USC Aiken Undergrad’s Research Lands Grant, Award

December 12, 2016

Allison Swiecki, a University of South Carolina Aiken sophomore molecular biology major researching zebrafish genetics is a 2016 recipient of a $1,500 grant from the USC Aiken South Carolina IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence. 

She joins a cohort of 15 other students in the departments of biology, chemistry physics, and psychology who are participating in biomedical research under the guidance of their USC Aiken faculty mentors. 

Swiecki’s work during the past year culminated in a presentation on her research that earned an award at the SC INBRE research conference held at the Medical University of South Carolina earlier this semester.  After this initial success, she is considered by her faculty mentors as a strong candidate for the second level of USC Aiken INBRE funding of $5,500, due to be awarded in January. 

A native of Beech Island, S.C., Swiecki is working closely with her USC Aiken research mentors, Dr. Nathan Hancock and Dr. April DeLaurier.  They are studying genetic mutations in hopes of finding the possible causes of genetic conditions, including cleft palate.

"I love SC INBRE because it gave me the first exposure to research, allowing me to learn the details of writing a grant proposal, and it provided an opportunity for summer research, where I was able to become much more confident in my ability to execute a research project and present my findings,” she said in a recent SC INBRE newsletter article.

Through a series of processes called “activation tagging,” Swiecki is basically injecting different DNA configurations into zebrafish so she can ultimately analyze gene function.  This mutagenesis process allows her to screen for mutant phenotypes.

“Zebrafish serve as a model for development in vertebrates, therefore creating mutants in zebrafish allows for the identification of genes that are common to other vertebrates,” Swiecki said.

While activation tagging has never been used for zebrafish, it has been used in gene discovery in plants.  The INBRE funding allowed Swiecki, under the guidance of Hancock, a chance to conduct this novel research. 

"I now realize that I love research, and that I couldn't imagine not participating in research for the rest of my life.,” Swiecki said.

“SC INBRE has provided me the opportunity to learn more about the research programs available to me in my future. I am ecstatic about being a SC INBRE Scholar.”

While Swiecki plans to pursue a career in biomedical research, she will continue to conduct research at USC Aiken until she graduates.  She is slated to participate in the university’s Scholar Showcase April 14, 2017.  During that event undergraduates from all disciplines will present discoveries as a result of their research with their USC Aiken faculty mentors.

USC Aiken, a comprehensive university in the University of South Carolina system, offers undergraduate and master’s degrees to more than 3,500 students in 50 programs of study. USC Aiken is ranked the #1 public regional college in the South by U.S. News & World Report’s guide "America’s Best Colleges." The 2017 distinction marks USC Aiken’s 19th consecutive ranking among the top three in this category and its 12th time in first place.