2022 Discovery PREP Trainees

updated-group-photo-2021(Top Row, L. to R.) Gisselle Prida Ajo, Yulian Mercado, Andrew Karp
(Bottom Row, L. to R.) Love Moore, Paola Acosta-Crespo, Deborah Olagbenro

Paola Acosta-Crespo

Paola Acosta Crespo_720x720I am a young scientist from Añasco, Puerto Rico. I graduated from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez with a Bachelor of Science in Biology in 2021. My interest in molecular biology and the need to elucidate the origin and treatment of diseases led me to my first research experience in the 2019 Summer Undergraduate Research Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Here, I worked in Dr. Greg Pazour's lab, where the main research focus is the role of primary cilia in development and how mutations to this organelle cause certain diseases. My research goal was to construct an artificial signaling pathway that would facilitate the study of extracellular ciliogenesis. Alongside my mentor Dr. Michael Stuck, I performed transfections and immunofluorescence assays to work toward my goal. After returning from this internship, I identified a research opportunity at my university. I joined Dr. Juan Carlos Martínez Cruzado’s lab and was part of a project focusing on diabetic nephropathy and identifying genetic variants in patients of the Puerto Rican population. I would visit dialysis clinics and ask patients to participate in the study. If informed consent was given, I would extract their DNA from a blood sample. After graduation, I joined Discovery PREP at The Ohio State University to enhance my research skills and gain more knowledge before applying to Ph.D. graduate programs in Biomedical Sciences. I know Discovery PREP will help me enhance my confidence as a researcher to promote success in my career path.

Andrew Karp

Andrew Karp_720x720I am a born and raised Texan and graduated from Trinity University (San Antonio, TX) in 2020 with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. After undergrad, I was unsure if I wanted to attend medical school or obtain a PhD. I decided to pursue a master’s program at Case Western Reserve University to help me decide which path to choose, gain research experience, and improve my academics. I entered the master’s program in Molecular and Cellular Basis of Disease, specializing in immunology of infectious disease and virology. While at Case, I contributed to two research projects. With Dr. Alan Tartakoff, I explored the peculiarity of ribosomal assembly within Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Unlike mammalian cells, S. cerevisiae lack a nucleolus. To investigate how S. cerevisiae assemble ribosomes without nucleolar localization, our group performed bioinformatic characterization of different facets of ribosomal assembly factors. We created models for charge, order, and disorder distributions along the linear peptide to identify motifs across over 100 assembly factors. With this data, Dr. Tartakoff’s lab aims to elaborate on the divergent evolution of ribosomal assembly as well as potentially use the data to characterize and identify functions of newly found S. cerevisiae AFs. I also worked with virologist, Dr. Anna Bruchez who focuses on why different individuals have varied responses to EBOV infection. My project focused on studying potential host cellular restriction factors to EOBV infection. Specifically, I investigated the ability if three genes (Rab9a, CLCN3, and TGFBRAP1) that had been identified in previous transposon activation screen for their potential to restrict Ebola virus entry into human cell lines. I used transfection, lentiviral transduction, fluorescent microscopy, flow cytometry, as well as EBOV-GP, Marburg-GP, and VSV-G pseudotyped lentiviral vectors to accomplish my work. My past research experiences solidified my desire to become a viral immunologist developing vaccines and antiviral drugs to fight the perpetual threat of viral infections. In addition to research, the one-on-one personal, professional, and collaborative development of PREP will allow me to widen my scientific repertoire for applying to PhD programs this year.

Yulian Mercado

Yulian Mercado_720x720I am a biologist from Puerto Rico with a love for natural science and research. As an undergraduate at the University of Puerto Rico in Aguadilla, I investigated possible nematophagous fungi that could serve as biocontrol agents for the root lesion nematode Pratylenchus coffeae that affect white yam (Dioscorea rotundata) crop in Puerto Rico. My involvement in this research project, under the mentorship of Professor Yvonne Colón-Mena, led me to receive an undergraduate research grant from the NSF as part of the Puerto Rico-Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation and from the Encouraging Careers in Food Safety and Science initiative. As an undergraduate, I also volunteered in another research project that involved the characterization and identification of mycelial fungi in the respiratory system of invasive species of snakes. The purpose of this investigation was to survey commonly occurring pathogenic or commensal mycelial fungi occurring in specimens of Boa constrictor and Malayopython reticulatus. Specifically, we screened for possible infection of Ophidiomyces which could represent a new threat for the endangered and endemic population of Chilabothrus inornatus. I decided to expand my studies in Discovery PREP at The Ohio State University before applying to PhD programs in Microbiology and Immunology. As I make my way through the PREP program, I hope to increase my skills as a researcher to support my career goal to eventually run my own laboratory focusing on neglected tropical diseases. I am extremely interested in expanding my knowledge in the application of science to real world problems. I believe this will ultimately allow me to help improve living conditions of not just marginalized communities but society as a whole.

