Dianna Morris, a Ph.D. candidate and graduate research assistant in chemical and biomolecular engineering, has been awarded a three-year, $177,000 USDA Pre-Doctoral Fellowship.
Morris' research focuses on engineering a non-model bacterium – Parakburkholderia sacchari – for sustainable bioplastic production and is conducted in the Systems and Synthetic Biology Lab of her advisor Rajib Saha, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.
The USDA Pre-Doctoral Fellowship, in addition to helping with tuition and other school costs, provides funding for graduate research, the cost of attending a conference, meetings with other AFRI predoctoral scholarship recipients and the publication of research findings in two papers.
"I am combining both computational modeling and hands-on experimental work to turn previously uncharacterized bacteria species into mini factories for industrially useful products," Morris said. "The goal is to improve the efficiency and quality of the plastic made by this bacterium. Doing so could not only provide a sustainable way to make biodegradable plastic but would boost the value of currently low-value agricultural products that would serve as the feedstock."
Morris said the fellowship provides more than just funding for her academic pursuits: it also offers invaluable experience as she pursues a career of making the world a better, and greener, place to live. That, Morris said, would include turning waste products into "value-added products using living systems and doing it in an environmentally conscious and beneficial way."
"This fellowship is meaningful in terms of how much more I will have the opportunity to learn, not only in the technical aspects but also in a professional sense. I recognize what a privilege it is to manage my own project as a graduate student, and I am excited to grow as a researcher throughout this experience," Morris said.
"It is such a huge honor to be chosen for this fellowship, and I am very excited for the support in bringing my ideas to life. This fellowship will set me up as an asset for a wide range of companies."
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