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IB professor receives NSF grant, invitation to speak in India

TAMPA, Fla. -- University of South Florida researcher Kathleen Scott has received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Integrative Organismal Systems, together with Peter Girguis from Harvard University. USF was awarded $320,000 from the grant.

The grant is to study carbon fixation by symbiotic bacteria that provide all of the nourishment for deep-sea tubeworms that dominate hydrothermal vents in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Currently, there are six known pathways for carbon fixation, including the Calvin cycle, which takes place in plants, as well as these symbiotic bacteria. According to Scott, there is some evidence that a second pathway also is operating in these bacteria--a “backwards” version of the Krebs cycle that occurs in mitochondria--where, instead of taking organic acids apart into electrons and carbon dioxide, reverses this process to add electrons to carbon dioxide to generate organic acids, which can be used for growth.

“Teasing apart the conditions favoring either or both pathways will help us understand the evolution and ecology of carbon fixation, which is the first step in every food web,” Scott said.

Scott is in the process of designing a high-pressure system to conduct symbiont incubations for the study, and is eager to go to sea in 2014 and 2015 to conduct the research.

Scott also has been co-chairing bioinformatics workshops for professors from primarily undergraduate postsecondary institutions; These workshops have been sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology and the DOE-Joint Genome Institute. She and her colleagues provide “seeder” ideas for others to use to create opportunities for undergraduate students to do what Scott terms “real science,” as well as to illustrate key concepts of molecular evolution and microbial physiology.

These ideas have been implemented in Scott’s Microbial Physiology and Genomics classes, and have resulted in two peer-reviewed publications with numerous undergraduate and graduate co-authors, as well as a third paper to be submitted soon. Scott has published two education-related papers about these efforts as well. She and her colleagues have been invited to co-chair similar workshops in India next winter, and NSF is providing funds to cover the costs of travel.

Scott, who is associate professor of integrative biology at USF, received her Ph.D. in biology from the Pennsylvania State University. She was a research assistant at Harvard University before joining USF in 2003.

“If you’re lucky in research,” Scott says, “a ‘what the…?’ is the prelude to Eureka!”


Filed under:Integrative Biology Arts and Sciences    
Author: Katie Vasenina