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Douglas Baumann, recipient of the 2018 Fred Wedler Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award

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Douglas Baumann

June 19, 2018 – Douglas Baumann, a recent graduate of Penn State’s Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Graduate Program, has been honored with the 2018 Fred Wedler Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award.

Each year, the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, selects one doctoral student to receive the award.  It is given to the student whose dissertation is judged to be the best, based on evaluation criteria given to the student’s dissertation committee.   Each student defending a doctoral dissertation is automatically considered for the award.

Baumann always had an interest in science but it wasn’t until his time as an undergraduate at BYU that he decided biochemistry and molecular biology was the right fit for him.  He initially wanted to be a pharmacist, and as an undergraduate student he took a job working in a pharmacy to see if he would like it.  That turned out to be a wonderful decision for him because he quickly realized that being a pharmacist was not what he was called to do.  Unsure what path to take, Baumann began talking with different professors at BYU. He found a professor working in an immunology and molecular biology lab that he began to work with.  It was through this chain of events that Baumann began drifting toward the world of biochemistry and molecular biology.

Baumann’s Ph.D. dissertation focused on gaining a mechanistic understanding of eukaryotic gene regulation.   In particular, he studied transcription, the process by which a protein-coding gene templates the synthesis of messenger RNA, which is ultimately converted to proteins that carry out countless critical functions necessary cell survival and development.  Baumann found that a recently discovered DNA-binding protein aids in the coordinated expression of ribosomal protein genes, a critically important gene network in the cell.  Additionally, Baumann discovered a transcription regulator that also has glutathione S-transferase (GST) enzymatic activity.  While GSTs have long been studied for their role in cellular stress response, this is the first observation of a GST functioning in transcription.  Although there is still a great deal to learn about this protein, the potential biological implications are very exciting.

When asked why he chose to conduct his graduate studies at Penn State, Baumann commented on how supportive and friendly the faculty, staff and other students on campus were and also how important being a part of the Center for Eukaryotic Gene Regulation (CEGR) was to his success.  Regarding his involvement with CEGR, Baumann said, “It offered me the option to meet and work with people that come from different backgrounds but are all interested in the same thing.”  Baumann went on to say about CEGR, “It allows you to get expertise from others and also allows you to provide expertise to others.”

Baumann has worked in the Gilmour Lab under the direction of Dr. David Gilmour for a little more than 6 years.  Baumann characterized Dr. Gilmour as a very supportive and helpful mentor and commented on how Dr. Gilmour not only allowed him to explore and try new things, but encouraged him to do so.  Looking back at his graduate career at Penn State Baumann said, “The best opportunity I had at Penn State was working with David Gilmour.”

The focus of the Gilmour Lab is to understand Eukaryotic Gene Regulation.  At the heart of this is understanding what causes genes to turn on and off, or to be expressed at higher or lower levels.  Dr. Gilmour’s research over the years has focused particularly on one step within the process of transcription, Promoter Proximal Pausing.

Baumann’s focus within the lab remained on the process of transcription.  Unlike most others in the lab who focus on Promoter Proximal Pausing, Baumann focused on Initiation.  He sought to understand the regulation of a large subset of genes within fruit flies.

Baumann’s next stop in his scientific career is the University of Michigan where he is taking a postdoctoral position researching cancer resistance.  In the treatment of cancer different types of cancer are often treated with different types of medications.  Initially these medications work well in treatment, but over time the cancer develops a resistance.  Baumann’s research will focus on understanding the molecular underpinnings of what is happening to allow this resistance to develop.