Dekker took a second class with Ward and then, thinking he might be interested in a career in research, he started helping out in the lab as a technician. Ward has been studying a mutant gene in mice that appears to cause infertility by interfering with the process of meiosis. (That is the kind of cell division that produces germ cells: eggs and sperm.) A report on this research was published last spring by a team including scientists at Middlebury, Cornell, and Maine's Jackson Laboratory. Dekker is one of the authors.
"The implications of this research are pretty broad," Ward says. "About 15 percent of human couples can't conceive a child after a year of trying." In addition, errors in meiosis during reproduction can lead to birth defects, spontaneous abortion, or infertility. And mutations in some of the genes that are essential for meiosis have been shown to contribute to cancer."
"One of the most exciting things about doing research like this is discovering something truly new," says Dekker, who is now doing stem cell research with a team of scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital and plans to become a doctor. "The end result is a genuine contribution to human knowledge."