Research Potential

KENNESAW, Ga. | Aug 9, 2019

First KSU undergraduate to earn American Society for Microbiology fellowship

Daisy McGrath
Kennesaw State University undergraduate Daisy McGrath would like to work in bioinformatics for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She is one step closer to reaching that goal as the first KSU student and the only student from Georgia to receive a 2019-2020 Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the American Society for Microbiology.
McGrath, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biology with a biotechnology concentration and a minor in mathematics, is one of 20 students nationwide to receive this highly competitive fellowship this year
The ASM fellowship provides McGrath the opportunity to pursue 10 weeks of full-time summer research at KSU with faculty mentor Tsai-Tien Tseng, associate professor of biology. McGrath received a stipend and travel support to the ASM Microbe Academy for Professional Development and the ASM Microbe Meeting, both in 2020.
“I feel extremely grateful to receive this national scholarship, and it makes me feel that the hard work is worth it,” said McGrath, who is from Milton, Ga. “The scholarship allows me to conduct research outside the traditional school year so I can spend more time to learn necessary skills for my career, as well as provide new insight into the ever-growing biological base of knowledge.”
Using specialized software and custom-built computers in Tseng’s lab, McGrath is trying to identify the genetic composition of uncharacterized bacteriophages or phages (viruses that infect bacteria) in microbes of dairy-based homemade products such as nunu, fermented milk popular in West African countries. Since these naturally occurring biocontrol agents target specific strains, they could potentially be used in food safety applications and/or combat antibiotic resistance.  
“These phages may become more ideal to use than chemicals to fight food contamination since they are natural enemies to bacteria and not harmful for human consumption,” she explained.
This research is a continuation of a project McGrath started last summer as a Birla Carbon Scholar, a scholarship program based in KSU’s College of Science and Mathematics. She presented the preliminary results at the 2019 National Conference on Undergraduate Research, which was hosted by KSU, and also with Tseng at the recent 2019 ASM Microbe Meeting.  
McGrath said that she hopes this research will lead to a streamlined genetic sequencing methodology that can be used for detecting new phages to combat bacterial pathogens such as E. coli in other types of food.

“Undergraduate research has given me a whole different perspective on learning, changing my way of thinking and making the experience more enjoyable because I can see the different career paths I can take with bioinformatics,” she said.  
McGrath, with guidance from Tseng, has also been accepted to KSU’s accelerated bachelor’s-master’s program in integrative biology for fall semester. She is the University’s first student enrolled in the accelerated graduate program, in which undergraduates take graduate-level courses during their senior years.  
“I am very proud of Daisy, and I am very happy that I am able to put my own training and past experience in helping Daisy get this fellowship,” said Tseng. “My goal is to provide an environment to foster her intellectual curiosity and develop her research talents to become one of the best next-generation scientists in her field.”

—Joëlle Walls 

Photography by David Caselli

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