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Discovering a Passion for Discovery

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Danielle Schlimmer (l) and Dr. Shannon Mackey

February 2011 | by Robin Youngblood


While St. Ambrose University is foremost a teaching rather than a research institution, that doesn't mean opportunities aren't available for Ambrose students to participate in interesting research faculty are conducting. Sometimes, though, it's the student spearheading the research project-which is precisely what helped biology major Danielle Schlimmer win first place in the undergraduate poster competition at the 70th annual meeting of the North Central Branch of the American Society for Microbiology in Mankato, Minn., in October.

Shannon Mackey, PhD, assistant professor of biology at St. Ambrose, says Danielle's poster won because the research idea it explained was solely hers and not an aspect of her supervising professor's research.

"Dani has been using the scientific method to answer biological questions since her first semester at St. Ambrose," Mackey says. "The research project that earned her top honors was entirely her idea, which allowed Dani to explain the experiment from its design to its completion with great ease."

Danielle's research, which she began in fall 2009, looked at how E. coli bacteria changes when it comes into contact with adrenaline.

"I was interested in asking the question ‘why?' and started to investigate if there were factors involved in gene regulation that was causing the positive reaction of the bacteria toward adrenaline," Danielle says.

Her findings may help explain why certain bacteria thrive on adrenaline, which could also explain why it's not uncommon for a person to become sick after living through a stressful situation.

In addition to the E. coli research in her poster entry, Danielle participated in research Mackey has been conducting with Lori Wallrath, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Iowa, to understand the role of Heterochromatin Protein 1 in turning off gene expression in the fruit fly Drosophila. Such gene expression research is important because it may help explain what causes the severity and speed of breast cancer metastasis.

It's an area that Danielle, who graduated in December, is particularly interested in pursuing. She is currently investigating doctoral-level graduate studies in genetics, with the intent of enrolling in a program this fall.

"I would like to work in a lab that studies how genetic and epigenetics factors and mechanisms relate to disease," she says. "In doing so, the lab could find new approaches to treating and curing a wide variety of diseases, which is why I was initially interested in joining the Wallrath lab. By studying that protein, we can research new avenues of breast cancer treatment."

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