This article is by guest author Abigail Miller, whose ASPB-funded research has just been published in Nature Communications. Congratulations Abigail! Applications for the summer undergradate research fellowships are new being accepted, through March 15, 2018. Learn more here.
The American Society of Plant Biologists Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship award (SURF) was a great experience for me as an undergraduate figuring out what I wanted to do after college. This award allowed me to continue working on a story that Dr. Pengxiang Fan and I began in 2014 in Dr. Robert Last‘s lab at Michigan State University. Dr. Fan and I were studying the enzymatic proteins called acylsucrose acyltransferases (ASATs) that made specialized metabolites in the trichomes of tomato plants. These metabolites are known to be involved in an insect defense mechanism, and were the primary interest for a intra-collegiate collaboration among four labs in the state of Michigan. The cultivated tomato, and its wild relatives, make many diverse quantities of acylsucroses with different acylchains. We found that a few amino acid residues in these promiscuous ASATs were responsible for the addition of specific acylchains, thus aiding in the diversity of these chemicals.
In the summer of 2015 I was pleased to be funded by ASPB SURF which allowed me to work over the summer for 10 weeks on this project. This award also gave me the opportunity to travel to Austin, Texas for the annual ASPB meeting where I shared the results that was recently published in Nature Communications. Receiving this award helped develop my proposal writing skills, experimental design, and presentation ability. I also met fellow ASPB SURF awardees at the meeting, and am still in contact with them today with the hopes of future collaborations, and shared research experiences. This summer of research really solidified my decision to apply to graduate school, and in the winter of 2016 I happily accepted an offer from Cornell University’s program for Biochemistry, Molecular, and Cell Biology. I am currently a PhD student in the Weill Institute for Cell Biology working on the dynamics and transport of mitochondria in Dr. Anthony Bretscher’s lab. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with and present to the ASPB community through this fellowship award.