Congratulations to Fall 2021 Awardees for the Margaret Bilson Award, Cadence Flohrschutz and Alison Watson!
What is the Margaret Bilson Scholarship?
The Margaret Bilson Scholarship was established in 2014 following the passing of Ms. Bilson. Margaret was an Arizona native and UA alumna who had a passion for microbiology. This cash award supports clinical microbiology students matriculating through the College of Medicine-Tucson. This term's awardees were gifted $3000 each to aid in their current efforts in their research.
Cadence Flohrschutz is a student from the Industrial Microbial Biotechnology track. She is currently doing research in Dr. Marc Orbach's lab in the School of Plant Sciences. Her research involves genetic manipulation of the pathogenic filmaentous fungus, Coccidioides posadasii, which causes coccidioidomycosis, more commonly known as Valley Fever. Together, they are working to develop the novel system CRISPR using in vitro formation of Cas9 ribonucleoprotein complexes to create uracil deficient mutants (auxotrophs). These auxotrophs will be the progenitor strain for future studies to create an avirulent CPSI mutant strain that is the basis of the live-attenuated Valley Fever canine vaccine being developed by a group including the Orbach lab.
For development of a human vaccine, the use of the uracil auxotroph as the parental strain will be provided added assurance for regulatory approval. Currently, there is no approved vaccine for pathogenic fungi in animals or humans, so they hope that their research can guide the way for future fungal vaccine research and provide increased health to those in C. posadasii endemic regions.
"Working in Dr. Orbach’s lab has greatly expanded my skills and capabilities as a researcher while giving me the opportunity to participate in research that I am passionate about. I find fungi to be complicated, stubborn, and truly diverse which makes studying them an engaging and interesting experience. I believe this project will advance our understanding C. posadasii and fungal vaccine development and help open a new chapter of medical research. I will be sure to follow this project long after I finish my master’s at U of A," says Flohrschutz. I cannot express my gratitude enough to everyone who has supported my academic journey. I hope to be able to continue studying mycology as I move forward in my career and motivate others as Margaret Bilson and other female scientists have done for me. I am very honored to be chosen as a recipient of the Margaret Bilson Scholarship and grateful to Margaret Bilson for aiding and inspiring future generations of female scientists. This scholarship will go a long way in supporting my living expenses as I continue my master’s degree in Applied Biosciences."
Alison Watson is a student from the Medical Microbiology & Immunology track. She is currently conducting research under Dr. Michael D.L. Johnson in the Department of Immunobiology. In the Johnson lab, they investigate how metals such as copper are toxic to bacteria, more specifically Streptococcus pneumoniae. This pathogen is the primary cause for several infections such as pneumonia, meningitis, otitis media, and bronchitis. In last few decades alone, many serotypes of S. pneumoniae have become more resistant to antibiotic treatment. Her research in Dr. Johnson’s lab focuses on determining the roles of specific genes in the S. pneumoniae genome that contribute to its pathogenesis and overcoming metal toxicity. By further experimenting with these genes, they hope to provide essential gaps in understanding the mechanisms of copper toxicity in S. pneumoniae. Studying this bacterial species will also give a better understanding of how similar bacteria survive with metal deficiencies or availability. With this research, they ultimately hope to find alternative therapeutic strategies to combat antibiotic resistance by utilizing copper as an antimicrobial.
"My internship with Dr. Johnson continues to prepare me for the next steps in my career of research. Upon graduation, I hope to continue my path as a researcher in clinical microbiology and eventually pursue a career in the drug development process. The processes and mechanisms behind the development of antibiotics has always been a topic that interested me. However, with the recent emergence of antibiotic resistance, I hope to be able to contribute to the future development of antimicrobials or antivirals. More importantly, using the skills and knowledge I’ve obtained through this experience, I eventually hope to serve as an asset to my community on the Navajo reservation," says Watson.
"Applying my passion for studying pathogens and providing solutions to help combat infectious diseases in communities that are underrepresented is my main ambition while I matriculate through the Applied Biosciences program here at UA. This achievement is a complete embodiment of my progress as an Indigenous scientist. With this award, I also hope to encourage other Indigenous youth, who wish to pursue careers in the STEM field, to continue their studies and seek their scientific passions despite how much time it takes. Awards like the Bilson scholarship help ease and brighten the educational journey for students like myself, which I am forever grateful for."