Strehle, already a 'star in research,' has a bright future

Photo Credit: Mackenzie Strehle
by Alan C. Christensen Mon, 03/12/2018 - 14:09

Mackenzie Strehle, senior microbiology major, is one of the best undergraduate students I have ever worked with in my lab. She will be a star in research. She has taken advantage of opportunities the university offers to greatly expand her education beyond the classroom, and has benefitted tremendously from them.

I recruited Strehle, a Minnetrista, Minnesota native, to become part of my lab following her completion of my Freshman Honors Seminar (BIOS 189H). I was initially impressed by Stehle’s superior writing skill, courage to express her point of view, and strong ability to think analytically.

Science and math have always fascinated Strehle. “After serendipitously stumbling into research at UNL, I have discovered a new passion that beautifully combines both of these subjects—basic science,” she shared. Although science has advanced to a point that would have seemed “wholly impossible” just 100 years ago, Strehle believes there is “still an incredible amount to be learned about the natural world.”

To that end, Strehle’s research project in my lab has focused on developing a more thorough understanding of a DNA molecule found in the mitochondria of Brassica rapa, a plant species. Early on, this project was funded by the university’s UCARE program (a university-wide student research funding program), with more recent funding from a National Institutes of Health (NIH) INBRE grant. Both grant proposals were written by Strehle, with very few edits by myself or my lab staff.

Mackenzie’s research project has given her the opportunity to learn many techniques, including purifying mitochondria to isolate and identify a DNA-protein complex.

Strehle, who operates at the level of an experienced graduate student, also did considerable development of methods and trouble shooting. She has exceeded well beyond our expectations and has developed a relatively easy and inexpensive one-day procedure that gives us a 500-fold enrichment of mitochondria.

Strehle is first author on the lab’s publication in the current issue of Mitochondrial DNA Part B: Resources, which describes her method. She is very pleased to know her contribution will be valuable to the lab and their future projects. Emma Purfeerst, a Research Technologist in the lab, also worked with Mackenzie on the method, but Mackenzie took the lead.

“Enraptured” by the questions of basic science, Strehle’s future plans are to pursue a PhD in molecular biology so she can continue answering some of its puzzles. Her favorite advice for new undergraduates is:  Get comfortable being uncomfortable! 

“College is a unique time in our lives when we can try new things with relatively little risk,” Strehle said. “Even though it may be scary to step outside our comfort zones, it is truly the only way to discover our passions and meet people who will impact our lives in ways we cannot imagine.”

She has clearly developed intellectually here, and the opportunities given by UCARE and INBRE have been a big part of it. They are both wonderful programs that encourage students to learn by experience, and through more direct interactions with faculty.

Strehle will be in the Ph.D. program at Caltech in the fall. I predict she will be a model graduate student—fearless, enthusiastic, focused, independent yet very collaborative…and really smart.