Ohio Wesleyan University student Delanie Baker is now the sixth student in OWU history to earn an American Society for Microbiology Undergraduate Research Fellowship.
A microbiology major from Santa Paula, California, Baker will use the competitive fellowship and $4,000 research stipend to study megaviruses from diverse habitats in Iceland.
“These ‘megaviruses’ are larger than some bacteria, creating controversy over what researchers consider to be alive,” Baker, OWU Class of 2019, stated in her fellowship application. “Contributing to controversy is the viral expression of cellular replication machinery not normally encoded by viruses.
“Megaviruses have been isolated from Acanthamoeba spp. (microscopic, free-living amoebae) in different environments throughout the world, including 30,000 year-old Siberian permafrost, warm waters off the coast of Chile, and a cooling tower in France,” Baker reports.
“With these discoveries,” she states, “researchers are left to wonder, what is the global prevalence of these viruses? Are these viruses more common than originally thought? Do these discoveries have any implications in eukaryotic evolution? I hope to contribute to answering these questions and to the greater understanding of the ‘Megavirales’ order with my research.”
For her research, Baker will travel to Iceland for four weeks in June and July, complete specialized training at the University of Akureyri, and then collect samples from volcanic soil, fresh water, salt water, and sand to isolate and identify megaviruses. When she returns to Ohio Wesleyan in the fall, Baker will utilize OWU’s scanning transmission electron microscope to examine the samples as she works to advance knowledge about the “Megavirales” order.
Baker is being mentored by Laura Tuhela-Reuning, Ph.D., part-time professor of botany/microbiology and zoology and Ohio Wesleyan’s scanning transmission electron microscope technician.
“This is a unique research project designed by Delanie, and it is an off-shoot of topics she explored in her OWU microbiology classes,” Tuhela-Reuning said.
“Delanie was intrigued with the diverse environments that megaviruses inhabit, and her idea to search for them led her to Iceland where there are a variety of habitats, from glaciers to volcanoes, within close proximity on one island,” Tuhela-Reuning said. “The collaboration she set up with the University of Akyureyri could be a gateway for other OWU students to investigate scientific research projects in Iceland.”
In addition to supporting her research in Iceland, the American Society for Microbiology also will fund her travel to the 2019 Microbe Meeting in San Francisco to present her results.
For her project, “Investigating the Prevalence of Megaviruses in Iceland,” Baker also earned a competitive, Ohio Wesleyan-funded Theory-to-Practice Grant. The grant is part of The OWU Connection, Ohio Wesleyan’s signature program to help students think big (understand issues from multiple academic disciplines), go global (gain international perspective), and get real (translate classroom knowledge into real-world experience).
As an OWU student, Baker also has conducted summer science research at The Ohio State University, working with faculty there to explore the evolution of genes in the major human fungal pathogen Candida albicans. After she graduates from Ohio Wesleyan, Baker plans to pursue a doctoral degree in environmental microbiology.
“I hope to research bioremediation, which is the use of micro-organisms to clean up chemical waste in the environment,” said Baker, noting that she chose to attend Ohio Wesleyan because of the rigor of its science courses, its microbiology major, and its opportunities for travel-learning.
“Wherever I am,” she said, “I hope to be able to explore the world of microbiology in nature.”
Previous OWU student-recipients of American Society of Microbiology Undergraduate Research Fellowships are:
• Madeline Vroom, Class of 2016, currently a Ph.D. candidate and graduate assistant in the Space Life Sciences Laboratory at the University of Florida.
• Chloe Hamrick Williams, M.D., Class of 2011, general surgery resident at UMass Memorial Medical Center.
• Max Schroeder, Ph.D., Class of 2009, Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control.
• George Hamaoui Jr., Class of 2007, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology at Massachusetts College of the Liberal Arts.
• Heather Costello, Ph.D., Class of 2005, postdoctoral scientist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Learn more about Ohio Wesleyan’s microbiology major at www.owu.edu/microbiology and more about The OWU Connection signature experience at www.owu.edu/owuconnection.
About the American Society for Microbiology
Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Society for Microbiology is the world’s largest life science society, comprised of more than 30,000 scientists and health professionals. Its mission is to advance the microbiological sciences through conferences, publications, certifications, and educational opportunities; to enhance laboratory capacity around the globe through trainings and resources; to provide a network for scientists in academia, industry, and clinical settings; and to promote a deeper understanding of the microbial sciences to diverse audiences. Learn more at www.asm.org.
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