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A Newsletter for Biochemistry, Genetics and Cell Biology, and Microbiology Alumni & Friends College of Veterinary Medicine | Molecular Biosciences News

Five Questions with Dr. Gay Lynn Clyde

Dr. Gay Lynn Clyde
Gay Lynn Clyde, WSU microbiology alumna.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
From as long as I can remember, I have loved animals. Growing up, my family lived mostly in the suburbs. We had a dog, but I would not have considered them “animal” people. When I was 9 years old, I started riding horses. I bought my first horse when I was 12 years old from money I’d saved mowing lawns in the summer. I knew then that I would be a veterinarian.

After I earned a bachelor of science degree in microbiology from Washington State University, I applied to several veterinary schools. Applying to veterinary school was, and still is, extremely competitive, and I did not get in right away. So, I worked for several years for a pharmaceutical company in Seattle on the research and development side. I volunteered at Woodland Park Zoo working with lemurs, gorillas, and orangutans while living and working in Seattle. After several failed attempts to get into veterinary school, I returned to WSU to earn a second degree in natural resource science. I applied again to veterinary school and was accepted at WSU.

Can you share a little about your career since you graduated from WSU?
My true passion was always horses, and I wanted to be a large animal veterinarian. But life has a way of going down paths you would have never thought of. I met my husband in my second year of veterinary school and we got married the week before graduation. He told me from the get go that he was a farmer and he would never leave the area, so love being the way it is, I was happy to stay. I started working in a mixed animal practice in Lewiston and loved the work. Unfortunately, once I was pregnant it was not recommended that I pull calves and palpate horses, so I decided to focus more on small animal medicine and surgery. From then on, I was committed to be a small animal veterinarian.

I practiced for 10 years in the private sector, mostly with small animals and exotics. I loved working in private practice, but in 2012, I had an opportunity to take a different direction in my career. I joined the Office of the Campus Veterinarian here at WSU as a clinical veterinarian for all WSU owned animals. I am extremely fortunate to work for WSU in the position. Every day is quite unique not only in what we see and do, but the range of species we get to work with from the grizzly bears to the tiny mouse. I began my career in my mind at an early age, wanting to be just like James Herriot in All Creatures Great and Small. Now at the peak of my career, I have a small piece of that vision that I live every day.

How did your degree in microbiology help shape your career?
Science was always my favorite topic in high school, so when I got to WSU as an undergraduate, I gravitated to a microbiology degree. The course work included genetics, biochemistry, immunology, virology, physiology, parasitology, and anatomy to name a few. All classes I knew would help prepare me for veterinary school. I also knew that a degree in microbiology would prepare me for other career options such as being a medical technologist or a research assistant, working in the food industry, or applying to graduate school. Having options was always in the back of my mind for my career, and a microbiology degree had a wide variety of career options and I had a passion for the course work, so it was a good fit. My professors (Drs. Paznokas, Mallavia, and Magnuson) at the time were like family to our close-knit group of students.

What might we be surprised to know about you?
I take two to three weeks of vacation every August from my position at WSU to drive combine for our family farm in Moscow. I love harvest, my daughter and I are in one combine and my son drives the other. My nephew runs the bank out wagon, and my husband follows behind us and fixes whatever falls apart or we break as we go. It is an amazing time for our family; we are up early every day, working together, talking on radios for 14 to 16 hours a day. These are times I will cherish all my life.

Is there anything you wish you could do over in your education or career?
Looking back over my life, I have been extremely fortunate. My parents planned and saved money for my brother and I to go to college as they did (they were first generation college graduates). We were a middle-class family and saving money for our education was important. I was able to attend four years as an undergraduate student at WSU debt free (I worked also in the summers). Looking back, this was an amazing “gift,” a high-quality bachelor’s degree in microbiology and starting off debt free. So, if I had to change anything in my education, I would say “I wouldn’t change a thing!” Everything in my education and life has lead me to this point and I am so grateful to be where I am, “Go Cougs”

Six Facts About Dr. Gay Lynn Clyde

Hometown: Richland, Washington
Degrees: Bachelor of Science (’91 microbiology), Bachelor of Science (’99 natural resource sciences), Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (’03), all obtained from WSU
Pets: Border collie cross dog named “Bear,” numerous cats, two ponies (“Solomon,” “Iris”), one horse (“Star”), two chickens (“May,” “June”)
Hobbies: Tennis, gardening, and all my animals
Favorite book: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
Family: Married 14 years to a fifth generation wheat farmer. We have two children; a 13-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter.

