LMU biology major Brandy Kwak received the best poster award at the West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Conference in Point Loma in April. The prize marked the second trip to the winner’s podium for Kwak. She won the best poster award at the 2014 conference as well.
Now heading into her senior year, Kwak hopes to polish her research, which is on genes necessary for plant growth, and submit it for publication. She launched the project, under the guidance of Michelle Lum, assistant professor of biology, after her freshman year at LMU.
“I had Professor Lum my freshman year in lab,” says Kwak, who grew up in Redondo Beach, Calif. “I approached her, and she gave me a project to get started on. It has been interesting research on a lot of different fronts.”
Initially, the goal of the project was to identify genes necessary for plant growth. Kwak ended up identifying a gene mutation that was important for symbiosis (an interaction between two species, such as plants and bacteria) and began investigating the mutation’s role. The research has potential implications in agriculture to improve crop yields. It even has potential in human health by illuminating how pathogenic bacteria infect humans.
The research was painstaking; it took Kwak five months just to confirm the gene mutation. Kwak feels the judges recognized the diligence the project required. “I think the judges reacted to the passion I have regarding my research.”
That passion is a product of the Lum Lab, where Kwak spent many hours, she says.
“I could not have done this without the support of my lab mates,” says Kwak, who is training to be an emergency medical technician and then plans on attending medical school some day. “The Lum Lab is the best team. We all work on individual projects, but people are always there to help. Dr. Lum is the mentor I needed.”
The opportunity to perform undergraduate research led Kwak to choose LMU for college, and she credits the accessibility of the professors for her success.
“The relationship with professors is special here,” she says. “They know your name and what you’re doing. That is so helpful in pushing me to do well at school. That one-on-one relationship is something I could only find here.”