Santa Clara University

The Johnson Scholars Program

Emily Robinson '14

Hometown: Sammamish, Wash.
Major/Double Minor: biochemistry/public health and biotechnology
Mentor: David Hess, assistant professor, biology
Project: Genetic Basis of Stress Tolerance in Natural Populations of Yeast

Science, and specifically biochemistry, is Emily Robinson's passion. She engages in the sciences both inside and outside the classroom and plans to attend medical school and combine her interest in the fields of pediatrics, endocrinology, and molecular biology with a public health, preventive approach to medicine. For 12 months, Emily will research genetically simple traits to leverage potentially important variations in genes of natural yeast populations. Her research will advance our understanding of the genetic rules found in simple yeast and apply this understanding to the genetic basis of human disease such as cancer, Alzheimer's, and heart disease. Specifically, she'll be examining the genetic basis and evolution of ammonia toxicity resistance in certain strains like sake yeast, which has evolved a resistance to high concentrations of ammonia unlike most other strains. Understanding the genetic basis for this variability among yeast strains, and which DNA changes cause these differences, helps us better understand the natural variation of any trait. Emily's findings will allow us to draw connections between the yeast model and the causation of disease risk in humans. After graduation, Emily plans to take a year off to devote time to the molecular biology and research that she's engaged in as an undergraduate before attending medical school and building a career to help those who are less fortunate and have less access to health care for themselves and their families.

Emily's 2013 Summer Project Update:

"This summer proved to be very productive, as my lab partners and I made significant progress on Dr. Hess's long-term project. We completed the first portion of the much larger project, engineering a DNA plasmid as well as identifying, testing, and archiving mutant yeast strains. On the second portion of the project, we will be using the engineered DNA plasmid to isolate and extract a specific allele—one of a number of alternative forms of the same gene—from the confirmed mutant yeast strains. With the extracted alleles, we will build an allele library. Not only did I look forward to going to the lab every day, but I also had the opportunity to collaborate and bond with very supportive lab partners and my research professor."