results in the expression of Gremlin.
c. In using these inducible gremlin mice, I am able to knock-down BMP expression inspecific tissues at various stages of embryonic development.
d. In early developmental stages I’m using Sox17Cre and Foxa2CreE to drive Cre expression in the endoderm. Wnt1Cre is used to drive Cre expression in neural crest cells.
e. At a later stage I will use Foxn1Cre to determine secondary roles of SMP in thymus development.
f. Throughout my project I will use techniques like immunohistochemistry, in-situ hybridization and fluorescence activated cell sorting to determine how BMP affects pouch development.

My name is Trent Frisbie and I am a PREP@UGA Scholar.

Who are you?

Hi, my name is De’Ashia Lee and I grew up in Pineland, SC.  I attended Howard University in Washington, DC where I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Biology.

How and why did you first become interested in science?

My father passed away from sarcoidosis when I was very young.  At the time, I didn’t know anything about sarcoidoisis. Through independent research I learned that the cause of sarcoidosis is unknown, but the current hypothesis is that in genetically susceptible individuals sarcoidosis is caused through alteration  to the immune response after exposure to an environmental, occupation or infectious agent. The research surrounding sarcoidoisis made me very interested in science, particularly disease susceptibility and infectious diseases.

When, how and why did you decide on a career in research?

In college I further explored my interests in science by participating in different research training programs. I decided to pursue a career in research because you are constantly challenged to balance creativity with critical thinking. Research is one of the few career paths where you able to make contributions to answer some of the problems that affect society at large.

What general research area are you most interested in?

The research areas I am most interested in are antibiotic resistance, innate immunity, and the molecular biology of viral diseases.

What are your long-term career goals?

My long-term career goal is to be employed by a government institution where I can apply my research training to addressing public health issues, such as vaccine development, and antibiotic resistance.

Why did you decide to join a PREP program?

The goal of PREP programs is to strengthen the research skills and academic competitiveness for students who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree. I decided to participate in a PREP program because I wanted to take advantage of any opportunity that would allow me to be a competitive applicant to graduate schools.

Why is PREP@UGA the best program for you?

PREP@UGA is the best program for me because of the focus on infectious disease research. The environment at UGA for infectious diseases research is excellent and the faculty is extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their work. The amount of collaborations among all the principle investigators was also very encouraging and indicated that teamwork is an important component of the program.

What do you hope and plan to get out of PREP@UGA?

I hope that my training from PREP@UGA will allow me to present a confident, competitive, and competent applicant to graduate programs.

Who are your research and faculty mentors?

My research mentor is Dr. Mattie Pawlowic and my faculty mentor is Dr. Boris Striepen.

What are the objective(s) and hypothesis underlying your project?

Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that causes severe disease in humans. Children, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals such as HIV/AIDS patients are particularly vulnerable. Toxoplasma gondii can infect humans in many ways; one way in particular is through drinking water contaminated with oocysts shed in cat feces. The oocysts have a tough outer shell that makes them resistant to conventional water treatments. My hypothesis is that certain lipids are critical to the formation of the tough oocyst shell. I will test my hypothesis by disrupting genes that encode enzymes that make lipids. I will make mutants by genetic engineering and then I will test the biological consequences of these changes. Each experience has allowed me to identify and cultivate my specific

What laboratory techniques will you use in this project?

Toxoplasma gondii is a good model to study this question because I can culture the parasites and change its genome by transfection. Specifically, I will make use of the CRISPR/Cas9 system to target the loci of the genes. I have already constructed the targeting plasmids. My next step is to isolate the mutants by drug selection and test them in a mouse model. I will collaborate with Dr. Dubey at the USDA to study the impact of my mutants in the cat, which is the definitive host of Toxoplasma gondii.

My name is De’Ashia Lee and I am a PREP@UGA scholar!

De’Ashia Lee

Who are you?

Hi, my name is Kiara Miller. I grew up in Jonesboro, Georgia, and went to college at Savannah State University in Savannah Georgia. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology

How and why did you first become interested in science?

