BLaST Scientist of the Month Feb 2018

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Contact Info: aktopkok@alaska.edu
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BLaST Scholar Mark Velasco selected as BLaST Scientist of the Month

Introduction

Mark Velasco has been with the BLaST program since May 2017, first as an Undergraduate Research Experience (URE Summer 2017) student and now as a BLaST Scholar (2017-2018 academic year). Mark is a senior undergraduate Honors Student who is completing his BS in Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) and will graduate this spring. He plans to continue honing his research skills and is already applying to PhD and other graduate school opportunities, showing his determination and focus toward the pursuit of higher education. Mark was born and raised in Kodiak, AK, and enjoys playing music, computers, and socializing with friends.

Research

Since joining the BLaST program, Mark has embraced scientific research, saying “I enjoy going beyond what’s described in the textbook by applying scientific concepts and techniques to answer our own scientific questions.” Mark is currently working with his faculty mentor Andrej Podlutsky to look at DNA repair in the cells of Arctic ground squirrels and their hibernation processes. Their lab is also collaborating with Dr. Kelly Drew’s Lab on the same subject. The different stages of hibernation are observed to see the effects for the capacity of genome repair at the cellular level, mainly through the use of cell culture and the comet assay. Mark believes his connections to One Health, through studying the cellular pathways, stressors, molecules, and diseases that directly or indirectly influence human health, both on an organismal and cellular level, will be beneficial to him in all of his future work.

Mentoring

Mark is mentored primarily by his professor Andrej Podlutsky, who is also a BLaST Faculty Pilot Project awardee. Graduate students Krysta Yancey (previous BLaST URE – Spring 2015) and Robert Williams (also a previous URE – Spring 2015) are also providing mentoring in various lab techniques. Research Advising and Mentoring Professional Natalia Podlutskaya has also provided extensive guidance in creating primary cell cultures from tissue samples necessary for his research. Mark has gained confidence enough in his skills that he has started to share and guide other peers in his lab, building his skills as a research scientist.