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Endowment Helps Fund Vaccine, Fungicide Research at UW

November 13, 2020
Mark Menghini and Seungmee Jung

Research related to vaccine production and effective fungicides to protect crops has been made possible for two molecular biology students through the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Dean’s Excellence Fund.

The college was able to provide these scholarships and many others through the endowment income of donors. 

Mark Menghini, a master’s degree student in molecular biology from Cheyenne, is working on a biohazard infectivity project. He says the baculovirus-insect cell system is used to make recombinant proteins or Sf cell lines used in the biotechnology sector to produce antigens for veterinary diagnostic tests and for licenses for human and veterinary vaccines. Sf cell lines were developed from the fall armyworm.

In 2014, a Federal Drug Administration scientist published a paper showing these Sf cells were contaminated with a novel rhabdovirus (RV), and the origins of this Sf-RV are believed to have originated from Sf caterpillar rhabdovirus (Sf-CAT-RV). While Sf-RV can only infect a few insect cell lines, Sf-CAT-RV was found to be able to replicate in monkey kidney cell lines, Menghini explains.

“This presented the possibility, albeit remote, that the cell culture-adapted virus, which is a complex ‘quasi species,’ or mixture of closely related strains, could include viruses that, like the CAT-derived predecessor, could infect mammalian cells,” says Menghini, who triple-majored in molecular biology, physiology and the Honors Program, and minored in neuroscience as an undergraduate student at UW.

Menghini’s project is designed to take a closer look at the potential biohazard possessed by the Sf-RV contaminant.

“We began a project designed to examine its impact on severely immunocompromised mice,” says Menghini, who works with Don Jarvis, a professor in the UW Department of Molecular Biology. “The basic idea is to place the mice in what we think is the worst-case scenario -- exposure to the Sf-RV and Sf-CAT-RV -- and see what happens.”

His research is directly related to vaccine production and recombinant protein production.

“It’s really integrated with the medical field,” says Menghini, who plans to attend medical school upon completion of his master’s degree.

Jarvis says Menghini would be a great candidate for the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho) Medical Education Program after he completes his master’s degree.

Receiving the award was a great surprise for Menghini.

“We have more financial resources to look into more options for our experiments and, personally, it is a great help to me financially,” Menghini says. “It takes a lot of stress off.”

Seungmee Jung, a Ph.D. student in molecular biology, also received the award.

“I am very pleased to receive this award, and I think it will be great motivation for future research,” says Jung, who is from Jeonju, South Korea.

Jung received her undergraduate degree in life sciences from Sangmyung University in Seoul, South Korea, and her master’s degree in horticultural biotechnology from Seoul National University, a top university in South Korea.

“Her research project aims to understand a fundamental cellular process in fungal pathogens and its application to develop more effective fungicides to protect crops,” says Eunsook Park, an assistant professor in the UW Department of Molecular Biology.

Jung chose to further her education at UW because she felt it was a leading educational institute with a strong research emphasis.

“I recognized that the solid coursework and research foundation in molecular biology at UW will expedite my academic career,” Jung says.

Contact Us

Institutional Communications

Bureau of Mines Building, Room 137

Laramie

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-2929

Email: cbaldwin@uwyo.edu

Find us on Facebook (Link opens a new window) Find us on Twitter (Link opens a new window)

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