Summer of Microbiomes

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jul 5, 2019

Student one of three selected nationwide for research program

Adriana Caldwell
Adriana Caldwell’s face lights up when she talks about her favorite subject – fungi, bacteria, viruses – everything related to microbiology, her major at Kennesaw State University. Now she is spending the summer conducting microbial ecology research as one of only three students selected nationwide for a ten-week immersive Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at the University of Kansas.

Since late May, Caldwell has been participating in mentored research focused on the biodiversity of microbes in plant and soil ecosystems called microbiomes and how they can benefit agricultural production.  As part of her research, she is working on microbiology ecology in prairies, an endangered ecosystem, and restoring the community of soil microbes and plants to its near-original state.  The REU is sponsored by a team of researchers associated with a state-wide study of microbiomes that is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Caldwell, the only female and African-American student in this REU program, had the opportunity to work with two professors in ecology and evolutionary biology. Among the program’s research and career development opportunities, she will receive one research course credit hour and participate in the university-wide Summer Undergraduate Research Poster session at the end of July. 

“I am so excited to be in this program and broaden my horizons in the microbiology field,” said Caldwell, of Stockbridge, Ga. “This summer is the perfect time for me to gain valuable experience before graduating in December when I start looking for jobs that often require some research-related experience.”  
Caldwell first became involved in undergraduate research through her participation in the Peach State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation at KSU.  She said that she was happy to find a faculty mentor, Chris Cornelison, a research scientist in biology, who shared her enthusiasm for microbiology. 
Caldwell began working in Cornelison’s BioInnovation Laboratory in early 2018. Her research has focused on testing which agricultural wastes such as peanut or pecan shells would be best for cultivating varieties of commercially produced and locally foraged mushrooms. She presented this project in April at the 2019 National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) hosted by KSU.
“I now have a more profound appreciation of how microbiology affects every aspect of life and the hidden wonders of mycology (study of fungi) from research,” she said. “Dr. Cornelison is amazing to work with because he sees the bigger picture of what these microorganisms, which are everywhere, can really do to help plants, animals and us.”
Her love for microbes dates back to an Advanced Placement course in biology in high school when she became interested in diseases and how bacteria and viruses attack the human body. Caldwell said she would like to become a medical microbiologist to gain even more research experience before applying to medical school.
“Adriana is a highly driven and inquisitive undergraduate researcher who exemplifies what we do in the lab – use science to solve problems,” said Cornelison. “I expect her to take that motivation and passion for microbiology to the next level as she carves out a career to help people through research.”

— Joëlle Walls

Photos submitted 

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