The Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB) Department is fortunate to have a multitude of graduate students within its Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Biology (BMMB) Program dedicated to developing their research and teaching skills. Our students are making discoveries and generating independent knowledge through their research within our labs.
Meet Mac Meyer, a graduate student working towards earning his Ph.D. in the Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology (BMMB) Program. Mac, a native of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, has loved science his entire life and as a child he was fascinated with paleontology and loved to read the Jurassic Park books. Much of his childhood was spent outside in the forests of Central Pennsylvania, playing in the streams and creeks. These experiences pushed him towards pursuing a degree in marine biology after high school.
Mac attended Lebanon Valley College to pursue his undergraduate degree. Upon the advice of his general chemistry professor to get involved in undergraduate research and enter a laboratory, he eventually found himself working in the lab of Walter Patton, chair of chemistry and physics, and associate professor of chemistry at Lebanon Valley College. “That opportunity launched me into the field of biochemistry where I've been ever since,” said Mac.
After graduating from Lebanon Valley College, Mac chose to attend Penn State to continue his education and pursue his Ph.D. stating, “I was really interested in the research going on at Penn State and after meeting the professors and current students I knew that this was the place for me.” Currently he is entering his fourth year of graduate school and conducts his research in the laboratory of Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Department Head of the Chemistry Department, Philip Bevilacqua.
Research in the Bevilacqua Laboratory is centered on understanding functions of RNA in nature at the molecular level. Mac and his research investigate RNA structure in liquid-liquid phase separations, trying to understand the origins of life, as well as develop high-throughput assays for RNA enzyme (ribozyme) discovery and validation. “While my work may seem esoteric, understanding what happens to RNAs inside of phase separations is integral to understanding extant biology,” he says. “We are just beginning to understand why and how often organisms take advantage of membraneless organelles.” Ribozymes are known to play roles in viral replication and in bacterial gene regulation. Understanding which organisms have ribozymes and what their biological roles are can have significant implications on human health. Philip Bevilacqua is happy to have Mac in his laboratory, saying “Mac is really excelling in his research. He has invented ways to detect RNA folding in protocells at the single nucleotide level and to apply Next-Gen Sequencing to origins of life research.”
Outside of the laboratory Mac has developed a significant interest in fly fishing. Mac credits the greater State College Area with having many wonderful places to fish. Mac has even had the opportunity to meet Joe Humphreys, who he refers to as “one of the legends in the fly-fishing community and a wonderful person.” In addition to his love of fishing, Mac has recently started growing his own herbs and vegetables, which he says, “is both frustrating and rewarding at the same time.”