Southeast Missouri State University
For more information, contact:
Ann K. Hayes (573) 651-2552




CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Jan. 31, 2002 - Southeast Missouri State University alumna Kelly Bender has been invited to take part in a conference next month on "Molecular Biology for the Environment in Spain."

The conference will be held Feb. 2-16 in the National Center for Biotechnology at the Autonomous University in Madrid, Spain.

"The overall goal of this course is to bring together young scientists at the late Ph.D. or early postdoctoral stages of their careers in a forum that will set the groundwork for overseas collaborations in the future," Bender said.

Bender is currently working on a doctoral degree at Southern Illinois University which she is scheduled to complete in December. She graduated from Southeast Missouri State University in 1999 with a bachelor of science degree with a minor in chemistry and an emphasis in cell and molecular biology.

"One of the things I enjoyed most about Southeast was the student faculty interaction," Bender says. "At larger institutions, most laboratory sections are taught by graduate students, but at Southeast, the professors were present in all of my labs."

The conference is limited to 12 students from the United States and 12 students from the European Union.

"The other 12 American Ph.D. and post-doctorates are from universities such as Rutgers, Georgia Tech, Cornell, Purdue, Northwestern and the University of Missouri," Bender said.

All applicants who have been accepted as student participants in the Environmental Biotechnology Short Course will receive a full stipend that will cover travel to and from Madrid, all course expenses, as well as the cost of food and lodging for the duration of the course, Bender said.

"I was sent an application for the course from my professor, Laurie Achenbach, and one of the reasons I was chosen for the course was the Ph.D. project I work on," Bender said.

Bender's research focuses on a special group of bacteria that can couple growth to the degradation of perchlorate.

Perchlorate is a toxic substance that interferes with the thyroid gland, she said. Perchlorate is extensively only man-made and is the oxidizing component of explosives and propellants. Thus, the bulk of it is produced by the defense industries. Due to perchlorate's short shelf life and disposal it has been found in drinking water sources in many southwestern states causing EPA concerns, she said.

"I work on trying to understand the genetics of the bacteria that can degrade the toxic perchlorate to harmless chloride and oxygen," she said. "My hope is to uncover what conditions are needed to optimize the bacterial removal of perchlorate from the environment."

Each day of the course in Spain will begin with a 30- to 60-minute lecture by one of the instructors, covering the principles behind the experiments for that day. A seminar will be held at the end of the day by a distinguished scientist, covering a research area related to what the students are doing in the course. The scientist will then have dinner and spend the evening and next morning with the students to promote interaction and discussions.

"This course will give me the opportunity to forge friendships with other Ph.D. students in the hopes of forming research collaborations in the future," Bender said.

Approximately 20 distinguished scientists have been invited to lecture in the short course. The invited lecturers are recognized professors and senior researchers who are very active at European and U. S. universities and research institutes. They represent a unique assembly of world leaders with extensive experience in their particular research fields.

"I look forward to meeting renowned researchers in the field of environmental microbiology," Bender says. "I have heard of many of them from their reputation in the environmental microbiology field."

The course is designed to give the scientists hands-on experience in modern, up-to-date biotechnological methods.

"I am eager to learn new hands on laboratory techniques that will help me in my future research," Bender says. "I'll be using state of the art techniques in the molecular biology field to determine the presence and activity of essential microbes in the environment."

After receiving her doctoral degree, Bender plans to do a post doctoral fellowship at another university.

"Participating in this course will give me an edge when I apply for a post-doctorate fellowship," Bender said.

Bender hopes to obtain a faculty position at a research institution after completing a post-doctorate fellowship.


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