Training our Students for Success

Story by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ’04 | Photo by Henry Moore Jr.

Keesha Matz with Dr. Alan Goodman.
Keesha Matz with Dr. Alan Goodman.

Keesha Matz wants to understand some of the world’s deadliest viruses. Raised in Chehalis, Washington, her love for microbiology began in a molecular genetics high school class taught by WSU alumnus Henri Weeks.

“The class gave me a real feel for research, which I think is unique for a high school class,” says Matz.

That experience inspired her to apply to the WSU School of Molecular Bioscience’s STARS program. Students Targeted toward Advanced Research Studies, or STARS, accelerates learning and provides hands-on research experience. “They help you get into a research lab right away,” she says. For Matz, it meant that she could spend the summers after her freshman and sophomore years conducting research instead of going back home to get a job.

Her first experience in a research lab was with Dr. Hector Aguilar-Carreño in the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health who studies the Nipah virus. First discovered in 1999 in Malaysia and Singapore, the deadly virus was the subject of the 2011 film, Contagion, starring Gwyneth Paltrow. In Aguilar-Carreño’s lab, she studied how proteins of the virus can spread the disease throughout the body. She also studied Lyme disease with Dr. Troy Bankhead, who has a joint appointment in the Allen School and the Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology department. She is currently conducting research on the Nipah virus with Dr. Alan Goodman in the School of Molecular Biosciences.

“I am able to directly apply what I learned in Dr. Aguilar-Carreño’s lab in Dr. Goodman’s lab,” she says.

In Goodman’s lab, rather than trying to understand how the virus spreads throughout the body, they want to know how the virus can evade the body’s innate immune response.

When a virus enters the body, the immune system typically responds to the foreign invader. But with the Nipah virus, certain proteins signal the body to decrease its immune response. “Keesha is not afraid to take on new, large-scale, challenging experiments,” says Goodman. “She carefully plans every step beforehand to make sure that the experiments are carried out properly and that she can perform them independently.”

This summer as an undergraduate research fellow at Mayo Clinic, Matz will study a protein of the Ebola virus that also evades the antiviral response at the cellular level, similar to the work she had done at WSU.

For Matz, the support she has received at WSU to pursue research opportunities and apply for scholarships has made a difference in her academic success. She is 1 of only 240 students nationwide to receive the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships for 2017–18. She also received two scholarships through the School of Molecular Biosciences—the Alice Lloyd Diers and William E. Diers Microbiology Student Endowment Scholarship in 2016 and the Walter L. & Pauline W. Harris Microbiology Endowment Scholarship in 2017.

“It was a huge honor to be awarded a national scholarship,” says Matz, who has maintained nearly a 4.0 GPA while working in the research labs. “Being selected for these scholarships has allowed me to focus more on academics and research and take advantage of other opportunities. It feels like a big pat on the back.”

Matz will graduate in the spring of 2018 with a bachelor of science degree in microbiology. From there she plans to go to graduate school. Berkeley, Mayo Clinic, and Cornell are places she is considering applying to, but the dream is Stanford. “You have to try,” she says.

Thinking about the future, Matz would eventually like to work in government lab or private industry conducting medical research that can be used to design treatments for infectious diseases, like Nipah. “I would like to be in an organization that works globally, such as the World Health Organization,” she says. She also wants to support the university that has given her so much.

“In the future, I definitely want to give back, because I know how much it means to students,” she says. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the mentoring I’ve had at WSU.”

Fellowship Helps Fund a Love of Pathogens

by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ‘04

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In a light-filled laboratory, Nick Negretti grows bacteria.

“I love pathogens,” says Negretti, who is a graduate student in the WSU School of Molecular Biosciences. “They are so interesting. In each of us, there are more bacterial cells than human cells,” he says. “And while most bacteria are helpful, there are a few that make us sick.”