I first became interested in science by watching Bill Nye the Science Guy on television. There is an episode in which he explains that there is science in music because of the vibrations and travel of sound, and then there is a huge musical number. Following this, I kept myself actively involved in science by entering a number of science fairs in elementary and middle school.

When, how, and why did you decide on a career in research?

Because I attended a small liberal arts college where scientific research was not in the forefront, I was my own guide when looking for research opportunities. During my freshman year, I sought out many summer research programs, and I was fortunate to take part in an 8 week summer program at Georgia State University following the end of my first year. The research was funded by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse. My research project included localizing a specific receptor gene in the stomatogastric ganglion of the spiny lobster. After spending time in a graduate level environment and taking ownership of an independent project that yielded fantastic results, I knew that a career in research is what I want.

What general research area are you most interested in?

My primary interests lie in neuroscience, more specifically neurobiology of disease and aging, as well as neuroendocrinology.

What are your long term career goals?

My long-term career goals include successfully matriculating through graduate school to later take a postdoc position. However, I am still undecided about whether or not I will go into academia or industry, but lifelong research is a major part of these plans.

Why did you decide to join a PREP program?

I joined a PREP program because although I had research experience, I felt that I needed a more extensive training before heading into graduate studies. I think of PREP as a second chance to prepare for one of the largest milestones in my life and a career as a scientist.

Why is PREP@UGA the best program for you?

PREP@UGA is the best program for me because not only do I have the opportunity to work on an independent project, the program also gives us many opportunities for interdepartmental interaction among graduate students including enrollment in a few of the graduate courses. PREP also guarantees that we have opportunities to travel and present our research data. The program is truly preparing me for the road ahead.

What do you hope and plan to get out of PREP@UGA?

First, I hope to gain admission to the graduate program of my choice; after all, PREP is tailored to preparing us to become critical thinkers and well-rounded scientists. I also hope to expand my knowledge of infectious diseases. Finally, I plan to build relationships with both of my mentors and my fellow PREP colleagues that will extend beyond this year that we are spending together.

Who are your research and faculty mentors?

My research mentors are Tara Bracken, a PhD candidate and Dr. Demba Sarr, a research scientist. My faculty mentor is Dr. Julie Moore.

What are your objective(s) and hypothesis underlying this project?

The trophoblast is a layer of multinucleated placental cells that facilitates the exchange of waste, gas and nutrients between the maternal and fetal systems. When a mother is infected with malaria, parasite-infected red blood cells come into contact with the trophoblast. It has been theorized that this interaction leads to an immunological response that includes the recruitment of maternal inflammatory cells to the maternal blood space. This immunological response coupled with the activation of blood clotting, or coagulation, are characteristic of the pathogenesis of placental malaria. We hypothesize that this pathogenic environment prompts the release of small membrane vesicles called microparticles from the trophoblast. We are interested in microparticles and their characteristics because they are known to be released when cells are activated. We also hypothesize that many cell types will release microparticles in response to stimulation with components of the malaria parasite. In this case, the detection of trophoblast-specific microparticles that present indicators for procoagulant activity in maternal blood could serve as a novel diagnostic marker for placental malaria.

What laboratory techniques will you use in this project?

For my project, I will employ cell culture and flow cytometry. I will culture a human placenta choriocarcinoma cell line called BeWo. These cells will be stimulated with a number of malarial components including hemozoin, which is a byproduct that is formed when parasites consume hemoglobin inside the red blood cell. Additionally, they will be stimulated with culture medium, uninfected and infected RBC. Supernatants will be collected, and a flow cytometric analysis will be performed to determine the presence of microparticles. We expect that these cells will release microparticles in response to the stimulation with components of the malaria parasite but not in response to the medium and uninfected RBC. We further expect that the microparticles will have malaria-induced procoagulant activity. Using this in vitro approach, I will work with my mentors to refine a novel flow cytometric technique that will be used for the detection of cell-specific microparticles. This is especially significant because after optimizing this technique, we will ultimately apply it to clinical samples from women naturally exposed to malaria.

My name is Kiara Miller, and I am a PREP@UGA scholar.

Kiara Miller

The 2014-2015 PREP@UGA scholars are attending the following graduate programs: the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Cornell University, the University of Florida, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

We are extremely proud of each of them!