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MaKenzie Drowns

Profile

  • Time Zone
    Eastern

  • Organization
    University of Georgia - Athens

  • Role
    Scientist Mentor: I will mentor teams of students online

  • Research Interests (300 words)
    My research interests are focused on molecular biology, which is the study of how molecules like proteins and sugars are built and used by living things, along with how these molecules help plants to develop and grow. For the past few years, I have done research in a plant genetics lab using a system that allows us to make changes to a plant's DNA by infecting it with bacteria. These bacteria are changed so they contain the specific plant DNA we would like to change by either making it so the plant can no longer use that piece of DNA or increasing how much that DNA is used (we refer to these specific parts of DNA as genes). After we infect the plants with the bacteria, the DNA is taken into the plant's genome, which is the collection of all of its DNA, and the plant gene will either stop working or increase how much it works. Since each gene is like a code that is used to cause changes in a living thing, we look for ones that do something of interest, like for example, a gene that causes a tree to produce a very thick trunk. This way we can make plants, or in my case trees, that will develop or grow differently. This has lots of applications, much like the one I mentioned before. By making trees that have larger trunks, we could decrease the amount of trees that we cut down to use for things like making paper or lumber. Plant molecular biology has very important applications in helping to protect the environment by allowing us to modify plants and trees to be used in more sustainable ways or even increase how much food we get from plants to help decrease world hunger.

  • Profile Question 1
    When and why did you decide to go into a science career?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 1 here (300 words):
    Once I reached my senior year of high school, and it became time to start on college applications, I remember being really conflicted on what I wanted to major in. Having varying interests, I was unsure of the type of career path I could even see myself pursuing. I knew that science and language classes had always been my favorite, but it wasn’t until my senior year biology class, where I was assigned a Powerpoint presentation on proteins that something clicked into place. Before that I had figured I would just “follow the money”. I looked into becoming a lawyer or a doctor, but I couldn’t muster any excitement for a future in which I would have to move forward in those fields. I didn’t want to sacrifice my future happiness by pursuing something I had no passion for.
    As a child, I was always interested in understanding how living things work. However, over the years I had convinced myself that interest wasn’t good enough to base my entire future career on. With the growing pressure of having to choose, I found myself wishing to return back to being a kid. The joy of playing outside with my cousin, doing “experiments” and making “food” from the leaves and sludge we would collect from the pond in my backyard. The excitement I had making microscope slides with pond water to look at under the cheap microscope I begged my parents for in elementary school. That simple Powerpoint presentation that gave me the most basic introduction to molecular biology, ended up being the catalyst that helped me reaffirm my love for science and drove me to not only pursue a career in science, but also helped me see the importance of helping students build a love for the science we experience everyday.

  • Profile Question 2
    What is a typical day like for you?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 2 here (300 words):
    I spend my days in the lab, however, they can look a little different depending on what needs to be done! Since one of my responsibilities is generating plants with gene edits, I may be working on the computer to find gene targets. I send these targets out to a company that creates little pieces of DNA called primers that have this target gene which I then use to create a plasmid, which is a type of circular DNA. I then take this plasmid and insert it into E. coli bacteria through a process called bacterial transformation. These bacteria are interesting because they can make millions of copies of this plasmid for me! After I remove the plasmids from the bacteria, I then insert them into a different bacteria called Agrobacterium that is special because it is really good at infecting plants. I then cut little squares from a leaf on the plant and infect it with the bacteria. After a few weeks, little clumps of cells called calli start to form on the leaf squares. By taking these clumps and putting them on a type of Jello-like media that has special hormones, the clumps start to form little shoots that look like tiny little leaves. By moving them to different types of media, eventually they will form whole genetically changed plants that we keep in little cups in a room with special lights that help them grow. While this whole process can take a few months, each day is a little different due to the many steps it takes to get there! I also spend a lot of time keeping these plants alive, so sometimes my whole day is spent in a germ-free hood moving them to new media to help them grow big enough to move to soil.

  • Profile Question 3
    What was the first science experiment you ever designed? How did it turn out?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 3 here (300 words):
    The first science experiment I ever designed was a project for my 9th grade biology class to see if the movement of a body of water increases the amount of oxygen in it and whether this has an impact on the amount of algae living within the body of water. Since oxygen is necessary for all living organisms, the amount of oxygen in a body of water should have an impact on how much of an organism can live in it. My hypothesis followed this idea, as I proposed that the more the water moved, the higher the oxygen content would be, and that there would be more algae present as well. I tested this by taking four small fish tanks and adding different amounts of water pumps to each; no pump, one, two, and three. I then added an equal amount of an algae culture to each tank, and over the course of five days took water samples from each. I then used a kit to test the amount of oxygen that was present in each sample and used a special machine called a spectrophotometer to check the amount of algae. This machine works by shining light of a specific color through the sample, in this case green since that was the color of algae, and measures how much of the light is reflected back to tell you how much algae there is. Comparing the four tanks, I found that the tanks with more pumps had higher oxygen levels in the water and more algae, which was my hypothesis! I did have some challenges throughout the experiment, like in my sample collection. By day five there was almost wasn’t enough water left in the tanks to sample!

  • Help represent the outreach efforts of your societies. Please click all those organizations you are a member of:
    (not set)

  • Capacity: How many teams at a time are you comfortable working with?
    2

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Hi Marlene! I do plan on moving out of Georgia to expand my career. I applied to graduate schools this past December, so I’m currently visiting the schools that I got into to see which would be the best fit. My top choice at the moment is…

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Hi Emiliana! I’m orginally from Georgia and something I really like about it is the nature. I grew up near Stone Mountain which is really hilly and full of trees, so I love seeing the trees change throughout the seasons (spring and fall are my…

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Hi ACE Hardware team, I've taken a look at your research question and think that it has a good scientific foundation and motive (climate change and natural temperature fluctuation) and that there is a lot of potential to see some…

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NSF_Logo.jpg This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant #2010556 and #1502892. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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