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Douglas Baumann receives 2017 Richard L. and Norma L. McCarl Graduate Scholarship in Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Biology

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Douglas Baumann

November 2, 2017 – Douglas Baumann, a student in the Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Biology (BMMB) Graduate Program at Penn State, has been honored with the 2017 Richard L. and Norma L. McCarl Graduate Scholarship in Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Biology.

The Richard L. and Norma L. McCarl Graduate Scholarship provides recognition and financial assistance to an outstanding graduate student enrolled or planning to enroll in the BMMB graduate degree program.  The McCarl Graduate Scholarship in Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology is a one-time academic award cannot be renewed.  Consideration for scholarship is given to a full-time graduate student enrolled or planning to enroll in the BMMB graduate degree program in the Eberly College of Science, with preference given to all graduate students working with a biochemistry faculty member or a faculty member doing biochemical research. Douglas Cavener, Dean of Eberlyl College of Science, appointed Douglas as recipient of the Scholarship upon the recommendation of the Head of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Baumann came to Penn State to pursue his graduate studies after attending and earning a Bachelor’s Degree from Brigham Young University (BYU).  After graduation from BYU, and prior to Penn State, Baumann worked for Myriad Genetics for 1 ½ years.  Myriad Genetics is a leading molecular diagnostic company, based out of Salt Lake City, dedicated to saving and improving lives by discovering and delivering tests across major diseases.

Baumann currently works as a graduate student in the Gilmour Lab, under the guidance of Dr. David Gilmour.  Among other things, our genomes are composed of genes. The spatial and temporal regulation of gene expression, or when and where genes are switched on or off, is one of biology’s most fundamental processes. The Gilmour Lab studies the regulation of transcription (the process of making an RNA copy of a gene), which is one of the most important steps in gene regulation. More specifically, the Gilmour Lab studies two rate-limiting steps in transcription known as initiation and pausing. Initiation, as the name implies, is the first step in transcription while pausing occurs shortly thereafter. Both processes are tightly controlled and thus represent critical steps in gene regulation. It is impossible to fully comprehend gene regulation without an appropriate understanding of these two processes in transcription.

Baumann’s research primarily focuses on initiation of transcription and has led to a greater understanding of the principles that govern transcription regulation at thousands of genes in the model organism Drosophila melanogaster.  Appropriate regulation of gene expression is critical for complex biological process such as development and misregulation of gene expression, and underlies many disease states including cancer.  Thus, the hope is to gain a more complete understanding of the principles that dictate gene regulation. Through research like that of the Gilmour Lab researchers can begin to apply knowledge of these principles to treat diseases that are underpinned by defects in gene misregulation. The ultimate goal of this research is to provide the foundation of knowledge necessary to improve human health.

“Essentially, so much of biology comes back to what genes are turned on and turned off.  A cancer cell is different from a non-cancer cell often times in the genes that are expressing, or not expressing, and the misregulation of gene expression”, stated Baumann.  He went on to say, “All the cells in our bodies are identical genetically, so what makes and eye cell different from a skin cell?  Understanding that, you begin to understand why these things are different.  It really boils down to which genes are being expressed at any given time.”

Baumann finishes his graduate studies and will graduate next semester.  He is actively searching for postdoctoral opportunities and would like to stay within the gene regulation field.  He would love the opportunity to conduct research and experiments with single molecule and single cell types.  Baumann won’t be making this transition alone though.  He has been supported over the course of his graduate career by his wife, Rianna, and his 6 year old son, McKay.  “We’re not really city people”, Baumann stated and therefore are trying to find a nice balance of good science and a not so busy environment.  Baumann would very much like to find an area much like Penn State.