Students sweep top awards at microbiology conference

May 17, 2021 / by / 0 Comment

GCU News Bureau

It was a sweep of the top spots for Grand Canyon University in oral research presentations at the 60th annual meeting of the Arizona and Southern Nevada branch of the American Society for Microbiology. The meeting was held virtually in April and hosted by Touro University in Henderson, Nevada.

Not only did GCU’s oral presentations take the top spots, but Karson Rush-Briones received the W.W. Norton Award in the category of Undergraduate Poster Presentations.

“The students did an outstanding job with their research projects, as well as with the preparation and delivery of oral presentations,” said Dr. Galyna Kufryk, a biological sciences professor in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology. She is a faculty advisor to many of the Research and Design Program student researchers, some of whom are also members of a new club, the GCU student chapter of the American Society for Microbiology.

Karson Rush-Briones

The oral presentation titled “Physiology of the heterocystous cyanobacteria Anabaena variabilis and its significance for hydrogen production” received a first-place win. Students researchers who worked on the project included Brittany Boatwright, Joseph Rice, Vianna Mulholland, Timothy Vosler, Diana Villegas and Destiny Rome.

Placing second was the oral presentation titled “Genetic deletion of uptake hydrogenase to increase hydrogen production in cyanobacteria.” Student researchers on the team included Maverick Zietlow, Martina Miranda, Kamaile Conant, Jose Delgado, Jeremiah Ragira, Morgan Snider and Breann Quiano.

Dr. Galyna Kufryk

Kufryk is the faculty mentor for both groups. She is exploring the potential of different strains of microscopic, photosynthetic organisms called cyanobacteria in producing a renewable, clean biofuel called molecular hydrogen.

Besides taking first and second place, GCU students and their presenters had two other runner-up finishes:

  • “Natural cure in cactus: screening of opuntia for antimicrobial activity,” presented by April Sellers. Her faculty mentor is Daisy Savarirajan, and,
  • “Photosynthetic activity and its effect on bidirectional hydrogenase and hydrogen production in cyanobacteria.” Student researchers on the project were Oliwia Wlodek, Matthew Correa, Bonita Kuy, Danika Orcilla, Diego Reyes-Sanchez, Giselle Velasco and Markie Ballard. They worked under the guidance of Kufryk.

Dr. Daisy Savarirajan at a past conference.

Briones received the W.W. Norton Award for his presentation of “Evaluation of synergistic antibacterial efficacy of spices, herbs and in combination with conventional antibiotics.” His faculty mentor is Dr. Ramesh Vellupillaimani.

Both Savarirajan and Vellupillaimani are researching desert plants for their medicinal benefits. They’re hoping to discover if any of these plants produce antimicrobial products that would be safe and effective to use against drug-resistant microbes.

Dr. Ramesh Velupillaimani (left) in the lab.

Kufryk said many of the student researchers recognized at the conference have been on her research team for two or more years.

She said, “It was especially rewarding for me to help them grow and develop as critical thinkers and skilled researchers.”


Click here for more information about the GCU student chapter of the American Society for Microbiology: “We would like to invite everyone who is interested in the science of microbiology to join us,” Kufryk said.


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