Molecular and cell biology major Anna Green, a junior, has won the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. The award grants $7,500 toward the completion of the recipient’s undergraduate degree.
Green studies bioinformatics with Peter Gogarten, professor of molecular and cell biology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, researching genetic evolution among specific types of bacteria. These bacteria display a novel form of evolution in which they swap genes, known as horizontal transfer. This phenomenon has wide-ranging implications for how bacteria – and potentially other species – evolve.
“What we’re doing is like molecular detective work,” she explains. “When you look at humans, you can use the fossil record to help you understand what genetic sequences used to look like.” But with bacteria, she says, which aren’t preserved like fossils, understanding their genetics is much harder.
Green’s project focuses on a particular genus of heat-tolerant bacteria. Using computational techniques in combination with laboratory experiments, she wants to know how these bacteria evolved to grow at such a high temperature.
“We hope these studies will lead us to a better fundamental understanding of the way bacteria evolve,” she says.
Green hopes to move on to Ph.D. studies after graduating, and continue to do research and teach at a university.
Ragini Phansalkar, a double major in biological sciences and computer science, was also cited as an honorable mention for the award. Phansalkar studies protein structure and function in the laboratories of Barbara Mellone of molecular and cell biology and Daniel Schwartz of physiology and neurobiology. She has also worked extensively with Engineers Without Borders, developing novel water purification methods for use in developing countries.
Phansalkar, an honors student, is also a Nutmeg Scholar and was named a UConn New England Scholar in 2011.
Named for Sen. Barry M. Goldwater, the Foundation supports the training of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue careers in these fields.