Love Moore

Love Moore_720x720I am a first-generation, aspiring graduate student from Chicago, IL. In May 2021, I graduated from the Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a minor in chemistry. While there, I engaged in basic biology research and education and participated in diverse research opportunities. One of my summer internships was in the SEA PHAGES program with The University of Louisiana Monroe. Here, I learned how to use a genome annotation platform (DNA Master). I was also able to assist with a full genome annotation of the Gordonia phage for review and submission to GenBank; I was listed as a co-author on the GenBank submission. During the challenging COVID-19 restrictions, I had the privilege of being a student worker at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center (PBRC) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. At PBRC, I was a research assistant on various studies including Optimizing Performance in Soldiers (OPS II), Healthy Mamas, and Shape Up Kids. During my last year as an undergraduate, I was on a research project funded by the National Science Foundation Award HRD 1736136 through the Next Generation Composites CREST Center (NextGenC3) at Southern University and A&M College. This research was directed under the mentorship of Dr. Patrick Mensah, Dr. Rachel Vincent-Finley, and Dr. Chukwu Onu. The research focused on the harsh effects of coal fly ash, due to its high silica and alumina content, and organic proposal of the synthesis of zeolites using the hydrothermal synthesis method. With this opportunity, I conducted experimental research, authored a research paper, and created a PowerPoint, poster, and presentation. In addition to my laboratory work, I worked as a student mentor for grade school children with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) Science Education Center. I am also obsessed with the chemistry behind skin care products, love to travel, am an avid volunteer participant, and have a passion for conducting research in the STEM field. My participation in Discovery PREP will allow me to strengthen and expand my research background and boost my academic competitiveness to pursue further graduate studies. I am an individual who is willing to fully commit to eliminating health disparities in not only this country, but globally./p>

Deborah Olagbenro

debI am a Nigerian American woman who recently graduated from The Ohio State University with a major in Neuroscience. As an undergraduate, I earned many opportunities, which allowed me to explore my interests. During my sophomore year, I began volunteering in Dr. Ruth Barrientos’ lab and stayed there through graduation. I was an undergraduate researcher on a project that observed how a high-fat diet (HFD) affected the brains of rats as they aged. Previous research in Dr. Barrientos’ lab revealed that a high-fat diet correlated with an increase in the gene expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines in both the hippocampus and the amygdala. We hypothesized that, like the hippocampus and amygdala, the hypothalamus would also show an increase in the gene expression of our target proteins. My project focused on gene regulation within the hypothalamus – specifically on the regulation of certain neuroinflammatory markers (such as IL-1β, IL-6, and TNF-α) and of genes involved in body weight regulation and energy homeostasis (such as POMC and NPY). When I joined the lab my sophomore year, I had planned to pursue a career in medicine, my experiences in Dr. Barrientos’ lab helped me discover that my true passion lies in research. I decided to switch career paths and pursue my Ph.D. In addition to my research, I participated in the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program, which gave me the opportunity to meet and learn from professors who worked in a variety of scientific fields. I held a leadership position in the LSAMP program and mentored three freshmen. During my time in the Discovery PREP program, I want to build upon my current research skills in preparation for graduate school.

Gisselle Prida Ajo

Gisselle Prida Ajo_720x720As a first-generation student, I have always harnessed an insatiable curiosity and eagerness to learn as much as possible from the world around me. Growing up on a lush and tropical island such as Cuba allowed me to nurture my relationship with nature; what first appeared as a simple sense of wonder developed into a commitment to study the scientific world. I graduated from Florida International University in May 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences and a double major in Psychology. During my undergraduate career, I interned at Fairchild Botanical Gardens working in the Micropropagation and Molecular Biology laboratory for the Million Orchid Program, an orchid reintroduction program for South Florida. I was also part of the Design2Data Undergraduate Research Experience at my university in collaboration with the Siegel Lab at UC Davis. This research was part of a more extensive study that consisted of reengineering enzyme function rationally by constructing novel mutations of the enzyme Beta-Glucosidase B (BglB) through a combination of dry-lab computational tools wet-lab genetic, microbiological, and analytical chemical methods. In the midst of the global pandemic, I maintained by connection to research and performed in-silico investigations into the coronavirus proteome under the mentorship of Dr. Jessica Siltberg-Liberles. I also collaborated on a systematic study of evolutionary dynamics of short linear motifs (SLiMs) across coronavirus proteomes. The rigorous coursework and broad research experience I've encountered during my undergraduate career have reinforced my desire to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular biology. I joined Discovery PREP with a commitment to learning and acquiring the research skills needed to continue with my education. As an aspiring scientist, my goal is to use science as the leading platform to help others by engineering biology to provide real-life solutions.

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