Dr. Kerry Smith

Genetics and Biochemistry
College of Science

Area of Research:
Fungal metabolism and pathogenesis

Dr. Kerry Smith

Proposed role for the Scholar as an undergraduate researcher in the Mentor's lab.
The Beckman Scholar will be expected to play a key role in research. Previous UGs in my lab have made a substantial contribution to the funding of NSF and NIH proposals. Eleven UG researchers have been co-authors on published research and nine others are co-authors on manuscripts near submission. A majority of UG researchers have been in the lab for at least two years, including several who started as incoming freshmen and continued up until graduation. Upon entering the lab, the Scholar and I will meet and discuss possible research projects, going through the advantages/drawbacks of each project, and the Scholar will then select one. The Scholar will also be expected to take a leadership role in the lab by serving as a mentor for new UG researchers entering in the lab.

Frequency and nature of the planned interactions between the Scholar and Mentor.
I will provide an orientation to the lab that includes a detailed discussion of mutual expectations, such as level of independence, interaction with other researchers in my lab and those in neighboring labs, productivity and the importance of scientific publications, work habits and laboratory safety, and documentation of experimental details and research methodologies. In addition to casual discussions in the lab, I will regularly interact (at least twice a week) with the Scholar to discuss their research data and project direction. A graduate student or a post-doc will provide day-to-day supervision and demonstration of research techniques and protocols. In addition to one-on-one meetings, I will also interact with the Scholar at my weekly research group meetings, in which lab members regularly present their ongoing research, the bi-weekly Eukaryotic Pathogens Innovation Center (EPIC) journal club meetings, and informal lab outings.

Specific plans the Mentor will employ.
The opportunity for Scholars to interact closely with graduate students, post­docs, and me provides a rich environment for scientific discussion and an opportunity to see and hear first-hand what graduate school is like. I have a track record of training undergraduate researchers who have pursued graduate level research at prominent institutions, such as Brown, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, Washington U in St. Louis, and UC-Berkeley. Two Smith laboratory alumni were selected as Goldwater Scholars and one received an NSF-GRF in graduate school. Thus, alumni will be a rich source of information on life as a graduate student. Depending on the nature of the project, the Scholar will have the opportunity to travel to collaborators' labs for short term research projects to learn techniques or utilize instrumentation not available at Clemson. A current UG traveled to a collaborator's lab at U Massachusetts Medical Center to learn new techniques that she brought back to train other researchers in my lab. The Scholar will attend weekly Genetics & Biochemistry research seminars and other research seminars on campus, and the bi-weekly EPIC journal club and present annually during their scholarship. Along with collaborating EPIC faculty, I will provide feedback to the Scholar to assist in the development of their communication and presentation skills. These activities will provide informal opportunities to discuss presentation of scientific data, and writing and submission of journal articles for publication. The Scholar will have multiple opportunities to present their research at regional scientific meetings, such as the Cell Biology of Eukaryotic Pathogens symposium. I will facilitate travel to at least one relevant national/international meeting (e.g., American Society for Microbiology, the Fungal Genetics Conference) for the Scholar to present a poster/talk to foster the expansion of the Scholar's scientific knowledge and allow the Scholar to interact with prominent researchers to develop his/her professional network.

Active undergraduate researchers in Mentor's lab. 4

Total number of UGRS mentored to date: 80

The invasive opportunistic pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans is most frequent cause of fungal meningitis. Exposure is common, as it is an environmental fungus found in the soil that can enter the lungs through inhalation and disseminate to the central nervous system in individuals with AIDS and recipients of immunosuppressive therapy. The CDC estimates the yearly burden of cryptococcal meningitis to be nearly one million cases with more than 181,000 deaths. Despite the global significance of cryptococcal meningitis, current treatments are inadequate as the gold standard therapy is based on half century old drugs that have a wide range of liabilities and shortcomings. Lung alveolar macrophages, which present a first line of host defense against infection, provide a glucose- and amino acid-poor environment, and nonpreferred carbon sources such as acetate are likely important early in infection. We and others have demonstrated that mutants defective in acetate utilization are either avirulent or display reduced virulence. Our long term goal is to provide a better understanding of how Cryptococcus can adapt its metabolism to survive in the changing environments encountered during infection and to identify targets for the development of new and more effective antifungal therapies.