Shravani Kakarla '15, of Turks and Caicos Islands, transferred to UMass Dartmouth to major in bioengineering, and she is among the first class of students to graduate with that major.
Shravani's research with Prof. Christopher Brigham focuses on biofuel and the bio-manufacturing industry. She was awarded first place in UMass Dartmouth's "Three-Minute Thesis" competition for "Bio-production of ethanol via co-culture of Saccharaomyces cervisiae and Ralstonia eutropha." Shravani plans to continue her education in biochemical/environmental engineering.
Why did you decide to major in bioengineering?
At my previous university, I found that biochemistry and molecular biology research tend to look at how living organisms function. Discovery was thrilling, but I felt a greater sense of achievement from creating an applicable product. Bioengineering was more meaningful to me.
I wanted to transfer for a fresh start in a new academic program, so I chose the bioengineering track here at UMass Dartmouth.
What has your experience been as an international student?
Because I transferred to UMass Dartmouth, I didn't experience as much culture shock as some new students might have. When I came to the U.S., I was excited by the variety of activities and opportunities.
I come from a very small country and, to be honest, there isn't too much to do there. I really liked the availability of clubs, research, and classes I could get involved in. I was surprised by the warm welcome and well thought-out orientation by the International Student and Scholar Center here.
Tell us about your research in biofuels.
I’m working with Dr. Christopher Brigham in the Bioengineering Department. He’s an amazing mentor. My research involves making ethanol, a biofuel, using a co-culture of two microbes: Saccharomyces cerevisiae (yeast) and Ralstonia eutropha.
Yeast is picky with what it can metabolize. For example, it can’t ordinarily digest xylose, which is found in plants. However, plants are the most common feedstocks in the biofuel industry. R. eutropha is more metabolically versatile and can digest xylose.
The R. eutropha strains I’m using secrete pyruvate, which yeast can use to make ethanol. I’m working on this co-culture model as the first step for other more efficient co-cultures.
My research with Dr. Brigham has increased my interest in the biofuel and bio-manufacturing industry, and it allowed me to apply to a greater variety of graduate programs. The skills and experience I gained here are applicable to a variety of careers and jobs, not only graduate schools, and I’m forever grateful for that.
Have you had an opportunity to present your research?
I attended the 2014 Annual Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) conference in Texas with my classmates and the BMES on campus. Presenting my research to interested people and learning about other projects was a great experience. I really enjoyed the graduate school booths and was able to learn more about programs I was interested in from professors and students.
Aside from the opportunity to present, the conference was important for learning about what was happening in my field. There was a lot of emphasis on synthetic biology, which I found very cool.
What are your plans following graduation?
I plan on attending graduate school in biochemical/environmental engineering.