Biology students awarded for superior influenza research

March 19, 2012

Harley Pyles and Seth KemmeterTwo University of Wisconsin-Whitewater students were rewarded for their curiosity and research skills, winning grants to the 2012 Phylomedicine Symposium at Arizona State University, March 23-24.

Seth Kemmeter and Harley Pyles will join students from top research schools including Stanford University, Harvard Medical School and Boston College.

The field for this prestigious competition included students from eight international schools from Germany, Japan, Venezuela, Ireland and New Zealand. Kemmeter and Pyles are the only students from Wisconsin and among only 30 in the world to receive awards this year.

Kemmeter and Pyles are researching phylomedicine, which uses molecular data from computer programs to study the science of evolutionary relationships. In other words, the duo breaks down the family tree of different genes to find medically significant information to predict how viruses develop.

"I'm looking at strands of Influenza A, which is like the swine flu or bird flu. I'm looking to understand its history and relationships," said Pyles, a senior from Lake Mills, majoring in biology and studio art.

Kemmeter, a Jefferson native, focuses his research on Influenza B, which is predominantly found in humans and known in common terms as "the flu."

"I'm trying to do a comprehensive reconstruction of Influenza B's background and history so we can understand it better. From there, maybe people would have a better idea of how to prevent it," Kemmeter said.

His background in research has led him to an integrated science/business degree and he is now pursuing an honors biology degree with hopes of teaching high school biology.

"We're very proud to represent our university. What students are doing here is on par with, if not better than, the research those bigger schools are doing," Pyles said.

The students say small class sizes and one-on-one mentoring at UW-Whitewater have been pivotal to their success.

"Robert Kuzoff has been so supportive through all of our research. He always emphasizes quality over quantity," Pyles said.

"Sometimes when students come to college, they wonder if undergraduate research really makes a difference. Students like Harley and Seth are prime examples to their colleagues that you can reach great heights," said Kuzoff, associate professor of biological sciences.

Kuzoff said the Phylomedicine Symposium presents a valuable opportunity for his students. "They'll truly be standing toe-to-toe with some of the most famous researchers in the world," he said. "These two are clever, passionate and eager, and it's paying off."

The event will feature guest speakers and poster presentations and provide networking opportunities.

"It's going to be really cool to see what else is going on out there. We're hoping to see some cool ideas that we can bring back with us," Kemmeter said.


Sara Kuhl

Jeff Angileri

The Phylomedicine Symposium is hosted by the Center for Evolutionary Medicine & Informatics and the Society for Molecular Biology & Evolution. It will be held March 23-24 at the Arizona State University campus in Tempe.

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