Seven students in the Prisic lab are recipients of UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program) at University of Hawaiʻi awards. Dr. Sladjana Prisic, a Department of Microbiology assistant professor, praises the program: “UROP gives so much more than money for reagents and stipends, it provides the structure, i.e., students need to write a proposal, send reports, deal with their budget, and present their work at the end of the study. Most importantly, students get highly motivated when their projects are seen as worth being funded.” Dr. Prisic hopes that the program will expand to provide more research opportunities for students and encourage more faculty to open their labs for UROP students. Two of these UROP awardees had positive experiences that they have shared.

Janey Guo, a May ‘17 graduate, had this to say “My research experience in Dr. Prisic's lab was overall very rewarding. It was a great opportunity to apply what I learned in my science classes to real experiments. As for future plans, I will be attending the University of Washington School of Pharmacy this September.”
Sasha Canovali, a major in Molecular Cell Biology and Fall ’17 graduate, said this “I am so grateful for the opportunity to work in the Prisic lab here at UH Manoa. I have been able to use the resources as well as funding from UROP to conduct research. The work is challenging, but the experience is worth it. I plan to use the experience I've gained here in a career as a medical technologist.”

A bridge between teaching and research

Dr. Prisic teaches Biology of Microorganisms and the associated lab, the core course with almost 200 students and eight lab sections. Although the effort that goes into organizing experiments for such large number of students is well worth it, considering that students get training in basic microbiology techniques, “doing research is quite different experience from lab courses and all science majors should have an opportunity to do “real” experiments”, says Dr. Prisic.

Undergraduate students at UH strive to improve tuberculosis therapy and save lives

Dr. Prisic, has been building a strong research group since she joined University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in fall 2014. Last year, she received a $390,000 grant from National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study alternative ribosomal proteins from Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the causative agent of tuberculosis (TB), and this year another $50,000 grant from the Leahi Fund from the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation to study TB biomarkers. “From the description of our research, you may think that my group is not undergraduate-friendly, but you would be wrong”, said Dr. Prisic. Indeed, since opening the doors of her laboratory in October 2014, 19 undergraduate students have worked on various projects in Dr. Prisic’s lab.

Research and undergraduate training are synergistic

Considering that undergraduate students cannot work with pathogens such as M. tuberculosis, Dr. Prisic had to find suitable projects for them. Luckily, ribosomes studied in Prisic group are essential for survival of all organisms and similar regulatory mechanisms can be studied in non-pathogenic model organisms, such as Mycobacterium smegmatis and Bacillus subtilis. In that way, students work with safe organisms and are still a part of a larger goal, i.e., finding new anti-TB treatments and save millions of lives in the future. Dr. Celeste Yergin, postdoctoral fellow, and two graduate students, Allexa Dow and Brandi Antonio in Prisic lab, wholeheartedly supervise and train undergraduate students how to, for example, purify proteins, or make mutants in bacteria. This effort is enormous, as at one point Prisic lab had ten undergraduate students to manage. However, by creating an atmosphere of responsibility and interdependence, Dr. Prisic has achieved the sense of unity in her group. Dr. Prisic asserts: “Undergraduate students bring positive energy to the lab and they have expanded and improved our research.”