A chapter member aims for the moon and lands on astrobiology

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Hailey Kerns had little formal exposure to science before starting her undergraduate studies at Saint Leo University, but, she said, “it’s always been science to me. I asked my parents to give me all the animal books and encyclopedias.

Logan Stoddard

Hailey Kerns is a biomedical science major at Saint Leo University,
ASBMB student chapter member and 2021 ASBMB undergraduate degree recipient
Fellowship. She would like to become an astrobiologist.

She maintained a love of nature and science throughout her childhood, she said; she and her father “always talked about life beyond… our planet.”

These conversations led her to take an interest in astrobiology. Now a graduate in biomedical sciences and a member of the student chapter of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Saint Leo and president of their TriBeta Biological Honor Society, Kerns applied for the PhD in microbiology and cell sciences at the University of Florida. . program. Her ultimate goal is to study astrobiology and work with NASA or another space company in search of extraterrestrial life.

Since identifying her interests early on, Kerns has been consistent in her commitment to astrobiology. In high school, she began consulting NASA’s career path suggestions page and used it as a guide throughout her undergraduate career, which includes numerous research experiences, publications, presentations, awards, and community engagement initiatives.

As a freshman undergraduate, Kerns contacted Jamie Foster, a professor at the University of Florida’s Space Life Science Lab, and stayed in touch. This networking led to an internship at UF funded by the Florida Space Grant Consortium. Working with microbiologist Kelly Rice, Kerns studied the effects of simulated microgravity on the physiology of the bacterium Streptococcus mutans, which causes tooth decay.

Kerns’ favorite research experience was participating in the SEA-PHAGES program run by Iain Duffy at Saint Leo. She joined the program in her first year and has since contributed to the discovery and isolation of more than 23 bacteriophages and the publication of their complete annotated genomes in GenBank. This was his introduction to research.

“Being able to see a visual effect from something so small, realizing that there’s so much we don’t see or understand yet and that we have so much to learn, that’s what got me excited.”

Hailey was awarded an ASBMB Undergraduate Research Fellowship to work with biomedical researcher Sergiy Borysov at Saint Leo in the summer of 2021. Her lab colleagues were to present this research on “the cytotoxic effect of synthetic peptides on normal and cancerous cells” at the recent 2022 ASBMB Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.

From parents to teachers, professors and colleagues, a long list of people make up Kerns’ support network. “I send my gratitude to all the people I have met during my academic career,” she said, “because each one of them has contributed to making me the person and the scientist that I am today.”

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