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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

KS-LSAMP student studies agrobacterial genetic diversity

Veronica collecting samples from the Konza Prairie
     Veronica Mateo, a recent graduate of Dodge City Community College  (DC3) in Dodge City, Kansas, considers the well being of animals her passion. She commented, "Ever since I was a child I would find myself tending to the care and needs of my family pets." Caring for animals and knowing she could impact their lives was the main reason she decided to pursue an Associate’s degree in Wildlife Biology. Once she graduated, she knew she wanted to continue her education at Kansas State University (KSU).  So, she was excited to learn that during her transition to KSU, she had an opportunity to participate in the Research Immersions Pathways to STEM (RiPs) program.
     The RiPs program is a summer research experience offered by the Pathways to STEM: Kansas Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (KS-LSAMP) at KSU that provides students with a unique opportunity to work with faculty and conduct independent research. LSAMP is a National Science Foundation (NSF) program that recruits, supports, and encourages underrepresented minority students to pursue baccalaureate degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. The KS-LSAMP RiPs program is specifically for Kansas community college students who intend to transfer to KSU or who are current KSU sophomores and juniors with no prior research experience.
     This summer, Veronica's research interests expanded to include the plant microbiology associated with ecosystems. She explained that because “Plants play a huge role in an animal’s ecosystem, the type of research I am interested in deals with plant pathogens.” Dr. Thomas Platt, Assistant Professor of Biology at KSU and a member of the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas plant systems research team, was her mentor. Veronica titled her project, the Degree of Agrobacterial Genetic Diversity within an infected plant and describes her research project as follows: “Agrobacterium tumefaciens are generally found in the root environment of the plants known as rhizosphere. Because interactions among different strains can influence pathogen dynamics, we aimed to determine the degree of agrobacterial diversity co-occurring on a single host. A typical diseased plant will harbor a gall or tumor on the crown. The samples were collected from Konza Prairie. We plated the samples collected onto a semi-selective media to identify and isolate biovar 1 agrobacteria seen as black, shiny colonies. We then used a biochemical test, then streak purified and preserved 360 isolates from these plants so that we could characterize the phenotypic and genetic attributes of the agrobacteria present. We used PCR to amplify and subsequently sequence the recA locus of the isolates from the infected sunflower to determine if the infected plant was colonized by one or several agrobacterial genotypes. We used a phylogenetic analysis that includes representatives of all 11 of the known genomovars of A. tumefaciens to determine which group or groups of agrobacteria were present. In the future we would like to determine if co-occurring genotypes significantly impact each other’s fitness. However, we are currently troubleshooting the recA locus at the moment.”
Veronica, Dr. Platt
and colleagues
     When asked what she learned from her KS-LSAMP RiPs experience, Veronica said, “Previously, I had never conducted actual research. The lab experience is definitely different from my science experience at the community college or even high school. You don’t always get the results right away, and you will be let down sometimes. However, that is science. We have to learn from our mistakes and analyze what went wrong. This research taught me, overall, about what a research lab experience is and how to be patient.” Her favorite part of the summer experience was working in the lab and meeting the people associated with Dr. Platt’s lab. She added, “When I had any issues or questions I did not hesitate to ask them and having that resource made it an enjoyable experience.”
     Veronica is from Dodge City, Kansas, and is currently a junior majoring in Biology at KSU. While studying at KSU, she plans to continue her research in Dr. Platt’s lab. As for her future plans, she said, “My career plan is to apply to the Veterinary program here at Kansas State University over the summer of 2019 and someday work in an environment surrounded by animals.”

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the KS-LSAMP  program is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas. The award's workforce development and educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems