Mississippi INBRE research scholar makes critical discoveries

Southern Miss graduate Terra Parker has been conducting biomedical research in the lab of Dr. Glen Shearer, Mississippi INBRE program coordinator. (Submitted photo)
Southern Miss graduate Terra Parker has been conducting biomedical research in the lab of Dr. Glen Shearer, Mississippi INBRE program coordinator. (Submitted photo)

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - This is a news release from the University of Southern Mississippi 

This summer, Mississippi INBRE Research Scholars are proving that ground-breaking research is not solely conducted by those with a doctorate degree. This dedicated group of 31 undergraduate students from all parts of Mississippi is making biomedical research discoveries that could save lives in the future and will further them in their goals of entering the biomedical research field.

One such student is Terra Parker, recent graduate of The University of Southern Mississippi with a degree in biology and a chemistry minor. A Monticello, Miss., native, Parker has been working in the lab of Dr. Glen Shearer, Mississippi INBRE program coordinator, since August 2013. During this time Parker has been researching Histoplasma capsulatum, a fungus found in bird and bat excrement that can cause histoplasmosis -- a sometimes fatal disease.

Being a part of the leading mold research lab in the United States, and the only lab in the State of Mississippi that works with this fungus would be intimidating to most students. However, Parker has excelled in this lab while learning time management, new research methods, interpersonal skills, and professional presentation skills.

"When I first came to this lab, I was constantly asking questions," she said. "After being forced to step out of my comfort zone and learn to do things myself, I was able to fend for myself and fix things when I messed up."

Over the last 11 months, Parker has grown as a researcher while making ground-breaking discoveries. This summer, an experiment behaved in a manner contrary to expectations. This discovery, while surprising, will aid in the search for a cure for histoplasmosis and could potentially save hundreds of lives.

"It is amazing how quickly a bright and dedicated undergraduate student can become a skilled biomedical researcher," said Shearer. "Terra has only worked in the research lab for a few months, but already has acquired skills rivaling that of graduate students. She has analyzed gene expression which is now being incorporated into a manuscript for publication—an impressive feat for an undergraduate student."

Logan Blancett, a graduate student in Shearer's lab, is in charge of hiring the undergraduate students who will work there. He notes that it is hard to find a student that he trusts with the thousands of dollars in equipment housed in the lab. With no hesitation, he added that Parker had earned his trust by working hard and being a quick learner.

"I teach all of the undergraduate students I work with the value of multitasking and working on other projects while they are waiting on results from an experiment. Terra has excelled in this and has learned to work quickly and efficiently," Blancett said.

Mississippi INBRE, directed by Dr. Mohamed Elasri, a professor at The University of Southern Mississippi, is a statewide program that is supported by an award from the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences.

Its mission is to enhance the biomedical foundation in Mississippi and to reach out to Mississippians in order to improve health throughout the state. Mississippi INBRE seeks to engage talented researchers and students in biomedical research projects that will increase the state's research competitiveness as well as impact the health of citizens of Mississippi.

For more information about Mississippi INBRE, check out their website, msinbre.org.