Arianna Comendul

Balancing Biochem studies along with being a member of the women’s varsity soccer team here at UMass has made for a rigorous but worthwhile undergrad schedule. Originally a Biology major, I switched to BMB upon an intrinsic need to understand the principles of molecular biology on a more fundamental level, however have also worked to develop a critical “big picture” approach to problem solving.

In efforts to advance the frontline of preventative medicine through nutrigenomics, I have worked in the Sela lab in the Food science department to enhance our understanding of Bifidobacterium, a probiotic prominent in the infant gastrointestinal tract responsible for the utilization of breast milk oligosaccharides. In doing so, I have worked in the development of genetic tools for the manipulation of Bifido by launching lambda Red recombineering, a homologous recombination-based technique for genetic engineering. I have also produced Bifido mutants specifically for analysis of nitrogen metabolism in the urea cycle by knocking out the urease gene via EMS (Ethyl-Methane Sulfonate), a method that induces random DNA mutations through guanine alkylation, and revealed qualitatively via a differential agar. I am currently investigating the most efficient method of Bifido growth. Applications of such research include positive impacts for the microbiome, as developmental gut health is a major platform for lifelong immune strength. Further implications include the enhancement of probiotic fortified infant formula.

Galvanized by one of the greatest modern fallbacks of humankind, the inability to harness developed technologies capable of combating global issues, I have begun to apply the power of BMB into the school of Public Policy and Administration. For the potential impact upon bridging the gap between epidemiology research and the legislative sector for efficient evidence based policymaking has the potential for exponential positive influence for public health. Such integration has yielded unprecedented efficiency on targeting pressing issues. By harnessing new derivatives of free thinking including open sourced software and common based peer production, I am also involved in a project tackling water pollution worldwide, specifically from mercury pollution from illegal gold mining in Columbia. I have served in the development of a water quality sensor by interpreting the temperature, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and pH detections which we are now testing alongside commercial models for effectiveness. Once success of our cost efficient prototype is confirmed, collaboration will begin with students in Columbia and Uganda on the proper instructions on how to construct and code their own sensors. We recognize deployment of such systems can greatly enhance community health and thus economic development. Further implications of the project include natural disaster relief.

The faculty at UMass, not only in BMB, but in all departments have taught me the importance of pursuing academic interests with audacious authenticity and that through our endeavors of finding our niche in the scientific community, with a little persistence anything is possible.