Loyola Marymount University senior Brandy Kwak wasn’t expecting to win the best poster award at the West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Conference in Point Loma in April. After winning twice in the previous two years, Kwak was actually pulling for a classmate. However she completed the trifecta, earning the top prize for her three-year project studying plant genes.
“One of the freshman biology students I am a teaching assistant for was also presenting at the meeting,” Kwak says. “I was hoping he would win. I didn’t think I would win for a third year.”
In fact, in the past year, Kwak has worked diligently to come up with a conclusion to her hypothesis. The project — identifying genes necessary for plant growth — began when Kwak was a freshman under the supervision of Michelle Lum, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology. Kwak soon identified a gene mutation that was important for symbiosis (an interaction between two species, such as plants and bacteria). In the past year, she has worked on a process called complementation — what happens when a combination of mutant genes is reintroduced into the species?
“This step was really about confirming the results of my project up to this point,” she explains of her 2016 contest entry. “In a science project, it’s key to confirm that what you think is happening is really happening.”
Although she presented strong concluding data, Kwak plans on continuing her research over the summer and will submit her findings for publication. That means an opportunity to enjoy a final few months being part of the LMU community.
“Dr. Lum is always very good at making sure I’m staying on top of my research,” she says. “If I’m having trouble with any problems with my research, she is always there with suggestions for what I can try.”
Kwak then plans to work as an emergency medical technician for a year before applying to medical school. However, she grew up in Redondo Beach and intends to stay in touch with her former professors and classmates.
“The one-on-one relationships with my professors is one of the biggest benefits I’ve taken away from my time at LMU,” she says. “If I hadn’t had such a close relationship with my professor, I don’t know if I would have been able to get started in research. My college career would not have been the same.”