A love and understanding of science. The value of mentorship. These are among the important lessons Jerreme Jackson gleaned from his time in UT-ORII’s Genome Science and Technology PhD program at UT Knoxville.
Jackson is now trying to share those benefits with his own students. As an assistant professor of biology at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Jackson wants to make sure students from underrepresented populations recognize the opportunities that exist in STEM disciplines.
“I would not be where I am today had it not been for all of the mentors I had along the way,” he said. The teachers and advisers who guided him through his education journey “uniquely impacted my development as a young scientist.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in genetics from the University of Kansas in 2002, Jackson worked as a scientist at Seikisui XenoTech LLC and Hill’s Pet Nutrition for several years before returning to school.
“I chose the GST program because the faculty’s expertise covered a tremendous range of categories,” he said. He was sure he could find an advisor he clicked with – and who would stretch his thinking.
In the GST program, his research focused on what happens in the digestive tract of the tobacco budworm (Heliothis virescens) when it ingests certain toxins expressed in genetically modified crops.
“I used insect bioassays, molecular biology, immunohistochemistry, and microscopy,” he said. His graduate advisor “laid the foundation by teaching me insect physiology and molecular approaches used to characterize gene function.”
After completing his PhD in 2015, Jackson went on to do postdoctoral research at Oklahoma State University. Now at the University of Northern Iowa, Jackson’s research builds on his earlier work.
Today, he studies bacteria living in the guts of two insects – the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) and the corn earworm (Helicoverpa zea) – in hopes of gaining knowledge that can improve scientists’ understanding of factors affecting bacteria critical to the human digestive process.
“As humans living on earth, we have to be able to get food from our environment. Likewise, the bacteria that reside in our intestinal microbiome have to get nutrients or else they will fail to remain colonized. The genes that bacteria use to stably colonize will highlight the environmental conditions they face as well as what nutrients they are metabolizing to make energy.”