NIH Trainees Juan Cerda and Catherine Douds Receive NSF-GRFP Honorable Mentions

Juan Cerda and Catherine Douds, both members of NIH-sponsored training programs overseen by the Huck Institutes, were recognized for their promising research ideas.

Juan Cerda

Graduate Students Juan Cerda and Catherine Douds have been recognized as honorable mentions from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

Cerda is a Bioinformatics and Genomics graduate student in Claude dePamphilis's lab who is a part of the Huck-administered Computation, Bioinformatics, and Statistics (CBIOS) NIH-sponsored training program.

"I proposed coming up with a new method to study parasitism in plants with a focus on the processes, rather than the genes, that enables parasitism to develop in plants," Cerda explained. "Parasitic plants evolved independently 12 times, and in all cases, some of the same events happened. One example is that all parasitic plants have a structure called a haustorium, which is used to penetrate the cell tissue and suck up nutrients. Every time parasitic plants evolve, the haustoria evolve independently. Each time the haustoria evolved, there was a genetic process which had to happen to allow that to evolve, and we're trying to figure out what that was. It may not be the same genes, but certainly the process is very similar."

"It feels good to be recognized. I'm certainly proud of myself and the work that I did, and I received a lot of support from my mentors and professors. For me, recognition means that I'm on the right path."

Douds is a student in Penn State's Biochemistry and Molecular Biology grad program, in the lab of Philip Bevilacqua,Co-Director of the Huck's Center for RNA Molecular Biology. She is also participant in the Eukaryotic Gene Regulation NIH-sponsored training program administered by the Huck Institutes.

"The goal of my project is to combine experimental approaches and machine learning approaches to improve the accuracy of RNA structure prediction genome-wide," said Douds. "I'm excited about the interdisciplinary implications of this work, and was even more excited for its recognition. I feel so surprised and grateful for this honorable mention and the resources that come with it. The NSF-GRFP recognizes potential for excellence, and I can't help but think that my advisor, lab members, collaborators, and involvement in the Center for Eukaryotic Gene Regulation's training program have given me the support to establish this potential."