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Fungi Mutations and Future Plans

It’s very likely an uncommon experience for undergraduate research to have findings pertinent to the development of genetic diseases and cancer. For fourth-year honors biochemistry and biophysics student Mark Geisler, though, that’s just another day in the lab.

Mark presenting his research on histone H3 mutations

“I’ve been working in Michael Freitag’s lab in Biochemistry and Biophysics for two and a half years now. I found his research on the Biochemistry faculty page and asked an advisor I knew to introduce me,” Mark says. “My project in the lab is an investigation of the effects of histone H3 mutations on centromere maintenance, DNA methylation, and gene silencing in two types of fungi. I’ve made most of [the 140 mutations being tested] over the past 2 years and am in the midst of verifying the mutations and beginning to conduct molecular assays to see their potential effects.”

The work Mark is doing has direct, real-world applications: “Histones are proteins responsible for packaging DNA and play a huge role in regulating genes, as they can be modified by other proteins along their unstructured tails. Certain amino acids along these tails can be implicated in specific effects in the genome (expressing or silencing genes). By mutating these amino acids, their function or importance may be determined.” Essentially, the work Mark is doing may determine how certain changes in the proteins that wrap DNA go on to affect DNA expression throughout the organism, and thus how some large and important cellular processes of that organism are affected due to that small variation. More than that, though, Mark’s work may allow him to determine which changes result from which modifications; findings with exciting implications, particularly in relation to genetic diseases, cancer, and growth and development.

Mark doesn’t spend all of his time in the lab, though; he’s also a very active student on campus and within the Honors College. Mark serves as the president of the OSU Running Club, as well as treasurer of Mortar Board, a service-based senior honors society. He also went to Nepal last year as part of the Building Homes and Hope HC Trip. In addition, Mark has served for the past two years as one of the co-coordinators of the Honors College Peer Mentoring program.

“[Building Homes and Hope] was an amazing experience and Dave Kovak and LeeAnn Baker did a great job of leading it. We stayed in a Dalit community in rural Nepal and helped them build a community center. This community is isolated from the normal town because they are considered untouchable in their caste system,” Mark says. “Another aim of the trip was to elevate the status of those in this community by having our group stay with them in their homes. Staying in these families’ homes was my favorite part of this trip. They were some of the most generous and hospitable people I’ve ever met despite their living and social conditions.”

“At one point the father of the family I was staying with offered me the shoes off his feet when he thought I didn’t have any.  Staying with the families was such a new experience I wouldn’t have gotten by just traveling on my own to Nepal.”

Mark calls his work with the Peer Mentoring program his largest involvement in the Honors College: “The aim of [the Peer Mentoring program] is to increase involvement and retention among groups of students who are at the greatest risk of dropping out,” he says. “My favorite parts of this program are watching the effect the mentors have on the mentees’ involvement and success at OSU and when we have past mentees return as mentors. This program becomes ever more important as the HC continues to grow and it becomes harder to maintain the personal connections that make the HC so great.”

After graduation, Mark plans to continue his academic career. “I plan on pursuing a Ph.D. in Biochemistry with a focus in gene regulation, and/or chromatin dynamics. My career goal as of right now is to work in academic research at a university where I would be able to run my own lab and also teach some classes. A lot of research on gene regulation and chromatin dynamics has fascinated me for years and I really want to make a career out of it,” Mark says.

“I plan on taking a gap year to work, do some traveling, apply to grad school, and maybe get a dog.”

“One of my goals in running my own lab, outside of just the research, is to give students the opportunity to become involved in and develop a passion for research,” Mark says. “I’ve met amazing mentors through my involvement in research and they’ve helped me clarify my career path and even grow as a person. I want to return this favor and hopefully be a mentor for students at some point in my career.” Given Mark’s passion and experience, he’s sure to have no trouble doing just that.

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