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Oklahoma State University

Fellowships recognize cutting-edge genetic research

Thu, July 27, 2017
Fellowships Recognize Cutting-edge Genetic Research

Two graduate students at Oklahoma State University have been awarded the Otto S. Cox Graduate Fellowship for Genetic Research. The competitive fellowship supports students who have shown a proven record of research in a rapidly evolving field of biology investigation.

“Recent advances in genetics, genomics, and bioinformatics have revolutionized our thinking in medicine, biology, and several other scientific disciplines,” said Dr. Kenneth Sewell, OSU vice president for research. “The Cox Fellowship allows our graduate students to pursue their cutting-edge research at an accelerated pace, giving them a distinct advantage as they enter their chosen fields.” 

This year’s recipients are Nathalia Graf-Grachet, a doctoral candidate studying microbiology and plant pathology, and Prakash Sah, a doctoral candidate and microbiology researcher. 

Graf-Grachet, from Brazil, has sequenced the genomes of 11 fungi that infect and kill Bermuda grass, a disease known as spring dead spot. She is searching for genes that are activated when the plant pathogen and the host Bermuda grass are associated.

“The end goal is to identify genes that are involved in resistance to this particular disease,” Graf-Grachet said. 

Sah, from Nepal, is studying the function of proteins in human cells associated with Chlamydia trachomatis, a bacterium that causes a common sexually transmitted disease. Though the infection is easily treated with antibiotics, if left untreated, chronic chlamydia can lead to conditions like pelvic inflammatory disease, which may cause infertility, and in some rare cases has been correlated with cancer.

We’re trying to understand how it infects cells at the molecular level,” Sah said. “That’s where my research is, trying to understand the role of some Chlamydia trachomatis proteins in the pathogenesis.”

The Cox Fellowship supports students with a $1,000 stipend to help fund their work and additional training. Graf-Grachet will use her fellowship to attend a workshop in bioinformatics, a critical area of genetic research. Sah said his stipend will help with the costs of continuing his research through the summer. 

Beyond financial support, Graf-Grachet added that the Cox Fellowship means acknowledgment.

“It’s not only about money,” she said. “It’s also about recognition for our work, which I think is more valuable than anything.” 

The fellowship is named for Otto S. Cox who graduated from OSU in 1927 with a bachelor’s degree in animal science and livestock operations. He was a rancher around his hometown of Lenapah, Okla., before he passed away in 1991.