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McNair Scholar and Plant Pathology Minor excels in undergraduate research

Posted: November 11, 2013

Patrick Thomas really knows how to juggle—his workload, that is. This busy PSU senior is a McNair Scholar, and an Agricultural Science major pursuing both Plant Pathology and Agronomy minors.
Patrick Thomas - McNair Scholar, Agricultural Science Major, and Plant Pathology and Agronomy Minor

Patrick Thomas - McNair Scholar, Agricultural Science Major, and Plant Pathology and Agronomy Minor

In addition to his regular course load, and working part-time in the laboratory, Patrick has been conducting his own independent research project.  His research, mentored by Dr. Gretchen Kuldau in the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology, is studying the effects of the fungal endophyte, Fusarium verticillioides, on corn growth and protein composition.  This fungal endophyte can colonize corn throughout its vascular system without causing disease and could even have unknown beneficial effects.   One goal of his work is to determine how the presence of endophytic  F. verticillioides alters the protein composition of the maize apoplast.  His current work in the Kuldau Lab is funded by a grant Patrick applied for through the College of Agricultural Sciences Undergraduate Research Grant Program.

How does a guy from Long Island, NY come to major in agriculture at Penn State?  Patrick’s interest in Plant Biology was initiated in high school when he had a chance to learn how nutrient deficiencies affected soybeans.   This interest in plants led him to Penn State, where he became involved with the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) organization, serving as treasurer, and now as the chapter president.   Through the MANRRS program, Patrick has had opportunities to travel to national meetings, present his research, make new contacts, and grow as a professional.  

Patrick’s foray into agricultural research continued two years ago when he applied to the Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP), an undergraduate research program sponsored by the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), a consortium of Universities offering summer research opportunities for undergraduates.  Through it, he had the chance to spend 9 weeks at Michigan State University to investigate genetic engineering of corn produced for biofuels.  The following summer, supported by a McNair scholarship, Patrick worked full time at Penn State University in Dr. Kuldau’s Lab, and began his current investigation into the corn endophyte interactions.  His work has garnered the attention of WPSU-TV staff who are reporting on the activities of McNair scholarship awardees.  Their film crew has been documenting his progress through the past few weeks as he continues his research and applies to graduate schools.  This past October, Patrick was selected to be a Keynote Speaker at the College of Agricultural Science’s Scholarship Awards Banquet.   Patrick, representing the many student scholarship recipients, spoke appreciatively to the audience of 600 attendees and reflected on his time at Penn State.  He especially praised his experiences working in the lab with Dr. Kuldau and Nancy Wenner, of whom he credited with increasing his career interests in plant science research.  We look forward to seeing much more of Patrick’s work in the coming years!