Our Students

Candace Williams

Candace Williams Candace Williams has received two student awards this summer presenting her dissertation research at meetings for both the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) and the American Chemical Society (ACS). As a Molecular Biology doctoral student in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology (BCHEPP), Candace studies the comparative gastrointestinal microbial ecology of the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) and the red panda (Ailurus fulgens). At the 114th ASM General Meeting in Boston, Candace presented, "Specialized bamboo diet selects for simplified gut microbiome in giant and red pandas," which detailed the initial characterization and comparison of these uniquely herbivorous carnivores. At the 248th ACS Annual Meeting held in San Francisco, she was able to expand on this comparison by presenting, "Giant and red pandas utilize distinct microbial communities for their bamboo diet degradation." Candace is a Starkville native and is advised by both Drs. Ashli Brown and Darrell Sparks of BCHEPP and the Mississippi State Chemical Laboratory. Candace chose the BCHEPP department because of her appreciation of the department's application of next-generation tools to conservation science. As a great lover of animals and the environment, she felt that BCHEPP gave her the opportunity to make an impact on panda conservation. After graduation, Candace would like to continue her work with endangered species at either an academic or conservation research institution.

Cedric Reid

Cedric Reid Cedric Reid is a doctoral graduate student at MSU majoring in biochemistry. He is from Meridian, Mississippi. Cedric received a travel award through the AGRO division to attend the 248th ACS National Meeting which was held in San Francisco, California on August 9-14, 2014 to present his research. The title of his poster is "Correlating Aflatoxin Accumulation and Fungal Biomass in Aspergillus flavus Inoculated Maize." Aflatoxins are a secondary metabolite of the fungus Aspergillus flavus which is known to infect corn. These toxins are carcinogenic; therefore, the FDA has restricted the amount of aflatoxin in corn for human consumption to 20 ppb (ng/g). His research tracks the correlation between aflatoxin accumulation and Aspergillus flavus fungal biomass for the first several weeks after inoculation, as well as the spreading of the fungus and the aflatoxin throughout the inoculated ear of corn. This will give us a better understanding of how the corn is infected by the fungus and determine better ways to prevent it. His major professor is Dr. Ashli Brown who is the State Chemist, director of the Mississippi State Chemical Laboratory.

Erika Womack

Erika Womack Mississippi State University’s Office of the Graduate School awarded Erika Womack a Travel Assistance Grant. As a doctoral student in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology, and Plant Pathology (BCH-EPP), her research interests involve the removal of aflatoxin M1 (a natural carcinogen) found in milk. The grant was used for travel to the 248th American Chemistry Society Annual Meeting and Exposition held in San Francisco, CA. At the conference, Erika presented, “Validation of aflatoxin M1 in raw milk using QuEChERS as an extraction method.” In this experiment, she was able to apply a relatively novel extraction method for the quantitation of aflatoxin M1 in milk at the FDA maximum allowable limit of 0.5 ng/mL using a high performance liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry. Erika is the student of Drs. Darrell Sparks and Ashli Brown.

Abbey Wilson

Abbey Wilson Graduate student Abbey Wilson was featured in Chemical and Engineering News for her work on giant pandas. Wilson has developed methods to detect pheromones. Giant pandas might live miles apart in the wild, so they leave scent marks over long distances to find ready and willing mates. The confines of panda captivity aren't great for this courting process. So zoos struggling to sustain the endangered species want to know which pheromones are related to mating behaviors. Now, Abbey Wilson, a graduate student at Mississippi State University, has developed methods in collaboration with the Memphis Zoo to reliably detect would-be pheromones. With Mississippi State professors Darrell Sparks and Ashli Brown, Wilson found conditions suitable for collecting a suite of volatile organic compounds—candidate pheromones—onto a solid-phase microextraction fiber. Corroborating work from other teams, Wilson has tentatively identified short-chain fatty acids that change in concentration when a female panda is in heat. The biological significance of the changes won't be clear until Wilson's collaborators perform behavioral studies with pandas. The team hopes its work could foster more natural breeding in zoos. As Brown put it, "We'd love to find chemicals that say, "I'm a female bear looking for some action."

Nathan Little

Nathan Little A Mississippi State University graduate student earned a national award for his paper on the biology of insect pests. Graduate student Nathan Little of Charleston, received the annual student award titled "Appreciation for the Natural History of Insect Pests." His paper on subterranean termites was described as the most interesting and novel peer-reviewed research paper among more than 20 applications that were reviewed this year from students around the world. The award is sponsored by the TREE Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to tree research, exploration and education. The award is conferred by the Ambrosia Symbiosis Research Group. The title of Little's paper is "Preference of Native Subterranean Termites for Wood Containing Bark Beetle Pheromones and Blue-Stain Fungi," and it was published in the Journal of Insect Behavior. The Tallahatchie County native earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in forest products from MSU. He is pursuing a doctorate in entomology. His advisor is John Riggins.

Daniel Barnes

Daniel Barnes Castor oil is the highly desirable, plentiful product of castor beans. However, castor seed meal, not the oil, contains ricin, a toxic protein that can become fatal if untreated in the body. Castor is the only place to get commercial quantities of ricinoleic acid, but because of the presence of ricin, castor is not produced in the United States. Doctoral student Daniel Barnes is working to genetically modify the plant so that it does not produce ricin.

Erika Knott

Erika Knott While scientists are unsure about TNT's long-term effect on the environment as it breaks down, Mississippi State University student Erika Knott discovered a dynamic way to practice the art of forensics through a research project on its degradation. Knott, a junior biochemistry major from Monroe, La., wants to be a forensic scientist for the FBI. She received a fellowship to participate in a comparative study of TNT degradation products conducted at a toxicology laboratory at the University of Louisiana.

Drew Colson

Drew Colson Because Drew Colson spends his school year at Mississippi State and his summers at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, it may appear that his loyalties are split. But ask the MSU senior biochemistry major about whether he's a Bulldog or Black Bear, and he quickly says, "true maroon." Colson has spent his summers doing research at the Medical Center as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience or SURE program. He found that his time at MSU gave him the right preparation for the work at UMC.

Sandra Woolfolk

Sandra Woolfolk Despite the demanding schedule of a doctoral candidate in entomology and plant pathology, twice a month the native of Indonesia gathers with the girls that make up her Girl Scout troop, leading them through the many tasks required for earning the various badges available. Woolfolk's troop, however, is likely different from any other in Mississippi in that of the 24 girls in the unit, about half are from multi-cultural and international heritage, with most of their parents being part of the MSU community as international students or professors.

Stefanie Vamenta

Stefanie Vamenta Having a large family of doctors was always interesting, however, Stefanie was never 100% sure what career path to choose. Attending Mississippi State University gave her a plethora of opportunities to make knowledgeable and practical decisions about her future. She began taking an interest in research, and found biochemistry classes interesting, extremely challenging, and fun? Most of all, she said that although the classes themselves may have covered a boring topic, the teachers were what made the topics interesting, challenging, and enjoyable to learn.