Scholar Profiles

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!

Smriti Hoda

1) 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.

2) How and why did you first become interested in science?

3) 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.

4) What general research area are you most interested in?

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

5)   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.

6)   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.

7)   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.

8) 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.

9) 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.

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

Troy M. King, Jr.

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.

Sandra Mendiola

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.

Belen Molina

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.

Edwin Pierre Louis

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.

Tequila Porter

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.

Jose Rodriguez

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.

Nathalie Thezan

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.

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!

Brent Allman


1) 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.”

2) 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.

3) 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.

4) 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.

5) 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.

6) 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.

7) 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.

8) 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.

9) 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.

10) 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.

11) 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.” 

DeJuana Ford


1) 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.

2) 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.

3) 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.

4) 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.

5) 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.

6) 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.

7) 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.

8) 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.

9) Who are your research mentor and faculty mentor?

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

10) 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.

Ivelisse Resto


1) 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.

2) 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.

3) 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.

4) What general research area are you most interested in?

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

5) 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.

6) 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.

7) 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.

8) 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.

9) Who are your research mentor and faculty mentor?

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

10) 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.

11) 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. 

Michael Mills


1) 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.”

2)   How and why did you first become interested in science? 3)   When, how and why did you decide on a career in research? 4)   What general research area are you most interested in? 5)  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.

6)   Why did you decide to join a PREP program?   7)  Why is PREP@UGA the best program for you?  8)   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.

9)   Who are your research mentor and faculty mentor?

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

10) 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.

11) 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.

Cybelle Tabilas


1)   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.
2)    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.

3)   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.

4)   What general research area are you most interested in?
The research area I am most interested in is immunology.

5)   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.

6)   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.

7)   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.

8)    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.

9)   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.

10) 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.

11) 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.

Alexis Thomas


1) 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.

2)  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.

3)  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.

4)  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.

5) 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.

6)  Why did you decide to join a PREP program?  7)  Why is PREP@UGA the best program for you?  8) 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.

9)  Who are your research mentor and faculty mentor?

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

10) 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.

11) 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.

Nicole Williams


1) 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.

2)   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.

3)   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.

4)   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.

5) 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.

6)   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.

7)   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.

8)   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.

9)   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.

10) 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.

11) 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.


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!

Enrico Barrozo


1)  Who are you?

I’m Enrico Barrozo. I went to Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN where I earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology.

2)   How and why did you first become interested in science?

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.

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

I find research rewarding and intellectually stimulating. In my summer research program during my undergrad I worked hard. I had something to prove. As a freshman with a mediocre GPA and struggling with balancing my collegiate football career with my biology course work, I took a risk and Dr. Beckman took a risk on me. The experience really changed my life. I produced so much data that summer I was asked to continue my research the following year and I continued the project to its completion. At the Aquatic Animal Models for Human Disease Conference in the summer of 2013 I was awarded with a student poster award while I was in competition with graduate students, people who were already on their way to getting their PhD. That was the moment that I realized, “Hey! I’m really good at this!” I’m driven by the possibility of innovation and discovery in the daily life of a scientist.

4)   What general research area are you most interested in?

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.

5)  What are your long term career goals?

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-doctoral training which will determine what I 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.

6)   Why did you decide to join a PREP program?

At Augsburg College I was doing a lot of things. A captain of the football team, 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.

7)   Why is PREP@UGA the best program for you?

In my undergraduate research I did behavioral pharmacology research modeling neurodegenerative diseases. It worked for over 2 years on a project that I mastered and I became an expert in my area and we’ve just submitted a paper where I’m listed as First Author. It was a great experience and I learned a lot about the process of research but I am interested in genetics PhD programs. I need more experience in molecular biology research techniques and approaches and PREP@UGA is giving me that training.

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

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.

9)   Who are your faculty and research mentors?

My faculty mentor is Dr. Biao He and I work with Shannon Phan, a 4th-year graduate student.

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

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, I’m 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.

11) What laboratory techniques will you use in this project?

  • 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.
  • Sequencing the plasmids with the P gene inserted to make sure the correct mutations have been introduced into the gene.
  • 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.

Jessica Elmore


1) 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.

2) 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.

3) 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.

4) 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.

5) 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.

6) 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.

7)  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.

8) 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.

9)  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.

10) 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.

Trent Frisbie


1) 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.

2) 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.

3) 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.

4) 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.

5) 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.

6) 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.

7) 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.

8) Who are your faculty and research mentors?

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

9) 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.

10) 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. 

De’Ashia Lee


1) 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.

2) 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.

3) 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.

4) 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.

5) 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.

6) 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.

7) 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.

8) 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.

9) Who are your research and faculty mentors?

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

10) 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

11) 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!

Kiara Miller


1) 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

2) 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.

3) 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.

4) 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.

5) 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.

6) 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.

7) 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.

8) 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.

9) 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.

10) 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.

11) 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.

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