Research News

Hillsboro High student partners with VU researcher on cave drug study

Alex Jolly
Alex Jolly

Hillsboro High School senior Alex Jolly advanced to the semi-finals in the Intel Science Talent Search with his research project, “Activation of Silent Biosynthetic Pathways in Cave Microorganisms for Drug Discovery.”

The study was conducted under the guidance of Brian Bachmann, associate professor of chemistry at Vanderbilt University, who partnered with the teen as part of Jolly’s participation in the School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt (SSMV), a program of the Center for Science Outreach.

A joint venture between Vanderbilt and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, SSMV offers high-achieving MNPS high school students an interdisciplinary, research-centered learning experience. Participants attend classes at the Wyatt Center on the Peabody College campus one full day per week. Seven state-approved honors elective courses are offered, which include interaction with Vanderbilt faculty.

“The SSMV is proud of Alex,” said Angela Eeds, SSMV director. “We are grateful for the mentorship provided by Dr. Bachmann and many other Vanderbilt faculty who share their time and research, enriching this unique partnership between the University and the MNPS school district.”

Brian Bachmann collecting bacterial samples in Snail Shell Cave
Brian Bachmann collecting bacterial samples in Rockvale, Tennessee's Snail Shell Cave (John Russell/Vanderbilt)

Bachmann, who leads a unique systematic program to search for novel drugs produced by cave-dwelling microorganisms, is one of many Vanderbilt faculty who mentor students in the SSMV’s hands-on learning environment. Under Bachmann’s tutelage as well as members of his team, Jolly performed research on bacteria from regional caves, and advanced his knowledge of the ability of cave environments to host microorganisms that could produce unique, valuable compounds.

“Participating in SSMV and working with Dr. Bachmann have made a tremendous impact on me and my career and education aspirations,” Jolly said. “I gained invaluable experience from working in a research laboratory, and the SSMV has pushed me to grow in my confidence, abilities and knowledge. This experience has had a huge impact and will continue to help me significantly on my way to becoming a professional scientist.”

Intel Science Talent Search, a premiere pre-collegiate science competition, received more than 1,800 applications this year and selected only 300 as semifinalists. Jolly will receive a $1,000 prize and a matching award will be sent to Hillsboro High School. The top three winners of the competition will receive $150,000 each.

Learn more about SSMV.
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