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Elyse E. Munoz Receives the ASM Robert D. Watkins Graduate Research Fellowship

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Elyse MunozAugust 11, 2014 – Elyse E. Munoz, a Ph.D. genetics graduate student in the laboratory of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology faculty member, Scott Lindner, was named a 2014-2017 recipient of a Robert D. Watkins Graduate Research Fellowship.

The Watkins fellowship seeks to increase the number of under-represented minority researchers earning PhD degrees in the microbiological sciences. It is aimed at highly competitive minority graduate students with U.S. citizenship or permanent visas who have completed their first year as doctoral candidates in the microbiological sciences at accredited U.S. institutions. 

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) manages the program.  The society is the oldest and largest single life science membership organization in the world, with over 39,000 members worldwide. The members represent 26 disciplines of microbiological specialization, plus a division of microbiology educators.

Munoz will receive a stipend over the next three years to conduct research and will have the opportunity to present her research results at the annual ASM General Meeting. Her research, entitled, “Identification of Puf2-storage granule components that preserve Plasmodium sporozoite infectivity" focuses on understanding the role of RNA-binding proteins in preserving infectivity of Plasmodium, the parasites that cause malaria. Munoz explained, “Puf2 is one such RNA-binding protein that binds specific mRNAs to preserve infectivity of sporozoites, which is the form of the parasite that is transmitted from the salivary glands of mosquitoes. This is an important point for these parasites, as they are unable to predict the moment of transmission to a host. Therefore, the parasites must maintain their infectivity for an extended period of time, which they accomplish by modulating RNA homeostasis through the action of RNA-binding proteins. Further, Puf2 forms what appears to be storage complexes in sporozoites; however, the composition of these complexes is still unknown.” 

During this fellowship, Munoz seeks to identify proteins and mRNAs that compose these storage complexes, and determine their roles in maintaining infectivity of the parasites. These biochemical analyses of sporozoites will reveal mechanisms of infectivity, and further elucidate the biology of transmission events between the parasite’s mosquito vector and mammalian host.  

For more information on the Robert D. Watkins Graduate Research Fellowship, visit the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) website.