Endowments help fund vaccine, fungicide research at University of Wyoming

Photograph of man
Mark Menghini

Research related to vaccine production and effective fungicides to protect crops has been made possible for two molecular biology students through the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Dean’s Excellence Fund.

The college was able to provide these scholarships and many others through the endowment income of donors.

Mark Menghini of Cheyenne is working on his master’s degree in molecular biology and is working on a biohazard infectivity project. He said the baculovirus-insect cell system is used to make recombinant proteins, or Sf cell lines used in the biotechnology sector to produce antigens for veterinary diagnostic tests and for licenses for human and veterinary vaccines. Sf cell lines were developed from the fall armyworm.

In 2014, a Federal Drug Administration scientist published a paper showing these Sf cells were contaminated with a novel rhabdovirus (RV) and the origins of this Sf-RV are believed to have originated from Sf caterpillar rhadovirus (Sf-CAT-RV). While Sf-RV can only infect a few insect cell lines, Sf-CAT-RV was found to be able to replicate in monkey kidney cell lines, explained Menghini.

“This presented the possibility, albeit remote, that the cell culture adapted virus, which is a complex “quasi species,” or mixture of closely related strains, could include viruses that, like the CAT-derived predecessor, could infect mammalian cells,” said Menghini, who triple majored as an undergrad at UW in molecular biology, physiology and the honors program and minored in neuroscience.

Menghini’s project is designed to take a closer look at the potential biohazard possessed by the Sf-RV contaminant.

“We began a project designed to examine its impact on severely immunocompromised mice,” said Menghini, who works with Don Jarvis, a professor in the Department of Molecular Biology. “The basic idea is to place the mice in what we think is the worst-case scenario – exposure to the Sf-RV and Sf-CAT-RV – and see what happens.”

Photograph of woman
Seungmee Jung

His research is directly related to vaccine production and recombinant protein production.

“It’s really integrated with the medical field,” said Menghini, who plans to attend medical school upon completion of his master’s degree.

Jarvis added that Menghini would be a great candidate for the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho) medical education program after completion of his masters.

“He is a wonderful student in all ways, very bright, hardworking, earnest, cooperative, absorbs like a sponge, and is as honest as the day is long,” said Jarvis.

Receiving the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Dean’s Excellence Award was a great surprise for Menghini.

“We have more financial resources to look into more options for our experiments and personally it is a great help to me financially,” said Menghini. “It takes a lot of stress off.”

Seungmee Jung, a Ph.D. student in molecular biology, who also received this award, felt a great honor.

“I am very pleased to receive this award, and I think it will be great motivation for future research,” said Jung, who is from Jeonju, South Korea.

Jung received her undergraduate degree in life sciences from Sangmyung University in Seoul and her master’s degree in horticultural biotechnology from Seoul National University, a top university in Korea.

“Her research project aims to understand a fundamental cellular process in fungal pathogens and its application to develop more effective fungicides to protect crops,” said Eunsook Park, an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biology.

Jung chose to further her education at the University of Wyoming because she felt it was a leading educational institute with a strong research emphasis.

“I recognized that the solid coursework and research foundation in molecular biology (at UW) will expedite my academic career,” said Jung.

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