Hi there! My name is Zach Leydig, and I am a rising senior majoring in Biochemistry and minoring in Chemistry. I am incredibly excited to be a part of the Brackenridge Fellowship this summer to continue my research after being a part of the Fall Research Fellowship. Originally a Nursing major, I am particularly interested in health sciences and have always wanted to play a small role in pushing the boundaries in research that has human applications. With the support of the Honors College, I can keep pushing those boundaries, which not only contributes to the field but allows me to grow academically, professionally, and personally.
This summer, I will be working to characterize a poorly understood protein that is thought to play a role in sex cell development. Sex cells (or gametes) arise through meiosis, a particular type of cell division that gives rise to four genetically unique daughter cells with half the number of chromosomes as the parent cell. Gametes combine from male and female (sperm and egg, respectively), giving rise to a genetically unique organism with a complete set of chromosomes. For meiosis to occur faithfully, the DNA must physically break, only to be repaired by neighboring DNA that is mostly similar to the broken DNA. This breakage and subsequent repair is vital as it allows chromosomes to segregate before cell divisions and promotes genetic diversity. We use Caenorhabditis elegans as our model organism, a tiny nematode about 1 millimeter long. Although the worms must be looked at through a dissecting microscope, they are fantastic for experiments that look at cells as they progress through meiosis. (The microscope in the picture is a confocal microscope, not a dissecting microscope! More on the confocal in a later post!!)
I am incredibly fortunate to work alongside Dr. Judith Yanowitz in addition to everyone in the lab I am a part of at the Magee-Womens Research Institute. The research we do is vital as it gives insight into some of the proteins needed for successful sex cell development. Additionally, research in this field enables some developmental defects in humans to be linked to specific proteins that may have gone awry.
During the Brackenridge Fellowship, I hope to expand my professional network and improve my communication skills in an interdisciplinary team. Brackenridge is unique in that it allows students from many different majors and backgrounds to get together and discuss their projects and maybe even hash out any difficulties they run into. For example, one moment we may be discussing a particularly tricky psychology experiment setup, then change gears and discuss some challenges in an archival-based research project. These experiences are special because it improves my ability to think quickly on my feet and approach problems through a different lens. I also plan on applying to medical school in the near future while also staying in research. The Brackenridge Fellowship will allow me to build a strong foundation as I work toward becoming a clinician-scientist in an interdisciplinary team!