UAF BLaST Scientists of the Month: May-July 2018

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UAF BLaST Scientist of the Month: Christina Edwin, May 2018


Christina Edwin, a BLaST scholar at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Campus since fall of 2016, graduated in May 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in rural development and a minor in Yup’ik. She has a love for food, culture, and a healthy lifestyle, and counts on these attributes to guide her academically and personally. She loves learning about her environment and has a high interest in non-profit work, and plans to enter into a master’s program in rural development in fall 2018.


Edwin’s work started with Graduate Mentoring Research Assistant (GMRA) Sheri Coker, in the research project, “Protein Synthesis in Wildgame,” which focused on examining protein from store-bought meat such as beef, and comparing it with wild Alaskan reindeer meat. The project examined a difference in the health benefits of wild game meat and energy expenditure of the hunter. Edwin worked under Coker to gain the lab skills needed to enter into her own project entitled, “Tl’eyegge Baabeee’ in the Village of Koyukuk: Reclaiming Identity through Food Knowledge Sharing and Doing,” which focused on the different natural subsisted food benefits utilized by the people of Koyukuk, her Alaskan village. The project examines the process of the whole community and extended family’s involvement in food gathering and preparation process, storytelling, caregiving, and environmental issues. The making of the moosehead soup was a major focus.

Christina Edwin working on Koyukon Indian ice cream, a handmade dish Native to her village. Her research focused on the relationship of health food preparation with Alaska Native subsistence animals and plants.


Edwin was mentored by BLaST staff GMRA Coker, as well as two Research Advising Mentoring Professionals (RAMPs), Natalia Podlutskaya and Emily Sousa. College of Rural and Community Development (CRCD) Rural Development faculty Charlene Stern, Jennifer Carroll, and Sveta Yamin-Pasternak, a professor at the Department of Anthropology, guided Edwin in her research and her academic career. Continued support through BLaST has also connected Edwin with other scholars who provided a positive community environment. She hopes that in the future, she will be able to give the same support to new researchers entering One Health and biomedical fields.


Christina Edwin presenting at the April 10, 2018 URSA (Undergraduate Research in Scholarly Activity) Research and Creative Activity Day held at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.

UAF BLaST Scientist of the Month: Viktorija Podlutskaya, June 2018


Viktorija Podlutskaya is a 3rd-year BLaST Scholar and non-traditional student who moved to Fairbanks from Chicago, Illinois. She tested the security integrity of various IT networks while working as a security consultant, and graduated with a B.S. degree in biological sciences with a focus in cell and molecular biology in May 2018. With this degree, she decided to go back to her roots and pursue her original dream of becoming a surgeon. In her free time, she mentors her Little Sister from Big Brothers, Big Sisters and volunteers at Stone Soup Café. She enjoys shadowing at the Surgery Center of Fairbanks weekly. If she is not studying for her classes at UAF, she is preparing for the MCAT. To relax, she frequents the gym and lifts weights.

Third-year BLaST Scholar Viktorija Podlutskaya graduated May 2018.


Podlutskaya has been working in research labs since arriving at UAF, assisting on various projects related to cell and molecular biology. Results from one project studying DNA damage and repair in patients recovering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma were recently published. Working on her primary research project, entitled “DNA Repair in Virally Infected Cells,” led to Podlutskaya developing an interest in viruses and their relation to cancer, and she hopes to continue research in cellular molecular biology and pathology throughout medical school. She has presented at several national conferences including SACNAS 2017 in Salt Lake City and the West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Conference at Santa Clara University.


Podlutskaya believes that she can learn from anyone she comes in contact with, and has worked with several Principle Investigators and graduate students on research throughout UAF. Her primary mentor is Andrej Podlutsky, associate professor of molecular biology and a BLaST Faculty Pilot Project awardee. Graduate students Krysta Yancey and Robert Williams (both previous BLaST Undergraduate Research Experience (URE) students) also provide valuable mentoring and laboratory help. In May 2016, as part of BLaST's two-week Biomedical Exploration Experience course, she assisted graduate student Lisa Smith (a BLaST Graduate Mentoring Research Assistant (GMRA)) with a short lab project called “Detection of CXCR4 in Plasma Membrane Fraction of Neuronal Cells and Lipid Raft Microdomains."



Scholars (l to r) Tandi Marth, Viktorija Podlutskaya, Research Advising and Mentoring Professional Natalia Podlustakaya, Kendrick Hautala, Christina Edwin, and Scholar Student Core Director Marsha Sousa were presented BLaST lab coats for the academic year Aug. 2017.

UAF BLaST Scientist of the Month: Devin Drown, July 2018


Devin Drown is an assistant professor in the Department of Biology and Wildlife at UAF. He earned his Ph.D. in zoology at Washington State University, and before coming to Alaska he was a postdoc in evolutionary genetics at Indiana University. He earned his B.A. degree in biology from Grinnell College in Iowa. Originally from New Hampshire, Devin enjoys being outside, hiking, and cycling.

University of Alaska Fairbanks Faculty Pilot Project awardee Devin Drown focused on a combination of genomics tools, greenhouse and field studies, and mathematical modeling to understand coevolutionary interactions.


Drown’s research uses a combination of genomics tools, greenhouse and field studies, along with mathematical modeling to understand coevolutionary interactions. Through research support from his BLaST Faculty Pilot Project, he engages undergraduate researchers in measuring and testing the effects of the Alaska soil microbiome on ecosystem health. These plant-microbe interactions may influence how the plant community responds to changing climatic conditions and can ultimately affect Alaskans who rely on the forest for food. Drown is also working closely with Anne-Lise Ducluzeau (BLaST postdoc), traveling across the state and using the latest Nanopore sequencing devices (MinIONs). He has already shared his techniques at the Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Conference held in Nome from March 28 to 29, 2018.


When working with students, Drown fosters a spirit of independence through the scientific research experience. Over the past 3 years at UAF, he has mentored 13 undergraduates, of which were 3 BLaST students (1 Scholar, 2 Undergraduate Research Experiences). Each has presented scholarly work at a scientific conference.

Two undergraduates, Taylor Seitz (l) and BLaST Scholar Jennie Humphrey (r), working with Devin (not pictured) to set up an experiment in the greenhouse to understand microbial effects on plant health on June 14, 2018.

Teaching and Service:

Drown wants to help his students learn how to think about complex problems and how to apply their analytical skills to larger issues they will face as citizens. Each spring, he teaches Principles of Evolution (BIOL 481, approx. 40 students) where he is using new technologies with help from eLearning like the Learning Glass, a dynamic online whiteboard platform. With initial support from Alaska INBRE, Drown has developed the capstone course on The Human Microbiome (BIOL 491, 15 students). In this course, students explore current research about the microbes on and in us, and each semester they collect and analyze their own data and present at the Microbiomes Under the Midnight Sun Symposium at UAF.