What got you interested in plants and plant science?
Ever since I was a kid, I have loved being outside and going on nature walks to admire the beauty of living organisms. As I moved through school that developed into a passion for the biological sciences. I started my research career as a freshman investigating viruses and host-fungal pathogen interactions in a zebrafish model, but the following summer I did an internship working on salinity tolerance in a prairie grass that was a potential cellulosic biofuel crop, and that was when it clicked. I realized, without a doubt, that plants were what I wanted to study for the rest of my life. I changed labs and transferred to the University of Vermont to become a Plant Molecular Biology major. The evolutionary age and sessile nature of plants has produced solutions to the innumerous stresses that biotic life can pose and because of this, I believe plants harbor solutions to any problem posed to man. I believe that through the investigation of plant biology, we can solve all the world’s problems. Their boundless potential for saving humanity is what got me interested in plants and fuels my interest today.
What is your research about?
My research attempts to investigate and characterize key players in stress response pathways in plants. When posed with certain stresses, the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) of cells can become overloaded with peptides that need to be properly folded. This buildup of unfolded and misfolded proteins causes ER Stress and stimulates the Unfolded Protein Response (UPR), which is a concerted action of multiple pathways to rectify the stress, or if it is not possible, signal autophagy. I work to identify and understand how these pathways function.
What is the potential societal impact of your research?
By understanding how these crucial stress pathways function in plants, changes can be made towards crop improvement and breeding. In addition, the UPR has many conserved aspects across eukaryotic organisms. With many human diseases and cancers being linked to defects in these pathways, discoveries in the UPR of plants can potentially be applied to these human maladies.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope to be working in a collaborative and diverse environment, making basic molecular discoveries in plants and applying them to agriculture, medicine, biofuels, etc.
On a Saturday afternoon, you'll likely find me:
Tending to my house plants or taking any opportunity to be outside, whether that be sitting in a lawn chair reading, swimming at the beach, going for a hike, skiing, etc.