Spotlight: Xiu Xiao

Posted on September 20th, 2011 by

Xiu Xiao, biology major (Class of 2012) has lived at Gustavus year-round every summer since completing her freshman year at Gustavus. Now a senior, Xiu spent her last summer researching on campus.

Many students interested in research work on campus for one or two summers in order to gain the experience necessary to land competitive research positions at large universities or organizations. Xiao, however, chose to become competitive for graduate school by exemplifying an important trait:  commitment. Xiu said, “I talked to Dr. Dahlseid [professor of biology and chemistry] about whether I should continue researching here or at a different school, and he suggested that if you want to do something meaningful, it is good to stay and work for two or three years. By working on the same project. I can discover new things, present, and even publish a paper.”

Xiu studies the role a protein called Metalloprotein II (MPII) plays in the wormNereis diversicolor’s ability to live in environments containing high levels of the toxic metal cadmium. Nereis diversicolor is a marine worm native to North Atlantic estuaries. This summer, Xiu sequenced the protein MPII in worms living in high cadmium environments, and in worms living in low cadmium environments so that she could compare the differences in their genetic makeup.

Testing worms' ability to deal with toxic cadmium

Xiu’s favorite research experience took place during January term and spring semester last year.  She injected Myohemorytherin (a protein genetically similar to MPII) into rabbits, and took blood samples from the rabbit’s ears once they built up antibodies to the protein. Oh, and the rabbits experienced no harm in the process!

Research not only built up Xiao’s resume for the future, but also helped her become interested in her courses and even in studying outside of class. “It [research] makes me curious and makes me want to learn, because I have something to apply it to.  Freshman year, before I had research experience, I wondered, ‘why do I need to know this?’ In my lab, we work with gene expression, and I learned about that in several classes, like Cell and Molecular Biology, Bio 101—really any class that you learn about cells in. That helped me understand why it is relevant, and why we need to know it,” Xiao said.

If she doesn’t start graduate school right away, Xiao hopes to take time off from research and devote her summer to something a little different: volunteer work. Said Xiao, “I’d like to volunteer because I know life will get really busy after I start grad school and get a job.  I just won’t ever have the same kind of time, and it’s important to use the time I do have for something good.”

Even with years of experience, lab accidents still happen to the best of us!


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