The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology recently named Josiah Byler and Dominic Wells as the recipients of the 2020 Scholarship for Excellence in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. The scholarship, established in 2019 by former BMB graduate, Leah Lui, provides recognition and financial assistance to undergraduate students majoring or planning to major in biochemistry and molecular biology or microbiology. Consideration for this scholarship is given to full-time undergraduates.
Continue reading below to learn more about the students selected to receive the Scholarship for Excellence in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
Byler is a native of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and a graduate of Cedar Crest High School. Growing up, he had a desire to learn more about life and how the world worked which when combined with an aptitude for biology and chemistry, led Byler to choose biochemistry and molecular biology as his major. “Biochemistry seeks to explain how life works and does so using my two favorite subjects, so it was the perfect fit,” said Byler.
Byler began his college career as a student at Penn State Harrisburg because it allowed him the ability to commute from home. While a student at Penn State Harrisburg he worked in the laboratory of Nik Tsotakos, assistant professor of biology, school of science, engineering, and technology. There he researched Moringa Oleifera, a plant native to India but also found to grow in Africa, Asia, and South America. The plant has been used for centuries due to its medicinal properties and health benefits. Byler’s research focused on investigating the effect of Moringa Oleifera in reversing and in the prevention of damage caused by diabetes in the renal system.
Byler changed to Penn State’s University Park campus in the spring of 2019 to continue his education and earn his degree. After graduation he plans to use his degree to become a cardiovascular perfusionist. Cardiovascular perfusionists are responsible for operating extracorporeal circulation equipment, such as the heart-lung machine, during an open-heart surgery or any other medical procedure in which it is necessary to artificially support or temporarily replace a patient's circulatory or respiratory function.
Wells is a native of McMurray, Pennsylvania, and a graduate of Peters Township High School. He was instantly attracted to chemistry after being introduced to the subject as a sophomore. After learning about its biological applications and uses in the medical field, he decided to pursue his degree in biochemistry and molecular biology.
In January of 2018 Wells became an undergraduate researcher working under the guidance of distinguished professor of biochemistry and molecular biology Teh-hui Kao. His research utilizes Petunia inflata, a wild relative of garden petunia, as a model to study the molecular basis and biochemical mechanism of self-incompatibility. Most flowering plants produce bisexual flowers with both the pistil and anthers located in close proximity of one another. This arrangement can lead to self-fertilization and results in inbreeding, which reduces the fitness of progeny and genetic diversity within the species. Self-incompatibility is the mechanism where self-pollen is rejected by the pistil to prevent inbreeding and non-self-pollen is accepted by the pistil to promote out-crossing.
After graduation Wells plans to attend medical school and become a surgeon. “From a young age I have always wanted to help people,” said Wells. “Attending medical school will allow me to put my love of science and desire to help people together to help improve people's lives.