Negretti works in the lab of WSU professor Mike Konkel, a leading expert on the food-borne pathogen Campylobacter jejuni. Often found in the intestines of chickens, C. jejuni is the most common bacterial cause of human food poisoning in the world. Symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting that can sometimes result in death. In the United States alone, the Centers for Disease Control estimate 1.3 million people are infected each year. By understanding how bacteria make people ill, Konkel and Negretti’s work could help develop new therapies for disease prevention.

But like most university labs, Konkel depends on grant money to fund ongoing, long-term research. When he learned there would be a gap in funding because of timing between grants, his lab was able to continue research without interruption because of funds from the Charles and Audrey Drake Fellowship*.

“The funds from the Drake Fellowship really helped,” says Konkel. “This type of bridge funding is critical because preliminary research is necessary to apply for grant money.” Konkel and his team are now funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

For Negretti, who began his undergraduate studies in the STARS program, it meant that he could continue his research and stay on track to graduate  in 2019. STARS, which stands for Students Targeted toward Advanced Research Studies, gives exceptional undergraduate students the opportunity to begin doing research their first year and finish their doctorate in as few as seven years.

“Coming to college I knew I wanted to do research, and the STARS program is a good way to get involved in research right from the beginning,” he says.

Negretti came to WSU in August 2011 right out of high school, and had applied to the STARS program. “I didn’t get in my first semester,” he says. Undaunted, he applied again, was accepted, and went on to finish his bachelors of science in just three years. Now a graduate student, he has worked in Konkel’s lab almost from the beginning. “The best way to learn is to jump in feet first,” he says.

In August 2016, Negretti and Konkel will visit the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Virginia where they will use one-of-a-kind, high-definition microscopes to understand better how C. jejuni bacteria bind to the host cells in the intestine.

Host cells change their behavior because of the bacteria, says Negretti, and the only way to understand the tools bacteria use to get a cell to do something it wouldn’t normally do is with a high-definition microscope.

“Nick is addressing questions that can only be answered using a highly specialized microscope,” says Konkel. “We are lucky to go to the Advanced Imaging Center at Janelia.”

Negretti is hoping to learn more about how bacteria bind to the host cells in the intestine and how that interaction changes both the host cell and the bacterial cell. “It will give us a better idea how it [bacteria] manipulates the cell,” he says. “This is a very valuable piece of information.” That information will lead to new questions and answers. “Letting the science happen,” he says.

After he graduates, Negretti wants a postdoctoral research position. After that, “I will see where life is,” he says. And where life and science take him.

1st Biennial Chromatin-DNA Repair Lecture Honored the Distinguished Careers of Drs. Raymond Reeves and Michael Smerdon

To honor Drs. Smerdon and Reeves and their long careers and innovative research on how DNA in chromatin influences basic cell functions, the School of Molecular Biosciences hosted the “Smerdon/Reeves Symposium on DNA Repair in Chromatin: The First 40 years (and Beyond)” May 21-23, 2015.

Reeves and Smerdon
Raymond Reeves and Michael Smerdon

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Reaching for the STARS

by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ‘04

Travis Kent 1
Travis Kent

When Travis Kent was still a high school student in Boise, Idaho, Washington State University was one of his top choices. But it was on a visit to the WSU School of Molecular Biosciences when he was told about STARS, a fast-track program where students can begin as undergraduates and earn a doctorate in seven years, when he knew this was the place for him.

“I was excited about getting into the lab early and that shifted my decision to come to WSU,” said Kent, who in 2016 will earn a doctorate in genetics and cell biology.

With STARS, or Students Targeted toward Advanced Research Studies, students can begin their laboratory training their first year. Each semester and over the summer students receive stipends and the funding allows them to spend time doing their own research, rather than working off-campus.

“Without the STARS program, I wouldn’t have been able to work in a lab over the summer,” said Kent. “I would have been further behind in my research.”

Because he had done lab rotations as an undergraduate, by the time he entered graduate school he was able to focus more on research and he was ahead of other graduate students entering the program.

“I’ve been working in the lab for six years,” said Kent. “I feel better prepared for my exams and I was ahead in my coursework as well.”

