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Oct. 1, 2019

Jacqline Njeri: Our studies can change the world

Oct. 2, 2019

Jacqline Njeri is a senior Dean's Research Scholar majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology/biotechnology in the College of Natural Science. The following is repurposed content from the Dean's Research Scholars brochure.

Limuru, Kenya

How did you decide to attend MSU?

MSU is one of the leading public universities known for its involvement in cutting-edge research. It is one university that has resources available to students who wish to start their research careers as early as in their undergraduate years. I wanted to tap into these resources and find my niche in science. So far, I have not been disappointed with everything MSU has to offer in terms of funding, mentors and research facilities.

How did you select your major?

Food insecurity is a major problem the entire world is facing especially due to climate change. If nothing is done in the next few years, mortality rates due to starvation will increase. I hope to use biochemistry and biotechnology techniques to solve this problem by coming up with ways of increasing crop yields and ensuring the survival of plants — especially during the early stages of development.

In 1-2 sentences, describe your research:

Anthocyanins are secondary metabolites that protect seedlings and, eventually, plants from oxidative stress and DNA damage from ultraviolet rays. Therefore, they are crucial for the survival of plants during the early developmental stages. Some plants have lost the ability to synthesize and accumulate these two compounds leading to stunted growth of these plant lines. My research hopes to identify and characterize the genes that might have been altered or genes that are disrupting the biosynthesis pathway of anthocyanins.

What is the societal impact of your research?

By identifying these genes, we can ideally restore the synthesis and accumulation of anthocyanins. After restoration, plants can ideally survive the early developmental stage and also be better protected from ultraviolet radiation. This would eventually increase crop yield. Additionally, anthocyanins have been proven to protect us from cancer. They are also being used in pharmaceuticals to make antioxidants due to their reactivity with reactive oxygen species, such as peroxides, which are toxic in our bodies. Through this research, we can pave the way to having healthier crops.

How has your undergraduate experience been impacted by this experience?

I have learned to ask questions and think of ways of answering them. This skill has transferred to my studies and allowed me to think beyond what is taught in class. Now, I think of how to apply what I learn in class to my lab work and the impact a subject has in life. My communication, time management, work ethic and leadership skills have greatly improved since joining my lab. I have also made friends while in the lab. Originally, I believed that working in a lab meant being a zombie in a lab coat with goggles on: however, after working in a lab for two years, I have felt the family bond among my colleagues, and I am proud to be a part of that.

Of everything you have experienced at MSU, what has surprised you the most/what is something you never expected?

Sparty could be a student, not to mention a girl! I was so proud of that.

If your little brother/sister was coming to MSU, what is one piece of advice you would give them?

Be organized and remain focused. MSU is a huge campus with a lot of opportunities, but it is easy to get lost if you are not organized and focused on achieving your goals.

Person/People who have inspired you?

MSU alumni have shown me that MSU has the resources I need to achieve my goals if only I remain focused.

Favorite food

Shrimp dishes

Best song/group

Michael Buble´

Best invention

Probably the internet. Imagine a world without it and you will know why it is the best invention.

On my bucket list

Visit Niagara Falls, graduate

Person I’d most like to meet (living or dead)

Women scientists of the 1800s. Living in the 1800s as an educated woman in science is not different from today’s era, so some advice on how they survived the critics is something I would love to discuss over coffee.

On a Saturday afternoon, you’ll likely find me

Watching standup comedy specials on Netflix

Major research breakthrough of the next decade (not your own, but overall)

Raining internet. It is still in the developmental stages but scientists are trying to make internet available to all parts of the world by “making internet rain,” so goodbye fiber optic cables.

Plans after graduation

Looking into joining graduate school in a program involved in biochemistry and molecular plant biology

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Graduating with a Ph.D. in molecular plant biology

Where do you see yourself in 25 years?

Working as a research scientist in a biotechnology company, GSK, NASA or CDC

What are some of your favorite MSU memories?

Sparticipation has been the highlight of my years so far at MSU.

Importance of this scholarship to you personally and to your future career

Apart from the exposure this scholarship will give me to MSU resources and other institutions, I will get to finesse my skills in communicating my research, which is a crucial part of being a scientist. The scholarship will go into a fund to finance extra classes, such as microbial genetics, that would improve my chances of graduate school. Microbial organisms are an effective tool for doing research. If I can understand the genetics involved, then I can look for new ways to manipulate their genes to serve my purpose in the research projects I will be doing in the future.