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Dominika Houserova, a second-year student in the University of South Alabama Basic Medical Sciences Graduate Program, recently received a one-year Alabama Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (ALEPSCoR) Graduate Research Scholars Program (GRSP) fellowship award to study small non-coding RNAs in Salmonella.
Victoria Pickle, who is earning her master’s degree in biology at USA, also received the award. Both Houserova and Pickle are graduate students in the lab of Dr. Glen Borchert, assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine. Both students will conduct EPSCoR-supported research in Dr. Borchert’s lab through grants from the National Science Foundation.
“These fellowships are extremely competitive,” Dr. Borchert said. “This marks the second time Dominika has received the award and the first for Victoria.”
Houserova said the fellowship will allow her to devote 100 percent of her time to scientific pursuits. “Moreover, it enables us to allocate more funds towards purchasing materials and solvents used in my experiments, as well as covering costs related to traveling to various annual conferences and workshops,” she said.
Her research focuses on identification of novel, small non-coding RNA (sRNA) found in Salmonella in an attempt to understand how these bacteria survive in unfavorable environments such as high heat, antibiotic treatment and oxidation. “This work will hopefully lead to the identification of not only numerous new genes in this pathogen, but also lead the way for identifying countless similar genes across an array of other medically relevant bacteria,” she said.
According to Houserova, sRNAs are molecules known to be potent genetic regulators in both eukaryotes and prokaryotes. “Despite their recently appreciated roles in eukaryotic cell regulations, only a handful of sRNAs have been identified in bacteria,” she said. “I chose this project because there is still so much we do not know about genetics and many related metabolic process. Here we strive to identify and characterize novel sRNAs in Salmonella enteric to help define various mechanisms behind their regulatory abilities. These new genes may represent novel therapeutic targets for treating these pathogens and offer new alternative to current antibiotic-based treatments.”
Pickle said her research aims to provide new insights for clinically valuable therapeutic or prognostic targets for lung cancer. “Small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs) were first described in the 1960s and have been thought to function almost exclusively in basic cellular maintenance for more than 50 years,” she said. “However, recent studies have now called for a reassessment of the function of snoRNAs after genetic searchers for tumor-suppressor genes have revealed miss-regulations associated with prostate, breast and lung malignancies.”
The GRSP – a state investment in Alabama’s universities to expand research output – is unique among national EPSCoR programs, as few states have committed major resources toward the sponsorship and development of its next generation of researchers, scientists and innovators. The award offers research opportunities to graduate students under the guidance of some of Alabama’s finest research scientists.
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