Kent’s research is on how abnormal levels of vitamin A, or retinoic acid, can affect fertility in men. A fat soluble vitamin, retinoic acid levels are affected by an individual’s metabolism.

“Half of all infertility cases are men,” said Kent. “But in about 50% of those cases, they don’t know the cause.” His research could lead to different advice by doctors who may prescribe vitamin A to treat acne if it could cause infertility later on.

“I’m passionate about reproductive biology,” said Kent.

When he finishes graduate school at just 24 years old, he will have many options in front of him.

“Whether I work in academia, government, or for industry, I haven’t decided,” said Kent. He is currently planning to pursue three to five years of postdoctoral training after he earns his doctorate.

“After that, I am keeping my options open,” said Kent.

For more information about supporting the STARS program visit go.wsu.edu/STARS.

Training our Students to Succeed

Graduate students in the college will have a new opportunity this fall. Doctoral students earning a degree in molecular bioscience, neuroscience or immunology/infectious disease can now be part of a new gateway program Integrated Programs in Biomedical Sciences (iPBS).

For doctoral students pursuing a degree in molecular biosciences, it means access to a wider range of educational resources and faculty mentors, said John Nilson, professor in the School for Molecular Biosciences who is spearheading the program. They will also learn skills to help them succeed in a variety of professions.

“They will learn more than just how to be good scientists,” said Nilson. “It will give our students new skills and tools to pursue a variety of professions that require a scientific background.”

After earning their doctoral degrees, students will be well-equipped to pursue careers in science policy development, science communication, patent law, educational research, or as researchers in industry or academia. The doctoral component is the foundation that supports the professional development component, said Nilson.

The program will begin mid-July with a professional development leadership retreat followed by three laboratory rotations that begin in summer and end in December.

“The program emphasizes professional development,” said Nilson. “We are training them to be consummate professionals who are committed to a life-time of learning and serving.”

Meet New SMB Director, Jonathan Jones

by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ‘04

Drs John Nilson and Jonathan Jones
John Nilson and Jonathan Jones

SMB welcomes new a director, Jonathan Jones. Jonathan comes to us from Northwestern University’s Department of Cell and Molecular Biology in the Feinberg School of Medicine. To get here, he and his wife Susan drove 1869 miles from Chicago to Pullman over Labor Day weekend with a dog and tropical fish in tow.

“We were very glad when we drove into the parking of the SMB building September 3,” says Jones. “The fish most of all.”

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Phil Mixter Takes Over Molecular Bioscience Lab after Alberta Brassfield Retired

by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ‘04

Alberta Brassfield and Phil Mixter
Alberta Brassfield and Phil Mixter

For 16 years, Alberta (Bert) Brassfield, a WSU instructor, taught immunology and virology lab classes to seniors, a course now known as Molecular Biosciences 430.  The class was a favorite of many students because of its small size and lots of instructor-student interaction and individual attention.  Alumni have described Bert’s class as pivotal in “putting it all together” and “clarifying my career path.”

So when Phil Mixter took over the lab last fall, it was no small task.

“I had big shoes to fill,” said Mixter, clinical associate professor. “For many students, this was the place where a lot of the foundational knowledge began to be integrated.”

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NIH funds scientists’ work to unravel cell repair

Michael Smerdon, left, and John Wyrick with model of DNA double helix. (Photo by Shelly Hanks, WSU Photo Services)
PULLMAN, Wash. – Each moment, every cell in your body is being assaulted and – fortunately – fixed, thanks to the crews of handymen enzymes that travel up and down your DNA strands. Considering that you wouldn’t survive without these built-in repair systems, it’s reassuring to know that two Washington State University scientists, awarded a $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, have made it their mission to understand how the mechanisms work and why, sometimes, they fail.

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Paying it Forward: Dr. Herbert M. Nakata

by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ‘04

When it came to helping students, Dr. Herbert Nakata made it his life’s work. Beginning in 1970 and for the next 28 years, he helped establish 11 endowed scholarships fund that are still supporting students today.

“I have a lot of empathy for students,” said Dr. Nakata emeritus professor and former chair of the Microbiology department at WSU. “I know how tough it is for them, and college was a lot less expensive back then than it is today.”

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