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NatSci Undergrads Receive Fellowships to Investigate Microscopic Pathogens

College of Natural Science

Alyssa Corpus and Jack Dodson, undergraduate students in Michigan State University’s Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics (MMG) in the College of Natural Science, were both selected for the prestigious and highly competitive Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program from the American Society for Microbiology (ASM).

The ASM, a professional organization for scientists studying viruses, bacteria, fungi and other areas of microbiology, is the largest professional life science organization in the world with over 50,000 members. The society developed the fellowship program to support undergraduates actively pursuing careers in the microbial sciences and working with an ASM faculty mentor.

The two seniors will use SURF’s $4,000 stipend to perform 10 weeks of summer research in the lab and an additional $2,000 for travel to the 2020 international ASM Microbe meeting held in Chicago, Ill., to present their results, network with leaders in the field and learn about cutting edge science in microbiology.

“The department was very excited to hear the news that these two outstanding undergraduates received ASM summer fellowships,” said Scott Mulrooney, MMG director of undergraduate studies. “MMG makes considerable efforts to provide undergraduate research opportunities. Having two students receive this prestigious award in the same year out of a national applicant pool shows that MMG is on an upward trajectory in the quality of its undergraduate programs.”

Dodson works in MMG Assistant Professor Neal Hammer’s laboratory on the opportunistic pathogen Staphylococcus aureus, which is the leading cause of hospital-acquired infections and responsible for over 10,000 deaths in the United States every year. Using a technique known as transposon sequencing, Dodson’s research aims to understand the mechanisms that S. aureus uses to obtain sulfur, an element essential for its growth.

“This award means a great deal to me,” Dodson said. “I am motivated by the fact that, among thousands of applications, my application caught the attention of the reviewers. My dedication and hard work paid off, and I am thankful for all of the people who have supported my efforts.”

“The ASM Undergraduate Research Fellowship is a tremendous opportunity for undergraduates to focus on working in the lab and advancing their projects over an extended period of time,” said Hammer, Dodson’s faculty mentor. “All of the hard work Jack invested in crafting his application focused on Staphylococcus aureus sulfur acquisition paid off, and we are very proud of him!”

Corpus will spend the summer investigating the pathogen Vibrio cholerae, the cause of millions of cases of cholera every year. Her research in MMG Associate Professor Chris Waters’ laboratory will probe the action of two of the pathogen’s proteins whose purpose in facilitating the disease is still a mystery.

“I was so excited to receive this fellowship,” Corpus said. “Two years ago, I didn’t know a single thing about lab research. When I decided to join the Waters lab, I had no idea how much I would love the thrill of discovering a new world—a world too small for us to see, but full of complexities and questions. My hard work is paying off, and I’m truly becoming a scientist!”

“We are very happy for Alyssa who is a talented undergraduate researcher and a well-deserving recipient of this distinguished fellowship,” said Waters, Corpus’ mentor. “SURF will allow Alyssa to continue her research studying the molecular mechanisms driving the evolution of Vibrio cholerae in my laboratory this summer, further honing her research skills. Just as importantly, it will support her attendance at the 2020 ASM meeting in Chicago.”

“I’m particularly looking forward to attending the ASM Microbe conference next summer,” Corpus added. “It’s fascinating to see what other scientists and an amazing opportunity to discover different types of research and get a better view of my possible future career.”

To learn more about the SURF program, please visit https://www.asm.org/Fellowships/Undergraduate-Research-Fellowship. 

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