an e-newsletter for students and alumni of saint michael's biology department

Student Spotlight
Q & A with a biology major





Matt Alexander '09

Richmond, VT

Career Interests:
Graduate work in cellular/molecular programs


What has your Saint Michael's experience been like, in particular your experience as a biology major?

Saint Mike's has been a blast academically. For one thing, we get a nice, broad sampling of many subjects. At first I was a little wary of the liberal studies requirements, but I've really enjoyed getting introduced to fields that were largely unfamiliar to me. It also helps put my own major in context and shows me the importance and relevance of all disciplines. As far as the biology program itself, it's great. I love the accessibility of the professors and thus the opportunities to form relationships with them. I also appreciate the emphasis professors place on the experimental side of biology, I think it's important to be aware of how we get our information. Finally, the professors genuinely care about the students and want them to succeed, not just in the biology classes but in life beyond Saint Mike's, and they really invest themselves to this end.

Explain your research project.

I'm working with another student and Professor Mac Lippert on investigating a phenomenon called transcription associated mutation (TAM), which means that when a gene is highly transcribed, the spontaneous mutation rate at that gene is significantly increased. This is important because many important health issues have their basis in genetic mutations, particularly cancer.

We're using yeast that have a defective gene in the lysine synthesis pathway, which we plate on lysine deficient media so that if any yeast grow we know they underwent a mutation in that gene and were able to synthesize their own lysine. From counting how many cells mutated and thus survived, we can determine the mutation rate for that strain. We also collect the DNA from these cells and sequence it so we know what the mutation was. We're looking at a few different strains, each with a gene knockout for a different DNA repair-associated protein. By comparing the data for each strain, we'll hopefully learn what the effects of these proteins are on TAM and thus gain a better understanding of its mechanisms.

What are you planning to do after you graduate?

I've been on the fence between medical school and graduate school for a while now, but I'm beginning to lean towards graduate school, in part because of my positive experience with research this summer. I haven't applied to anything or taken any entrance exams yet, so at this point I'll have to take a year off and find a job. I'll probably apply to cellular/molecular programs in that time, and then spend the next few years figuring out the right path for me to pursue.



Go Back