The Botanical Society of America has named Lauren Walter ’16 a Young Botanist of the Year, a prestigious national honor bestowed on 25 graduating seniors for outstanding work in the plant sciences.
“Being nominated for and receiving the Young Botanist of the Year award helped me realize how much I have learned and accomplished at HWS,” says Walter.
A biology major and a mathematics and international relations double minor, Walter found her niche in biology during Assistant Professor of Biology Shannon Straub’s course in genomics during the spring of 2015. The course focused on the development of genome sequencing technology and using this technology to construct and annotate genomes. That summer, Walter built on this interest in DNA and genomes with field research and lab analysis, working with Straub on the Milkweed Genome Project.
In the process, she found her Honors Project topic: plant chloroplast genomes.
Similar to research and analysis she conducted that summer, Walter’s Honors Project, “Comparative Genomic Analysis of Apocynaceae Plastomes,” involved extracting DNA from herbarium and silica dried specimens. She also prepared the extractions for genome sequencing, successfully sequenced four entirely new chloroplast genomes and discovered more evidence for plastome pseudogenization, i.e. no-longer-functioning genes in plant cell DNA.
“It was a real pleasure having Lauren in class and watching her grow as a scientist first through summer research, and then through her honors work in my lab,” says Straub. “She undoubtedly has a bright future in research in industry or academia, whichever path she chooses, and is certainly deserving of honors in biology and the Young Botanist Award from the Botanical Society of America.”
“Being recognized by the Botanical Society of America made the challenging research I have done for the past year extremely rewarding. I am thankful for Professor Straub’s guidance and support and am grateful that she nominated me for the award,” says Walter, who the Colleges also recognized with a research stipend from the Professor Romana Lashewycz-Rubycz Honors Fund.
Before pursuing graduate school, Walter plans “to go into biotechnology research which would allow me to extract and sequence DNA and analyze large data sets,” scaling up the skills and interests that developed in Straub’s lab.
Founded in 1893, the Botanical Society of America promotes botany and education about plants, encourages research and fosters between and among the scientific community and general public. With members in more than 80 countries, the society includes scientists, professors, teachers, students, botanists and plants enthusiasts.