A gene proved to be the ticket to a national conference for Jenny Shoots ’14. The molecular biology major from Wooster, Ohio, used her research to apply for the Pfizer Undergraduate Travel Award to the Society of Toxicology Annual Meeting in Phoenix in March. She was selected as one of 11 recipients – and the only one from a small liberal arts school.
Shoots cloned DNA encoding of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor from a salamander. This protein mediates the response of animals to toxic pollutants including dioxins. Researchers have known that frogs are resistant to dioxins. Shoots’ hypothesis was that salamanders would be, too. “Our research predicts that, in the wild, salamanders are also resistant to these pollutants. That’s what I think the most interesting aspect is,” she said.
Professor of Biology Wade Powell said he encouraged her to apply for the award. “The work she’s done is really interesting and well done,” he said. “Plus, her overall track record as an outstanding student is apparent. She really is one of the best science majors of the year. That contributes to her winning.”
With the award, Pfizer, a multinational pharmaceutical company, paid her travel, lodging and expenses to the conference, which she attended with Powell and Eric Engelbrecht ’14. “There were a lot of good presentations that got us really excited about where future research is going, a lot of really interesting speakers,” Shoots said.
The response to her poster was “very enthusiastic,” said Powell, who has had two other students in the past win the award. “As an institution and a lab group, that’s a track record we’re proud of because it’s a highly competitive award,” he said.
This isn’t the first research in which Shoots has participated. In high school, she worked with wheat breeders at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster to use genetics to help improve crop quality. She also had an internship the summer before her junior year at the Moat Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, to study bacteria on coral.
If it sounds like a wide variance in research, it is, though Shoots says there’s a commonality to all of it. “The theme between them all weaves molecular biomarkers in some aspect,” she said.
The award also gave Shoots a day of mentoring by Pfizer to see how a career in toxicology could work, especially in the pharmaceutical industry instead of academia. “I don’t know my definitive career path yet,” she said. Right now, she is focused on finding a job in a lab after graduation before deciding where she might go for graduate school. “But I would consider it.”