Laura Helft earns NSF Graduate Research Fellowship
April 16, 2008
Laura Helft '06, from Hoosick Falls, N.Y., is a second-year graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the cell and molecular biology program. A Ph.D. candidate, she is doing research in the department of plant pathology in the lab of Professor Andrew Bent. Her project focuses on a receptor that allows plants to perceive the presence of bacteria and mount immune responses just as the human body does when it recognizes a pathogen.
A magna cum laude graduate of Middlebury with departmental honors in molecular biology and biochemistry, Helft showed promise as an undergraduate in the pursuit of a research career that can have a significant impact on human health. At Middlebury her thesis attempted to define the mitotic role of a recently cloned gene from the Hei10 family, a family that has been implicated in cancer progression. In her molecular genetics class, Helft successfully cloned and disrupted the luxS gene from Streptococcus mutans, the principal causative agent of human dental decay.
"Laura is confident and willing to undertake difficult tasks" and "a natural leader [in the laboratory] in the sense that people are attracted to her not just by her personality but also by the confidence with which she approaches her work," said Jeremy Ward, assistant professor of biology at Middlebury and Helft's thesis advisor. "Supporting Laura will have the broader impact of nurturing and promoting a very talented woman who will no doubt serve as a role model for others."