UMBC logo

Undergraduate Researchers

Dawit Teklu

Teklu Dawit, Biological Sciences

“Genetic Analysis of the Role of PHT4;6 in Regulating Innate Immunity of Arabidopsis”

Successful control of plant diseases depends on a thorough understanding of the mechanisms of plant disease resistance. Previous studies by Dr. Lu’s laboratory determined that the loss of function mutant pht4;6-2 enhances plant disease resistance, indicating that PHT4;6 may be a negative regulator of plant defense. To further investigate the role of PHT4;6, we took advantage of a unique Arabidopsis mutant, acd6-1, whose small size is inversely correlated with the plant’s defense level. We constructed a binary vector containing cloned PHT4;6 genomic DNA and transformed the acd6 plants in order to increase PHT4;6 expression. Seeds from the transformed acd6 plants will be placed on a 1/2 MS+Kanamycin selection plate in order to select the homozygous transgenic plants. In the future, after we obtain 10 different homozygous lines, we will infect these transgenic plants with Pseudomonas syringae, test these transgenic plants for their suppression of acd6 conferred phenotypes, including plant size, and determine these plants’ levels of defense gene expression. If extra copies of PHT4;6 suppress acd6 phenotypes , it can be determined that PHT4;6 is a negative regulator of plant defense.

When and how did you find out that you could do independent research work as a UMBC undergraduate?
When I was applying to college, one of the schools that I chose to apply to was UMBC. While I was applying to UMBC, my father met with UMBC’s president, Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski. Dr. Hrabowski told my father about the Meyerhoff Scholars Program and my father told me about the Program. I did some research into the Meyerhoff Scholars Program which resulted in me learning about the research that was being done at UMBC. I applied for the Program and was accepted. The rest is history!

How did you find a mentor and decide on a project? How did you know this was the project you wanted to do?
Near the end of my freshman year, I decided to apply to the Pre-MARC Scholars Program. I found out about the Pre-MARC Scholars Program through the Meyerhoff Scholars Program. The Pre-MARC Scholars Program requires you to work on a research project with a research mentor. I had no research experience prior to attending UMBC. So, I decided to visit UMBC’s Department of Biological Sciences website and search for labs that interested me. I sent emails to the Principal Investigators of many different labs. I was granted interviews for two different labs. I was accepted into both labs. Having to decide between only two different labs made my decision easier for me. I chose to work in Dr. Hua Lu’s lab. Dr. Lu had chosen a project for me that would eventually allow me to work individually but at the same time, I would have the ability to ask my mentor, who is a graduate student, for help whenever I needed it. I felt that Dr. Lu’s lab would be a perfect fit for me. I am glad that I trusted my instincts!

How much time will you put into this research work?
I plan to work eight to twelve hours a week on my research project.

What academic background did you have before you started on this research?
My research lab focuses on plants. I did not have much knowledge about plants prior to working in Dr. Lu’s lab. Most of what I knew about plants I learned in the Introductory Biology courses that I took prior to starting my research project. So, I have been learning something new about plants on a daily basis while working in my research lab. My previous summer research experiences have helped improve my technical lab skills which resulted in me being able to start my research project sooner and spend more of my time learning about plants.

How did you learn about applying for the Undergraduate Research Award? Was the application hard? Did your mentor help you?
I learned about the Undergraduate Research Award through my interactions with the P.I. of my lab and the Meyerhoff Scholars Program. The application was not difficult. The application was straightforward, however, the application was also time consuming. My mentor helped me throughout the whole application process.

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?
I would tell other students to be patient. Conducting research will not always go smoothly. There will be days where everything you do works and there will be days where nothing you do works. The student must be determined to fight through any setbacks that he or she may encounter. I would also tell the students to take advantage of every opportunity that they are given. Finally, do not be afraid to ask your mentor or your P.I. questions. It is better to know that you are doing something correctly rather than think that you are doing something correctly.

What are your career goals?
I plan to obtain an M.D./Ph.D. and to conduct biomedical research.