Ananda Rankin, a graduating senior at Penn State majoring in Microbiology has been named a 2020 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellow. The program recognizes and supports outstanding students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who plan to, or are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions.
Rankin conducts her research in the laboratory of Penn State biochemist and Howard Hughes Medical Investigator Squire Booker, where she is focused on the study of an enzyme called lipoyl synthase (LipA). LipA undergoes an important chemical reaction that results in the creation of a compound called lipoic acid, which is used in many essential biological processes. In this chemical reaction, LipA removes two hydrogen atoms from an inert carbon chain and replaces them with sulfur atoms from one of its own iron-sulfur clusters, rendering itself inactive and creating lipoic acid. Rankin is interested in uncovering and understanding the relationship between the different enzymes used in the creation of lipoic acid and the LipA iron-sulfur cluster.
“Deficiencies in lipoic acid have been linked to many rare genetic diseases that have resulted in fetal and infantile death”, said Rankin. “By better understanding the pathway of lipoic acid biosynthesis we can open doors for the treatment of these diseases.”
Additionally, as strains of bacteria resistant to existing drugs continue to appear, the development of new drugs and antibiotics is essential. Rankin’s research is contributing to the understanding of how these enzymes are implicated in the creation of lipoic acid and will allow researchers to exploit this knowledge to develop antibiotics that can better target bacteria and save lives.
After her graduation in May, Rankin will attend Washington University in St. Louis and continue her education in a Molecular Microbiology and Microbial Pathogenesis Ph.D. program. Rankin aspires to one day operate a laboratory of her own, either at a government agency or within industry, where she will study infectious diseases and be on the frontlines of the next great breakthrough.
About the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
Since 1952 the NSF has named over 50,000 Graduate Research Fellows, each achieving high levels of success in their academic and professional careers. Past Program Fellows include Nobel Prize winners such as: U.S. Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, Google founder, Sergey Brin and Freakonomics co-author, Steven Levitt. Those selected as NSF Graduate Research Fellows receive a three-year annual stipend along with a cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees. Additionally, they benefit from opportunities for international research and professional development.