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Meet McNair Scholar Carmen Vallin

Carmen on starving bacteria and the transition from art student to biologist.

Research  |  Aug 21, 2012  |  By Tony Allen

Carmen Vallin

Age: 25
Major: Biology
High School: Las Vegas Academy
Research Project: Stationary Phase Mutagenesis in Bacillus Subtilis
Mentor: Eduardo Robleto, microbiology

What is "Stationary Phase Mutagenesis in Bacillus subtilis"?

Bacteria go through different growth phases dependent on what environment they find themselves in and what nutrients are available. Stationary phase is the phase in which bacteria are faced with hard times. They are either hit with a harsh stress such as UV light and temperature changes, or they are missing an essential nutrient that inhibits or slows down their growth. It is under these conditions that bacteria employ cellular pathways that will lead to mutations. Mutations usually carry a negative connation, mostly due to the fact that for humans mutations are associated with disease, but for bacteria under stressful conditions, mutations might provide them with a means to adapt to their new environments.

Explain your role in the research.

To perform stationary phase mutagenesis you must first place cells under conditions of stress. In our lab, under the direction of professor Eduardo Robleto, we choose to starve the bacteria of several amino acids, the building blocks needed to make proteins. It is under prolonged amino acid starvation that we observe and record mutations in our lab.

Has the McNair program changed your career goals?

I studied art at Las Vegas Academy of International and Performing Arts, but even before the McNair program I knew biology was my favorite subject and I could picture myself in a lab doing research. But I'd never experienced it.

Now that I am in the program, my original idea to go into research has solidified, not changed. Now that I have experience in the lab I know this is what I want to do, and thanks to the informative McNair workshops, I also know how to turn my passion for research into a career.

What's it like to work with professors on important research?

Every professor I have approached with questions about my research has looked at me as an up-and-coming peer and not just a student. It is also interesting to see a different side to my professors. The mentor-to-research-mentee relationship is more personal than what you get in a classroom. You get to know your professors on a different level and get to see them excited about their work.

Every class and experience seems relevant and important to me and for my future. My work ethic and engagement has increased, which has led to better grades. The program has put my undergraduate college experience into perspective; the completion of my bachelor's degree is a beginning for me not an end.