Molecular and cell biology major Anna Green, of Storrs, Conn., won the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship during her junior year at UConn. The prestigious scholarship grants monetary awards 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 in systems biology and genomics after graduating, and continue to do research and teach at a university. In general, “systems biology” is a field that integrates computational, quantitative, and experimental methods in the hopes of uncovering fundamental principles in biological phenomena, such as multi-cellular development, evolution, and gene regulation, Green explains.
“I haven’t chosen a graduate school yet,” she said, noting that the deadline for making a decision is April 15. “Around that time I should also be hearing about a graduate fellowship that I applied for with the NSF [National Science Foundation].”
This past summer, Green interned at the Harvard Center for Systems Biology studying the dynamics of gene regulatory networks in yeast. It is hoped that this research will further our understanding of the dynamics and function of biological circuits, she said.
“As far as the science goes, I am still analyzing the results from our experiments, so I don’t have definitive conclusions yet,’ Green said. “That’s the last part of the data analysis for my thesis.”
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.